Even Broken Records Sing Hits Once in Awhile
I didn’t start the dishwasher. But she wasn’t home, so it didn’t matter. And it didn’t matter that the chairs had scuffed all the floor around the blood. And the blood was still wet so Josh and I kinda just scooped it outta the way. And then I had to change shoes because it had dripped from my nose, down my lip, and mixed in with the blood from my gums. But the garbage was full so I put on my bathrobe. Now it’s night, so I go back downstairs and light up a fat Cuban cigar inside and the doors are open to vent it. And I say aloud:
“I feel like a gangster in one of those—“
“Once upon a time in California.”
“But with Marlon Brando, not that skinny asshole.”
My feet start to move and instead of touching down on the ground, I’m lifted angel-esque way, way up and suddenly I can see time moving real fast, all backwards and frontwards. I see my mother and father, as children, throwing sticks at one another in a horse stable. I see my sister, a fragile 93 year old, scribbling out a suicide note. I see my first grade teacher, Mrs. Stickle, cheating on her wife with an older man and I see a little child version of me watching through the window in the dry, windy North Texas yard.
And I remember how that glass tasted, as I shoved my little snotty nose into the pane, trying to get a scientific insight into the act of sex—years away from achieving climax. All that dirt and dead junebugs, the summer rain had evaporated and only the grime was left and shoved up my nostrils as I watched the flaring and sweating orifices of my teacher and vice principal, the shag carpet seemingly shaking from the pummeling and the curtains swaying from air displacement.
A grey wolf spider landed on my shoulder and I shrieked like the androgyne child I was and ducked, glimpsing their sagging and dimpled appendages turning to find the voice that cranked them away from their vicious act.
And I remember the sharp taste of tears in my mouth and around my sniveling nose as I tried to search for my Mongoose BMX bike in the tall privacy bushes to pedal back out my friends’ house and tell them what I saw and how I almost got bit by a spider. And how I saw what sex looked like. And how it wasn’t like the movies we watched on Brian’s parents’ Cinemax channel during late night Mountain Dew and Papa John’s benders. And how it was awful and how I hated it and how the spider almost bit me. And how the bike was muddy and how I was crying and how the rest of the night would be spent sitting on the gutter in front of my house, trying to quit crying so my parents would just tell me about what happened on West Wing and how I missed it because I was at Brian’s house again, like always, and nothing bad or catalytic happened, just like always. And that spider probably didn’t even almost bite me.
And Josh tells me, “Hey man, the short cycle finished,” so it turns out he started the dishwasher.
Granddad at the Stairs
We watched his feet descend. The stairs were cutout at an angle in the town house, making a showy scene of him walking down. First his broken and yellowed toenails. Then his hairy and very mammalian feet. Then those ankles, veined and brittle.
He skipped a stair and there was his whole damn torso. We took a step back, and held our breath as he made it down the final step. All things even, he was short now. Once, he’d held that fair standing of 6’2” with pride, with a dignity beyond his offspring (i.e. us) and held it for 50some years. In his early 80s now, he stooped to a solid 5’8” and I realized for the first time that I had outgrown him.
“You bunch of ghosts, you fucking chupacabras! I rebuke thee!”
“Granddad, it’s just me, your grandson. And Matthew.”
“You loathsome bunch of shit-assed demon cunts! Get thee behind me!”
“Ralph, easy. We’re just here to give you your dinner. Grandma said she’d be awhile.”
“No! You listen here, you foul and numerous demons: this is the home that I have built with my hands and the home that I will be buried in—but not today! You will escape from this prison that I have made for you and you will be free in the outside world—away from me.”
“Alright, granddad. Here’s your dinner. We tried to keep it warm for you, but it took you an awful long time to get down the stairs. We love you.”
I held Matthew’s hand as I offered granddad the plate of country fried steak and collared greens, the tin foil rustling as granddad’s gnarled, calloused hands received it, shaking, turning the plate into a tambourine, tapping to the beat of his Life Alert necklace. He turned around, making smaller and smaller strides back towards the stairs.
“I love you, Connor. And I love your faggot friend.”
I felt Matthew’s hand tighten in mine. “Thank you, granddad. We love you, too. Please be safe getting back up the stairs.” We made our way towards the door, slowly.
Then the most hideous sound. The chalkboard-screeching, newborn-crying, ice-machine-in-the-middle-of-the-night abomination. Turning, we saw a geyser of blood paint the low ceilings. And there, by the bottom of the stairs, the meat-covered skeleton of the grandfather I had known and loved, respectively. Matthew let out a shriek. I just stared, mouth agape, at the pool of crimson liquid, slow like molasses, spreading out across the old hardwood. The plate was miraculously untouched. I picked it up, the contents still steaming.
“True love conquers all,” I said to Matthew.
“You’re not going to take your granddad’s dinner, are you?”
“He won’t need it,” I replied.
“Do you think he died because he realized that he outgrew himself?”
“I think he died because it was time. But it was nice to hear him say ‘I love you’.”
“He’s probably in a better place now, though.”
I lifted the tinfoil and smelled: collards brined in vinegar, brown sugar, pepper; sweet and acidic and bitter. The breading of the country fried steak still crisp, crackling, oil-soaked and warm to the touch. Cooked flesh and seared vegetables, swashing around on the Daisy brand plastic plate, stamped with red, white, and blue stars for the upcoming holiday.
“No, probably not,” I said, licking my lips.
C.T. McGaha is a writer from Charlotte, NC. His work has been featured in Juked, Word Riot, Potluck Magazine, and 90s Meg Ryan, among others. He watches too much television. In a perfect world, Broad City would be a live performance performed at all hours of the waking and sleeping hours, and he would be able to witness this. Follow him on Twitter @ctmcgaha.