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2 minute read.
Grandpa Gene is feeding me cream soda in the apartment on Cayuga Street, the downstairs apartment, the one with French doors that lead into their bedroom. It’s a treat so I will nap. Cream soda is root beer only better, I think out the window. Mr. Pibb is Dr. Pepper and Squirt is Fresca. Orange Crush doesn’t taste like anything else, but it stings. Hurts. I squinch up my eyes like Orange Crush.
There’s a white chenille bedspread, nubbly and fringed, scented with mothballs and Aqua Velva. Outside, lamplight brightens winter trees whose gray arms sway and shake their fists, throw fat, wet snowballs into the street. Their roots are gnarled as Grandpa’s feet, claw into iced-over snow, black with the soot of passing cars that roll in a slow parade on their way to midnight mass. White-leather topped, gold-and-chrome sided, they look like Father Michael processing to the altar, ignoring everyone around him, holy and focused. I try to stay holy and focused but I keep looking at the clock, its green glowing numbers, wondering how long it will be before we go to church, too, climb into Grandpa’s car, its inside hot and red as his mouth, smelling of hard-bit cee-gars.
I hear my mother arrive. I get up and run back through the French doors. Perched on the wingback, black coffee in hand, her penciled brows wing up, swoop down as I come in, a red paisley kerchief bowing her hair. At home, she is pin curls and a housecoat, but here she is always drawn up and tied tight, although there is a little pink stain on the rim of her cup.
A small plastic tree, green as a toad, squats in the living room window. I stretch a shred of silver foil over one of its hot, blue bulbs. Watch it melt. Grandpa swats my bottom with a rolled-up National Geographic. Winks. What were you doing in there? asks my mother.
Grandma Nancy bakes thumbprint cookies while a cigarette droops from the side of her mouth, squinting one eye. Yellow butter mints in a cut glass bowl melt creamy-cold in my mouth, peppery with ash. Doilies spot tables, chair-backs; Grandpa’s hair pomade stains just like lipstick. Why were they in there? Grandma shrugs, the cigarette bouncing as she bends to the oven.
I said no naps with him, my mother hisses. Grandma picks me up and sets me in a kitchen chair, hands me a still-warm cookie. Pops open another bottle of soda. It exhales like a satisfied man. You can have anything you want, Honey, says Grandma, don’t mind your mother
who picks up her coffee and drinks it like she’s stopping a scream, the rim of her cup stained, the bottom of my shirt stained, all of us a mess and still having to go to mass.