“Don’t cry, Hijo,” she says.“Your Granpa is your Granpa. He’s one of God’s gifts to me.From your Granpa came your father and your aunts and uncles.And from your father came you.So you’re one of my gifts.God giving me your Granpa was his way of giving me you.Do you understand?”
I don’t understand.Not really.I keep wondering about Granpa’s other child.I want to know what gifts God gave it.
Gramma pats my knee.
“Don’t worry, Hijo.”
I wipe my eyes then slide off the washing machine.Gramma returns to the iron and starts ironing.
“Do you need any more help?” I say.
“No, no.Go upstairs.Nida’s been asking your Granpa to fix her bathroom for a week.Make him go do it.”
“Okay,” I say walking to the bathroom to make sure my face doesn’t look like I’ve been crying.“We’ll fix it.”
On my way up the stairs, I keep thinking that Granpa will know I was crying and that he’ll ask me questions and that I won’t know how to lie to him.
When I get upstairs, I see Granpa smoking a Kent.
“Any good ones?” he says.
“Granpa,” I whisper, “ever think of getting a hearing aid?”
“No, no,” he says.“They look ugly.”
I feel stupid because I thought maybe he wasn’t faking, that maybe he couldn’t hear good.
“Let’s go to Nida’s,” I say.“Let’s fix her toilet.”
We go to Nida’s and come back in about three hours.I think I could’ve set Nida’s toilet faster than Granpa, maybe in ten minutes, but he had to explain each step of what we did to me even though I’ve done it by myself before and even though he’s explained it all to me at least four other times.I’m not sure why he does that but I don’t mind.
When Granpa sees me sniffing the air at Gramma’s tortillas and beans and all the other good stuff she cooked he tells me to wash my hands like I don’t know about being clean or something.He kind of barks it.
“Wash your hands,” like he thought I was thinking of not doing what he’s always told me to do.I don’t mind though.I just go wash up like he says.
When I’m in the bathroom, the phone rings and I’m wondering if it’s aunt Nida calling to complain about the work we did.Gramma calls her “La Llonara,” the name of this lady in a story that Gramma used to scare me with.The lady got sick of her kids or something, it’s some Mexican story, and drowned them in a river, and at night you can hear her crying and stuff because of what she did.Something like that.
I stop thinking about the story and go to the table.Granpa and Gramma are already there.When I sit down the table shifts.Usually when this happens Gramma rolls her eyes and says “Hijole mano.”But this time she just looks at her plate for a long time.
“Let’s pray,” Granpa says.
I’m not a Catholic or any religion.I decided this when my dad left my mom a few years ago and kept going to church with his new girlfriend but I nod my head and put my hands together anyway while Granpa says the Our Father who art in heaven.
When he’s done I’m thinking about Gramma’s tortillas, beans, chile pequin, calabacitas and chichorones.Then Gramma says, “That was your dad.”
“What did he want?” I say.
“He said he’s coming over tomorrow.”
“He said he wants to talk to you.”
“About what?” I say.
Gramma puts a tortilla on my plate and passes me the beans.
“About what Gramma?”
“Get some calabacitas,” she says.“And some pequin.”
Granpa grabs a tortilla, takes the beans from my hand and starts serving himself.
“What’s he want Gramma?”I say.
Granpa reaches for the calabacitas.
Gramma starts making her plate.
“What’s he want,” I say.“What the fuck is his problem now?”
Granpa drops the calabacitas and looks at me.
“Don’t talk like that at the table,” he says.
I see the old wolf in his eyes and say, “Sorry Granpa.”
Gramma says eat but I don’t feel hungry.
“Why can’t you tell me what he wants,”I say.
“He’s moving back to California and said he’s taking you with him.”
“What do you mean?” I say feeling sick.
“That’s all he told me,” Gramma says.
“You told him no, right Gramma?”
“I can’t tell him no.You’re his son.”
I stop listening to Gramma.I knew she would say that but think she’s wrong.I divorced my dad when he left my mother.I swore to God.God became my father then.
“Eat,” Granpa says.
But I can’t.And I can feel the old wolf eyes staring at me and I know he knows I can’t eat and no one says nothing anymore at the table except good night when Granpa and Gramma finish eating.They tell me to turn off the light when I’m ready for bed and Granpa leaves me a full pack of Kents and some matches.
“Good night, Hijo,” he says.
I sit at the table watching the smoke float to the ceiling thinking about ways to kill my dad before morning.I can’t think of anything I think will work so I just keep smoking and rocking the table.My eyes start to itch because of all the smoke and pretty soon I see the darkness outside the window turning to this light pink color and I wonder why it’s so beautiful and then hear Granpa and Gramma talking to each other.They sleep on separate beds because of their arthritis and they have to talk loud to each other because their beds are so far apart.I light another Kent and blow circles.The pink outside starts to turn to light blue and I hear Granpa down the hall in the bathroom.
Gramma comes to the kitchen.
“What are you doing here?” she says.“Didn’t you go to bed?Open a window.”
I open a window and return to my chair.
“Your father said he’d be here at eight.You better take a shower.”
I don’t move.
“Take a shower,” Gramma says.I notice her voice is all shaky so I look at her and see her hands are shaking.
“What’s wrong, Gramma?” I say.“Are you okay?”
She turns away from me and doesn’t say anything but I still see her shaking, her arms and hands especially.
She starts getting masa from the cupboard and starts mixing it with water to make tortillas and still doesn’t say anything.
“Take a shower,” she hisses.“It’s seven-thirty.”
“I’m not going anywhere with him,” I say.“He’s not my father.God’s my father.”
Gramma says nothing and starts rolling tortillas and cooking them on this round cast iron thing she cooks them on.
“I’m not,” I say, knowing she won’t say anything.
Granpa walks into the kitchen just as I say it.
“You’re not what?”
“I’m not going to California.He’s not my father.”
Granpa looks at the back of Gramma’s head then back at me.
“Oh,” he says.“Do you have a Kent?”
“I smoked them all.Do you have any more?”
Granpa goes to the refrigerator, gets a pack, opens it, takes one then tosses the pack to me.
“Do you have a light?” I say.“I used all your matches.”
Gramma sets some microwaved beans from yesterday on the table.
Granpa digs in his cover-alls and gets me his lighter.
“Your dad should be here soon,” he says.
I light my Kent and Gramma returns to the table with a few tortillas and a bowl of salsa.
“Eggs?” she says looking at me and Granpa.
“Aye,” Granpa says.
I don’t say anything.I just drag on my Kent and look at Granpa.
“I know, Gramma,” I say.“I know he’s coming.”Then I hear the screen door opening and know it’s him.I don’t look where I know he’s standing and when I hear him coming toward the table I look at my feet.
“Put out that cigarette,” he says.I smell booze coming from him.He smells like he did when he left my mother, like rotten apples, and I think of how he brought some lady to our house and was packing some clothes and laughing while my mother hid in the bathroom.
My dad smacks the table but I don’t look up.
“Put out the cigarette.I don’t want to do this again.Do you hear me?”
I hold the Kent between my knees so that the smoke’s burning my eyes and I keep smelling that rotten apple smell and think of how I gave my mother a nervous breakdown because I kept getting into so much trouble after my dad left and how I made my older sisters cry because I hit some kid with a baseball bat and got arrested and how my dad kept me from lock-up for boys by making me live with him and how he would get drunk and call me bitch, a bitch like your mother.I start shaking and drop the Kent on the floor.
“Look at me,” I hear him saying.“Look at me goddamnit!”
His voice sounds the way it did when he sent me to live with Granpa and Gramma two years ago when I got caught shop lifting when I was supposed to be in school.
I start crying like a girl all out of control because he’s not my father and I don’t want to go back to California and I know I have to do something to stop him from taking me and I’m afraid but I’m doing it, I’m doing it, lifting up my head, noticing Granpa and Gramma, how old they look, how tired, understanding that even if Granpa is a wolf he’s an old one, but I’m doing it, lifting my head and staring into the blackness of my dad’s eyes.
“You're not my father,” I say.“God’s my father and God says fuck you!”
Then I spit at him, see him flinch and see the spit milky on his eyelash.
Everyone’s still and quiet.I feel like I’m dreaming and everyone else looks like they feel the same way.I notice yellow from the sun touching Gramma’s curtains.
My dad tries to jump over Granpa’s haunted table.
I jump back.
Plates, bowls, beans, tortillas and salsa go flying everywhere.
My dad is lying on the table and it looks like he’s trying to swim but he’s just trying to get off.I think about how fat he is and about how if he hits me all that fat will hurt.I want to run but I just keep staring at my dad.
Then he sort of slides off and tries to run at me but some of Gramma’s salsa gets in his way and he slips and falls on his ass.
I look at Granpa and don’t understand why he’s laughing.I want to yell he’s going to kill me, the man that called me bitch, bitch like your mother, is trying to kill me, but I don’t say anything because I’m seeing Gramma floating, floating like when leaves fall from trees, to the kitchen counter, picking up her rolling pin.
“No, Julie,” Granpa says.
My dad uses the haunted table to pull himself from the floor.
His face looks all tight like it’s going to break.
There’s something about it, the lines it’s starting to get and its red-sand color, that remind me of Granpa.I want to shout at him, you’re crazy, what happened to make you so mad, Granpa only hit you once.
He lunges toward me.
I try to move again but this time he catches the shoulder of my tee-shirt.
Granpa starts walking toward us and keeps saying no Julie, no, don’t do that.
My dad squeezes my shoulder.
“I said I didn’t want to do this again,” he says sort of with Granpa’s wind voice but more like a snake.“You’re a bitch.A bitch like – ”
Gramma’s floating again, holding her rolling pin raised above her head.It seems like she’s moving slow and I know I must be dreaming because even though Granpa’s trying to hold her, she passes right through him, right through him like a ghost, and slips behind my dad before he can finish his sentence.
“Steve,” she says.“Stop it.”
Then she moves fast.It’s like God speeds up time, and she’s cracking my dad over the head with her rolling pin.
My dad’s eyes grow big.
Granpa’s eyes grow big.
Gramma doesn’t stop.
The cracking sounds like it hurts.
Then my dad’s face twists up like a little boy and he rushes past me toward the front door almost pushing me over.When I hear the front door close I feel sad.
I turn and see Granpa showing me a pack of Kents and Gramma picking up the mess from the kitchen floor.
I shake my head no to Granpa.I don’t feel like smoking.I feel like helping Gramma pick up the mess.When I try she says, no, go take a shower.
I do what she says.When I come back to the kitchen, they’re waiting for me.
“Sit,” Granpa says.“Julie made some good eggs.Some good beans.Some good Pequin.Sit Hijo.”
I smell the chile pequin – garlic, onions, tomatoes mixed with crushed pequin.It does smell good.
“Let’s pray,” Granpa says.
I bow my head and put my hands together the way Granpa and Gramma do.
He says the same prayer he always says, Our Father who art in heaven.
But I’m saying a different prayer.
I’m giving thanks for my Granpa and Gramma and for the way Gramma told me about God’s gifts and for understanding that Granpa and Gramma are my gifts and that if you spit on the gifts God gives you you spit on God and for understanding that my dad is a gift even though it doesn’t feel like it but he must be because Gramma knows the same thing about Granpa.I give thanks for all that then ask for two wishes, ask for them with all of me, every piece of me I can ask for them with, and I know God might think I think He’s Santa Claus, but I ask anyway hoping he answers the way I want and that He makes sure Granpa’s child gets gifts, all kinds of gifts, and that my dad knows, when he’s in California without me, that God gave him gifts too.