52 stories, week 6: yellow 0

story 6 yellow

52 stories

Just as they could hear the tires of the pick up truck nearing the house, his mother shooed him into the shed and told him to watch from there. He was grimy, his mother said. No place for grimy children up front.

He hadn’t meant to get dirty, but it was hot and thick outside and all the dust and blacktop and stuck to his sweat. Besides, he really didn’t want to be up front. All the commotion scared him a bit and from the way the other kids were talking, Mr. Jacob would be sitting in the back of the truck, his dead body propped up like he was still alive.

“No, Matthew. Mr. Jacob is in a box. A coffin.”
“Can he breathe in there, mom?”
“He’s dead, Matthew. Dead people don’t breathe.”

Matthew left it at that because he didn’t want to talk about what it means to be dead. That’s all his brothers and sisters were going on about and listening to them made him feel like someone was poking holes in his stomach.

He found a milk crate in the shed and shoved it over to the side window. He wouldn’t miss a thing from there. The shed - once a place where his father kept his tools and now a rotting corpse of crumbled brick - looked right down the driveway and towards the street, giving Matthew a fine a view of all his family and neighbors gathering by the roadside. He settled in and waited. For what, he wasn’t sure. But he knew from the way the older kids were talking that they had done this before and that it was a big deal to have a dead guy paraded down your street. He just wished Mr. Jacob wasn’t the one being dead today. He liked Mr. Jacob. He was the only grown up who ever smiled like he remembered what it’s like to be happy.

Yellow. Years later when Matthew would think about this day he would recall how everything was tinged in yellow. Not the yellow of daisies and crayon suns, but a brownish, dirty yellow that cast an eerie glow on the death circus he watched from the shed window.

For three days after Mr. Jacob died, the sky had been bloated with thunderstorms that wouldn’t budge. Matthew’s mother and father stood outside every morning and said “gonna be a big storm today,” but it never rained, never thundered and the sky just turned yellow and gray and brown like it was rotting. And as Mr. Jacobs’s funeral procession approached Matthew’s house, all rumbling tires and crying women, the clouds seemed to sink under the weight of the storm they were holding in and the sky felt lower, like it was pressing down on them and forcing the whole world to bathe in its weird storm-glow. The dirt road, the dry hedges, the gossiping women and stoic men and oblivious children playing by the porch - they were all tinged dirty yellow and it hurt Matthew’s eyes to look.

The pick-up rounded a corner and was headed toward Matthew’s house. Every child stopped moving. Every woman stopped talking. Matthew held his breath, afraid to make a sound and break the spell of revered quiet. There were only a few sounds; tires doing a slow turn over dirt and Mrs. Jacob, held up by Matthew’s mother and aunt, praying and crying. Her whispered sobs carried loud like echos.

Matthew, still holding his breath, watched the trick get closer and only when the noise of the wheels on dirt was enough to drown out Mrs. Jacob, he began to breathe again.

The truck was open in the back and had a makeshift wooden bench on each side of the truck bed. On each bench sat three men and between them, on the floor, was Mr. Jacob, resting comfortably dead in a wooden box. The men were all dusty boots and squinty eyes, dressed in the same hats and flannel shirts and faded work pants. Their expressions never changed as they stared into the crowd of people that followed them on foot. Their faces were worn and filled with lines like etched stone and as the wind kicked up and the hems of their pants ands cuffs of their shirts flapped and fluttered, they never flinched not even as wind-carried dirt settled on their lips and flew into their eyes. Every few seconds the long box would shift and the men would all bend down at once and push the box back.

As the truck moved right in front of Mrs. Jacob, the men all took off their hats and bowed their heads and Mrs. Jacob wailed, a sound that made Matthew’s heart feel squeezed and tight. Matthew’s mother and some other women were trying to keep the widow from running into the street, but Mrs. Jacobs’s grief carried her away from grasping arms and she ran toward the pick-up truck, trailing it, holding up her long funeral skirt as she half-ran, half-stumbled and the driver of the truck sped up just a little and later - years later - Matthew would wonder if the driver was trying to get away from Mrs. Jacob or trying to keep her from reaching the truck bed. His brother would say to him “same thing, ain’t it?” And Matthew would shake his head. “No, not at all.”

Later, when the sky finally cracked and the rain flushed the yellow from the sky, turning it black and brown, Matthew sat on his front stoop with his mother, eating a piece of pie and looking at the very spot where just this morning Mr. Jacobs passed by his house for the very last time. Matthew knew then this would be one of those things he would remember forever, that one day he’d be sitting on the porch like his father before him, telling stories about his childhood, and this would be one of them. Even if as the years went on the colors would change or the pitch of Mrs. Jacob’s cry would get louder or tiny flaws of memories would change the snapshot in some way, it would always be there, hanging like a poster in his mind.

rough draft of a right foot 5

This is a rough draft of a very short story that’s been rattling around my head for a few days. I’m going out on a limb here and probably subjecting myself to all kinds of humiliation, but I thought I’d let you all give me feedback before I rework it. Tell me what you think. Don’t be shy. What works, what doesn’t, should I toss it in the recycle bin or fix it up.

This is an experiment, I suppose, in how much criticism I can really take. Remember, ROUGH draft.

My Right Foot (temp title)

There were thousands of stories as to how he lost his foot. They were all true stories, and even if the people who listened to them did not believe, they were still awed.
Tonight, he was telling the original story to the small crowd gathered on the street in front of him: He was the spawn of a demon father and a not-quite-human mother, neither wanted him to be born. They spoke of killing him, of burying him alive in the desert, of holding his head under the river. They spoke of these things with glee and in his mother’s womb he grew angry and resentful of these beings who created him, but did not want him. When the time came for his birth, he broke free from the womb and seized his mother’s heart in his small, demonic hands. He squeezed the heart until it burst, until he heard his father cry in anguish and until he was sure his mother was dead. As he tried to exit his mother’s body, he found that her umbilical cord was wrapped around his foot. The cord, like his mother, was not-quite-human and impenetrable, so he did what any demon baby would have done under similar circumstances; he chewed off his own foot and crawled out of his mother’s vagina.
He came into the world slimy, bloody and without a right foot. These things in and of themselves were bad enough, but he had to contend with an angry father, one who did not want him alive, and was very much angry his lover was dead. But his father, a man of god-like strength and devil-like anger, did not try to kill him. Instead, he slid his clawed, demon hand into her vagina, rooted around for a bit, and pulled out his son’s foot. He then hurled the foot into the universe, where it took flight and traveled through time, space and other worlds. As the father did this, he let loose a torrent of words unknown to the demon baby; words in languages he had yet to hear, words that shot out of his father’s mouth lit with flames and dripping venom. His father had cursed him. He did not know what the curse was, but he was pretty sure it had something to do with his airborne foot.
He soon realized that his curse was to spend his life looking for his foot. So he roamed the worlds, taking on new forms to fit into each one. At least his father’s genes had given him that much; he may not have a demon’s strength or the power to curse, but he could recreate himself to fit into whatever world he currently inhabited. Each time he changed forms, he would start out with two feet, but his father’s curse was stronger than his own demonic magic, and within minutes, something would happen where he would lose his foot again.
Once, he had been riding in a sidecar, one of the Hounds of Hell driving. They overshot their turnoff and ended up in a ditch. When he came to, the hound was gone, as well as his foot. Another time, he was in a dark forest, when he came upon some Kingsmen hunting for boar. Marksmen they were not, for they only hit his ankle when they shot, and he left his torn foot behind when he jumped off a cliff to escape. There were hunting accidents, wars, battles with otherworldy creatures, sharks, botched robberies and a spectacular game of Truth of Dare with God and the Devil himself. Each time he came away footless. Of course, it was his own foot he needed in order to finally live at peace; not the foot of a soldier or biker or warlord. He just thought it would be easier to complete his life’s mission if he wasn’t so hobbled all the time.
One night he found himself in a city; it was a small city filled with quaint shops and strange people, quite like the city in which he was born. There were no gods and demons here, just people who believed they were either. They mingled on street corners late at night, exchanging drugs, money and shared miseries. They were there during the day, too, selling handmade crafts instead of drugs, sometimes playing music in front of the stores. He noticed many of the people did not leave the streets for home; the street was their home, as well as their place of business. They slept in the same alleys and doorways in which they sold their wares or just stood around looking helpless and forlorn enough that strangers tossed money at them. At night they drank together, and huddled under blankets together.
He was intrigued enough by the city that he decided to change his form and stick around. He was a young man with a fuzzy goatee, wearing a Minor Threat t-shirt , carrying a skateboard. He waited for the inevitable and in the dark of night on a quiet street, a drunk man on a small motorbike took care of his right foot. He needed no medical attention; he was glad his father had at least given him that much. His body healed quickly and he hobbled on his newly stump-legged back to main part of the city. He sat down on corner and tried to blend in.
And then they came, inquisitive tourists and other corner dwellers like himself, asking how he lost his foot. So he told them. He told them about the wars and gods, about the demons and hell hounds, about the car accidents and angry husbands. He did this every night, and they never tired of his stories and he never ran out of tales to tell. They gave him money when he talked about his foot, mostly coins, but sometimes paper bills, and someone gave him a box into which the people could put the money. Ostensibly, the pay for his stories was to be for food, but as a demon, he needed no food to sustain him. Instead, he would go around in the middle of the night distributing his coins and bills to others sleeping on the street. He saved a few dollars for himself here and there, for he found there were woman who would sleep with a footless man if you gave them enough money. He found no pleasure in food or drink or drugs, but he was, after all, part human, and he had the human need to fuck.
He stayed longer in this body than any other; he found he liked this life and was feeling something unfamiliar to him before then, a contentment of sorts. He still had the urge to look for his foot, he supposed that was something that would never leave him, but the urge was dulled somewhat by the joy he found in telling his stories.
Then one night came when he was fast asleep in an alley, dreaming of his birth, as he did every single night since he crawled out from his mother’s womb. In his sleep, he heard a sound; a thump and jingle of coins. Someone had put something besides money in his little cardboard box. This happened before, usually it was a 40 oz of malt liquor that he would give to another lost soul in the morning. He woke himself from his dream and looked into the box. There, amid the coins and bills and half a sandwich, was a foot. It was the foot of an infant. A foot that apparently had been chewed off. His foot. He stood up, looked around for a glimpse of whomever left this gift for him. In the distance, he saw the dark shadow of a broad, clawed demon moving swiftly into a park. He saw no figure to go with this shadow, just the shadow itself, but he did hear a familiar roar as the shadow disappeared.
He knew what he was to do; a sorcerer long ago had told him. When he found his foot, he was to put it on. Just like trying on a shoe. It would fit, just like that, he would be whole again, and he could be at peace. He stared at the foot. His foot. He would not have to live this life anymore. He would no longer have to switch bodies or tell stories or search the worlds for completion.
The sun had come up; the city was coming to life. He wrapped his foot in a blanket and tucked it into his backpack. He moved his box in front of him, propping his footless leg upon it and the people came to him, all day long and he told his stories and watched their reactions and smiled as they did.
That night, he unwrapped his foot, took it to the park and buried it beneath a tree. Eventually a squirrel or other animal would unearth it, eat it and he’d never see it again. He went back to his space in the alley, slept and did not dream.

#4 of 52 stories: Happily 8

For the 52 stories/photos group on flickr.

story 4 - happily

There were only so many small bars in the area, only so many places that would keep serving you gin and tonics even though you were so drunk you couldn’t tell a cigarette from a tampon and tried to smoke the latter. So Pearl often ended up Stickman’s Bar & Grill - also known as Sticky’s - which had more to do with the condition of the floor and seats rather than the owner’s nickname.

Sticky was good to her in all the ways she needed. He kept her glass filled, didn’t ask prying questions and discreetly called the right people to pick her up whenever she passed out in one of the famously sticky booths. There was no press at Sticky’s. No gossip columnists hanging around, waiting for a good story. They were all at the big, trendy places, the ones that changed names and themes so often that it wasn’t unusual to see a starlet type woman emerge from her limo decked out for Disco Revival Night at Xanadu to embarrassingly discover that it’s Bang Your Head Night at Hardcore’s.

Pearl had been there, done that, had the permanent bags under her eyes to prove it. Over the past year, as things with her and Chaz descended to some unknown level of hell, she had deftly moved away from that crowd. They were so self-involved they barely noticed she stopped hanging out with them and Pearl only knew what was going on in the lives of her former friends from reading Page Six.

On this particular Friday Pearl found herself in a familiar place, perched on a sticky barstool, watching hockey and staring into her sixth gin and tonic. As always, her eyes drifted from her drink to the mirror behind the bar. She stared herself down again, noting with bemusement that the gradual progression from black hair to blond had finally stripped her of the last thing of her former life she had clung to. Gone was the pasty skin, replaced by hundreds of dollars worth of bottled tan. Gone were the rosy cheeks, which had fled town along with the sparkle in her eyes, right around the same time Chaz asked for a divorce. And gone was the bird-like demeanor that once defined her - the delicate steps, the gentle chirping of her sweet voice, the flighty way in which she danced around the house while cleaning or taking care of their charges. She had become a buzzard, all sharp-beaked and cackling. No, what had Chaz called her just yesterday? A hag. She chuckled out loud. The irony of him calling her a hag was completely lost in Chaz’s simple mind.

Pearl took another sip of her drink and looked back toward the bar wall. Mirror, mirror…..No, she wouldn’t go there.
Mirror, mirror….

“Are you still hung up on that ‘fairest of all’ crap?”

She hadn’t realized she said the words out loud. She turned slowly, even though she recognized the voice and knew who was standing behind her.

“Chaz. How nice to see you.”
“Your voice betrays you, Pearl.”
“Would you like me to sing it for you, Chaz? Maybe a little ditty about how thrilled I am to see the husband who left me for some fat little bakery girl? Shall I gather the birds and the bunnies? Throw some flowers at your feet?”
“Shit, Pearl. How many drinks have you had?”
“I don’t need to be drunk to be bitter, Chaz. ”
He let out a little snort. “Don’t I know it.”

Pearl clumsily slid off her stool.

“Where are you going?”
“I don’t want to be near you.”
“I came here to talk to you, Pearl. I want to make things right.”
“Oh, look, my Prince has come to save me!” She waved her hand theatrically towards her husband and raised her voice a notch. “Oh Prince Charming, thank goodness you are here to make everything better! Kiss me now and save me from a life of treachery! ”
Sticky and the rest of the drinkers stared at the couple, eager for some prince-on-princess excitement. It had been a long time since a good domestic squabble broke out a Sticky’s.

Pearl grabbed Sticky by the arm and swung him around to meet her. She launched into an awkward waltz, dragging the barkeep across the floor with her as she sang.

Someday my Prince will come
Someday we’ll meet again
And away to his castle we’ll go

Chaz came up behind them, grabbed Pearl by her waist and dragged her back to the bar. The foosball players applauded and Pearl tried to curtsy while her husband pushed her onto the bar stool.

“Is this a regular thing, Pearl? You come in here, get drunk, tell a few good stories about our marriage?”
“Marriage. Hah. More like a business agreement.”
“I don’t want to have this conversation again, Pearl.”
“Why not? Let’s have it for the hundredth time and for the hundredth time we will resolve absolutely, fucking nothing.”
“Pearl, please. Language.”
“I’m not your child, Chaz. Stop telling my how to behave.”
“I’m just saying….”
“Oh, that’s rich. The guy who ran off with Gretel the Baker after he knocked her up  is telling me how to behave.”

“Sticky, could I get a Guinness, please? Pint?”

Chaz moved his stool closer to Pearl’s so he could talk without having to raise his voice above the clacking of the foosball table and the dance hall techno coming from the jukebox.

“Pearl, I want to apologize. I want to come back.”
“Oh, did Gretel kick you out? Is the love affair over?”
“I don’t love her. I never did. I was just trying to rectify what I did wrong.”
“Rectify a wrong? By leaving me to fend for seven incontinent, senile midgets by myself??”
“I didn’t really have it easy, Pearl. You know what happened to mine and Gretel’s baby.”
“Hey, everyone knew Hansel needed professional help. It wasn’t the first time he tried to stuff a kid in the oven. Some people never get over things that happen in their childhood, you know. They act out on them later in weird ways.”
“Yea, like trying to give your husband a poison apple?”
“It wasn’t poison, it was just a laxative. I was just trying to humiliate you.”
“Yea, well mission accomplished. My chain mail still smells like diarrhea.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, each sipping their drink and thinking of what to say next. Pearl wanted to tell Chaz to leave her alone and never come back, but as soon as she opened her mouth to say as much, she shut it again, not sure if that’s what she wanted at all.

Chaz had come to Sticky’s with a prepared speech, but found himself unable to recite it. He was going to beg her forgiveness, promise to make things good again, sweep Pearl off her feet with words of romance and love. But as he watched his wife lift her drink to her mouth and miss, letting the gin and tonic dribble down her chin and neck, he remembered why he slept with Gretel in the first place.

“I’ll tell you why I slept with Gretel.”
Pearl stared at Chaz. She wasn’t sure she really cared why he did it.
“Oh, please. Regale me with your tales of justified adultery.”
“You let yourself go, Pearl.”

The foosball players stopped mid-play. Sticky, who had been washing glasses, paused and turned his head toward the prince and princess. The jukebox stopped on its own volition. Every other patron turned their head toward the couple, their mouths agape and their eyes wide in fear.

“I….what?” Pearl’s voice was shrill and loud. Somewhere, a glass burst.
“You…you……,” Chaz stammered a bit but went on, oblivious to the fact that he was in the midst of making the worst mistake a man could ever make. Yet everyone else in Sticky’s knew it and watched the drama unfold with eager anticipation.

“You let yourself go, Pearl. What happened to the beautiful princess I found in the crystal coffin? What happened to your ebony hair and fair skin and slim figure?”

The anger that soared through Pearl’s blood could not be contained. She reached for an empty beer bottle on the counter and hurled it at Chaz’s head. In her drunken state, her aim was way off and the bottled sailed over Chaz, smashing against the wall in a clatter of broken glass and splintered wood. The patrons gasped in unison, their mouths still hanging open like cartoon characters feigning surprise.

“I let myself go? I. Let. Myself. GO?” Pearl’s voice had almost reached dog whistle levels, it was so high. “I spend all those years cooking for eight of you, cleaning up after eight of you, doing your laundry and making you fresh pies and shining your shoes and cleaning your filthy work clothes with absolutely no time left for myself and you have the nerve to say I let myself go? Where was the time for me, Prince Charming? When did I have time to exercise or get some sleep? WHEN??” She was screaming now and someone who had been shooting pool ran outside, knowing that the gossip columnists gathered next door at Xanadu would pay them handsomely for the tip off that there was a royal fight going on in Sticky’s.

The door burst open just as the fight was going into fever pitch. The pool player breathlessly led the charge of celebrity gossip mongers into the bar, pointing at Pearl and Chaz, who were all red faced and gritted teeth.

“You owed us, Pearl. If it weren’t for me and those incontinent midgets, you’d still be passed out in a glass box!”
“My god, Chaz. It’s 200 years later. Do you think I’ve maybe repaid you and those batty old men for your kindness already? How many years of slave labor do I need to do to satisfy you all?”
“Oh, please. You had your fun. How many nights a week did you go out clubbing with your friends? How many times were you on Page Six, Pearl? While I was in the mines, you were at some oxygen bar getting Botox treatments.”
“Oh, well excuse me for trying to have a life besides getting mine grime off of your tunics and entertaining the little woodland animals. It got really fucking tiring, Chaz. You try spend 200 years knee deep in dishes, with insipid little rabbits and skunks following you around all day.”
“That was your job, Pearl. Is it so fucking hard to just be a proper wife?”

Bulbs flashed. Camcorders whirred.

“You bastard. You misogynist, sexist, ungrateful bastard. Why don’t you go back to that little piggie Gretel? How can you yell at me for being out of shape when you fucked that cow? What does she have that I don’t???”
“At least she was willing to sire me a child!”
“Ohhhh. So that’s what this is about? That I didn’t want to have children? I had eight people to take care of, Chaz. Were you going to help with a baby?”
“I did. I helped Gretel. Ask her. I was a good father.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better? That you changed shitty diapers and burped your bastard kid while I was home wiping piss off the toilet bowl? ”
“That’s what a wife does, Pearl. You have these ridiculous modern ideas of what a woman’s role is. That’s why I went to Gretel, because she knows a woman’s job in this land is take care of her man! Especially when her man is a PRINCE.”

The crowd that had gathered in and outside of Sticky’s held their collective breath. All you could hear was the scritching of a pencil on pad as the Page Six columnist recorded every word.

Pearl eyed a broken beer bottle on the bar and grabbed it. She menaced her husband for a few minutes, waving the bottle around like a ninja showing off his nunchucks. She charged across the room towards Chaz, arm outstretched, jagged bottle pointing towards the prince’s stomach.

A reporter snapped a picture and the flash went off, temporarily blinding Pearl. Her lunge towards her husband’s mid section struck only air and she flew off balance, landing on the parquet floor. The bottle skidded across the bar and stopped at the feet the prince. He kicked it aside and bent down to help his wife to her feet. They stared at each other for a few minutes before heading back to the bar counter.

The gossipers, realizing their story deadline was approaching, ran out of the bar. The royal spectacle had ended. Bar chatter started up again as if it never stopped, people picking up conversations where they left off before the fracas began.

Chaz pulled a stool out for Pearl and she sat down, picking up her warm gin and tonic. Chaz asked Sticky for a shot of bourbon and then changed his mind and asked for the whole bottle, which he began to gulp down in earnest. The couple sat in thick silence for a while, rehashing in their minds what just happened. Above them, Channel Five News flashed a breaking news report on the screen - Royal Couple in Bar Brawl, Film at 11!

Chaz raised his bottle to Pearl and she responded by lifting her glass towards him.

“To Happily Ever After.”
“Yea, to Happily Ever After.”

red, red wine - week 2 of 52 stories 9

red red wine

I’ve joined a flickr group called 52 stories. We’ll all tell a story a week for a year, with picture. Week 1 can be found here. Subsequent weeks will go here.

My grandfather was big wine drinker. A wine connoisseur, he was not. Just a drinker. He kept his wine in jugs; glass, gallon sized jugs that he hid all over the house. My grandmother would snoop around each day, opening cabinets and moving books to see if she could spot the hidden wine. I think almost every fight they had - and we are talking daily - was over the wine. Grandpa drank it morning, noon and night. Before lunch, with dinner, sitting in the yard, watching Lawrence Welk - any occasion called for glass of hearty red wine.

Grandma hated the drinking. She hated the singing that came with the drinking. At about seven o’clock every night, you could stand on the corner of Kingston and Ramona and hear Grandpa sing “When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie…..” followed quickly by grandma screaming something in Italian, words that I didn’t understand but my mother told me to never repeat.

Grandpa shared his love of wine with his grandchildren. He’d pour a bit into our glasses during dinner, mix it with Coke, and then whisper in our ears to never ever tell our grandmother. We drank the whole glass down each time (”whole glass” being about one ounce), and even though there was barely enough to get us the least bit tipsy, we would run around for the rest of the evening like we were drunk.

Insert some wavy lines here as we go back to the early 70’s.

We’re sitting at Grandma’s table; there’s me, my sister and six or seven cousins. Grandpa has his jug out and, per usual, pours us each a small glass of wine. Grandma walks into the kitchen and sees us sitting there, in Alla Salute! pose, ready to drink. She glares at grandpa, a long, evil stare, and you know that she’s silently damning him to hell or conjuring up evil curses.

Grandpa snickers, doesn’t even give Grandma the satisfaction of acknowledging her evil stare. He just picks up a peach and pairing knife and starts slicing. He drops one slice into each of our glasses and then looks at grandma, smiling.

“It’s just fruit. They’re just having a treat,” he says.

He gives us a nod and we all follow his lead; we dip our fingers into the glasses, pull out the wine-soaked peach slices, and slide them into our mouths as if they were the greatest treat on earth. Which they just might have been at the time.

Grandma goes ballistic.

“You dumb bastard!” And now it’s not even a matter of Grandpa giving wine to us kids, it’s that he defied her with the wine drinking at all. She lets loose with a string of unintelligible Italian curses (though I do recognize one that was loosely translated as “go fuck yourself”) and for some reason I notice that it’s 6:50 and Grandma is ten minutes ahead of her screaming schedule. Grandpa hasn’t even started singing yet! This is both shocking and unnerving. The routine of the 7:00 Sing and Yell Show is shot to hell and we all - me, my cousins and my sisters as well as two aunts who come running into the kitchen - know that this isn’t going to be an ordinary five minute tirade.

Grandma reaches across the table and grabs the jug of wine before Grandpa can react. We watch in horror-movie vision, with our hands over our eyes, peeking through the web of our fingers, not wanting to see, but having to see, just so we can tell the story to all the other cousins later.

In one deft, practiced move, Grandma swipes the jug away from the table, leans toward the sink and pours the wine down the drain. It’s like watching blood being poured from a wound and one of my aunts screams, as if it’s the blood of Jesus Christ himself being spilled, which is when I have the absurd vision of my grandfather as a martyr, hanging on a cross, sacrificing himself for Italian grandfathers everywhere who aren’t allowed to drink their wine in peace. It’s not even the loss of the wine that’s so horrifying; there are a hundred more jugs just like it hidden away in the garage. It’s the act of draining the wine from the bottle, the balls of my grandmother to take that one thing, that one joy my grandfather has and discard it like that, right in front of him, while muttering “Va fa’nculo!” in a voice that’s a close imitation of a snake hiss. We’re freaked out and Patty whispers that maybe we should make a run for it, but then Grandma stalks back to the table and turned on us.

She waves her hands at us and I focus on her skin, the way it dangles from her fingers in fleshy folds. I tune out the tirade and instead wonder if Grandma’s bones are shrinking or if her skin is growing. I tune back in just in time to hear her say:

“Now you will drink every bit of that wine in your glasses!”

Huh? Was she talking to us? After all her bitching and screaming about Grandpa giving us wine, now she’s forcing us to drink it? From the sound of Grandma’s voice, it’s supposed to be some sort of punishment and I wonder if it’s directed towards us kids or towards Grandpa, whose empty wine glass has zero chance of a refill and he’s now being forced to watch all of us drink what was left. I look to my aunts for help, but they’ve already scuttled back to the living room, away from the maddening scene.

“Now! Drink it!”

We all lift our glasses and drink the wine down, afraid of what grandma will do if we don’t follow through. You might think this is a good thing, but none of us had ever drank a full glass of wine before, with or without peaches. After three sips the wine burns my throat. One of my sisters gags and my cousin George sobs instead of drinking.

“You can’t leave the table until you are all done.” Again with the wagging skin and bones. She points a floppy finger at my grandfather.”And you, you can’t get up until they are done, either.”

I get it now. She’s punishing us for being on Grandpa’s side, for playing his little wine games and winking conspiratorially at him when he showed us how to dunk the peaches and feign nutritional content. If only I had lurched from my chair and proclaimed “Grandma’s right, wine is bad for you!” at the outset, I would be in the living room with my aunts, watching Wheel of Fortune. Instead, I swirl the wine around in my Bugs Bunny glass - formerly a Bugs Bunny jelly jar - and contemplate which grandparent should really have my loyalty in this fight. Grandma, with her loose skin and torrent of curse words and spilled blood, or Grandpa with his hanging jowls and five o’clock shadow and desire to turn his grandkids into alcoholics.

Just then, Grandpa starts singing.

When the moon hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie, that’s amore!
Patty quietly chimes in with the follow-up That’s amore!

Grandpa grins. Grandma scowls I sing:

When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine, that’s amore!

We sing, sip our wine and watch Grandma turn a angry shade of purple. When we drain the glasses, we slam then down like cowboys in a saloon and head into the living room, feeling a little bit drunk for real this time. We leave Grandma and Grandpa alone in the kitchen, waging their wine duel.

A couple of months later, the whole fiasco is forgotten amid new family scandals and holidays. One night, my parents ask Grandpa to come over and babysit while they go see Chuck Berry at the Westbury Music Fair. Grandpa shows up at 6:00 sporting a jug of wine. What kind of parents let a man carrying a jug of wine babysit for their kids, grandfather or not?

Ten minutes after my parents leave, Grandpa and my youngest sister are sound asleep in front of the tv.

“Let’s taste the wine,” my other sister says.

Not having learned my lesson from the previous wine incident - which ended with me needing five St. Joseph’s Aspirin for Children to get rid of the ensuing headache - I agree.

Afraid that Grandpa or Lisa will wake up and spot us stealing the wine, we haul the gallon jug into the bathroom. We attempt to pour the drink into the little Dixie riddle cups (”What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence?” is a lot funnier after a few sips of homemade wine). We miss the cup often, and soon the bathroom floor is littered with used riddles and magenta puddles.

I really don’t know what happened after the fourth round of “Time to get a new fence, hahahhahh!” I’m pretty sure it involved my parents coming home to find Grandpa and Lisa still sleeping in the living room, and Jo and myself sound asleep on the bathroom floor, our pajamas stained with red spots, cups everywhere, the toilet spotted with vomit.

Of all the lessons learned through Grandpa’s drinking habit the only one that has stayed with me is that red wine will give me a headache.

Oh, and don’t let a man carrying a jug of homemade wine babysit your kids. Grandfather or not.

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