Natalie Casagran Lopez ’14
Visits to my grandmother's house are scattered throughout the year like ingrown spikes on a porcupine's back: infrequent and torturous. At the most I’ll call her before every major holiday.
"Hi, Grandma," I say.
My name is Steven. Peter is the name of the Jehovah’s Witness she's adopted as her own plaything. He lives next door to her, and she keeps tabs of his whereabouts by staring out of a 3-inch wide, curtain-free portion of her front window. Whenever he opens his garage door and sets out, Bible in hand, she shoves the curtains aside and yells "Yoohoo!", waving an imaginary handkerchief as if she was standing on the caboose of a train, beckoning him inside to tell her "those funny stories," which the poor kid does, biting his tongue whenever she asks if Goldilocks was a distant relative of Jesus Christ.
"Grandma, it's Steven. How are you?"
"Well, hey there, Stevie! Whaddya want?" Her tongue was thick, swollen, undoubtedly, from her fifth barrel of gin.
“I'm just checking in. I'm going to be in town next week, so I thought that I might stop by and give you your Christmas present early."
"Oh, goodie! Come right on over. And then you can tell me more about The Three Little Apostles."
When it comes to buying gifts for my grandmother I have long since realized that traditional items for an eighty-year-old woman are not appreciated. She hates porcelain figurines, china patterns, and velvet cushions. Once, when I foolishly bought her a fancy teapot from a Japanese import store, she asked me when they had started attaching spouts to bedpans. As a result, I have made many a trip to off-the-beaten-path boutiques in search of the perfect beer cozies, or a teddy bear that makes vulgar jokes whenever you tickle its stomach.
This Christmas I settled on an even more adolescent approach. I went to the nearest toy store, making sure to cover my throat so that holiday-crazed soccer moms wouldn't be able to rip out my Adam's apple with their newly-sharpened acrylic nails. After weeding through the creepy, anatomically correct baby dolls and "My First Mansion" dollhouses, I finally discovered a gift that was perplexing enough to be deemed grandma-worthy.
While many might think that a jar of slime is a toy straight out of a turn of the 20th century seance- some deluded housewife's ectoplasmic magic trick- I knew that this particular item would appease my grandmother's sense of youthful wonder. If she didn't snicker at the packaging itself- the label delicately explaining that not only did the slime feel "cool", it also made "farting noises"- I would be forced to move the Jack Daniels from her lips so that I might have room to stick a mirror under her nostrils and check if she was still breathing.
Every time I walk into my grandma's house I am struck by the silence. Outside birds chirp and lawnmowers growl at a pleasant volume, but inside the shift of tectonic plates is enough to burst an eardrum. My grandma prefers to stifle all forms of chaos in order to illuminate her own madness. She is the sole performer of her life story; a drunken menace perpetuating her own Theatre of Cruelty. Even when my grandfather- a man too selfless to be born into the hedonism of the 1920's- was alive, she still insisted on acting out her one-woman show.
The night of my senior prom, when my parents forced my date and me to promenade down the stairs so that they could capture our awkwardness on film, my grandmother, triggered by the camera flashes and the reflective shine of my date's forehead, pushed the poor girl out of the frame and took her place, my moist palm forced to rest on the gristle of her waist. My self-control was put to the test even further when she instructed my date that, to look good on camera, "One must suck in one's cheeks...both sets."
Over the years my grandmother's body has changed in the most peculiar of ways. I'm sure the alcohol has played a part in the transformation; there can be no other cause for her swollen appendages, not helped by muslin garments that pucker in the least flattering of areas. Her face has morphed on its own accord: her cheeks flabby, her skin pallid, and strangely enough, her nostrils stretched and widened, so that the overall effect is something like a monkey wearing face powder. That image greeted me as I walked into her living room.
"Steviiiiie! Come give Grandma her giftie!"
With one hand she clutched a bourbon decanter shaped like W.C. Field's head. The other hand obnoxiously groped and grasped at the air for whatever I had brought. I handed the present to her and cringed while the wrapping paper was ripped to shreds under the bleary-eyed scrutiny of W.C. Fields. Even he, with a head-full of cheap liquor, didn't approve of my grandmother's manners.
"Grandma, I'm starting to worry about you. I know Grandpa was in charge of the money when he was alive. It's a tough job keeping track of everything, especially...under the circumstances. If you want, I can send someone to look over your finances."
She disregarded my attempts to discuss her affairs. Instead she kept sticking her fingers into the jar of slime, snorting whenever the green sludge emitted a wet fart. Looking at her, I was amazed that two of her fingers could fit into such a small container. The plastic flatulence soon became too much to bear, so I left her struggling, looking like a well-dressed ape on the verge of throwing feces at unsuspecting bipeds.
I crossed behind her chair to the epicurean shrine she had set up. A wall of glass bottles reflected my face. The sunlight played on their surfaces, sending silver and gold light arcing across the room, creating a sort of halo around my grandmother's head, like a bordello rendition of La Pieta: Holy Grandma cradling the W.C. Fields decanter with too much love.
A fat bottle of Tequila shaped like a Mexican sombrero caught my eye. It was mostly empty, but I noticed that the worm resting in the dregs seemed to be missing half of its body: alcohol-soaked dentures had chomped away its boozy dignity.
The bottles seemed to reach back for miles and miles, like Bacchanalian orange groves. I was certain that if I was desperate enough, if in a drunken stupor I placed my sweaty cheek on one of the shelves and hoarsely whispered for some liquid to quench the thirst that none of the now empty bottles could ease, the hand of Bacchus himself would appear to tip bourbon onto my lips...sweeter than orange juice, deadlier than a switchblade.
She must have experienced that countless times. The Lord of Moonshine had visited her with a hand-wrapped bottle every year of her life. I was ready to bet that I'd find a rubber nipple-tipped bottle of port somewhere in the back, still bearing the marks of teething.
"Grandma, I know we don't see each other much, but I do have your well-being in mind. I really do. I just want you to know that."
I felt a sudden wetness spread over the back of my head. The Grand Ape had thrown slime at me. Apparently opposable thumbs are no use when it comes to solving the immense puzzle of closing a jar.
I took this as my cue to leave. I said goodbye to my grandmother and hesitated over my next move. It would have been appropriate to hug her, but the hardened dreadlock forming on the back of my head only served as evidence of our disparate lives.
As I stood there, frozen, meditating on our relationship, she slowly hoisted herself up and waddled over. I almost winced as I saw her face draw near. I was certain that another trick was up her sleeve: this time she was going to throw a cream pie at my head, or ask me to inspect a cyst growing under her chin. But to my surprise, she simply brought her lips to my cheek and planted a wet kiss. Then, without missing a beat, she sank into the nearest chair and asked me to mix her a cocktail on the way out.
"Sure, Grandma." I said. "But this one will have to last until Easter."
About the Author: Natalie Casagran Lopez is a native of Los Angeles, California currently coming to terms with the harsh reality of Vermont's climate. When she isn't writing she enjoys tapioca and percussion.