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The International Writers Magazine: The Golden Age

Granddad’s Chocolate
Edmund Sandoval


Granddad’s been hoarding the chocolate bars again because granddad’s crazy and he thinks his Vietnamese girlfriend is still alive. She spoke French. He puts all his chocolate bars on top of his bureau where they sit until I put them back into the pantry so he can steal them again. I like to think of it as a game he likes to play. I kind of need to think of it as a game due to his being off his rocker.

He’s a little demented and he’s hard to talk to and his figure is ungainly now like the corpse of a bird you might find on the sidewalk during the summer: a couple of dusty feathers and bones, a beak, no eyes. He’s like a ghost the way he likes to wear his old Vietnamese girlfriend’s dressing gown. Sometimes I’ll hear a sound and I’ll be awake and there he is hovering over me. He’ll have this fantastic grin on his face and his dressing gown will be billowing around him blue-white and pleasant as a dream in the darkness of our room.

Sometimes I wish he was strong like he used to be and that he’ll take his hands and wrap them around my throat and strangle me while I sleep so I’m almost dead by the time I come to and find his fingers wrapped around my neck. Granddad has these huge hands despite his being so thin and forlorn. He used to be an amateur boxer and his nose is still crooked and gauged.

Granddad’s got a hard on for masculinity. At least he used to but I don’t think his bits and pieces work anymore. Not that I asked – it’s just a hunch.

Mom used to look over granddad but I guess his hoarding was worse than he is with me. I guess he had more energy then or mom fed him more than tuna and bread like I do. But I can’t really afford anything more than tuna and bread because I’ve got alcoholism and laziness and if those aren’t deal breakers for lack of success, well I don’t know what. It nearly breaks me to keep the apartment filled with chocolate bars. And it has to be name brand chocolate. Hershey’s or Mars. Nothing generic. His Vietnamese girlfriend got a flavor for American chocolate and that was the end of it. He also told me she got a flavor for American men. Whenever he’d tell me about the men he’d wink at me and grin like when he leans over me in the night.

Anyhow mom got tired of him and granddad got the heave-ho. I don’t think he really noticed but he’d drop subtle hints: He started demanding chocolate bars and I thought, Oh boy. The first night he was here I went down to the 7-11 for beers and got us a couple of turkey and cheese sandwiches. I even splurged and bought a couple of boxes of oatmeal cream pies. I offered granddad a beer which he accepted and stared at while he nibbled on his sandwich. He and I never talked much so I thought I’d ask him how he was.

"Not too bad," he said. His voice sounded so young. It was high and piercing like a teenage girl’s. I liked how his face looked. How it was still whiskery. I imagined him, as I chewed on the stale bread and meat and cheese, working with his single-bladed safety razor. I could see him dipping his razor into the warm water in the sink basin and bringing it back, slowly, to his chin and cheeks and then lifting his chin just so and scraping the whiskers. He still used Barbasol shaving cream and splashed plain rubbing alcohol on his face instead of aftershave.
"How do you like the place," I asked and opened another beer and sucked on it, sputtered in the process and wondered, happily, at how they got it so bubbly, so cold and right.
"I killed a man with my hands."
"I think you’ll find my old bed nice enough, granddad. It’s just me that’s slept on it but don’t worry, mom sent some sheets over along with your things."

It made me sad thinking about his things. It was just some button-up shirts and a couple of pairs of blue slacks, a couple of pictures of mom and uncle Grey, his bathroom stuff and medicines (a few white bottles of generic aspirin – I’d come to learn that granddad hated medicine and doctors and the two together was like two men loving each other), and some pens and crinkly sheets of blank paper. It kind of made me sad that there weren’t any pictures of me. I’m his only grandson but with age comes well, hell, age.

I finished my beer and had another and another and he nibbled on his sandwich and looked at the TeeVee and didn’t say much else to me. When it was time for lights out I directed him to my bedroom and he sat on the bed and looked at me and blinked. I had another beer and fell into the couch, the tears welling in my eyes as I thought of my family and my wife and granddad resting in my bed down the hall. I didn’t think of our oatmeal cream pies. I had another beer and fell asleep.

I tried to convince granddad, once, that he was a dog and that chocolate was bad for dogs – that it could make him nauseous and give him the squirts and the racking intestinal pains and if he had too much he’d probably keel over and die because of it. I think I got him going for awhile and he’d even howl or grumble every now and then. He drooled enough on his own so it wasn’t too far of a stretch but I found a little bit of my humanity when I found him kneeling in front of the pisser spooning water into his mouth. He was doing the best he could at least. He was soaked from head-to-toe and there was water all over the linoleum. I’d bet he was there for a good while and whenever the toilet got low on water he’d flush it so it’d fill up again. I never said granddad wasn’t clever or anything.

He swears he killed a man once in a boxing match. It’s something he keeps telling me over and over again. Hit him so hard that he died before hitting the canvas. Says he put pennies and nickels and bunches of gravel in his boxing gloves before the match. Says he did it because this man, this son of a bitch, stole his girl right out from under him so he made up his mind to kill him. I swear it’s bullshit but you should see how his cloudy eyes glisten and his giant hands creak to a close to make knotty ninety year old fists. It’s gorgeous. It’s beautiful. It’s like rock formations in Utah.

We like going for walks. Just around the block for a little air. It’s so I can talk to him for awhile and tell him of the predestined chaos I’d finally run into. What with the apartment being what it is and him, and mom bailing on him and my wife getting thin and beautiful after being giant and fat, the bills, and the unemployment checks running out, his social security checks being a scant couple of rat turds and our general lack of routine or hope gets me into the mood for taking him by his feather-light elbow and talking a little bit like men.

The neighborhood’s not bad. There are trees and a sidewalk. The mailman comes everyday. The mailman’s a woman, actually. You should see her legs and nothing else because once you hit her hips, her midsection, it’s like a different half of a body that’s not exactly becoming but fully feminine with the soft rolls of fat and a smell like a gossip magazine’s perfume inserts. Her legs are strong as the legs on a draft horse and they are copper and tanned and shine even if the sky is overcast with clouds.

The neighborhood’s not bad except that it’s not much of a neighborhood. I live where all the college kids live because the rent is cheap and I can sit next to the pool with a coke bottle half-full of bourbon and no one gives me any trouble. I’m the older guy who looks young enough to be in school still. Like I just got done with a stint in the National Guard or decided after getting my CDL license and sitting behind the wheel of a rig for a year and a half that I’d take a stab at educating myself.

It’s usually me who talks when granddad and I are walking. It’s more that he totters beside me and I hold his elbow or I put my arm around his waist and then I know what it’s like to hold onto nothing. What’s going on in there, I wonder? I like to talk about anything but when he and I talk it’s not conversation.
"Got to get some chocolate bars," he said, once. "Got to be big ones. Tasty, too."

I got to know about his Vietnamese girlfriend through a picture he drew. I guess he drew it since I don’t draw and I’d seen his couple of pens and blank white paper. It was a picture. It was of a girl with slits for eyes and she had a body the shape of a railroad tie and about the same color. She had a towel or a sheet wrapped around her and a mass of scribbles that was her hair. Next to her body were the words, "Get me some candy bars."

It’d probably serve me well to talk about granddad and his girlfriend. She’s dead. She used to take care of him. They were in love. She was older than granddad, somehow, yet, she was Asian and Asians, according to him, don’t age. That’s not true, she died. She died a couple of months ago. She was ironing shirts or making spaghetti, something, when she keeled over. Granddad wanted to fly her back to Vietnam and bury her with his bare hands. I don’t doubt that he could do it, given his hands, but it was a no-go.

I guess they met when he was in Vietnam. He wasn’t a soldier. He was in the vacuum manufacturing business and he was looking for labor. She was solid as a brick and when she was sewing vacuum bags in the production shed, my granddad took an eye to her. She had such efficient movements. The way she passed the heavy fabric through the sewing machine with her sinewy arms; the way her foot pumped the sewing machine’s pedal; how she chewed, constantly, on a spare sewing needle – flipping it end-over-end in between her lips and developing a hardened callous on her top and bottom lips, right in the middle of her kiss, like a tiny, raised strawberry.

Granddad took her off the line and put his huge hands around her thick waist. He told her he’d killed a man for scorn and for love and she shook her head and he kissed her mouth right on the hard skin in the middle of her lips. He grinned and listened to the sounds of the vacuums being assembled and felt something good inside of him.

It’s only been a week but with old people, I guess, time is moving faster than ever. Granddad doesn’t talk. Granddad can barely hold his razor. I shave him when I think to. He doesn’t struggle. He’s like a baby or a child who – when I was a kid, at least – would be called touched or special. He’s like a retard with an engine for a heart.

When we go for our strolls I have to lace his shoes extra tight. I learned this after the first time we went – his shoes kept coming off at the heels. Seems his shoes are more for show than for anything. He’s stopped his boxing routine. No more rounds with the heavy bag and tossing medicine balls around. He can’t eat eggs anymore on account of his internal constitution. I fed him an egg once and days later, his face as red as overripe mulberries, I’d gotten the message and had to go to the store for prunes and brandy. The routine with the shoes is this: an extra pair of socks and I double lace the knots of his laces. I have a beer and feed him some aspirins and off we go.

Nobody smiles at us or engages us. Cars go by and I can hear the sounds of music throbbing through the composite paneling. I drove a huge care, once. I liked metal, the heaviness of metal, so I drove an El Camino. It was beige and I loved it. Then I crashed it and that was that. Granddad keeps his head level and his eyes stare out ahead of him. I look for the mail lady man or anything that I can steal a look at. Clandestine is the word. Don’t let them know you’re looking.

People give us strange looks sometimes. It’s not like granddad is cute like a puppy or one of those friendly-looking golden retrievers. He’s doubled over from age and a life of negligence and futility. His daughter didn’t even want him anymore and he’s stuck with me. And his Vietnamese girlfriend dying on him when she’d guaranteed him that she’d live longer than he would. It’s too bad and I feel for him. I feel for him in the way that pity reaches out its sticking tendrils and asks for more and more. When we decide to pack it in I beg off a headache and head into the bathroom to draw a shower.

I want to wash the memory of her skin off of mine. My wife was big at one time but I loved her and she knew it but I think, I’m coming to think, that she’d always had a sassier, skinnier woman living inside of her. And she saw, after time, the loser that she’d married when she was young and I was young. I’d never thought of doing much with my life and that was okay by her at the time. It didn’t matter if one season had me hanging sheetrock and the next had me tarring school blacktops – as long as I brought home enough money for hotdogs and beers, as long as I kissed her fully and with meaning, that was enough. And then she started to exercise and to watch her diet and to realize, seemingly by day, that she was caught in a relationship that was going nowhere and would go no further than our two bedroom ranch house which we’d been renting from her parents. We didn’t have kids either, not one, not even the scare of one as I’d been unrelenting in my opinion that a kid would be like a cancer to our carefree existence of hotdogs and beers and late nights in front of the TeeVee only semi-clothed. And that I was scared to death of them.

But now that I had granddad to think of and to look after I think that maybe having kids, maybe having had a little more drive – any drive at all, actually – would’ve been a good thing. Because granddad is a bit like having a kid and a pet at the same time. A really little kid at that. And I’ve learned to put up with his candy hoarding and his fickle diet and his sleeplessness.

I know I’m kidding myself and the shower won’t help anything. When I go to sleep tonight it will be with a sour mouth and beer in my gut and bladder. When I wake in the middle of the night granddad will be there as always, hovering above the couch and his bed untouched. He’ll be wearing his dead Vietnamese girlfriend’s old dressing gown and it will be opened, the drawstrings curled on the floor next to his pigeon feet, his chest bare and tiny and his huge hands slack at his sides. The only thing that matters, that keeps me together these days, is the huge grin plastered on his face. The smile is unmoving and it has a luminosity of its own and it showers the room with light.

As usual I mumble something about heaven or being tried or that the chocolate’s next to the tuna in the cupboard and even though I know he can’t really hear me he’ll turn to the kitchen for his booty to be stored and kept for his one true love.

©   Edmund Sandoval December 2008
gruner_engel@hotmail.com

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