By M. L. Erwin and T. J. Scott
When had she begun to drink? She remembered experimenting with it in high school, but not for very long. Now it had become a nightly habit. She turned her television down low so she could hear his voice. She prayed not to hear it, but she was sure she would. After all, prayer didn’t work. It was eleven-thirty and she held out hope she wouldn’t hear her name called. At eleven forty-five she heard it.
“Coming, Father.” She climbed the stairs two at a time. “What’s wrong?” she asked as if she didn’t already know.
“I’ve wet myself and I could use a barbeque sandwich to snack on before I go to bed.”
For a moment all she could do was stare at him. He was eighty-five years old. The hair on the top of his head was so thin it was peach fuzz. His once handsome face was covered with liver spots and moles. Most of the time he kept his mouth open, displaying a few crooked yellow teeth. Once a week he bugged her about going to the dentist, having his teeth cleaned. She wanted to tell him so bad. “What’s the point. You’ll be dead next week.”
She didn’t do that. She was a good daughter. She pretended to call and make him an appointment.
“Change my clothes first, dear. I can’t stand the smell.”
Her eyes focused on the ringer button by his bed. All he had to do was push it and she would have helped him to the restroom. It rang all over the house.
“When you pull my pajamas off, close your eyes. It’s a sin to look upon your Father nude. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, Father.” The PJs clung to his body. She pulled hard, falling backwards,. landing on the floor, the wet PJs hitting her square in the face. “Damn it to hell!” she shouted.
“That’s right. Curse God. That’s why you’ve never had any luck. You got kicked out of college because of drugs. They fired you at the mall, you and those girl gangs you stole merchandise with. I remember I paid a lawyer…”
“Twenty-five thousand dollars and fifty-two cents.”
“Get angry all you want. Am I supposed to deplete my savings on your behalf?”
“I remember you and Ed Jones had the brilliant idea of having a horse and buggy, deliver ice door to door. Said it would make people remember the old days. Let’s see, the building cost two hundred thousand and the ice machines cost…”
“I’m cold. Can you please wash me? If I’m too much trouble, take me to the nursing home to die.”
“I’ll get the wash pail and I’m sorry.”
“Give it to me and I’ll wash myself. You probably got a man downstairs waiting, maybe more than one.”
“Harvey, my husband, left last year, Father.”
“Harvey was a worthless prick. I know it was him that stole my checkbook. People think cause you’re old you don’t know things. I pay all my bills. Not you. People call for you every day begging for their money. How does that make you feel?”
“I feel just fine. I’m sure they’ll survive without it.”
“But it’s the principle of the matter.”
“Father, you still owe the bank eighty thousand on the loan for the icehouse. You filed bankruptcy and now you only have to pay them change.”
“I’m still paying. You listen to me. We’re from different times.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You want something handed to you. I’ve worked like a dog for every penny.”
“You were a science teacher at the high school. You weren’t bailing hay.”
“I got my education. Can you say the same?”
“All we got left is barbequed burgers. Is that okay? Can you put your clean PJs on?”
“I’ll manage. Lately you’ve been peeping. I know you watch that HBO and that funny woman. What’s her name? Ellen?”
“What’s funny about her?”
“You know as well as I do. And I know your friends with that little funny boy at the grocery, the one looks like a girl. I heard y’all laughing.”
“Is that a sin?”
“He wears earrings. I seen ‘em with my own eyes.”
“Didn’t know you could still see,” she whispered.
“What did you say?”
“I’ll get your burger.”
Downstairs she poured herself a half glass of whiskey straight. As she fixed the burger she noticed her hands were shaking. Her eyes focused on the knives in front of her. She took another drink, then hurried back upstairs.
She frowned as she watched him bite into the burger, most of the ingredients were now on the front of his PJs.”
“You didn’t use hickory chips.”
“You don’t have to lie.”
“I ran out so I used charcoal.”
“It’s not the same. We’ll go to the store tomorrow. I’ll get the wood and the chips.”
“It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.”
“Barbeque under the carport. Don’t you ever think?”
“I was planning on just watching a little TV tomorrow.”
He stared at her. Now his bad eye closed, his good eye open wide. She stared back, noticing the hairs sticking out his nose and ears, and his eyebrows looked like tumbleweeds. She started to chuckle.
` “What’s so damn funny? Ever since you were a little girl you always laughed at the wrong thing. What’s funny now, your bedridden Father? Answer me, stupid. I said answer me. Well, I bet you won’t be laughing if I change my will. Yeah, that got your attention. Your brother Kevin and his wife, they could use that money. Kevin’s smart. He’s a businessman.”
“He’s smart all right. We haven’t seen him in eight years, since your last stroke.”
“He’s still my son.”
“He’s a piece of shit. You’ve said so yourself.”
“So the reason you stay is for my money?”
“No, and you know that.”
“I think I’ll call Kevin tomorrow, see how my son’s doing.”
“Why don’t you wait until he calls you? Huh, you know he’ll never call.”
“Things better start running more smooth around here or else. You hear me? Or else. I want to go to the store around nine o’clock and I better not smell liquor on your breath.”
She sat down in an old recliner downstairs. The chair was her home. Was she hanging around for the money? Did she think she deserved it? She walked in the kitchen to pour herself a drink, but froze, bottle in hand. What had she become? What had happened to her life? She went back to the living quarters and stared up the stairs.
He yelled for her the next morning instead of punching the bell. She looked at the wall clock. It was only seven. “Coming, Father.”
“Well, do I detect a pleasant tone in your voice this morning?”
“I sound the same as always.”
“Bullshit and poppycock if you do. The money speech got to you. I bet you dreamed you were homeless. Well, you just keep that speech on your mind.”
She noticed a huge burn spot on his covers. “Don’t smoke in here. You’re going to burn the place down.”
“This is my house and I’ll smoke where I damn well please. You worry about whose name’s on my will, little miss homeless.”
“It’s your will, Father. Change it any way you want.”
“The calm approach. Well, I’ve seen ‘em all. Inside you worried about being cheated. You figure you’ve earned it all. Well, not yet, not just yet. I want a full bath today, not a sponge bath. Get out my suit, too. I might stop by my Attorney’s office. Your sister Cora might need her share of things, too. Don’t look so surprised. Let’s see how good things can get around here. Let me tell you how to start your fire. Use a lot of charcoal, then woodchips. Let it turn gray, then put your meat on. Let it simmer about…”
“I know. Four to six hours.”
“I’m just trying to help you.”
“Well, thank you. I’ll run your bath water.”
Later in town old Howard did stop at his Attorney’s office. And he persuaded him to come home with them for the barbeque. She watched as her Father sat in his wheel chair on the patio, ribs in hand. A chunk of barbeque sauce stained his chin.
“Vietnam wasn’t no war. They had all them damn draft dodgers going to Canada. World War II we knew what we were fighting for.”
Fred Hanes shook his head and puffed on a big cigar. “Good barbeque, Howard.”
“Not as good as I used to make, but it’s okay. You know, Fred, I’m thinking about changing my will.”
“I got a son and another daughter.”
“Yeah, but after your stroke you told me you were going to leave everything to Gloria.”
“She’s an ass hole.”
“Well, she is. She thinks I owe her something. Well, it’s her who owes me.”
“Are you serious about this?”
“Yes, I am. One day next week I want you to come out here and we’ll draw it up then. Here she comes. Be quiet.”
“Fred, how was it?”
“It was excellent.”
“Stop lying, Fred. You know it’s too spicy.”
“It was okay, Howard.”
“She didn’t use enough chips. She never uses enough chips.”
“Next time I’ll be sure to use enough, I promise.”
“And the meat. Where’s all the meat I bought at the market?”
“I’m going to barbeque again Saturday so I saved some. Fred, would you like to join us?”
“Fred has a family. He can’t just take off on a Saturday. If you had been any kind of wife maybe your husband would still be here.”
“What did you just say?”
“I said Harvey left because you weren’t any type of wife. You let the man down just like you’re letting me down.”
“Harvey left because I spent too much time taking care of you.”
“Gloria, Howard, you two stop this. Marge and I are separated. In a month we’ll be divorced.”
“These things happen. I’ll try to make the barbeque, but don’t hold me to it.”
“Bring your will kit with you. There’s going to be some changes made.”
“You leave your money to anybody you choose, you… you bastard.” Howard lit a cigar. “And that’s another thing. Smoking in bed. You’re going to burn the place down.”
“Then you won’t have a place to stay. Did you know that, Fred? She’s a college dropout. She got a bank of account full of zeroes and she’s forty-six years old.”
Gloria’s eyes welled up with tears. She waited for him to take it back, but he only puffed on his cigar.
“Why be so hard on Gloria, Howard? She did stick around.”
“She didn’t have a choice. She’s a loser. That’s why she stayed.”
“Still the fact she stayed should count for something.”
“Not with me it doesn’t, not with me.”
The rest of the week the mood was somber. Gloria did her chores like a robot. Neither wanted to give in.
He noticed Friday night she was dressed up. “You giving it away now?”
“What do you mean?”
“You couldn’t have a date.”
“No, I don’t, but it’s not because I haven’t been asked.”
“Let me guess. Ellen Degenerate called.”
“No, she didn’t.”
“No man in town wants leftovers.”
“I can’t believe you just said that.”
“Your Mother was with one man, me. She was a virgin. That’s something you wouldn’t understand.”
“I’m going to have a drink. Care for one?”
“Get me a gin and tonic, light on the ice. A first grader can make a gin and tonic. Try not to screw it up.”
She came back with the drink.
“Who told you to use those glasses? I gave your Mother those glasses on our 20th Anniversary.”
“Shall we toast, Father?”
“To the future.”
“To the future? You mean you have one?”
“Even if I don’t, it’s been fun.”
“Don’t sound so damn sad. I’m going to leave you something, probably the house.”
“I’ll pass. It’s time to move on.”
“Move on where?”
“That’s the fun part. I’m not sure. That’s what makes it fun.”
“You’ll see how much fun standing in a soup line is. You’ll wish you had a place like this.”
“Good night, Father.”
“Good night yourself. It’s gonna be a very hot day so I want to get the meat going early.”
Gloria paused at the door. “Daddy?” She hadn’t called him that since she was a little girl. “I love you.”
The bitterness and hatred were now so much a part of him he didn’t know what to say. He formed his mouth to say something, but she was gone.
The next day he awoke. He felt extra tired. Must have been that drink. It had been a while since he’d drank any alcohol. Gloria was on his mind. She was a good daughter. He’d turned into an old grumpy man. He inhaled. Smelled like she had the sauce right for a change. She already had the fire going. He could see the smoke. See the smoke. It took a while for his mind to register the fact the smoke was inside the room. Had he been smoking?
“Gloria! Gloria!” he yelled. He tried to move his arms and found he was strapped down. There was a red sticky substance all over his body.
“Barbeque sauce, Father. Did I get it right this time?”
His arms and feet were tied to the bed. He could only lift his head. “What the hell is this?”
“A barbeque. And this time I’ll be sure to use plenty of wood chips.”
“Are you insane? Untie me!” He now noticed the smoke had turned to flames. “Gloria, untie me!”
She grabbed a bag of wood chips and sprinkled them over him. “All they had at the store was hickory, kinda rhymes with Howard.”
“You won’t get away with this. The Fire Marshall will detect foul play.”
“Well, you do smoke in bed.”
“You’re crazy! They won’t buy that!”
Fred walked in the room. He put his arm around Gloria and they kissed. “Well, I have a little pull in this town, Howard. Me and the Fire Marshall, Bill Owens, my brother-in-law. Well, let’s just say this isn’t our first barbeque, but it’s the best.”
“You two rot in hell!”
“Well, you be sure to write and tell us what it’s like.”
“Sweetheart, we’d better go. It’s almost morning. We’ll go to Dallas, get married, and that way we’ll have an alibi.”
Howard twisted his neck toward the window. It was still night. “Gloria, I’m your Father. Gloria!”
Six Weeks Later…
“I think Bill was kinda greedy. Twenty thousand, that’s a lot.”
“The policy was for a million darling. Don’t get greedy.”
Fred looked at Gloria’s fire. “Needs more wood chips.”
They stared at one another and burst into laughter.
“You can never have enough wood chips.”No tags for this post.