It is raining. It always rains when I come home for the holidays. Makes the drive worse, makes the drivers worse. I pull into my grandparent’s driveway and sit there for a moment watching the wipers sweep away the rain. I see fingers through blinds and my family comes out on the porch as I gather my things and my umbrella.
I walk slowly to the porch where I am greeted by my niece, my brother Larry, and my grandmother.
“Where’s momma?” I say.
“Work,” my grandmother says.
My niece reaches for me from Larry’s hip.
“She missed you,” he says.
“I missed her.”
I put down my bags and take her in my arms. I kiss her forehead and I smell no tears shampoo with a hint of cigarettes. I look at Larry. He looks me up and down.
We go inside and I see empty plates and toys scattered throughout the living room. I let down my niece and she crawls to an Elmo toy, picks it up, and slams it on the ground.
“Where’s paw-paw,” I say referring to my absent grandfather.
“He’s gone to Sears to pick up your brother’s refrigerator,” says my grandmother.
“Why didn’t you go with him?” I say to Larry.
“He insisted that they would help him load it,” he says. “Plus I have to help him take it out of the trailer.”
“He’s 67. You couldn’t have tagged along?”
My grandmother sticks her head in from the kitchen.
“You want something to eat?” she says.
“I’m good,” I say.
I take off my coat and hang it in my grandfather’s closet. I look through the blinds at my mother’s trailer. It is sitting out in the middle of my grandparent’s back yard, knee high grass up to the door. Garbage scattered about.
I walk to the other window and stare at my brother’s trailer. It is somewhat neater outside of it. There is a green tint to the off white color. No matter how hard it rains, the green is not coming off.
I unbutton my sleeves and roll them to my elbows. I loosen my tie. I turn to notice Larry is standing in the doorway watching me.
“Like a ritual,” he says.
“I want to get comfortable,” I say.
“Then dress comfortable.”
He leaves to tend to his daughter. I know that is his way of letting me know he thinks I’m a joke. My grandmother pours me tea and gives me a plate with two cookies.
“I know you said you ain’t hungry,” she says. “But you can help me eat these cookies.”
We sit in the living room watching the television and watching the child. I sip tea and eat slowly.
“How was the trip?” my grandmother says.
“It was long. Like usual.”
“Been raining on you the whole way?”
“Not until I got into the county.”
“I’ve always said we live in a low area. Could be dry everywhere else in the state, but it’ll be raining here. You can count on the rain.”
“How’s your old lady?” says Larry. “Why didn’t she make it down?”
“She’s at her mother’s,” I say. “Haven’t spoken to her in a few months.”
“Are you fucking serious?”
I drop a part of my cookie.
“Not in front of the baby,” says my grandmother. “Jesus, son, the stuff that comes out of your mouth.”
“Sorry,” he says. He leans forward and looks concerned. “You think it’s going to last? Like a divorce or something?”
“We’re just separated now, but I feel like it may be a divorce.”
“Jesus Christ,” my grandmother says.
“Damn man, I’m sorry,” Larry says.
I sip my tea and shake my head. “Don’t be. It’s been coming for a long time.”
“You haven’t said nothing about it.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Too busy to talk to your family?” my grandmother says. “You could have talked to us if you were struggling. Have you told your mother?”
“Mom’s gonna shit,” he says. “She thinks you are the perfect one.”
“Shut that up now,” she says.
“Well what the hell happened?”
“It’s not just one thing, you know?” I say. “It’s complicated.”
“So she didn’t f anyone else?”
My niece throws a block at the television. My brother grabs it and hands it back to her. She smiles at him and he makes a face. She laughs.
The rain outside becomes less fierce. I can hear the sound of my grandfather’s old truck pulling in the drive way. Larry moves to the window and looks through the blinds.
“Paw-paw’s home,” he says.
My grandfather walks into the door and takes off his hat. He wipes the rain off his glasses and sits down.
“How you been?” he says.
“Good,” I say.
“He’s getting a divorce paw-paw,” Larry says.
My grandfather leans up in his chair. I put the plate and cup on the coffee table.
“Well that’s terrible son,” he says. “I hate to hear that.”
My niece crawls over to me and stretches out her arms. I pick her up.
“She misses you,” my grandfather says.
“I missed her too,” I say.
I lift up her shirt and blow on her stomach. She giggles.
“Y’all can’t work it out?” says my grandmother.
“We tried. We’re separated for the time being. But the word ‘divorce’ has yet to be officially mentioned.”
“You okay?” my grandfather says.
Larry looks out the window. He puts on his shoes and heads to the door.
“Gonna go check out the fridge,” he says as he disappears out the door.
“You’re gonna have to help me with that Bubba,” my grandfather says. “Your brother has a way with not doing things, you know.”
“Yeah I can do that.”
“Give me a few minutes to eat something and we’ll move it.”
Larry comes in with the instruction manual. It has dark, wet spots on the cover. He flips through it and sits on the couch. My grandmother picks up my niece.
“You should have seen her the other day,” says my grandmother. “I thought she was going to stand up and walk to turn the T.V. on Barney, but she fell right on her butt.”
“How much longer before she walks?” I say.
“Any time now,” my brother says. “She doesn’t say much. That could be bad.”
“She just points. They say that’s bad when they point and don’t talk.”
“Hope you don’t mind getting those nice shoes dirty,” my grandfather says while pushing a dollie up the tail gate of the trailer and scooting the blade under the refrigerator.
I look at my shoes. They were a gift from my wife. I had found the sale tag on them the day I first wore them: reduced from 199.00 to 59.88.
“They’ll be fine,” I say.
“Well help me move this down to you.”
He eases down the tail gate. I hold up my hands next to the refrigerator as if to catch it in case it falls. I lift a bit to get it softly to the ground.
I look at the front door of my brother’s trailer. There are only three concrete blocks leading up to the door.
“How are we getting this in there?” I say.
“Going round the back,” my grandfather says.
We maneuver through the grass and I see a plywood board, angled at the back door. My brother is standing half out, smoking. He thumps the cigarette into the woods and blows out a huge puff of smoke.
“Remember when we almost burned them woods down?” he says pointing to the tree line.
“Ain’t gonna be burning down for a while now. Too wet.”
My grandfather is mumbling to himself as he moves the refrigerator to the end of the board. He leans it back and my brother reaches out to grab the backside of the dollie.
I look out into the woods. I see the remains of a tree house I tried to build; I see the area where Larry and I made a leaf pile just to piss on it once we finished; I look and see the pond; where I got cut, ten stitches; where I buried my first dog; where I played dinosaurs; where I beat up my brother; where he beat me up.
“Does that poncho come in non-fag colors?” Larry says.
He pulls the refrigerator up the board, my grandfather pushes from the bottom. He stops at the door frame.
“It ain’t going through,” Larry says. “Too wide.”
“How much we lacking,” my grandfather says. “We can always take the doors off.”
“We going to have to take them doors off.”
They slowly set it back down. I walk up and rake some rain off the top.
“Is it okay getting this wet?” I say.
“Should be fine,” my grandfather says. “It’s got plastic on it.” He walks away.
“Where you going?” I say following him.
“To the barn to get some tools to take off those doors.”
“There’s no other way to get it in there?”
The walk is not too far, but it seems further in the rain. The door is heavy and inside of the barn smells like fresh cut wood. It is completely dark except for a light that my grandfather turns on over his work bench. I hear scurrying and I hope that I do not see what it is making the sound. He looks around, moving things, mumbling.
“This place looks like a nigger lives here,” he says. “Can’t ever find anything. Your brother moves stuff. Your mother’s men move things around. An old man can’t find his own things. Ridiculous.”
He moves some things around and exposes a red tool box.
“Here it is.”
He picks up the tool box and we walk back towards the trailer.
“You know Bubba, I never liked that wife of yours. With those tattoos and all. I knew she would end up hurting you. Always knew.”
“I’m doing alright now. I think the worst is over.”
“Well don’t let her take all your money. You worked too hard to get where you are.”
“She’s not paw-paw.”
“I’m just saying. But I won’t say nothing else about it.”
My brother stood behind the refrigerator inspecting and smoking another cigarette.
“Too bad the rain don’t put that thing out,” says my grandfather.
“Alright. Alright,” Larry mumbles.
He tosses it out into the woods.
“Why can’t you put that in your garbage can now?”
The tool box smells like oiled car keys. My grandfather finds the right screwdriver and tries to loosen the screws on the top door. He looks frustrated.
“Dammit,” he says. “It’s one of those weird screw heads. The star looking one.”
“I hate those,” my brother says.
“You got a screwdriver in there that would work,” I say to my brother.
“No,” he says looking offended.
“I got one back at the barn.”
My grandfather and I travel back to the barn for the star shaped screwdriver. As he rummages around, I see my mother driving to her trailer. She waves. I wave back.
I hear a “got it” from the barn and we are walking back towards Larry’s trailer. My grandfather works hard to get the doors off. He hands the top one to me, I hand it to Larry. He sets it inside.
I walk through the front door and I find a towel. I start drying off the refrigerator doors.
“They’ll be okay wet,” Larry says. “Help me pull this in here.”
We pull it inside and move it into place. My grandfather comes in and they place the doors back on and plug it in.
“Now the first time I see any beer or liquor in here,” my grandfather says. “This is going on my back porch, you hear me?”
“Yes sir,” Larry says.
My grandfather gathers his tools and leaves. I remove the poncho and sit on the couch.
“You wanna beer?” Larry says.
“You have beer?”
“Dude, I’m 22.”
“I know but paw-paw doesn’t like it when you drink on his property.”
“Don’t be a puss, you want one or no?”
“They are kind of warm. I have to keep em under my bed.”
He walks into his room and returns with three beers.
“What happened to your old fridge?” I say.
“Not sure, just stopped working. Came with the trailer though so it was pretty old.”
“Where did the trailer come from? Did you buy it?”
“Nah. The church had it for their pastor to stay in on the weekends. He moved away and they were going to burn it, but paw-paw was like ‘no I’ll use it.’”
“That’s nice of them.”
“Fuck em. They are a bunch of stiff assholes.”
“Where’s your girlfriend?”
“Working. She’ll be home late.”
He finishes his beer and starts his second. I sip mine. It is really hot and makes me feel like vomiting.
“So you staying here or at mom’s?” he says.
“I was thinking about staying with momma. She still has that one bedroom clean right?”
“Yeah just keeps her cat in there.”
“You could stay here man. The couch turns into a bed.”
“I’ll see how mamma’s looks.”
There is a knock on the door. It’s my mother and she is holding my niece.
“What you boys doing?” she says.
“Nothing,” Larry says.
“Not too much,” I say.
“You better not let your grandpaw see you drinking those.”
“Is he headed back up here?” I say placing my beer down on the ground.
“No, he won’t be for awhile. I met him coming up here and he said he’s laying down.”
She sits beside me and my niece puts her hands on my face and her fingers in my mouth.
“She’s got three teeth now,” Larry says. “You can stick your finger in there and feel em.”
I stick my finger up to her mouth and feel the little bumps in her gums.
“She’s been upset cutting those things,” my mother says. “Can I borrow a smoke off you?”
“Sure,” Larry hands her a cigarette.
“I thought you quite,” I say.
“I did, but my nerves have been so shot lately.”
“Cigarettes won’t fix that.”
“He knows mom,” Larry says. “He’s the doctor.”
“I’m not a medical doctor douche.”
My niece sticks her fingers in her mouth and feels around.
“You doing alright now?” she says looking at me. “I heard about the split up.”
“It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”
“You staying here for awhile then?” She puts the cigarette between her fingers like she’s been smoking it.
“A few days. Just for the holiday.”
“You got some place to stay back in the city?”
“Yeah. My house.”
“So y’all aren’t selling it?”
“No. It’s mine. It was mine before we married remember?”
“Oh yeah. That’s right.” She places the cigarette between her lips and pinches my niece’s leg.
“Don’t let her get any of your money man,” Larry says. “I have friends who have been through divorces and went broke.”
“I’ll be okay.”
We watch my niece play with my mother’s shoe laces. My brother finishes his second beer and I hand him mine. He asks if I’m a pussy faggot and then finishes the beer off in what seems like one gulp.
My mother mentions my grandmother is fixing super. I agree to walk back to my grandparent’s house with her. I hold the umbrella over both of us. She smokes the cigarette and I ask about the cat that lives in the empty room in her trailer.
“What for?” he says.
“I think it’s going flat.”
“What you want me to do about it?”
“Can you fix it?”
He leaves to go check it out. We pass plates of mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread, and fried chicken around to each other. My grandmother has a large chunk of onion on her plate and offers me some. I decline. My grandfather comes back in with red in his cheeks.
“The damn treads are sticking out of it,” he says. “There ain’t no way I can fix it. You’ll have to get a new one.”
“But I don’t get paid till next Thursday,” my mother says.
“Well what do you want me to do about it? I ain’t got no money.”
“I don’t know, but I have to get to work tomorrow morning.”
“We can put on the spare.”
“I can’t drive around on my spare until next Thursday. It’ll tear it apart.”
“What do you want me to do? Shit one out for you?”
“You don’t possibly have any money? I can pay you back?”
My grandfather sits down and bites into his chicken breast. He drinks his tea and looks at my grandmother.
“I’ll make some calls when we get through eating,” he says.
After super my mother says she has to go home and wait for a phone call. My grandmother sighs at the mention of it. My grandfather sits in the living room looking at the phone book.
I help my grandmother put away the food and wash the dishes.
“She’s going to call that bum she’s dating,” my grandmother says.
“She’s dating someone?”
“Yeah some lanky bum with no job. I think he’s on that dope.”
“She makes your grandpaw buy everything for her cause she blows all her money on that bum. She tries to make it out like she has so many bills, but your grandpaw pays for that trailer and that car note.”
“If she needs a new tire I can buy it for her.”
“No son. Ain’t your place.”
“It’s not your place and it’s not paw-paw’s place either.”
“It is too son. We took on the responsibility when she lost the house. She didn’t have any where to go. We ain’t made of money though. She still owes us thousands of dollars. She don’t even act grateful. She just asks for more. We just give and give.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Yes we do son. She ain’t got nobody else.”
“I could help pay something.”
“No now you ain’t gotta do anything. You take care of yourself.”
I walk into the living room and watch television with my grandfather.
“You can’t do nothing with your momma,” he says.
“I can pay for her tire. It’s no big deal.”
“No. Ain’t no use now. I’ll get it. A used one that’s real cheap. But I have to wait till they are opened tomorrow.” He flips through the channels mumbling softly. “I’m paying on your brother’s and your momma’s trailer bills. They don’t help us out none when we need help though.”
“Why haven’t you asked me? I could help out.”
“We don’t want to bother you. You are up there in school and all. We know you trying to make it. Hell we knew you wouldn’t be back as soon as you left for school. You weren’t ever cut to live around here. Plus I’m just blowing smoke. It ain’t as bad as it seems.”
He scratches his belly. My grandmother comes in and sits in her recliner.
“Don’t you worry none son,” she says. “The Lord will provide for us, you’ll see. He always has, always will.”
“Yeah. It’s really nice,” I say.
We sit outside his trailer sipping beers. The sky is dark but there hasn’t been any rain in hours. He takes a drag on a joint and passes it to me. I take a small hit and pass it back to him. His girlfriend comes out holding my niece.
“Y’all need another beer?” she says.
“No. I’m good,” I say.
“Can I have one please,” Larry says.
She disappears back inside and reappears with a beer.
“Nice and cold,” he says.
“We’re going to bed,” she says. “Good night boys.”
He fumbles with the remainder of the joint and he tries to pass it but I put up my hand. He shrugs and asks if I’m a pussy fag.
“You ever feel like getting the fuck out of here?” I say.
“I use to real bad, you know? Before the baby and all. Now I don’t think it’s too bad.”
“You’re working right?”
“Right now I’m working odd jobs with one of my old bosses. It’s kinda hard to get a job with a criminal record, you know? Like a good paying one anyways. Doesn’t too much matter because we get food stamps and I don’t really have a trailer note. Just the power bill.”
He drinks his beer really fast. It runs down his neck and onto his shirt. I look at the night sky. The stars are out. I have forgotten about how beautiful the sky looks out here at night. I watch hoping to see a falling star. I remember someone said once that each and every night there are falling stars and that you just have to wait long enough to see one.
I wait for one. I think about growing up. I think about my niece and what she would think if she understood who her father is and who her grandmother is. I think about my wife and who she’s fucking. I think about our time together and how it was so easy for her to turn her back on that for someone else. I think about my feet and what they look like because my socks have been wet for hours. I imagine they look shriveled and my brother begins to roll another joint.
This is Timothy Tanner’s first publication.