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Father, Grandfather 

A short story

Wednesday, Oct 9 2002
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Illustration by Nathan Ota

MY DAUGHTERS WERE BIG, BEAUTIFUL blondes who shared a loft in the East Village, but lately they'd been staying at my place, helping me resettle. I could hear them now in the living room, the younger one, Cammie, asking as she came to, "Where is it I have to get up this second and go?"

"Supermarket," said Cake. "We need napkins, disposable cups. We have no ice tongs."

She sighed and said, "Cammie, my God. It's a good thing your clothes are all-occasion."

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Cammie had slept fully dressed on my couch.

"Well, but I wake up ready to go," Cammie said.

"I think you drink," said Cake.

"What if I do?" Cammie asked as she pulled up and shook off.

Now both of them arrived in the kitchen.

"Not water from a tap, though, which is something I've seen you do," Cammie said. "What's this we're cooking?"

They stood at the stove. On one of the front burners sat a huge gurgling kettle.

"Clothes," Cake said. "They were ugly, so I'm dying them. That sundress what's-her-name gave me, and this other stuff, if it doesn't get pitch black I'm throwing it out."

She used a long wooden wand to stir the clothing and the kettle's dark water.

"Did you make that? It's an oar," Cammie said.

Cake nodded. Both my girls had, like me, degrees in anthropology, but Cake had gone into the design and production of wooden spoons. Cammie served drinks at a cowboy bar.

"Hi," I said now, from my seat behind the breakfast nook. I had been sitting there, unnoticed, the whole long time.

 

THEY RETURNED FROM THE MARket with sacks of food and the idea of using my bigger kitchen to make hors d'oeuvres.

They had invited me to a cocktail party that night at their loft. I was looking forward to the party and to meeting their many friends. The past eighteen months, I'd been away traveling on a grant. I'd gone to Ciudad Juarez to live with the Okut.

"Before we do anything," Cake said. "This kitchen."

 

THEY CLEARED SHELVES AND CABInets and flipped cans and jars into recycling bags. They used what they called the "six-sack solution" -- separate sacks for paper, glass, metal, plastics, food garbage, and one for nonperishables.

I left the kitchen and hid; close, but in another room.

I heard Cammie say, "Here're all the supplements we bought for her -- iodine, zinc, chromium, selenium . . . . Seals unbroken, soon to expire."

Cake called out to me in a tone that made my cat leap: "Mom! You cannot rely on food for nutrition! The soil your produce is grown in is worthless!"

"Come here, Moo," I told the cat. "You didn't do anything."

NOW THEY WERE DEFROSTING MY freezer.

"Get back! Get that blowdryer outta here!" Cake yelled. "That is so dangerous! Mom, will you tell her this is dangerous? And that she can't slam at it with a ball-peen hammer. The thing's got Freon!"

My door buzzer sounded. As I got up to answer, I saw the doorknob turn, saw the door open. My father slipped in. I exhaled relief and sat back down.

Dad was dressed for cold in a topcoat and a furry black muffler. His face and bald head were deeply tanned.

"Unlocked?" he asked me. He glanced left, glanced right. He leaned over my chair. "Who's here?"

"The girls," I said. "You're so tan!"

He straightened. He said, "Thanks," as he unbuttoned his topcoat. He said, "I use that cream. It's not bad. Not streaky orange like in the old days. I'll bring you some."

Cammie's voice said, "Grandpa? Don't take this the wrong way, but no."

She stood in the kitchen entryway. She was holding a platelet of ice.

"It costs three or four dollars," he said.

"I know," Cammie said, "but the greater cost. There're laws now about smear-on tans. That anyone who has one can't vote."

"I'm not registered anyway," Dad said when Cammie was gone.

"Oh lordy," I said. "Don't tell them that."

"Who's in authority here?" he asked.

"I'VE GOT CROCUSES, A FEW TULIPS," he said. He lived in Brooklyn. "Saw kids doing an egg hunt the other morning. Oh, and, Gloria, I read in Cosmopolitan that you're supposed to -- "

"Wait," I said. "You read Cosmopolitan?"

He looked right, he looked left. "Only sometimes, if it's lying out and I happen to pick it up."

I hadn't moved in hours and my chair's upholstered buttons had numbed circles into my back.

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