Grandpa spits into his mug with a little coffee left inside and watches his phlegm curve into a grin as he tilts it forward. He doesn’t know who I am anymore, but he doesn’t get upset with me either, so I take it there is a fraction of me still left in there. He likes to walk to the river behind our house. He sits at the edge and talks to it and drinks from it. When he walks in, all the way up to his knees, the experience becomes something holy for him. He whispers things that sound like prayers, but if everything were on mute he’d look like he is singing, he’d look like there should be some huge voice coming out of him.
It’s my job to watch over him ever since he saw my sister wearing a towel and swung at her from his seat in the kitchen when she was pouring herself some OJ. After she locked herself inside her room, he took an antique dueling pistol from the cabinet and stuck the barrel into his eye socket and fiddled with the hammer, dry-shooting it, and then put it over his eye again, pointing the butt of the gun at me while looking down the barrel like a telescope. I was trying to find the words to calm him down, but all I could do was put my hands in the air like I was surrendering. My dad had to put all of his guns inside a safe in the garage.
I've been taking care of him for months now, the longest job I’ve had— my dad pays me. I fuck up a lot too, and I don’t have something like war or old age as an excuse. My ex said once that watching me trying decide something was like watching a boxing match. She cringed when she said it as if she could see the brutality playing out on my face.
One day I picked her and her friend Kimmy up and they wanted to go to the beach. I said alright, but I need to go to my place to get my shorts, but when we got to my place, instead of getting my shorts I got into bed. It was hot out; I felt the heat from the window sink into my chest, and it was like I was a kid again, feverish and staying home sick from school. I’d miss weeks at a time and puke into double-stuffed grocery bags and my mom would rub my back at night because I had just watched Alien and it felt like something was about to eat its way out through my shoulder blade. Each time I dreamt I saw its miniature face chewing away inside my lung, not in a big rush like the movie, but slowly, as if it were dining at a fancy restaurant. My girlfriend was standing in the doorway in her bathing suit asking me if I was ready yet. Her top looked like it was made of black rubber ribbons that lashed across her chest, and the bottom pressed into her hips, bundling her ass together into a bubble. I asked her to come over. I was facing the opposite direction in which I slept, with my feet at my pillow. Come over here, put yourself against me, I said. I tilted my head back, looked up, and watched her body above me and the way she looked down on me. She looked huge and god-like when the black fabric around her crotch rubbed against my forehead.
We all watched an action movie instead of going to the beach, they were still in their bathing suits. Kimmy was kind of pissed and retaliated by biting her nails and spitting them quietly on the floor, and I sat on the couch and stared at the screen and waited— sometimes their bodies sprayed blood like they were punctured cans of aerosol and sometimes they whispered things to each other while crouched in strange places, and I waited.
Johnny Fuentes is a writer and graduate student in the MFA Creative Writing program at Miami University. He lives in Oxford, Ohio with his ferret, Olivia.