At the house where gramps lived and is now dying there are thick piles of cash and guns hidden everywhere. Everyone has flown in from various zip codes to peel back the veneer of their concern like the underside of that velvet picture above gram’s plastic-covered couch that might could maybe be hiding some hundreds. Our family likes to hide worth of any kind anywhere it cannot possibly be used until we’re just about toes up. My mother patrols the whole space like a one-woman panopticon and adds to her growing stash since the money is all hers, she reckons, on account of 1. terrible childhood and 2. being there to tip a can of Ensure into gramps’ throat on the daily now that the dog-eared death chapter has been unfolded.
Tonight, everyone has gone out to the local pizza place where my mom delivers the scourge to the pimply server of how come this doesn’t taste like it did last time, adding the usual threat about 1. no tip for you and 2. blab about this place and its terrible service to all her influential (nonexistent) friends.
My mom and I leave separately, both, in my head, when the usual threat serial starts its nightly syndicate, and also in the real, since my cousin Cindy watches the needle of Fun Family Time slip southward and offers to give me a lift back to gram and gramps’ house ahead of the nonstop shame machine who has asked several times to see the manager.
I get to gramps’ place first and cannot help but think about 1. money hidden everywhere and 2. money hidden everywhere (also no one else home). I elect to not unfold the dog-eared chapter of whether or not this makes me a terrible person.
I conveniently remind myself that my mother’s ish did not come from nowhere and trace that satisfying line up toward the man who is now dying which does almost nothing to alleviate the guilt but spring a bit of oil into the hinges that motivate my search. I conveniently remind myself that I’ll sort out all that guilt/ish later on.
The most obvious place is where I find the two grand. Neat and almost creaseless, the money’s under a dusted stack of fedoras on top of a metal shelf locked probably because it holds a handful of the many guns gramps owns and some fifties-era porn. Personally, I’ll take a stash of green over a shotgun or a pert breast any day. The money is tucked tight like a buttoned lip inside a fat business sized envelope. It slots into the hungry mouth of my palm and I squirrel into the bathroom as I hear my mom’s car rattle up. The Caddy is actually gramma’s car. Much like the money my mother threatened to withhold from the underpaid staff at the pizza joint is also gramma’s money since the siphoning act known as Power of Attorney set into motion once the dog-ear went adroit.
Inside the plastic-curtained plastic bath-mat plastic toilet seat showcase of the overly-lit bathroom I have these things on me: a summer dress with no pockets, an old pair of underwear, smudged makeup bearing the mark of stress that fingerprints any interaction with my mother and a nine week gestation baby hidden much better than the cash in the envelope in my hand. I shove the money into my underwear, against the womb that is its own dusted stack of failures, asserting to no one but myself that I possess the power to make the scratch stretch through more weeks than the previous life-form smooshed beside it that tapped out at a meager seven weeks. I reckon this theft is okay on account of: 1. If not now, then never and 2. legit bills to pay, new soccer gear for the living children, possibly the need for another infant car seat, etc., etc. Unlike, let’s just say, shopping on Amazon for new footwear to distract from potential premature womb egress and also 3. I have promised to immediately send half to my sister.
I open the bathroom door into the performance of my mother’s face percolating the cocktail of knowingness mixed with threat and feel the length of me turn overcooked in the boil; limp and pallid. I place a hand over the money-slash-baby part. She asks me if I am pregnant. I say maybe. The conversation dead ends around averted eyes on both sides of the equation.
My sister uses her grand to get a memorial tattoo for her goldfish, Gloria. I spend the first of my half on a burger stand at the local airport while I’m waiting to board the plane home and ignoring texts from Cindy that gramps is about to die and probably I should walk out of the airport and stay for the funeral. I don’t, on account of 1. terrible childhood and 2. tipping a can of This Is All Fine down my mother’s throat on the daily since essentially birth through this past week, where my mother wonders in theater-whisper how come I don’t look like I did the last time and am I gaining weight and is the marriage in turmoil, maybe because, re: apparent weight again and it looks like I’m aging prematurely like all the women in our family and what will all her influential (nonexistent) friends think. A serial that has been playing for long enough to garnish about two grand in wages, at least. Still, the cheeseburger leaves the taste of Ensure at the back of my throat.