Grandma’s boyfriend didn’t come home one night. She and I rode around in her hot car looking for him that next day. It was the middle of summer and Grandma’s Plymouth didn’t blow cool air. I was sweating. Grandma was really sweating. Mama told her to get Freon for that AC, to have me put it in. I was thirteen and needed to know my way around a car, Mama said, when she called to see how my visit was going. But Grandma didn’t bother with the Freon. She had her mind on other things.
I had on my high shorts that day. The tan leather seats burned the backs of my legs. My sweaty, black skin was glued to that hot leather. Grandma would only let the windows down halfway. Never all the way down. Too much air, she’d say. But I was burning up. We both were. Her more than me.
The night Roy didn’t come home, Grandma had cooked up a nice dinner: fried pork chops, gravy, collard greens, rice, and biscuits from scratch. She was planning on a decent dinner for the three of us. Grandma and I sat around the steaming food on her small kitchen table, waiting for Roy. We waited and waited.
After we ate, Grandma fixed up a plate, wrapped it in foil and put it in the oven, thinking Roy would come in during the night. In the morning the plate was still in the oven. The foil untouched. The food cold. When noon hit, Grandma ordered me to get dressed and fast. Then I heard the Plymouth start up.
Mama had warned her. She’d warned Grandma about that boyfriend thing. “You’re too damn old to be having some boyfriend,” she said. Mama told her that single men, at Grandma’s stage in life, were something to watch out for. She said that family was all Grandma needed at her age. Grandma didn’t bother with any of that talk. None of it. “People want what they want,” she said.
Grandma drove all the way up and all the way down Jefferson Ave., looking for Roy’s “no-good, sorry ass” — Grandma’s words. She stopped by some houses, corner stores, and liquor stores where groups of people gathered out front. She’d ask if folks had seen Roy. They’d either shake their heads or shrug then watch as she made her way back to the Plymouth, sweltering under the summer sun.
Eventually, she stopped by a bar Roy frequented, Pee-Wee’s. A shabby place where folks drink, deal, etc. A place Mama didn’t want me near. Roy didn’t turn up there either. But Grandma must’ve stumbled upon a lead at Pee-Wee’s because she hurried out of that place and into the car. We took off down the road, her little slipper flooring the gas.
She had that Plymouth going full out on Jefferson Ave. The hot engine droned and we flew by everything. Cars were only blurs of color. Air finally moved through the Plymouth. Warm air. But air nonetheless. Grandma was tight-lipped and her furrowed brow darkened her soft eyes. I didn’t see her blink. She just looked straight on and she was sweating harder. Her frail hands squeezed the steering wheel, the veins in her hands pulsed and grew bigger. The needle climbed the speedometer.
She turned sharp off Jefferson, sped down another road. She ran stop signs. We nearly got hit at one. We would have if it wasn’t for the other driver slamming the brakes inches away from my door. Then we screeched to a stop in the middle of the street, in front of a small, brick house. Music boomed from some speakers on the porch and a group of people sat around smoking and drinking from bottles and cans in paper bags. Roy was up there. Some woman hugged all over him.
“Stay in the car,” Grandma said. She swung her door open. Slapped it shut.
Roy hustled down the porch. The woman didn’t follow him. She stood on the top step, smirking as Grandma stormed into the yard.
“Where the hell you been?” Grandma shouted. “Why ain’t you come home?”
The people on the porch stood up. Some settled on the stairs.
Roy said something, but I couldn’t hear with that music blaring. They went back and forth at one another. Roy talked with his hands, clenching a cigarette in one. Grandma gestured to the woman, pointed at her. She looked younger than Grandma but not by much. Then I heard Roy yell, “She ain’t nobody!”
Grandma shook her head. She hollered, “You had me waiting up all night, Roy! All night!” Roy moved toward Grandma. She stepped back. They moved closer to the street. “Baby,” I heard him say, his big arms out. “Baby, wait a minute!” he yelled. But she turned and walked back to the car. I watched Roy standing there, spit on the sides of his mouth. Sweat ran down from his shiny, bald head. He tossed his cigarette and headed back to the porch. Grandma slammed the door, started up the Plymouth, and we skidded down the street.
Grandma cried the whole way back. I placed my hand on her small shoulder. Her nightgown was damp. Grandma was burning up. I felt I should have done something about that AC a while ago. I should have got that Freon for her, something to cool her. It was on me, I thought. “Sorry about all this, Grandma,” I said. “It’ll be alright.” I felt the heat swell in the Plymouth.
Grandma rushed to her bedroom when we got back. I peered out the screen door at the Plymouth. The sun beat down on it. Heat waves hovered over the hood and the roof. I went to check on Grandma in her room in the back. She was lying there, sobbing in her wet nightgown. I stood there for a moment, then I switched on her ceiling fan.
The store up the street had the Freon. It didn’t cost much, a few dollars. When I got back from the store I went into the house to grab the keys to the Plymouth. That’s when I saw the plate on the kitchen table. It was cleaned off, except for the bones from the pork chops lying quiet. The foil balled up next to the plate. I smelled the heat of the oven. Then I heard laughter, poked my head around the refrigerator and saw Roy and Grandma holding each other against the kitchen sink, kissing. Grandma’s back was to me.
“Grandma,” I said, “I got the Freon.”
But she didn’t say a thing. Roy was all over her with his hot hands.