It took 20 minutes of sitting in an abandoned store to decide to come to this crummy town. The only remarkable thing about this place is that people still live here. Nothing but dollar stores and cookie cutter sprawl. I turned down a road that is a labyrinth of identical houses on cul-de-sacs. The only way to reach your destination is to remember to take the second street on the left and count four houses on the right. A real residential “House of Mirrors.” I pulled into a driveway and eventually knocked on the plastic door. A disheveled, thin, old man answered the door in a tattered baby blue bathrobe. He’s sickly and held onto everything for balance. I tried to appear positive and failed when I said, “Hey Gran’pa.”
He’s alone. Grandma been dead for quite a while. A child of the Depression, he grinded himself into the ground at the factory to put his children through college. It was that hard labor that exposed him to the carcinogens that gave him the kidney cancer he was diagnosed with two months ago. He raised me and always seemed to know what he was doing. It’s why I’m here. It’s why it’s so difficult to realize there is no cure.
“How ya doin,’ pa?” He stubbornly pushed me away when I tried to help him to his recliner.
“Not bad. Just threw up. You?” And, he honestly meant that he was doing alright. “Find any work yet?”
“Eh. I’ve had some leads, but nothin’ that’s panned out yet.”
“Ya need ta pound the pavement ‘nd knock on some doors.”
“It doesn’t work that way. Ya hafta submit yer resume online ‘nd hope that yers gets selected instead of da hundreds of other chumps that apply. ‘Nd, ya gotta hope that no one gets special treatment ‘cause they’re da bosses’ kid or friend too.”
“That’s why ya gotta get in their face. Make ‘em tellya ‘no’ in person.”
“Alright. Anyway, how are yer treatments?” I changed the subject since he hasn’t applied for a job in over a half century.
“All dem goddamn pills make me sicker than a dog. Can’t hold nothin’ down. Not even soup.” I looked over at the coffee table and it’s been transformed into a pharmacy.
“Anythin’ I can help ya with?”
“Na. Just havin’ company is good. How’s that girl of yers doin?”
“Ah… Alright, I guess.” His head tilted forward with an inquisitive stare.
“Alright? It’s never good when ya say it’s ‘alright.’”
“It’s fine. Nothin’ ta bother ya with.”
“Bother? What da hell else am I doin’? What, ya got inta a fight? Do somethin’ dumb?”
“Uh… Yeah… We kinda just broke up.” Grandpa’s head leaned back in the chair.
“Sorry ‘bout that. Sure ya don’t wanta go inta details.” He always gets the same look in his eyes when something doesn’t work out for me. It’s sympathy; not disappointment (which may be worse). “So, where ya livin’ then?”
“I can probably stay on a friends couch ‘til I get a place. Call in some favors.”
“So, ya don’t have anywhere ta go? Where’s yer stuff? Take one of my extra rooms.”
“Oh, I can’t do that?”
“Why not? I ain’t usin’ ‘em. ‘Nd it’s not gonna be pleasant with me fumblin’ ‘round the place.”
“Are ya sure? How much doya want fer rent?”
“Be quiet. I’m no landlord.”
“Well, I’ll do all da chores ‘nd all then.”
“No worries. I gotta nurse fer that.”
“Then she can focus on taking care of ya instead of doin’ da dishes.”
“Ah…” He dismissively waves his right hand at me. “So, where’s yer junk?”
“In da car.”
“Go get it ‘nd bring it in while I go take my medicine.” He got up, again refused assistance, and headed to the kitchen with pockets full of drugs.
In-and-out of the house. Box after box stacked into the spare room until it looked like a storage unit. I took a seat on the twin bed with its old plaid comforter. It’s been a while since I’ve stayed in this room. The dresser top is still full of knickknacks that span several decades. The desk is dusty with a few reference books neatly aligned in the right corner. There’s nothing on the crème colored walls. The room would look like a set of an old movie if it weren’t for all my crap.
As I glanced out the window, a doe and two fawn emerged from the bushes. The doe chewed on some flowers while the spotted fawn chased each other around. I blankly stared at them darting around. Where do they live? There aren’t any woods or anything else natural for miles. Ostracized by speeding traffic, barking dogs, and high fences. How do they survive in this hostile environment? They don’t belong here, but where else can they go? And, as quickly as they appeared, they vanished.
Anyway, everything was unloaded and I was finished daydreaming. I had to drop off the car. As I passed the living room, I saw my grandpa sleeping in his chair. I left him a note that said, “Thanks for letting me stay. Dropping off the car. Back in a while. –Luke.”
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