By Lillian Ann Slugocki
It is September 23rd, the day his granddaughter is born, but we are not there.
We are in the flower garden on the south side of our hometown. We are sitting on the stone bench under the gazebo with our grandmother, and her crooked index finger because time has collapsed. We are sitting on the stone bench with our mother as she smokes a Benson and Hedges Ultra Light. The smoke curls around her blonde hair and red lips. We are sitting on the stone bench for a wedding photo, and he is dressed like Don Johnson from Miami Vice. We are sitting on the stone bench with our father on Sunday morning after we’d walked along the shore of the lagoon. And in this moment, we are also sitting on the stone bench for the last time as brother and sister. I continue to get texts that his granddaughter struggles to be born. We sit adjacent to two fifty foot tall willows. We are trying to say good bye:
Maybe the year is 1968, and he flies like an idiot on his green Stingray around the curvy block and out along the railroad tracks. Or maybe it’s 1970, and we are smoking a bong in the back of the garage, and playing basketball in the driveway. He perfects a jump shot he calls the squiz-ma-roo. Or we are insisting our younger brother take a shit in a shot glass, which he does. We preserved it, our memento mori, hidden beneath the tool shed for decades. Even when it was gone, it was still there. Or it’s dusk, late September, and our mother hollers from the front porch– Boys!! Or it’s 7:00 a.m. and the temp is minus 15 degrees, a frozen morning, and the snow has drifted up to the eaves. We do not want to go to school. It’s too cold to walk! She says: Five kids at home with her all day, no. She won’t hear of it, almost pushes us out the door. And each story closes the door a little bit more, a little bit more, until we both stand on the threshold. and we understand that this is where we will part ways. He will go forward like Eurydice, and I will turn back.
His first and only granddaughter is now in NICU. It’s hard for her to breathe. And he can’t love her, not ever. And he won’t hold her, not ever. So we don’t talk about her. But she is there– she is there so strong on this afternoon, a tiny beating heart, furiously awake; one life enters, and another departs. And it’s why the past is so tangible and corporeal: His body is disintegrating, molecule by molecule. His granddaughter’s body breathes uneasily on a ventilator, but she will live, and she will have pictures of this man at Yankee Stadium and Chelsea Piers, and the family homes in Manhattan and Brooklyn. But she will not have him. and he will not have her– she will know only that his memory makes her mother sad. Because he died so young.
But there are children, in the here and now, who demand our immediate attention:
Both are towheaded, almost platinum, in the afternoon light of late August. They dance in front of us, framed by the willows. They beat the shit out of each other, too. And then laugh about it. They break into an abandoned house, and tell elaborate lies, Out by the tool shed, their dog Skippy eats a huge bowl of leftovers; pork bones and cold potatoes. Later, he chews through his rope, runs off, and impregnates the neighbor’s German Shepherd. They watch the two dogs scamper up the block, lit by the street lamps and falling snow. We see them, in front of us, as we sit on the stone bench, adjacent to the willows, and the lagoon.
It’s easier for me if I don’t look over at him.
It’s easier to just watch them play, these other children, the one’s who’ve materialized, the ghosts. It’s how we always knew it would be– just like this, saying goodbye to the same stories, the same mythologies, the same dogs, the same abandoned houses. We always knew, at the end, we would come here; circle the spiral of roses in the flower garden, sit on the stone bench, adjacent to the willows and dark lagoon, and walk right up to the threshold, and smell the mud, and the grass and the flowers, hear the frogs and the cicadas– but we didn’t know, and we couldn’t know, that at this moment, his granddaughter would also be there, her furious beating heart, a cherub mouth, another story to tell.
Lillian Ann Slugocki has been published by Seal Press, Cleis Press, Heinemann Press, Newtown Press, Spuyten Duyvil Press, as well as Bloom/The Millions, Salon, Beatrice, THE FEM Literary Magazine, HerKind/Vida, Deep Water Literary Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, among others. Forthcoming: How to Travel With Your Demons, a novella, Spuyten Duyvil Press, Fall 2015. Follow on twitter: https://twitter.com/laslugocki