I bought it as a rental, this little bungalow next door—2BR/1BA, vinyl windows, old walls but solid—though other than as an investment, I’ve never had much relation to it. Was an easy $300 a month until my daughter Jean’s third husband up and leaves her, and she and my eighteen year old grandson, Tim, move in “temporarily,” a word that worried me as soon as she uttered it.
I’m about to sit down to lunch when I hear the stammering and peek out my curtain, see Tim, cell phone to his ear, doing his paces in the worn grass, having another one of his “seizures.” If it was the kind I used to deal with back when I drove an ambulance for Sacred Heart, I’d know what to do. But the only physical part of this one is his eyes, red and raw from all the pawing, like he’s bent on blinding himself to what’s right there in front of him. I’m sure he doesn’t even realize—old Mrs. McCready walking past with her Yorkie—that he’s in nothing but boxer shorts and unlaced sneakers. His whole focus is on his argument with this Cheryl, who he used to call Poo. Now they just argue, and then he begs, like this will win her back.
Tim has always worn his heart too close to his skin, but the stress is new. This from a kid who used to play third base, the “hot corner,” looking just like a guy on a baseball card, just whispering for that ball. I caught all his games. Sophomore year he’s playing Varsity. Batted .412 and already a few scouts taking a peek. Instead, everything gets more “complicated”—his word—and last year instead of summer ball, he’s off backpacking with Cheryl through Europe, picks olives in Greece and lives in a cave, comes back lanky as that fellow who won the Oscar for that Holocaust movie. Now he “eats on the run”—but where’s he running?
I worry that it could be these cell phones themselves. They ruin kids’ attention spans, everything’s “now.” Those chirpy ring tones go off (by this point, Cheryl’s is burnt into my brain) and their bodies leap like Pavlov’s dog. I see them walking along together but they’re all on the phone.
I run into my neighbor Ralph at the mailbox. I have to admit, we retirees will seize any moment to shoot the shit. That day’s junk mail, the Mariners, our lawns… Ralph has a rental unit too—with his son in it.
Tim lets out a sort of scream. “I apologize,” I say. “Don’t look at him. …At his age, we were off to war.”
He nods at me in mutual dismay. “Kids these days, they’re more emotional,” he reasons, trying to be supportive.
“There was the front line, the French girls… but you kept them separate.”
We stand there, side by side, silently sifting through our mail, maybe a few quick memories.
I turn for my house, take another look at the oval path Tim has worn through the lawn. Of course, it’ll fall on me to try to match up the grass. There’s that Generic Blend, they call it, said to conceal all those smaller wounds.
is a graduate of the Pacific University Writing Program. His recent publications include “Framed Beside Her” in Crack the Spine, “Whatever Helps Gravity” in Stealing Time, and “Letters from the Front”, an essay about his work in Folsom Prison, in The Mankind Project Reader. His flash “The Rental” was a finalist in New Millennium writing contest this past year. “New Room” is upcoming in SNReview, “In Real Life” in Foxing Quarterly, and “Framed Beside Her” in Crack The Spine’s Anthology 2013. He grew up in the South Bronx and now lives with his wife-Mia, girls-Macy and Cleo, mastiffs-Sophie and Otis, aged cat-Milo, and various turtles, chickens, fish (the girls want him to list all these names, too, but he refuses).