A Family Reunion
It happens every year, whenever Mom and Dad and Marjorie and I get together. It's not like we get together often—every Thanksgiving or Christmas—but we still manage to see each other once a year, and that's the point, I guess. We usually have a nice time, too, until Mom or Dad goes and says something like, "Remember when Grandma Ethel used to..." And that's how it starts, the fight.
Dad's already on his third glass of Merlot, and his moustache is bristled red. "Remember," he says, "when Grandma Ethel used to fall asleep in the kitchen and—"
"The living room," Mom interrupts. "It was the living room. On the couch."
"And her head would roll back like this"—Dad's nose forms a perfect steeple, aimed directly toward the ceiling—"and then she'd start up with that snoring, like a goddam chainsaw."
"It was the living room," Mom says. "Because ten, fifteen minutes into whatever we were watching, she'd start that snoring. What were we watching again? 'Law & Order,' wasn't it?"
"'Survivor'?" I posit.
"'Everybody Loves Raymond'?" Marjorie suggests.
"No, no," Dad says. "It was about some woman who spoke to ghosts, or some shit like that. She had huge cans. That's all I remember."
Whatever we were watching, when we woke the next morning, Grandma Ethel was still sitting on the couch. Mom and Dad had work, and Marjorie and I had school—Grandma would be fine, we said—but when we got home that night, she was exactly where we'd left her.
It was a terrible time for Grandma Ethel to die. We all agreed on that. Sadie had just had puppies, Dad was in the middle of the Ackerman case—he was staying late at the office every night—Mom had just earned her real estate license, I'd recently taken a job as a copyboy at Kinko's, and Marjorie was in the midst of a three-month-long tryout for the varsity softball team. The timing couldn't have been worse, so we did what anyone else in our situation would've done: We went on with our lives.
For those first few weeks, everyone, including Grandma Ethel, seemed happy with the arrangement. Except Mom would get the worse scares when she got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and saw the white sheet we'd thrown over Grandma Ethel floating on the couch. And then, for no reason we could discern, Sadie started having accidents in the house again, peeing on Grandma Ethel's slippers and the legs of her pants.
Another month passed before Marjorie came home from softball tryouts and said what we'd all been thinking but had been too afraid to admit: "Grandma Ethel's starting to smell."
Something, we all agreed, had to be done.
"I'll just throw a comforter over her," Dad suggested. "That ugly one she crocheted? That should get us to Christmas."
If we could just get to the holidays, we reasoned, we might have enough time between Christmas and New Year's to bury Grandma Ethel, or at least call someone to take her away.
But then, gradually, a change overcame the house and Grandma Ethel. When we sat down for Sunday dinner—the one night a week where our schedules mysteriously aligned—a strange sound emanated from the dining room, a sound that had become foreign to our house since Grandma Ethel had come to live with us.
"Remember," said Dad, "when Grandma Ethel used to go on and on about what a failure I was, just because I hadn't made partner yet?"
"Remember when she told me my place was in the home?" Mom asked.
I said, "Remember when she told me she couldn't decide which was worse: getting arrested for marijuana possession or being ordered by a judge to work at Kinko's?"
"Remember when she told me everyone would think I was gay because I wanted to play softball?" Marjorie said.
"Remember when we first got Sadie, and Grandma was so mad because we let her sleep in the house? 'When I was a girl, dogs slept outside.'"
"Remember when she told the mailman that people who were on welfare were there because they were too lazy to work? And that Mexicans were ruining this country?"
"Remember that time she invited those Girl Scouts in and we thought she was going to kidnap them? But then, it turned out, she just really, really wanted a box of Thin Mints?"
"What ever happened to Grandma Ethel?" I ask now. It's after dinner, and we're all quite drunk.
Dad hoists his wine glass to his lips but then stops, his smile falling from his face in stages. "What did we do with her?"
Mom shrugs before downing the last of her wine. It's been years now, and none of us can remember.
's fiction has appeared in PANK, New World Writing, Juked
, among others, and was long-listed by The Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions 2013. He is a graduate of the MFA Writing program at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Katie, and their dog, Roary. He is currently at work on his first novel. Visit him at his website or Twitter