by Curtis Wade Bentley
Because we once had children around , we mostly called him Grandpa. Grandpa Leavitt. But he was really my dad, of course . He had a glass eye that could only stare straight
ahead. It was sometimes difficult to tell when he was talking to you, until you got comfortable with him. Grandpa and I were sitting comfortably on the porch , watching the wind ruffle the long, green lawn and turn the white of aspen leaves toward us. It was a day to breathe deeply, and over again, deeply .
Then it all broke at once and he started about how things had changed since Grandma died and how he was tired and forgetful and always tired . When he mentioned the damned rest home I laughed and shrugged it off and tried to shrug it off for him too .
” Dad, this is all yours here . As long as you want to stay -and Marian would say so too-you’re welcome . You can stay.”
But Grandpa just stared crookedly up at the gleaming, tall house and at me with my cheap smile and said no, he’d thought about it and would leave tomorrow.
As we lay in bed, Marian read, while I stared at the canopy, mired in the lull before sleep . She spoke through flowery paperback pages, but her voice carried; her voice certainly carried.
“So, Robert, it’s what we said , right? What we said we wanted? So it’s OK, Robert. Grandpa Leavitt finally agreed, that’s all. What’s sensual mean, Robert? ”
“Sensual. What’s it mean? Is that like sexual, maybe , or what? ‘ ‘
“No. No, it’s not at all the same. I’ll take him in tomorrow if they’re ready for him. I can hear him in there packing right now. Look, put the book on the table , and turn off the
“Of course, dear. Tomorrow would be good . So bring home some eggrolls or something from Li’s while you ‘re out that way, OK, Robert? If it’s not sexual, what is it?”
I rolled to face the other wall and heard the old man there unhanging his pictures.
In the morning, the tall, fine white house let the old man out the door. He carried a bulging satchel decorated with fading purple flowers, Grandma’s. He had the look of a boy
scout leaving for his first camp. He folded his legs awkwardly into the car and sat there like a wary spider.
“Dad, look- ”
“Drive the damn car and shut up, Robbie.”
The car backed sleekly out the long drive as we watched the white house, the green lawn , and the pink-smiling-waving wife dwindle into pastels.
Dad watched the mailbox by the road until it was gone , replaced by a green-blue blur of countryside and sky . His eyes reflected in flickering grey all that passed. The glass eye
seemed somehow intent, staring holes through the smear of grain fields, halting pheasants in a single frame of sight, while the other eye worked feverishly back and forth to fill
I watched the road. We didn’t speak. I knew he’d see it all again. He could come home every weekend if he wanted, and holidays and birthdays, and we’d come to visit him too.
He looked almost comical and I tried to smile. Then that old man, who was my old man, connected to me by some unfathomable genetic link, died for the first of a thousand times. He looked old enough to die. All at once, he looked like he could die. He laid his head on the leather head rest and closed his eyes until I couldn’t stand the view.
Golden Willows. The name was nice. Marian said it sounded comfortable. And all was arranged. The lady on the phone said that just that day they’d had a vacancy open
up-a nice room with a view on the farm side of town.
“What do you think, Dad?”
“Certainly a nice looking place,” he said. “Very comfort-
“Well, we hope so. Marian said it seemed just right. ”
“Yes, I’m sure it will be. Let’s get to it.”
Don’t be noble, old man. You hate it like hell but you have to turn the screws. Well it won’t work. Because you can come back. He could come home every weekend if he wanted, and holidays and birthdays, and we’d visit him too.
We walked into a smell like wet dog or old newspapers that hit me with a rustle of nausea. Grandpa seemed not to notice and walked up to the front desk.
“My name’s Leavitt. Robert Leavitt. I’d like my room, please .”
A fat black lady moved monstrously toward us, reeking of lilac and sweat; she checked her clipboard.
” Why, Mr. Leavitt, certainly. To go to 203 . Let’s see-
Margaret! Have they got to 203 yet, Margaret?”
Margaret sat in the next room, sipping beer by a big-screen TV.
”First thing this morning they did, Helen,” Margaret yelled back. “Except the sheets. He don ‘t got sheets yet. Milly in 413 wouldn’t get up that early to put them on. Not even for soda pop. I’ll put them on after the show.”
“Fine, then . Mr. Leavitt and-”
“His son,” I said .
“-his son, this way please. To go to room two-oh-three. ”
We shooed down the hall after the rolling white hips. I wanted to look back at something.
We sat in the comfortable room with the sheetless bed. The nursing home noises wandered in the open door, a drone like fifty priests moving their lips in a cathedral. I opened the manilla folder which advertised “Welcome, Announcements and General Information.” Grandpa put his few things into plastic wood drawers and looked for nails to
hang his pictures on. The only nail in the room was over the nightstand by the bed, next to a red knob with a chain. The nail was occupied by a small plaque which had ”Emergency
Help-Pull Here,” written in fine calligraphy. The red knob and the chain were down so I pushed them back up .
”I’ll ask the lady about nails, Dad.” He sat down and then stood up to inspect the anteroom bathroom. I heard him removing the sanitized strip from the toilet and unwrapping his plastic cups.
“I’ve opened the first roll of paper,” he said when he came out. ”The bathroom is open.” He was grinning so I laughed as long as I dared.
The green announcement sheet said ” Mixed-Doubles Backgammon” on it in bold black. Anyway, Dad liked backgammon well enough . Who knows, maybe he’d find a lady friend to take his mind off things. I mentioned it to him and laughed again .
“OK,” he said. “Come on. Let’s look around before you go.”
We stepped into the TV room with the big-screen TV. Three old ladies were knitting effortlessly at the front of the room. Their needles must have clacked out scarf after shawl
after rug. Perhaps a bootie to dangle from a lamp . Their mouths were half open , their faces placid. Their eyes stared out over wire rims to the big TV, pupils disappearing.
Others were scattered over Naugahyde couches like familiar pillows or hunched in wheelchairs covered with scarf after shawl after rug.
Grandpa and I moved, unnoticed, to a long couch against a cinder block wall. The wall was lime green and in its center was a huge bulletin board, edged in fading crepe paper. Two three-by-five notices were thumbtacked to the bottom left-hand corner. At the end of the couch was a bony woman in a stocking cap. She held her chin forward and heaved great
heaves with her drooping breast as she sucked air to spend in a flurry of speech about her hammer toe on the right foot that the doctor would certainly want to look at. Next to her
was a man with a hairless head. His nose nearly met his huge chin, but was stopped by the constant movement of a thin, sunken mouth. He matched the old lady’s hammer toe with
his brother’s foot which “got to swollen up so big they had to ampatate. ” And of course, he had bunions to be shaved and boils to be lanced. On the whole they were rather evenly
matched . They were accompanied by a round lump of a woman in a wheelchair at the end of the couch. She had hanging flaps of jowls that shimmied when she chuckled .
And she chuckled often. She was pointing at the old lady’s hammer toe, her folds of neck jangling furiously .
“Hello,” I said. “May I introduce my father, Mr. Robert Leavitt? He’ll be your neighbor in 203.” The round lady shook uncontrollably now. She was wonderfully amused . The
other two smiled vacuously and began talking again.
Grandpa settled back on the couch. He took a deep breath, looked around the room, then looked at me, to the back of my skull, until I remembered dusty things like trains and fish and whistling.
“Are you sure about this, Dad, if-”
” I’ll be fine, Robbie . Take off now. I’ve got to find a backgammer for tonight.’ ‘
Then he waved me away so I went to the door and looked back. Well that was good; Dad had made some friends already, it seemed . He was pointing at his eyes, popping the
glass one in and out while the others stared. He began to blur and died again . I wondered when we’d see him.
I let the air of Golden Willows close behind me, took off my coat and breathed and checked my watch and breathed again. Then, I hurried to the car and out to Li’s and Marian and lunch on the porch.