By Joseph Mills
He’s here because Lily asked him to come. Just as he goes to the plays, the recitals, the “holiday” pageants that are really Christmas shows with one or two Hanukah songs, the gymnastics “meets” where kid do “routines” which consist of rolling around on the mats for a few minutes and then lining up for photographs which are available for purchase at twenty bucks a print. He has three or four of them, plus the ones he gets at Christmases and birthdays. He simply places the new ones on top of the old ones like he does with the stickers for his car registration; otherwise his apartment would be wall-to-wall photos of his grand-daughter.
Caitlin always acts surprised when he shows up, and he knows it irritates her that he is so attentive to Lily. More than once, she has made a comment like, “You’ve gone to more things for her in ten years than you did for me in my whole life.” He usually responds with something like, “I could have worked less and sent you to school hungry and half naked.” Why doesn’t he get credit for trying now? Christ, a life-time of fights over stupid stuff. Even when he tries to compliment her. He might say something like, “You look good. You’ve lost weight,” and this will enrage her. “I’ve been this size for fifteen years. Clearly, in your mind, I’m fat because I was fat and to you I’ll always be fat. Well, I’m not that girl anymore!” They can be in and out of a fight before he even has time to respond, like driving through patches of fog.
He understands her jealousy. Caitlin had wanted him to get a tablet and get “on-line,” and he had seemed to ignore her, but when Lily had asked him to get one so that they could Skype, he had gone to Best Buy that weekend. What was the difference? Caitlin had been urging him to look up old friends, to Facebook and Google people he grew up with. Why would he want to do that? To find out that they were dead or divorced, or disabled? Fat and wrinkled and miserable? To remember what he had disliked about them and why they weren’t in touch? Caitlin wanted him to look up friends. Lily wanted to be friends. That was the difference.
It annoys him that Caitlin doesn’t appreciate the effort he makes for Lily. Maybe he makes it too obvious that it is an effort, but, for Christ’s sake, it isn’t easy sitting through three hours of kid after kid wrestling a piano and trying to figure out if they’re playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or “Ode to Joy.” Sometimes being a grand-father took an iron ass.
At least soccer is outside. Not like the horse-riding lessons. He had no idea where that interest had come from. They weren’t horse people, and they had never known anyone who was. Growing up, he had spent summers working on a farm and hated it. He couldn’t wait to get a job at the factory, and he had worked like hell to send Caitlin to college, so she wouldn’t have to work on a farm or at a factory, and, yes, that meant he wasn’t around much since he was trying to feed her and put clothes on her back. Then, to end up back in a barn, and paying money to be there? He couldn’t believe it. Lily had even told him excitedly that she was learning how to “muck out stalls” as if shoveling shit was mysterious, or educational, or some kind of treat. It was baffling. As far as he could tell they were paying to take care of someone else’s horses. It was a racket like those Pick-Your-Own fruit places. When Caitlin had said, “Doesn’t it smell good in here?” he had been puzzled; it had smelled like sweat and leather and hay and urine. Not a fragrance he’d ever seen advertised. It had smelled like work, and it made his back hurt and it reminded him of Chip Nolan sneering at him in high school, “Are those the only clothes you got?” (Why would he get Facebook to see what douchebags like Chip Nolan were doing?) But he had kept his mouth shut sitting there at Little Big Ranch or Tiffany Stables or whatever the hell the place was called. He had finally realized this was one of the secrets to being a good grandparent. An iron will to keep your mouth shut. It probably could have helped him be a better parent as well, and it certainly would have helped his marriage.
As far as he could see, Lily, beautiful as she was, didn’t have much athletic talent. The kids she played with didn’t either. Last year her team was getting beaten so badly in one game that the coach had pulled them off the field before the end. Judging from the pre-game warm-up, this season was going to be similar. Although Lily had been excited to be put on the Cannons, believing they were named after the Chudley Cannons, whoever they were, no one seemed to know what they were doing.
He doesn’t understand much about soccer, but he recognizes the look of someone who is lost but trying not to show it. The concentration, the hard brow. He had seen it on his mother’s face those last years. He sees it on his grand-daughter’s now. He sees it on her face a lot. She is sweet, but she doesn’t pick things up too quickly. He would never be given a “My Grand-Child Is an Honor Student” bumper stickers which is fine with him. He hates bumper stickers. It’s like talking with your ass. Who cares where you vacationed or went to school or how you vote? Who puts a cross on their butt for people to look at? You want to pray? Fine. Go do it and shut up. But it wasn’t just the stickers on the backs of cars now, but the windows as well. On some of them, the windows are so covered up, he doesn’t understand how anyone could see out. He suspects the stickers shows the decline of literacy. At least when kids had written their names on the walls, they were learning how to write. These kids would be pushing picture buttons on machines at McDonalds. They wouldn’t know how to read or add; they would just be little monkeys, pushing buttons for a treat. He doesn’t say any of this. What does he say? Nothing. He keeps his goddamn mouth shut. Iron Man, that’s him.
Caitlin comes up next to him.
“Glad you could make it, Dad.”
They stand together. She looks good, and he wants to say this but is afraid
how she will take it.
“You want to sit somewhere.”
“No. I’m fine.” The metal bleachers might as well have had a sign that said “Welcome to Hemorrhoid Field.” He would stand, at least for a little bit, maybe he wouldn’t have to stay the whole time. Hopefully they’d get killed and pulled off the field again, and they could go get something to eat.
Lily sees him and waves, “Hey Grandpa! Hey Grandpa!”
He waves back.
His daughter is texting or doing something as always with that phone. One day it had appeared in her hand, and it had never left. He doesn’t say anything. Lily comes over.
“Hey Grandpa! Hey Grandpa! We’re getting beat already.”
“Are you having fun?” he asks.
“Yeah. But you’re supposed to look like you’re not when you’re getting beat.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah, that’s part of the game. You’re supposed to look upset. Do I look
upset?” She frowns.
“Yes, you do. Very.”
“Now you don’t.
She laughs. “Now you definitely don’t. You better get back.”
As his grand-daughter runs across the grass, he feels his daughter’s hand slide into his, something that hasn’t happened in years. He doesn’t say anything.
He doesn’t move. He stands there like iron.
Copyright 2018 Joe Mills