Monday, April 09, 2007


"I worked in a Portuguese tin-can factory," my grandfather said. "After the war. That's where I met your grandmother."

I was fourteen years old. It was July and humid. Outside the lawn was patchy and brown. I sat on a tall silver stool. My grandfather stood near the stove wore two red potholder-gloves and watched the lighted oven in a concentrated way as though at any moment something terribly important would happen, something that would require pot-holder gloves, decisive resolution, and inhuman dexterity. I spun on my stool and watched my tiny bare feet and my thin little toes and toenails.

"We produced thirty-two styles in twelve sizes and really these cans were for beans and pineapples and paint and oil, and we made some for peas and olives, condensed milk, other things. You sweated forever like hell maybe. One-hundred-fifty degrees in the factory and always two glasses of water from a riot. Know what the secret was?"


"Drugged water. That's how you pacify an angry population. Drugs."

"Oh? Hmm."

"What are we really talking about?"

"I don't know."

My grandfather was baking blueberry-pies in tiny pie-trays. He had already baked thirty or forty pies and these pies covered every counter and filled cabinets and the refrigerator and each place I looked in the kitchen there was a waiting blueberry pie and in the air I could smell the sweet smell of blueberry-pies.

"Blueberry-pies and drugs?" I asked.

"Pie was invented by a Roman or something, Cato the Elder. Write that down." My grandfather was laughing. "Cato found that the best way to pacify the Roman population was to drug them with pies. His pie was more of a tart with honey and goat-cheese, probably, but he added, I don't know, hemlock or something, and tricked the would-be rioters, the probable evil-doers, into eating these pie-tart things with hemlock which is how Romans liked to poison people and every day Cato'd send out a cart for the dead, poisoned, would-be rioters, and sometimes two carts, and he'd have his men dump them in the river, or if the weather was inclement, pile them up and burn them."

"Are you drugging these pies so you can burn 'probable evil-doers' too?"

"What pies?"

"These blueberry pies," I said. I pointed at the blueberry pies. "What are all these pies for?"

"Bribes," my grandfather said. "Bartering. This pie is a valuable commodity and I'll trade it for other valuable commodities on the commodity-market."

"I want a pie can I have a pie? The pies look sweet and I'd like to eat one or maybe just a piece of one of these pies, maybe if there's sort of an ugly one or one that doesn't seem whole and perfect or as valuable. Or maybe you could make a special pie for me and Merna and mother or something, you know family-like, a special blueberry-pie. You could make a special blueberry-pie I think, it could just be a normal pie but a special because it's for me and Merna and mom."

My grandfather opened the oven and removed a blueberry-pie and stood very still and watched the kitchen-counters with the blueberry-pie in his hands. My grandfather's eyes seemed very distant and concentrated.

"You don't have to though, I mean I don't need a blueberry-pie and really a special blueberry-pie like that is probably narcissistic or something and it was a stupid idea. Don't worry, I realize it was a dumb idea and I won't tell Merna about the blueberry-pies or anything and I won't even ask for another thing like that again. I won't ask for anything. I didn't mean to go around demanding blueberry-pies which would be terribly frivolous and stuff and people should probably work for their blueberry-pies because it's a valuable commodity and I can probably make my own pies and maybe I'll make you an apple-pie sometime, if you like apples which I don't really know because I never asked you."

My grandfather turned the oven-knob to 'off' and set the blueberry-pie on an empty stovetop burner. "It's okay," he said. He stepped slowly out of the kitchen with little shuffling old-man steps and with his tiny black wrinkled eyes half-closed and I followed him and we were in the living-room near the sofa which was empty and plastic-covered and sort of apathetic.

"Yeah it's okay," I said. "Pies are unhealthy and sort of insidious and probably addicting and I didn't really want one anyway because it would make me spoiled probably and fat and ugly and useless."

"Blueberries," I say aloud.

"Hmm," Merna says.

"Cold blueberry-pie."

Merna's car is parked in the Denny's parking-lot. We're waiting. The Denny's is well-lighted and warm-looking and through the windows are dozens of Denny's-customers and the Denny's-customers have large round heads and wide mouths and the wide mouths are open and moving in an excited way and there's food and coffee and the windows are a little steamed from the moving mouths and heat and oxygen.

"Should we go inside and wait?" I ask.

"No," Merna says. "I like it here. I like it in my car, my car's very comfortable I think. It has comfortable seats."

"That's true."

Merna removes a miniature-mirror from her purse and opens the mirror and with the miniature-mirror examines her face from several angles and Merna focuses the mirror on her eyes and eyebrows and with her other hand Merna smoothes her eyebrows. "How are you feeling," Merna asks. She's watching me.

"I'm feeling good, what do you mean? I'm fine. Actually, I'm pretty happy. It was my birthday and I'm older and alive and stuff."

"Happy birthday."


Merna places her miniature-mirror back into her purse. "On my birthday I usually feel old or closer to death, but I'm only a little older than you so probably I should say, good for you to be happy on your birthday. Still," she says. "I feel like you're a little strange and distant and even grandpa said something to me about it, and grandma too."

"Maybe I'm a little tired because I can't sleep well lately. Allergies, I think. Black-mold. I saw some black-mold at my apartment in the bathroom, on the ceiling and behind the toilet, and it took a week to get the maintenance-man to remove the black-mold and I'd already breathed the black-mold spores when I went to the bathroom probably and when I was sleeping and the black-mold spores are probably in my lungs and stuck there and clogging my lungs and killing lung-cells and breeding on my lungs and stuff which is making me tired because my body has to produce more white blood-cells to fight the evil black-mold and keep me from dying and also because the black-mold is probably inhibiting my lungs so my oxygen intake is smaller and weaker and my lungs feel smaller and weaker which makes my blood oxygen-less, or at least oxygen-starved kind of."

"Oh, okay. I guess that makes sense."

"Grandpa should be worried about you not me. You're the pregnant one, and pregnant with twins and married to Noah with his weird hands and weird busy work-schedule. You'll have to raise the twins by yourself, probably. Noah works one-hundred hours a week and sleeps at the hospital, I think, so you'll be always lonely and talk to the babies and the babies will only cry and burp and they won't talk back which would drive me crazy so that I'd end up walking down dark alleys in my night gown and banging my head against trash-dumpsters and probably the twins will be boys and the twin boys will grow up without a paternal influence which will make them violent and dangerous and do risky things like knife-fights and baseball-bat fights and racing cars and chicken on curvy mountain roads at night with no headlights and drugs and alcohol and you can't stop that because teenage boys only care about exerting themselves on the universe and existence and stuff and also negating the universe and fear of death and stuff and these evil twin boys will ask you where Noah is and you'll tell the twins he's at work saving people's lives in the emergency-room which will internalize their anger somehow and make them quiet and passive, but in a sad way so that it destroys their adult lives and paralyzes them in lonely apartments in lonely cities with only boring jobs and video-games."

"That's ridiculous and can't happen, won't happen, and Noah doesn't work that much anyway."

"I've only ever seen him at work because he only exists at work in the emergency room."

"He gets vacation-time and sick-time and flex-time."

"What's flex-time?"

"It's flexible."

"Oh," I say. I watch the Denny's-customers through the Denny's-window. "What if there's an emergency, if there's an emergency then Noah has to go to the emergency-room and help people because of his Hippocratic oath, which could happen on vacation or any time like he's talking to the twins and teaching them important life skills like talking and then he looks at his cell-phone and says to the boys, 'I must perform surgery at the emergency-room,' and Noah leaves and the boys never learn to speak and are silent until you crazily bang your head against exposed steel-pipes."

"Don't worry, Noah and I will be fine and the babies will be fine."

We don't talk for a while. Aaron and Erik arrive and Aaron parks his Lexus and Aaron and Erik leave the Lexus and slowly walk inside the Denny's. They don't see us.

"Why do you fuck with grandma so much?" Merna says.

"Shouldn't we go inside?"

"Grandma's a good and nice person and you should be nicer to her."

I open the car-door. "There's Aaron and Erik."

"She's basically our mother maybe and she loves you."

The parking-lot's cold and snowy and lighted and I'm stepping into and out of long stretched electric-light parallelograms and my shadow's long and indistinct. "I'll have coffee probably. Coffee and fries maybe, or a piece of cake or pie, something sweet would be good with whipped-cream and sugar or like cream-pie maybe blueberry-pie, blueberry-cream-pie would be good. Denny's probably doesn't have blueberry-cream-pie but they should and I should riot about it somehow and make them make it quickly and just for me."

Merna's walking next to me. "You could have a worse grandma. You could have a violent child-beating grandma with special ass-beating paddles who burns you with matches."

"Thank you Merna," I say. "I didn't know that."

"You could be nicer and more considerate. You could show appreciation and be a person."

We're waiting to be seated.

Merna points Merna's eyes at my eyes. "You're my sister and I'm your sister so we're sisters and we have to be honest all the time because nothing else in the world can be honest with anything else except for us two sisters so I'm telling you honestly and sister-like that you don't need to be a bitch to grandma or grandpa or a bitch to me because we're sisters and only able to understand each other and the only two people who can speak the same sister-language which is unique and sharp and defined and we're fine and okay and we have grandparents who are good grandparents and do good grandparent things and deserve for us to be kind and considerate and to do nice things like visit and compliment them sometimes and to be honest and truthful with them which is difficult because truth and truthfulness and honest are pretty much impossible probably."

"Oh," I say. We sit down.

"It’s good. You're a good person," Merna says.

"I'm at Denny's," I say. "And everything's pretty much the same as everything else."


MadisonGlass said...

Used to be, when I was nervous I slept in my car. Sometimes with the dogs. Sometimes not with the dogs. I used to sleep in my car and it was all nice and cocoon-like and warm sometimes and safe and when I got upset and started driving east and ended up in Missoula I slept in my car. And it was cold, but the dogs were warm and Franny almost slept on top of me to keep warm and the snow was all over the car and it really was a white cocoon and beautiful and I had to wake up at four every morning to run the gas and re-heat the car but that was all and it was so safe and calm. but then Franny got sick and I had to take her home because she wouldn't eat. She had a blast, but she was also nervous and wanted to go home and eat and I didn't want her to be nervous because I know what it's like to be nervous and anyway your novel is very beautiful and good. This chapter is brilliant and perfect and good.

Maya said...

this is r e a l l y real

i had to double-space between words so i could space out the really like that

i like the end when merna talks in a paragraph too

i think i would maybe buy this, or at least think about buying it, or lean against the rack reading it in the store and then kind of want to own it and maybe buy it if i was in the right mood

Maya said...

i don't think the double-spacing worked in the first line; bummer

Ofelia said...

I think the double-spacing worked Maya. Thank you for your comment. What should I do to make people lean against the rack in the book-store and then froth at the mouth and immediately buy it, go home, stare at it, and wonder what they were thinking?

I think it's getting too long anyway. When I get to editing I'm going to cut a lot of the overly repetative stuff...

THank you.