The first glass tastes like hope. The night will be amazing. The lights are shining bright, my lipstick glimmers red on the glass rim. The maroon liquid simmers down my throat, leaving a warm trail just under the thin skin of my neck.
The second glass tastes like buzz. The night is amazing. The lights are a little too bright, but my lipstick is no longer glimmering. The edges of the frame are warm, like being held in a movie theatre when it’s too cold.
The third glass tastes like regret. The past isn’t amazing. My misgivings cloud the lights out; my lipstick reminds me of the red stain on my dead grandmother’s teeth. Maroon tastes like hazy summer nights when I stayed over at my grandparents’, all the while wishing I was home.
I can’t keep them out of my head. The ghosts start to gather, like looming shadows crowding around my shoulders. The lights are dim, reflecting off the corners of my memories. The flashbacks start, involuntarily, a showcase of wise hands falling over mine. From instructions whispered over my head, fingers rushing to help, to exclaimed complaints: “This house stinks like food!” Old, tired eyebrows furrowing into frowns.
He rushes us into his red car. He’s buying us pizza at Chuck E. Cheese’s because we don’t want anything to do with his homemade meals. He offers to make us pizza from scratch, even though there’s already food prepared. We want Chuck E. Cheese’s. He rustles tired, wrinkled bills from his jean shorts and watches us as we greedily scarf it all down. He looks sad.
My grandmother asks me to turn the TV down, I yell at her from my imprinted seat in the reclining chair that the volume isn’t as loud as she thinks it is. She forces herself up from the sofa in the living room and knocks on the door before coming in to ask me to lower the volume again. I glare at her like she’s asked me to kill a wide-eyed puppy. “Why are you asking me to turn it down?!” I almost scream at her. She looks at me, her eyes blurry with tears and turns away before I can bruise her any further. I cross my arms against my little kid chest, feeling triumphant.
My grandmother dyes her hair red, even though we have never actually see her do it. She likes to wear lipstick to church and sometimes it leaves imprints on her teeth; I never actually force myself to tell her to wipe it off. She taps her sandaled feet to the televised mass on Channel 13 and I tell her about every project I get about an important Christian figure in my religion class. I play cards at the dinner table with my grandfather while she pays the bills.
She stops acting like my grandmother. My grandfather has to start taking care of things around the house when he’s only used to have the kitchen as his domain. He is a cook; he isn’t a payer of bills. He looms over white envelopes stamped with government seals. He also has to remember doctor’s appointments. My grandmother sits on the sofa, her eyes coming in and out of a place only she knows. She doesn’t ask me to turn down the TV as much anymore.
My grandmother is gaunt, her hooked nose creates shadows over her thin, uncolored lips. She sees us come through the door, and because she has always been smart, she makes a big deal out of it: she knows we are supposed to be important to her. She tricks you out of it when you ask her to say your name, even when you can see through the glasses over her eyes that there is a permanent haze of confusion that clouds her irises. Her hair is a faded orange, gray roots growing into lazy curls.
My grandmother is gone and my grandfather no longer whistles his way around their two-bedroom apartment. A room is empty. His eyes are empty too. The kitchen isn’t his domain anymore. His hair has lost its Hollywood star sheen, his mouth now in a seemingly perpetual frown. I’m not used to seeing him this way.
I watch him disintegrate before me, the man that had doted on me like I’d been a princess. The man who had given up all of his bad habits to be a great grandfather. The man who would have taken me to the end of the world, or just a Chuck E. Cheese’s, if I’d asked him to. I watch him fragment into folds of skin and a bag of bones and a tight crease of skin over an unrecognizable face.
For a time, I drive his red car, and it’s easy to forget that he sat in the same place where I sit. I forget he drove that car. I forget my grandmother dyed her hair red. I dye my hair red. I drive a red car. I have her hooked nose. I force her disease into my brain; I make myself forget.
The fourth glass tastes like compliance. The night has been overcome by recollection. I watch the maroon swerve in the glass, my red hair curling over my shoulders. I speak, in slurred tones, how much I regret not loving my grandmother and my grandfather enough. If he were next to me, he would laugh right in my face, in that obnoxious, obscenely loud way. She would pat me on the shoulder, shaking her head.
The first glass tastes like hope.
Lista de imágenes:
1. Lauren Fleishman, "Yevgeniy & Lyubov Kissing. Married on June 29, 1941", 2014.
2. Lauren Fleishman, "Yaakov & Mariya Shapirshetyn. Married on July 6, 1949", 2014.
3. Lauren Fleishman, "Moe & Tessie Rubenstein. Married on June 21, 1942", 2014.
4. Lauren Fleishman, "Leon & Harriet Bolotin. Married on November 7, 1943", 2014.