Watching Grandpa

tagIncest/TabooWatching Grandpa

Grandpa Jack had been declining ever since Grandma had passed, at least that's what they all said. Lydia didn't believe it. She didn't think that it had anything to do with his blood pressure or his gall bladder or whatever other pills they had him on. It was because he was heartbroken.
Lydia had told her father her theory that morning. "You're such a drama queen," her father had said in a tone that dismissed her. They were stuck together in the car on the way to the hospital, on their way to pick up Grandpa Jack from his overnight stay. Today was to be Lydia's turn to watch him until 9:00 pm when the night nurse came over. "He just takes lousy care of himself," her dad muttered and Lydia watched as his left hand strayed from the steering wheel to his belly. Dad had gotten a lot fatter lately and he drank a lot more too. Lydia hadn't ratted him out to her mom but quite often, he smelled like cigarettes even though he supposedly quit three years ago.
If she was a drama queen then her father was definitely a liar. Saying that would only start an argument that she'd never win and she still needed him to pay off the credit card before she headed back to school. Better to keep it all to herself, she decided as she kept her eyes riveted on the boring Midwestern scenery. It was corn and soybeans as far as the eye could see except for the ribbon of tollway that snaked through the center of all that farmland. The highway was busy at all times of day and night and seemed to be a constant reminder that people did leave. They got out and some never came back. Lydia could hardly wait to go back to school and civilization.
Once they had arrived at the nurse's station, her father was all business. "We're here to pick up Jack Whiteside," he said in a gruff, no-nonsense voice to the nurse with red glasses perched on the end of her nose. Her father always seemed to have something better to do, no matter what he was doing.
The nurse looked up from the computer screen and the glasses slid back into place. "Oh good," she didn't even try to hide it, "he's definitely ready."
Her father shook his head and made a noise that said all kinds of things. Like his father was still the cut-up and the bad influence and here he was, the child who had to be an adult; it didn't even need words. When Grandma Lydia was alive, she used to chide dad for losing his patience with a tsk-tsk and a pat on the arm. She always had a little, secret smile when she talked about Grandpa Jack. She'd remind her son, "But that's why we all love your father."
Lydia had been named for her grandmother. When she was younger, she had protested, "But my name's not Rosebud," which was the only other name she knew her grandmother to be called, other than Grandma.
"No, that's just a stupid nickname that your Grandpa has for her," her dad had told her as he rolled his eyes; like nicknames were also waste of time and just one more thing that he found annoying. "Her real name is Lydia, just like yours." Lydia liked her name but so far, most of her life, almost everyone called her Lids, even Grandpa Jack.
Everyone always said that she and Grandma looked alike too, especially after Lydia had gotten to be a teenager. She didn't agree. Lydia had seen the pictures and she wished that she really did look like the glamorous woman in those black and white photos. Grandma Lydia had been a model and had done a little acting back in the day before she married Grandpa Jack. Even when she had been old, people said that Grandma was stunning. Grandma had the same honey blonde hair then that she had in the pictures, almost the identical shade of Lydia's. That was where the resemblance ended though, or at least Lydia thought. Grandma had been built like Marilyn Monroe. She'd seen those pictures of the first Lydia in her bikini and it was obvious that she was practically perfect. Lydia still hated the flair of her hips and the tops of her thighs and hoped that eventually, she'd outgrow them both. Maybe then she'd be more like Rosebud.
She'd taken it especially hard when Grandma Lydia had passed. It was as if a piece of her were gone as well. She couldn't really talk to her father about it. Dad would just shrug and tell her that death and taxes were both inevitable, or something equally horrifying in its cruelty. She'd tried to talk to Grandpa Jack once or twice but he was far too quiet when Lydia's name was brought up. There were tears in his usually dancing, blue eyes and she hadn't known what to say.
This afternoon, as Lydia and her father entered Grandpa Jack's hospital room, she immediately saw the sparkle of laughter in his eyes and she found it reassuring. Lydia instantly knew that whatever the procedure had been, Grandpa Jack was just fine and would make a complete recovery. "Hey Lids, how's tricks?" he asked, with his hand out to high five her.
Lydia slapped his hand and felt how cool and dry his palm was. "Good, Grandpa, how are you?"
Another nurse wrote something on the clipboard and then checked his wheelchair. Lydia was sure that the hospital must be making him use the wheelchair to leave. Grandpa Jack would rather crawl through broken glass than use it. "Well considering what they feed you here," he made a face that made Lydia giggle, "and the fact that they hide all the good drugs on you, not too bad."
The nurse hadn't laughed at either one of those observations and neither had her father. All the nurse said was, "Mr. Whiteside, here are your home care instructions. You're going to need someone with you 24 hours a day for the next week or two." She bent down and spoke much louder, as if Grandpa Jack were deaf or slow, "We don't want you to fall or hurt yourself."
Grandpa Jack nodded, "Or hear anything ever again in this ear," he added with a grin that was just for Lydia. "Don't worry, I'll be a good boy and I guess Lids is babysitting me today so what could possibly happen?"
Lydia pushed the wheelchair down the hall, to the elevator. Once the three of them were inside, Grandpa Jack asked, "How do you like my new look Lids? Pajamas all day, just like Hugh Hefner," he chuckled as he put up one arm for Lydia to see his blue and white striped pajama shirt.
"It's great," Lydia said before bending down to kiss Grandpa on his head. His gray hair was combed neatly and she thought that one of the nurses must have done it. Lately, Grandpa hadn't been much for sprucing up.
She pushed the wheelchair through the foyer and straight to her father's car. On the ride to Grandpa Jack's house, she could sense the tension between her dad and her grandpa. They had never been close and since her grandmother had died, her father kept insisting that Grandpa Jack should sell the house and move into assisted living. Grandpa Jack said that he'd rather burn the house down with him still inside than go to a place that he referred to as "hell's waiting room." Her father wouldn't stop finding reasons to bring it up though.
"The nurse will be here tonight, Dad," her father reminded Grandpa Jack after he'd brought him in the house and wheeled him to the center of the living room. "But if anything happens," he pointed his finger at both his father and Lydia, "anything at all, you need to call the hospital right away. I mean it, Dad," her father said as he shook his finger at Grandpa Jack like he was a bad, little kid.
"If anything happens, just throw me in the driveway and run me over with the car, Lids, okay?" Grandpa Jack asked with a chuckle before replying to his oldest son. "I'm fine. The hospital just makes you do all this shit so that you don't sue their asses. Go," he shooed her dad away with one bruised hand, "Lids and I will be fine."
Once her father was safely in the car and backed down the driveway, Grandpa Jack tried to push himself up and out of the wheelchair. He groaned and immediately took a seat once again . "Dammit," he muttered and looked like he was going to try again. His forearms shook a little.
"Grandpa, stop," Lydia said with a hand on his shoulder. "What do you want?" she asked.
"Well, a sandwich would be good," he shook his head yes. "How about an Italian beef from Tony's? Extra cheese, extra juice, hot peppers on the side because that girl in there goes crazy with 'em if you put 'em on the sandwich." He paused and rubbed his unshaven chin that had sprouted a few white hairs, "Oh and an order of onion rings. And whatever you want, Lids. There's money in my top dresser drawer." He laid a finger across his mouth to tell her that was a secret and wiggled his eyebrows at her. "Or maybe we should just say fuck it and go to Vegas? Why are we hanging out around here?"
He'd always made her laugh and even like this, Lydia couldn't help it but crack up. "Let's see what your instructions say," she told him as she unfolded the papers that the humorless nurse had shoved in her direction. "That's a big no on the Italian beef sandwich," Lydia told him as she read the bullet points. "Jello," she announced as Grandpa Jack groaned, "you can have Jello today, Grandpa. No solid foods yet."
"Jello?" he asked weakly. He sighed and shrugged his shoulders, almost as if he were resigned to the instructions and that wasn't like her Grandpa Jack at all. "Okay, screw it, gimme some Jello."
Lydia found a six pack of assorted Jello cups in her grandfather's refrigerator and called out, "you want orange or cherry?"
"Cherry."
When she returned with the open container and a spoon, Grandpa Jack took them both and grumbled, "They'll kill you with this goddamn Jello." After a couple of spoonfuls though, he seemed to have cheered up a bit and added, "Thanks. I hate to have you wait on me Lids. A beautiful girl like you shouldn't be stuck babysitting an old man like me all day." He put another spoonful of Jello in his mouth and talked with his mouth full, "You should be out with a boy."
She had plenty of opportunities to spend time with boys and almost all of them were disappointing for a myriad of reasons. Lydia just shrugged.
"On the other hand," Grandpa Jack continued as he scraped up the last of the Jello, "most boys your age are schmucks so maybe you should just hang out with me."
"Exactly," she told him before she took the empty cup back to the kitchen. Once she'd thrown the cup in the garbage and washed the spoon, she set it back in the drawer with all of the spoons its size. She noticed that not one thing had changed in the kitchen since Grandma Lydia had died. In fact, if Grandma were haunting the house, she would be able to find everything just as she left it.
Grandpa looked tired and wanted to "sleep in my own bed," so Lydia wheeled Grandpa Jack to his bedroom. She put out both arms and assisted him, one step at a time, from the wheelchair to the bed and watched as he eased his way to the mattress with his eyes shut tightly as if to block out the pain. "Everything in this house is the same as it was when Grandma was alive," she murmured, unsure if she should bring up her namesake when Grandpa already wasn't feeling well. "Except the bedroom," she added. Since Grandma Lydia had passed, the bed had changed from a queen sized bed with a light pink, fabric headboard to a twin bed with an adjustable base so Grandpa could watch TV. Grandma Lydia would have never allowed him to have a TV in the bedroom but her vanity had been moved from its place at the far side of the room and had been replaced with a TV on a plain brown stand.
"Yes, except the bedroom," Grandpa Jack repeated with a sad sigh.
Lydia told him in a small voice as she pulled the covers up and tucked them in around his shoulders, "I still miss Grandma."
As Grandpa Jack lay his head on the thin pillow and closed his eyes, he said in a faraway voice, "Me too."
Lydia pushed the wheelchair back, closer to the bedroom door and then turned off the table lamp before closing Grandpa Jack's door. She checked her phone for the time. According to the instructions, she had about three hours before he was due for more pills and then maybe more Jello.
On her way back to the living room, she stopped in front of the spare bedroom door. Lydia hadn't been in there in years and wondered if this wasn't where her grandmother's vanity had been placed. She wouldn't normally just barge in, especially not if Grandpa Jack had been his usual, spritely self but since she was technically the adult in charge at the moment, Lydia decided it was okay to snoop.
When she entered the room, she felt her mouth open, shocked into silent surprise. Holy shit, Lydia thought as she looked around. Here she had thought it was strange that the kitchen was kept in such pristine condition, as if it awaited the return of Grandma Lydia. The spare bedroom was almost a shrine to her late grandmother. Her vanity was here, pushed up against the back wall and Lydia immediately went over to it. She remembered being fascinated with her Grandma's vanity as a child. She remembered watching intently as Grandma Lydia sat there and put on her makeup. Grandma had given Lydia instructions as she went along. "You start the blush here," she would say, something like that as she pointed with one dainty finger. Grandma Lydia always had long nails that she had kept painted a deep, blood red. Her fingers and toes both were painted to match and she'd point to her high cheekbone with one red nail. "You don't want to look like you're wearing blush, you want to look like you're excited."
Lydia took a seat on the stool and ran her fingertips over the top of the vanity. The dark wood still gleamed in the low overhead light and she bet that of all the household chores that he'd stopped doing, he still dusted this. Grandpa Jack most likely used the lemon furniture polish on the vanity to keep it just the way Grandma would have wanted it.
She'd never opened the lid before and it almost seemed sacrilegious to do so, but Lydia told herself that she'd put it all back exactly as he'd left it as she opened the vanity. To the right was a small jewelry box with a jeweled pink flower on the lid. This was where Grandma Lydia had kept her pearls, her "real" jewelry, she had told Lydia once upon a time. "Just my engagement ring and these pearls are real," she had confessed one afternoon when they'd played dress up together. "Everything else is costume jewelry," she said as she attached the back of one pearl earring.
"Costume jewelry?" Lydia remembered asking, not understanding the difference.
"Well, my dear, real jewels are very expensive," her Grandma had told her as she smoothed her braids back, "and your Grandpa isn't a rich man."
"He's not?" Lydia had wondered because they had every kind of soda available in the refrigerator, which made her grandparents seem rich.
Grandma had twisted her round lips into her secret smile and whispered, "No, he's not rich but he has other things that are much more important."
Lydia opened the jewelry box and found the pearl earrings and the rope of pearls wound in a circle on the top. Her grandmother's engagement ring and wedding ring were set in two slots next to the earrings. She might as well put it all on, Lydia told herself as she slipped the cool metal ring onto her third finger of her left hand. When would she have an opportunity to do this again?
Once she had the rings on, Lydia wound the cool, hard pearls around her throat and felt them tumble into her bra and puddle there. She pulled them out and let them slide down her tee shirt before she clipped the pearl earrings on. One glance in the mirror and she knew something was missing. For one thing, her hair was a mess and Grandma Lydia would never be seen with her hair up in a messy bun that was made with a ponytail holder. Grandma Lydia had kept her blonde hair shoulder length until the day she died and it was always, even when she was in hospice, perfectly brushed with every hair in its place.
Lydia reached further back into the vanity and found the black, enamel hair brush that her grandmother had used to brush her hair with. She could remember her namesake carefully counting the strokes. "At least a hundred strokes every day," she had reminded Lydia once before tugging the brush through Lydia's knots and frizz. Lydia felt the edge of something round and moved her hand a little further to the right and brought out a small, crystal ashtray with a half empty, green pack of Benson & Hedges along with a small gold lighter.
That's right, Lydia shook her head, there had been ashtrays all over the house when she was little but the last few years, there was only this one. Lydia had been instructed to stay on the lookout for Grandpa Jack. "He'll yell at me if he catches me smoking," she had told Lydia in a nervous voice as she clicked the lighter. Lydia remembered hearing her inhale deeply. Then she would exhale suddenly and then cough. "Delicious," she would whisper as if the cigarette were a piece of her homemade German chocolate cake.
Lydia didn't know why she needed to do it, but she tapped the pack and procured one long, white cylinder. She held it between her lips and lit the cigarette. Just like the Lydia before her, she inhaled sharply and filled her lungs entirely with smoke before she expelled it with a hard cough that came from her stomach. Fuck, why had Grandma liked to smoke, she wondered as the head rush began. And she even kept smoking after the cancer and even after Grandpa Jack had begun to throw out the cigarettes and all the ashtrays and lighters.
Lydia's mouth was dry and ashy and she didn't see the appeal.
Lydia left the cigarette to smolder in the ashtray and reached to the left. There was a tube of the crimson lipstick that matched Grandma's fingernails. Grandma Lydia had beautiful lips; a full, generous round mouth and perfect, movie star teeth. She'd grown up seeing the lipstick print on glasses and cups and quite often, on Grandpa Jack's cheeks or mouth. Lydia opened the lipstick and leaned in closer to watch her reflection pucker up. She outlined her lips slowly, following her grandmother's instructions to outline just past the border.
"Always check your teeth," Lydia could hear her grandmother say, and she did, just to make sure there was no red paint on them.
Her lips were crimson and they looked slippery and slick in the low light and somehow that made the smoking more palatable. Lydia felt like a movie star from the old days of black and white movies as she puffed, exhaled and tapped the cigarette that was now rimmed in lipstick. All she needed to do now was brush her hair one hundred strokes and maybe she'd have channeled the first Lydia enough for the reflection to be convincing.
She tugged out the rubber band and carefully guided the brush through her blonde hair. It took some time but when she'd counted one hundred, Lydia's hair shone like spun gold. She replaced the hairbrush inside the vanity and flicked her honey colored waves back over each shoulder before drawing deeply on the cigarette once more. She blew the smoke out on the glass and from the side, yes, now she could definitely see the resemblance.
Of course, the outfit was what killed it now. Grandma Lydia wouldn't have been caught dead in a tee shirt and skinny jeans with holes in both knees.
There was a long, green dress that hung on a hook on the front of the closet door. After a quick look in the closet, Lydia realized that she recognized most of it. It seemed that Grandpa had meticulously kept all of her favorite clothes, the ones that Grandma Lydia had said were special for one reason or another.
She slid the hangers to the right and looked each piece up and down. There was the hot pink jumpsuit that she'd worn for Labor Day long ago. Her father had said Grandma was much too old to wear it and Lydia's mother had complained about how Grandma's butt had bounced in that jumpsuit all day and that she'd made quite a spectacle of herself. Lydia was pretty sure that her mother had just been jealous and that Grandma never cared what anyone but Grandpa Jack thought.

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