Fathers and Sons

The doctor told Gerrick to bring his grandfather in if his diarrhea and stomach cramps worsened, but today the old man refuses to leave his bedroom. Gerrick could go in to check on Sibelus, through the door that separates the two bedrooms, but he takes the long way around, entering by way of the cramped kitchen. At the refrigerator, just before the doorway, he braces himself for the odor of liniment, mentholated cold medicine, and the pine-scented cleanser masking the vomit.

Sibelus sits on the edge of the bed, which swallows up nearly half the room, his gaunt chest heaving slightly, his short, speckled legs just touching the floor. On the large trunk nearby sit two shoe boxes, overbrimmed with pill bottles. Gerrick picks up one of the bottles and reads the label. “What do you want to eat, Granddaddy?”

“What time is it?” Sibelus says.

“It’s a little before eight.”

“That late?”

“The news’ll be on after a while. You need to lie down, so you won’t fall over.”

“Won’t you open up some sardines for me?”

“You supposed to eat that?”

“Who’s gone put a switch to me if I do?”

“Seems like you got a little energy back.”

“Thank the Lord for that.”

Gerrick takes the cap off the bottle and sticks a finger in, trying not to take in too many breaths. A few years earlier Gerrick’s grandaunt, Odessa, passed away in the other bedroom. What would it be like to live without these heavy smells? “You want to take one of these?”

“What for?”

“Your blood pressure. It’s your blood pressure pills. You want one of ’em?”

“Don’t ask your granddaddy a question like that. You know I don’t want ’em.”

“You got to take ’em.”

“Set it down there.”

“Come on, now.”

“I ain’t old enough or sick enough to be stuttering yet. Set it down right there. On the trunk. Right there. … Why you messing with the TV, boy?”

“Just turning it off. Figured you was going to sleep.”

“I ain’t.”

“I brought some water for your pills.”

“Don’t want water. Ain’t we got nothing sweet? Bring me some Kool Aid.”

“I got to go pick up something in Montgomery. What you want me to bring you back?”

“A new liver.”

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