Cleaning Up After the Dog

by Alan Harris

“Hey, where’s my card?” Grandpa asked as we sat across from each other at his dining room table. His house had been quiet up until then. The television was turned off. I kept looking over at the blank screen, feeling as though the TV was staring back from the living room. Today that old television would watch us for a change.

“What card?” I asked.

“My Grandparents Day card!”

“I never heard of Grandparents Day.”

“It’s a Hallmark holiday. If you’re lucky, you’ll have another shot at it next year.”

“When’s Grandkids Day?”

Grandpa sneered. “Every day is Grandkids Day.”

I thought about Grandparents Day. I supposed that there’s kids so lucky that they don’t have to buy any stupid cards on Grandparents Day. But then I guess there’s other kids who have to buy like three or four or five. I looked over at the television and wished that it would turn itself on to some special channel that would answer all the questions an eleven-year-old keeps to himself.

“What are you thinking about?” Grandpa asked.

“Just questions in my head, but I don’t wanna bother you.”

“Come on. We ain’t gonna live forever. Ask one of your questions already.”

I turned away from the TV and saw my reflection in his glass eye. I took a deep breath and asked, “Did you love Grandma?”

“Of course I did,” he snapped. “What kind of knucklehead question is that?”

Since I wasn’t sure what kind of question it was, I didn’t answer.

“Of course I loved her!”

“What happened?” I wasn’t sure what kind of question that was either.

“We did everything together.”

“Who? You and Grandma?”

Grandpa just kept talking. “We went to the dentist together.”

“When?”

“After the dentist I drove her to the store, and she helped me pick out a pair of tennis shoes.”

“You played tennis?”

He was talking, but not to me. Both eyes, flesh and glass, stared into the television screen. Even though the TV was off, it was like he was watching it, watching a story unfold in the darkness of the black screen.

“She asked me, ‘What’s on TV tonight?'”

“So, what was on?”

Wheel of Fortune, then Jeopardy,” he answered.  “Alex Trebec’s one smart fella—Canadian I think. We both loved those shows.” He tilted his gray head towards the television. So I turned my head there as well. We both waited for the dark screen to continue the story. For a moment I was sure I saw something, but it was only our reflections. Grandpa put his hands together like he was about to say a prayer. “So she got up and announced, ‘I’m going to clean up after the dog before the show starts.'”

“You guys had a dog?”

“It’s hard to explain,” he explained. “Your grandma enjoyed cleaning up: after the dog, after me, after everything and everybody. She would have cleaned up after you, too. She was just like that. It made her feel useful.”

I smiled as I thought about my grandma walking around the backyard with a shovel, cleaning up after the dog—and Grandpa.

“I was never much useful like your grandmother was,” he muttered as he turned away from the TV.

“What happened next?”

Grandpa’s glass eye blinked as he turned back toward the television. “Alex introduced the contestants. There was a librarian from Moundsville, West Virginia, and a store manager for Monkey Wards from Carmel, California. But before Alex got to the last contestant, I heard the neighbor pounding on my door. He had found her lying on the ground near the garden.”

“You guys had a garden?”

“She wasn’t even sick,” Grandpa replied, shaking his head. I kept listening, but turned back to the TV. The blank, dark screen helped me focus on the importance of such things as Grandparents Day.

“It was an aneurysm,” Grandpa explained. Since I wasn’t sure what an aneurysm was, I just nodded my head. There was a lot I didn’t know. I was surprised to learn they had a dog, not to mention a garden. They’re all gone now, along with Grandma. I decided to just keep nodding my head as Grandpa remembered things I had never known.

“When she told me she was going to clean up after the dog,” he said, “I had no idea, no idea at all that I was listening to…”

Grandpa stopped in the middle of his sentence. He does that more and more. Like he’s waiting for someone to finish it for him. “Listening to what?” I tried.

“Her final words.”

He glanced back towards the television and nodded to no one.

“Final words will sneak up on you,” Grandpa said with a sad smile.

“Like an aneurysm?”

“Absolutely,” he replied. “Just like that.”


 

Headshot_Author_Fiction_AHarris 20141204Alan D. Harris writes short stories, plays, and poetry based primarily upon the life-stories of friends, family, and total strangers. Harris is the 2011 recipient of the Stephen H. Tudor Scholarship in Creative Writing and the 2014 John Clare Poetry Prize winner from Wayne State University. In addition he is the father of seven, grandfather of six, as well as a Pushcart Prize nominee in both 2013 and 2014.

 

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