No matter how much we cleaned the rooms and scrubbed the floors I could never escape that jittering restlessness I had as a child when visiting my grandad. Outside of the semi-detached castle my memories of him are cherished. Sitting at the head of the table at the pubs we would visit for Sunday roast, letting his hand get wet from the frosted glass of his second Guinness in his paws, as he played babysitter and the fool. But inside his castle, amongst all his familiar things, the mask would drop. I could never escape that feeling of unease since he slapped me. After that when visiting I would sit still on the edge of the sofa. Accept a biscuit and cup of tea. Tell him how school – college – work was. Then wait for that thirty minutes to go by before I made my excuses. He’d nod and hug me goodbye. He knew how it worked now.
‘Bit of a ride but you know Burton always has the best fish and chips.’ My mum said as she closed the front door behind her and dropped the white plastic bags on the living room table. I sat up from the sofa and closed the heavy photo album.
‘I’ll get the knives and forks. You want any sauce or vinegar?’ I said sliding the photo-album under the sofa for later.
‘Ketchup is great – no, vinegar. I asked them to basically drown those chips in it on your request. I’m going to go wash my hands.’ I saw her hesitate for a second before pushing through the door to the downstairs bathroom beside the kitchen. I had forgotten about it too throughout the day while cleaning up. It was like a parasite wriggling under your skin every now and then just to remind you it was still there. I would rather piss in the sink than sit on that toilet. A blue streak passed the window causing me to flick my head in its direction. There was nothing there, but I had to check. Pressing my face close to the glass I could only make out the whistling branches caught in the nights wind. There was no place for a person to hide in the small patio garden with its dotted plant pots and swaying tree.
‘I couldn’t remember if you liked pickled eggs or not.’ My mum said as she picked up the cutlery I left on the side. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Nothing.’ I replied still scanning the garden. ‘Eugh! What’s wrong with you?’
‘More for me then.’ She smiled and made her to way back to the sofa to unpack our dinner. Unclipping the Styrofoam packets, she began placing the crisp fish down on the plate before piling on a stack of chips.
‘Did you finish the second bedroom before you went out?’ I asked as I slid my knife under the fish batter. Flapping open the salted skin, I waited for the haddock to cool.
‘I got most of his clothes bagged up in those charity bags. I left them outside the front to get picked up on Monday.’
‘Keep anything for yourself?’
‘Just a few things. He really didn’t like to hoard or keep things he never used. Your Grandma loved to keep everything. We’d argue all the time about why she needed to keep all that tat and useless pieces of junk.’
‘Granddad didn’t care?’
‘No -he saw thought if it kept her happy what’s the problem.’ I could see where mum was coming from, but I felt the same way Grandad did.
‘Was she hoarding loads of things?’ I asked between a bite of a chip.
‘No. But it was like things she didn’t need to keep anymore. Old pictures I’d drawn thirty years ago.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with that. She’s not hurting anyone.’
‘She didn’t get it and neither do you.’ I understood it entirely. We lived in the cleanest emptiest home I had ever seen. Minimalism was a religion more than standard practice. I wouldn’t have minded if she only practiced it on herself but what could I do as a teenager. Coming home from school to find fifty percent of your wardrobe empty and thrown out with trash. Having to listen to her and her friends from the block compare the biggest cuts from their life. 100 objects in my life – well can they fit into just one box? No? Well throw it out and buy the most expensive key pieces you can get before you have to throw those out because it’s no longer summer and a chill is running through the air. God, I miss the jumper dad left me when I was fifteen.
‘So what about these photos I found? Would you want them in the trash too?’ I placed the plate on the scratched oak side-table and bent over to run my hand under the sofa. ‘I’ve been going through them and adding only the good ones to…’ I couldn’t feel it so I got up and knelt down to reach further under. My fingers sifted through the gathering carpet fuzz and dust bunnies but the photo album wasn’t there. The cold metal of another object buzzed on my fingertips as I quickly grabbed it. ‘I swear it was down here.’
‘What? The photos?’ Mum asked as I looked down at the staple gun I must have knocked under the sofa earlier when stapling some papers together.
‘Yeah the photos-and the album I had bought to put them in. Did I put it somewhere else when you got in?’
‘Can’t say I’ve seen it. Why are you looking at me like that?’
‘It’s not the first time you’ve not seen something of mine. Dad’s jumper.’
‘Not that again! I thought you had left it in the pile to be thrown so I used it to mop up the bleach I had spilt.’
I still had no words to reply to her as I continued to drag as much of my arm that could fit under the wallowing sofa as possible. Dragging it across the wooden frame pressed down on my arm like the belt of an addict. My finger tips and thumb growing cold from the lack of blood. ‘Shit.’ I give up.
‘You know; we can appreciate the objects we had loved before by saying farewell to them.’ She must have remembered that from one of the chapters in the book she had been reading in the car. ‘Finish what’s left of your food and we can check in the morning. I want to watch that new drama on BBC.’ I slumped back into the chair and smeared the crusted fatty ends of the fish into the ketchup.
The rain on the front door woke me gently while sleeping on the sofa. The rain had picked up and was beginning to lash out against the windows and doors. Every few seconds a great volley of rain would crack against the window panes before settling for a second of silence. There was something else out there amongst the rain though. A tearing of plastic that filled the room before stopping entirely. I pushed myself up slightly and stared across to the door doing my best to concentrate on any images or sounds. Light from the streetlamp two houses down glimmered in the spattering stream of rain hit the frosted glass. Perhaps it was just the rain pelting the charity bags my mum had left out for collection. A streak of black crept across the open blinds of the Livingroom. The hairs gathered up my neck before my brain could assume what had passed by was a person. As the rain continued to beat down, I barely moved from the spot. My eyes frozen on the window waiting for the thing I dreaded to appear. I had to make sure it was nothing if I wanted to even have a chance of falling back asleep. The cold heavy air pressed on my bare legs as I rolled out of the blanket and made my way to the door. Squatting low to the ground I picked at the letterbox to open it quietly. Fingers finally pinching the thin sliver of metal I rose it up. That was the easy part. With my side up I re-adjusted and began to push my fingers through the hole to raise the outside plate. I barely swallowed in an effort not to miss the slashing of plastic bag or shuffle of footsteps. I could feel a great weight gathering, pressing through the door and onto me. The winter chill was permeating through the metal, but something felt wrong. There was a breeze running across my shoulders and back when it should be coming from the letterbox. Pulling my hand back I turned on the spot and checked the windows to see if they were open. Was that shadow stood across just a trick of the eye?
Twenty minutes had passed, and it had not stabbed us yet. I recognized the striped blue and white shirt. It even had the small coffee stain I got on it before chucking it into the charity bag. Grandad had worn it that time I had began to hate him. He wore it loose. Letting it flare out around the white vest top so that when he finally twisted his arm across to slap me, I caught sight of that wish-she-had-a-baby-boy-blue shirt flutter in the motion. Except there was one button, the bottom button, that was left to hang lonely by itself rather clumsily. It set the whole image off. He had done the shirt up with the wrong buttons. Just how long had it taken to twist those small buttons into the slits with fingers like that? The sight of them made me want to wretch. I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down across my cheeks and over the tape lined across my mouth. Its vague humanity had been smothered in a dreamlike haze of horrifying melted wax. A wet acrylic drawing of a man but the artist had smeared the lines beyond all distinction. A pustule of pink and peach skin for a head. No features except for Grandads’ belongings. In some strange delight it adorned his nail clippings like rings on the cigarette-butt yellow fingers where it held the lit cigarette pretending to smoke. Sat in Grandad’s spot trying to mirror the dead man. Just how long had it watched him?
Mum had begun to wake up. Laid out on her belly she had been tied up like a stuck pig with a rag pulled tight across her partially open mouth. I prayed she wouldn’t scream. The mottled pig-skinned smear of a man was calm right now but anything could set it off. Her breath soaked through the rag as she strived to breath. Her nose starting to whistle as her eyes locked on me. I wanted to give her a calming look. But how the hell could I. This was beyond anything we could imagine. The melted-man’s head twitched at the noise of my mum struggling. I wondered how he could hear anything through those pin prick holes on the side of his jellied head. He pulled a small white box from my grandads’ trousers he was wearing. It was a clinical looking plastic that he unclicked and opened. Placing the box on the side of the chair he played with the pink and white obscured product in his playdough and nail studded hands. It was hard to understand what this expressionless being wanted. There was nothing to work with except its movements. It juggled the contents of the white box for another minute before finally looking up at us. Reaching out as if to share he waved the pink and white item at us. The pink lining shaped to hold the creamy polished teeth. Grandad would slide them out when he wanted to gross out my nephews. His fake teeth were now being pushed into the smeared skin of the faceless man. Pushed into the flesh they held in place like it was clay. His dentures now a makeshift mouth. My mothers sharp cry rattled me from my nightmarish daze. He was pushing himself up, just like an old man would need to, from grandad’s chair.
Stepping across from me he pressed his faceless face at us, pointing to the dentures and miscellaneous trinkets and bodily trimmings he had placed on himself. Like a king he lorded these treasures over us before kneeling to grab the back of my mother’s tied legs. Before she could react, he pulled her easily across the floor and towards the bathroom. Our screams having no effect. Then he came for me. I tried to shake off his hands but it was no use. I was just a human sandbag for him to hoist up and move around. I screamed and pleaded to god, myself, to anything to let me free my arms and rip into his skin. To snap his head off and chew through his throat before he took me into that bathroom.
He dropped me down onto the grey bobbled bathmat placed beside the white tub beside my mother. I could tell she was pleading for the man to let me go. Leave me and take her. He stood over us in my grandad’s pajamas watching us crying. Looking around the room he pointed to the toilet and gestured for us to look. Kneeling he grabbed our faces and I felt all those nail clippings scratch across my cheeks like the scales of a lizard. Years of nicotine rimmed trimmings, all that was left of him, scraping against me. I did as I was told and didn’t budge my face from that toilet. Finally, he released his grip and stepped over us to the toilet. He wanted us to watch what he was going to do next. Sitting down on the toilet seat he froze for a few seconds. As if trying to follow a series of instructions of moved disjointedly. Only the dentures placed in his face gave us a focal point to stare at. Reaching up he dug two fingers into his face, rooting around before pulling out, and created two dots for eyes. He sat there in silence with his hands pressed over his face until a noise bubbled out from his head. It was a phone ringing. The polyphonic ringing was too accurate for a human to make. It was as if this thing had stuffed his mobile phone into his head. It rang out three times from one of the holes in its head. Me and mum looked on trying to decipher what it was showing us. It was acting out a scene. Finally it lowered it’s hands from its head and pointed to the door. Ring ring. Point point. Standing up it wobbled and pointed to the bath. Stepping across from us it slapped the porcelain bath hard. Slapping it again he got back down on his knees. Turning to us to make sure we were watching he slammed his head down against the edge. I crumpled in on myself as he cracked his head against the bath again and again. One of the dentures snapped from his mouth and teeth skittered across the tiles. His poked-in eyes squelched together as a dent ran across them. Finally he stopped and laid out across the floor infront of us. Dead. Then he got up. And pointed to us. Ring ring. Point point. I knew now what he was doing. He was showing us how my grandad died. How he must have slipped while getting up to answer mine or my mums phone call. Cracking his head on the bath and bleeding out to the rings of the phone. I did this.
And this borrower who adored everything that was my grandad wanted me to never forget it.
Art by Anthony Rondinone