The Evolution of Granny’s Panties
BY MATTHEW DEXTER
Carlos Beto is sitting in our driveway in his Toyota Prius, picking boogers and flicking them through his sunroof. Behind the curtain in the master bedroom, we watch the meticulous process: his armpit hair blowing in the breeze as he raises his latest nasal offerings, tidbits floating featherlike against a sun-baked windshield. Cicadas release mating calls and the cherry angiomas on his scalp are glistening as they absorb the afternoon sunshine.
Sweating into his leather seat, there seems an endless cavern from which to dig. Twenty minutes vanish. An hour. Thunder in the distance, but unperturbed, we huddle, naked, against the soft fabric–which my mother drank seven margaritas while hanging to make sure nothing was lopsided–cushioning our kneecaps, twirled around our thighs, crammed into our buttocks.
I wince with the fresh sunburn, the fluorescent aloe vera spread beneath caresses of elfin thumbs, and the sweat glands rising, as my stepsister Ashley inches closer, gripping granny’s magic wand. Carlos Beto flicks his soul. We lose our bodies in the curtain. Cold rain pelts the opaque window and the driveway disappears along with all its grotesque mysteries–the cicadas silent–everything dead except the rising smell of garlic breath and raindrops and petrichor; soaked rhododendrons merging into scattered soil.
I do not know how long the lightning-illuminated Manuela Beto was watching speechless with the laundry basket full of mother’s underpants–but there she is in the corner gripping the plastic handles, grimacing into the storm, speechless, forlorn. There is nothing for us to do except open the bottom dresser drawer where mother keeps her granny panties and fill it to the brim. We lose electricity and nothing matters but the soft intricate texture of cotton panties as Manuela Beto whispers words to Ashley about niños locos. Dios Mio!
In between serene flashes of lightning followed by humongous crashes of thunder–which rattle and tilt picture frames of an unrecognizable and skinnier family from fancy vacations decades before my mother’s madness–Manuela Beto races around the bedroom and stuffs the laundry basket with our abandoned clothes. She folds them and then sprints into the rain, toward the boogers, into the Prius.
Through the dying torrents we can see two bloody taillights beckoning through the storm, and the drone of an engine fading into muddy puddles on the road. Soon, the fury passes and the cicadas come to life, and chasing the mucus toward a moonless evening, Carlos Beto swerves into traffic. His wife’s nostrils are clogged with raindrops.
The next morning, Carlos Beto’s Prius is sitting in our driveway. Through the sand in my eyes, I see them kissing and the passenger door is jolted with a rusty moan. Fluorescent butterflies hover around the hood and the sunroof is open. I rub the yellow rheum from my eye sockets and drop the crusted flakes out the window where they sprinkle the wet grass.
Manuela Beto is crop-dusting: farting in silence as she swaggers from kitchen to hallway with the vacuum cleaner hose wrapped around her neck like a Boa restrictor. African sculptures glisten in the crisp morning sunlight. The house is ours again. We can smell the bacon and eggs sifting through the crop-dusting. Our appetites spoiled by the residual stench of an old woman who watches us out the cracked corner of her glass eye: shining bright and brown.
Last night Ashley crept into my bed beneath the Metallica posters and tucked her limbs between the eggshell mattress foam and my sunburn. Her silk pajamas so soft and cool against my skin, her tiptoes danced and floated on the floorboards. The grandfather clock issued an angry tolling melody, desperate, as if hoping to warn the master bedroom from the grave. It echoed and answered against the Egyptian cotton her father spoils us with. His whole house moaning with a release of money and decay–though mom is happy with her husband–no more running from Safeway and other grocery stores with Fruit Loops and Doritos and Polly-O String Cheese tucked inside her granny panties. No more Salvation Army underpants. No more Corona runs from Chevron. No more questioning the multivalent structure of the universe. No more moving furniture after Mom sprains her ankle during a brazen theft at Circle K.
Manuela Beto has never made love in this house–does not understand what it feels like to ride the lightning–to be carried up and outward through the vast open night clinging to an adolescent hope that tomorrow might bring something better. Manuela Beto knows little about the carbon dioxide leaving our lungs, and how Ashley’s nipples grow hard like hailstones, falling, not hurting. There is an energy which flickers like the return of electricity after a long drought, or a short famine; and there we were in the magic of fireflies and clutching straws, trying to build the ladder back to that dreamscape. Swallowed by this knowledge of the planet and the folds of an adolescent girl, taking something soulless which will never be returned or replaced. The frantic search for furious battles beneath stormy skies which steal the moon for moments, and then spit it out as if it were a tumor seed lodged in a strawberry throat.
Carlos Beto told his wife to confess. They must have been resting on their soiled twin mattress sweating into the fluorescent streetlight which pours from the avenue into their apartment, while we made love to Master of Puppets blasting in my headphones. Through the sunburn, on the porch, I can smell Ashley.
Our mission: to hunt the crop-duster. Put an end to her poison. Manuela Beto must be silenced before she puts an end to our head-banging. We decide that drowning is the wisest option. It is cloudy, but Ashley floats on her inflatable zebra from corner to corner, naked as I lure the unsuspecting Manuela Beto to the edge of the pool under the guise of curiosity. She is a five-foot, heavyset woman who never learned to swim, and hits the water like a bridge jumper reluctant to die. Using the pool skimmer, we take turns beating her cheekbones and knuckles to keep her away from the edge–shoving the unlucky Ecuadorian immigrant toward the center. Manuela Beto is screaming and cursing Dios Mio as her glass eye bounces on the surface. The cleaning snakes coil on the bottom of the pool. Manuela Beto spits cold chlorine at the thickening clouds, coughing, bleeding from her skull.
We drag her unconscious body from the pool. The glass eye watches us, scolding, brighter and browner than ever before. We melt into the pavement and clean the blood from the deck as if it were a sport fishing boat after a glorious morning at sea. The water is pinkish in plumes from Manuela Beto’s wounds, but Ashley disperses the blood with a series of impressive cannonballs and backwards summersaults in pike position. The zebra floats as if nothing even happened.
Banging your stepsister is so metal. Everybody knows that. We wait for Carlos Beto to arrive, listening for the decrepit engine of his Prius struggling up the steep road through the trees. We drag his wife’s body through the sycamores and I dig a hole until the ground is nothing more than rocks and puddles and our bodies are covered in poison ivy outbreaks. We can smell Manuela Beto through the dirt, on our skin. We bury the body and cover it with wet grass as if nothing occurred, like lightning after the storm. I pick the glass eye from the swimming pool with the skimmer basket and toss it into the road. Carlos Beto pulls into our driveway, his fingers lodged in his nostrils, searching for something that cannot be found, something that is gone for good–though he does not realize it yet. The sunroof is open and we watch his flicking, wondering what he is thinking, how he will cope with life without his wife. When the sun sets and the cicadas leave to make room for the fireflies, Carlos Beto frees his fingers and rings the doorbell.
We answer. We shake hands. He smells different than his wife and this is the first time we have seen him up close. He walks out in the street to search, as if unable to accept our suggestion that his wife has not been seen since early morning. He returns with her glass eye in his palm as if holding a lightning bug. He unfurls his hairy fingers to show us the treasure, but we already know what’s inside, and how to get it. There is nothing this man can show us that we do not already know.