BY ANGELO HERNANDEZ-SIAS
Recipient of the 2019 Adroit Prize for Prose, selected by Jamel Brinkley
There is gap in my life I want erase, I tell my grandson. I can’t look rearview because there are headlight behind me but I know what he is doing: he is in backseat, looking at phone. He make two hum, one short one long. Speak for yourself, say my wife. She is in passenger seat with a u shape pillow around her neck. I ask her once, Do you think you are in airplane? and she say my jokes are only funny for me. There is a gap in my life I want erase, I say my grandson again, but I can’t. Then I wonder: how you erase gap?
Earlier in day I have gap in my stomach. I hungry and also my grandson is here. I want spend time with him and I am nerves because I no see him often and I no think he like me. He not from brooklyn but there is concert here before school start and he want to see so I let him stay in my home. We are family and our home is always open and I sorry about last time you need stay here we couldn’t say yes because we traveling to panama that weekend and my wife say no to me, I say to him yesterday when I pick him up from airport. He give me two hum when I say that too.
I used to like concert much but now my wife no let me go. God no like for me to go concert she say because most singer is heathen and even christian ones stray from holy spirit and beside I am too old. Almost seventy. I tell my wife when I die no bury me. Too expensive. When my son friend die it cost four thousand for coffin and another four for bury. I rather be burn. Put me with trees. My flesh return to dirt. My soul go with god. I do much wrong in past but I see light now. When I am atheist I take my wife to church and then one day I realize I no take her to church, god take me. I tell my wife spread my ash near tree. Or put me in grand canyon. Last year we take trip there and it look like god put straw to earth and suck. I tell her put me there. She say no. She will put me over brooklyn bridge.
My mind not what it used to be. Like I say, earlier in day I am hungry because I no eat except dunkin donut in the morning with my wife after her appointment. Doctor say she normal. Normal is good but not very. She have lupus and diabetes and breast cancer two time. She take a shopping bag worth of pill every day.
We are at dunkin donut and I call my grandson and say do you want anything and he say no, he have cereal that morning. I say okay and I get sandwich for me. But that is at eight o’clock and soon it is two and I am at walmart in long island with my grandson and my wife because she need to return barbie for our granddaughter. Her mom buy same toy as us without know that we buy it too.
I say to my wife, I am hungry, let’s eat.
No, she say, we need to wait for the dinner special at five. Get a snack. She point at subway on other side of store and say, Grab me one too.
As I walk through aisle with my grandson I say, We no have store like this in city. No space.
Why are we here? he ask me.
I tell him story about birthday gift for my granddaughter and then I say, We are running errand for church where I preach.
He say okay.
The restaurant is connect to store. On the wall it say eat fresh and under those word there is outlet with pink charger plug in and a fat woman at table scrolling through phone. I go to register but my grandson tell me we order on other side. I see black sign, green letter: order here. I follow him. On other side of glass is brown woman with mole by her eye. She ask me what I want and I say italian sandwich and she say, What? She have thick accent and no understand me good. I say again and she raise voice at me and then my grandson say to her what I am trying say. She grab bread and put meat on it and ask if I want it toast and I say yes, but then I say no no no when I see she putting bread and meat in toaster together. I like bread toast, meat cold, I say. She say that not an option. I tell her no worry about it.
When I finish order I say to cashier woman, You are nicer. The other woman no like me.
She show her yellow teeth. Sweet, she say, I sweet and she spicy. Then she laugh. She say thank you in spanish when I hand her card and I say it back in bengali and she raise her eyebrows and smile, her face tired like my wife’s but warmer, and I no tell her about the bengali in the store where I work because the warm on her face make me feel good and sometime knowing take away pleasure. My wife face is never warm, not even when I meet her, we are young and I put my hand on it and it is cold. But I am new to this country then and need place to live and can’t afford to be picky.
The woman hand me cups and me and my grandson bring them to fountain for fill. Put so much ice you get no soda, I say, laughing.
He laugh fake laugh. You know we save money by eat at restaurant right now without special than eat here and then eat there with special later, right?
I put lid on my cup and say, I know, I know, this what my wife want, if I say no she unhappy.
I see words in his eye but he say nothing. I wonder if it because he no have spanish to say it or because he don’t want to say it. I see me in his eye.
We sit at small square table and my wife come soon and grab her sandwich and look inside and say to me, You didn’t put pepperjack on this?
They no have it, I say.
She look at it like it is dead rat and then say, Let’s pray, and grab my hand and my grandson hand. I grab their hands also. Hers is cold and his is soft and warm and it have sweat. She say, God may you bless this meal and protect our grandson as he finds his way, in jesus’ name we pray amen.
While we pray I peek at my grandson. He look at me. He say amen.
Jesus, my wife say. That returns line was long.
My grandson crunch his chips. I feel air conditioner on my skin. My sandwich cold too and my soda. My grandson watch me as I sip my drink. I no drink coke for long time, I say to him. Doctor say I no drink coke because it bad for my diabetes but I make exception for special day with my grandson.
He smile. Thank you for the meal, he say.
Oh, I say, you no need thank me every time. I touch him on shoulder and he look at me and say okay.
Soon I am finish and I tell him an old spanish saying: maté lo que me estaba matando.
A piece of lettuce fall into the elbow of my wife arm. He look at it and say to me, What?
I kill what was killing me.
What? he say again.
The hunger, I say. I kill the hunger.
I open car door and the cold night air rush in at me. I am going to say something to my wife about summer come early but I get call from my son. I put in earpiece and step out of car to gas pump and ask my wife to turn off car because I forget and she sigh and say okay. She turn off car and I say hello and pull wallet from my pocket and put card into machine and pick grade and pull nozzle from machine and stick it in car and lean on car after. The gas smell is strong and good. I watching numbers go up on the screen when my son say to me, Dad, dad, are you there?
Yes, yes I am here, I tell him. He is telling me he no pay rent for two months and have court date but he try and make it out of this. I tell him he need more faith in god and god will find him place to stay and he say nothing, only breathe.
I don’t need faith, he say to me, I need money.
Faith is money.
Tell that to my landlord.
I laugh but he no laugh with me. The gas finish pump and I pull nozzle from car. It drip brown drops onto ground like grease in bag of empanadas. I put it back into machine and click yes for receipt and stand by machine waiting.
Dad, I need your help, he tell me. This one last time.
I sorry, son, but I no can help you. I working less hours than before and rent going up. Your mom only have disability. When I die I have nothing to leave for you. What make you think I have something now?
He start saying something but I interrupt him: All I have is god. He take care of me and if you let him he take care of you too.
He say nothing. The receipt pop up in the slot and I take it and open car door. Your nephew here, I tell him.
Put him on the phone, he say. I reach into backseat and hand my phone to my grandson.
All day I put my family on phone with my grandson. When we are leaving subway in walmart in afternoon, I put him on phone with my sister. He sit there in store chair and talk with her in broken spanish for thirty minutes while me and my wife get bird cage and other things. She have no bird but we just remove speaker from corner of living room because I buy new one and she no like empty space there. We can’t find bird cage but we do find two movies, X-Men and Warcraft, and she ask my grandson which one to buy. He tell her the X-Men but she want the other one so she say to me, You buy the X-Men, I’ll buy the Warcraft, which I no understand because she give her paycheck to me anyway. She ask my grandson if it is in 4K and he say yes and then she say good. I explain to my grandson that we have new tv. He nod.
We no find bird cage in walmart so we go to marshall, store I like with good brand for cheap. The air is cold there too and there is song on radio I don’t understand. We look for another thirty minute but I give up and sit with my grandson in a store chair and we look at the writing on wall together. It is in english and it say many things I don’t understand. I am not good at read english and I ask him what they say.
Like a sale that never ends. That is what that one says, he tell me.
I like english, I tell him, but english no like me.
He laugh, say the same for spanish.
We help each other, I say, and he nod his head. What does that one say? I ask.
He look where I am pointing. It is across store and above cashier and long line of customers. He say, That one mean: get it now, or it’ll be gone later.
Like salvation, I say. We both laughing.
We looking for parking near home but it is late and there is nowhere for us. My wife say to my grandson, Some people waste hours of their life just looking for a place to park. She puts accent on the ow sound of hours and lets second half of word, uz, come out like sigh.
He point to truck on side of street and ask, Like that?
Yes, that is the kind of truck I drive in panama when I am boy.
What did you deliver?
Alcohol. For americans.
Americans. Like your friends, he say.
Yes, I say, like my friends. He talking about Gio and Betta, long island church people we see in evening after walmart and marshall. We visit their new house for church errand then. When we are pulling into their driveway I point to bmw and say to my grandson, That is Gio’s summer car. He say wow.
Betta open the door and a small dog is barking at us in the doorway. We step inside and we are in kitchen. Everything is different from last time I come here a month ago when they first move in. Everything shiny. Smell like new house. A silver fridge and white tile floor and picture frame on counter with cursive writing in english inside that I can read: I’m still in love with you. That is all that is in frame so I wonder: who love who? Why still?
Dining room I can see from where I sit in kitchen next to wife. My grandson standing next to me and I tell him he can sit in dining room chair close to us if he like. He say okay but does not move. My wife introduce Betta to my grandson. She set the sponge she is using for wipe counter down and shake his hand. How is your english? she ask him.
Better than my spanish, he say.
She raise eyebrows and let corners of her mouth fall and say, Really?
Yeah, he say. He sit in chair in dining room and keep look at her. Dining room look different too. Last time I am here there is no chandelier hanging above glass table. Wood floors were pack with boxes but now there is empty carpet the same white color as the chairs at dining room table.
Betta ask if we want anything to drink. Me and my wife have seltzer water and my grandson have regular water. She grab two cans and a bottle and give them to us. I get up from kitchen chair to give bottle to my grandson and then I sit in dining room with him while my wife talk with her. They talk about man from church but I no know who. I think he’s bipolar, my wife say. He’s not bipolar, Betta say in voice quiet for me or my grandson no hear, he’s crazy. My wife laugh. Then they start speak english too fast for me to understand.
I look at my grandson and he is looking at my legs. They are brown and spotty like bark chipping from tree or like when ants carve a trail into a twig. I run my hand along the smooth skin and say, It is from the medication. My wife used be able brush my leg hair and now I am like baby again.
He smile and say I am like him and he show me his legs. They have hair but not much.
I am watch stairway to basement and then I see Gio come up and into kitchen doorway. He wearing white button down shirt like mine from dry cleaner but only halfway button with white chest hair and pale skin showing. He wearing light blue shorts with dark blue mopeds scattered in grid on them. He flick his head up for me to follow. My knees creak as I get up from chair and walk toward kitchen doorway to basement. Each stair on the way down hurt and I no want to think about the way back up. I grab handrail and feel smooth wood glide under my fingers and then we are in basement but I still hear them talking upstairs, Betta is saying that god can’t be understand through logic and something else, but I can’t hear them too good because Gio is say something to me. He is putting thick manila envelope into my backpack and saying something but I no listen to him either, I only listen to the shhhhhhh of the ceiling fan. I no want to hear him. Some thing are better left unheard.
Finally I find a place to park van and my wife say, I don’t like this block, I don’t like this block at all.
But you live on this block, I tell her.
She look at me cold and I say I kidding, I kidding, and she say she don’t find it funny. She give me plastic bottle to dump on sidewalk and I take it and pour it into little patch of black dirt around a small tree. She ask my grandson to grab the bible with commentary from the backseat. It is a loan from Betta. He is grabbing it when I open backseat of van to get my hat and backpack. I pick up off the floor the copy of Hinds’ Feet on High Places: Let’s Talk About Jesus Partner Edition that Betta give him as a gift when we are at their house earlier in the evening. I look at him after he take it from my hands. He is wearing plain t shirt and a hat with small brim and he is carrying bible and other book against his thin chest. You look like pastor already, I say to him. My wife laugh hard but he only smile. You know I joking, right? I say. He nod head.
He always nod like that. Earlier in the night we are at restaurant with Gio and Betta, and we are at table laughing and eat and then someone mention hurricane harvey. He say he have family down there and Gio ask him, Are they alright? and he nod like that. Betta say, So sad, how all the things you have can be destroyed in seconds, and he nod like that. My wife say to waiter, Go light on the cheese, and then she smile and say, Where are you from, waiter? The waiter say, Peru. She say, Ooo, Peru, your voice is so deep, I love it. And then even the waiter give a nod like that.
They need support right now, my grandson say.
I pull my phone from my pocket and pull up news app. It say from CNN: trump promises houston support after harvey or something like that. I show it to my grandson and he smile. And that is from CNN, I say.
I don’t even watch CNN, say Gio. It’s all fake anyway.
I ignore Gio and keep the screen pointed at my grandson. It from CNN, it is fact, I say.
You don’t understand, he say. It is a fact he said it. He lies.
No, I say quiet, you don’t understand. Estamos con trump.
I know, he say. And then he smile and give me that nod.
When we get back to apartment building it smell like marijuana. I tell my grandson that I might catch contact high and then I laugh. I can’t even smell it, my wife say. She lag behind. I check mailbox next to stairwell so she can catch up with us. I unlock it and pull out envelopes. Many bills. They are the only ones who never forget about me, I say to my grandson, waving the mail. He laugh.
My wife catch up to us and say, I am tired, the accent on the tie and not the uhd. I remember nights many years ago when we come home from the club and run up these stairs and I drop keys on accident in front of our door, I am moving too fast then and also I am high and also kissing her and also thinking about what we do inside, but like I say that is many years ago. Now, I drag my left foot up the stairs and she drag her right. It is big and pink and bulging at the ankle like there is an apple inside.
I unlock the three deadbolts at the door and let in my grandson and hold it open for my wife. She is at the top of stair and walking toward me slowly, breathing heavy. Home sweet home, I say to her. Bed sweet bed. She smile at me and for the first time since I can remember I see the warm in her eyes. I want to kiss her but I feel a gap in my stomach so I just hold the door open.
My wife unbuckle her sandal on the welcome mat and I turn on light. She ask my grandson for a cold glass of water with ice and he say okay. He walk down the hallway and turn left into the kitchen. My wife and I sit at the table just outside the kitchen doorway. In the kitchen my grandson is looking for the cups in the cupboard next to the washer and dryer and above the stove but both spots are wrong. Then he find a clean tin cup next to the sink and rinse it out and fill it with ice and water and set it on the table in front of my wife. She sigh and say, Thank you, papi. When she catch her breath she pick up the glass and sip, and when she done sipping she go through the mail and feed the junk into the paper shredder just outside kitchen doorway.
Sientate, mijo, I say to my grandson, and he sit in the empty chair and look at me. He have no hat on and you can see his gray and red hairs shining in the small light that hang above us. I see me in his eye. I see the me I wanted to be.
I rest my hand on his shoulder and tell him, Thank you for give me this day. It is a gift.
Later, after I give my grandson a hug and a kiss on the head, when I am in my room and my wife is asleep, I pull envelope from my backpack and put it in my nightstand drawer. I lay in bed and watch ceiling fan twirl. It lull me to a dreamless sleep.