I looked up as I crossed the street; something had caught my eye. It was my father’s truck, turning the corner up the street to my grandmother’s house. I thought of Little Red Riding Hood, how she’d brought her grandmother tea and cookies. I thought how if I were Little Red Riding Hood, I’d have laced those cookies with arsenic.
I heard the door of my father’s truck slam.
I drew the sleeve of my jean jacket across my face, knowing it would do nothing to hide the fact that I’d been crying. I saw him walking up the street to meet me. I wanted to bolt, to run the opposite way up the street, but Da had been a track athlete and a football player and a hockey player and we used to run together and he would catch me and part of me wanted him to catch me, but I wanted him to catch me in his arms and dry my tears, not catch me in his arms to drag me back to the old battle-axe’s house to face a punishment I did not deserve for a sleight that had been utterly fabricated.
We approached each other tentatively. I think he sensed my instinct to run, and I had sensed his instinct to tread lightly. “Hey,” he said.
I said nothing.
“Want to go for a ride?” He asked.
We walked together toward the house.
“She used to do that to me, you know,” he said.
“Yeah?” I asked, my voice hoarse.
“I hated it,” he said.
“It’s fucked,” I said. I was only a little shocked that that word had come out of my mouth in front of my father. He didn’t seem shocked at all; he just glanced askance at me and raised an eyebrow.
We got to the truck. “Get in,” he said.
My Da always knew when I needed to go for a drive. It’s easier to talk when you go for a drive. Something about not making eye contact but still being alone, together, just the two of you.
I got in the truck. “I’m going to go tell her where you are.”
“I don’t want to see her,” I said.
“I don’t blame you,” he said.
In a few minutes, he jogged back out to the truck. He slammed the door and let out the brake before he started the engine. The truck lurched forward. “She’s coming,” he said as he gunned the engine.
From the side mirror, I saw my grandmother, “running” in her tiny, dainty slippers, taking tiny, dainty steps, flapping a hanky. “Crap,” I groaned. “Just drive.”
He did. We drove off up the block with my grandmother standing in the driveway looking for all intents and purposes like someone had just stolen her purse, wallet, favourite kitten, uterus, and lunch.
After a few minutes, when we were on the highway with the windows open and a bag of chips on the seat between us, he said, “when I was fifteen, I used to go to the restaurant after school with my friends. She’d come in there, not all the time, but sometimes, and she’d stand at the door and shout at the Chinaman ‘you just keep an eye on my Kenny! You just watch him and you just call me when he does something bad! My Kenny shouldn’t be a bad boy!’. Christ, that embarrassed me.”
“Yeah,” I said. My heart felt lighter. My head was a bit swimmy.
“What the hell happened, anyway?”
I sighed heavily. “Well, she freaked out the other day when I invited Matt over to the house, so today he invited me to his house. I told her I was going to his house and that I’d be back for dinner, but…I dunno. Maybe she didn’t hear me.”
“No. She heard you. She just does this. She gets all in a flap when she’s not the centre of attention.”
“How could you stand it?” I asked. I pictured her taking her dainty little steps in her dainty little shoes into the restaurant and shouting at the Chinaman to keep an eye on my Da. I pictured all of his friends with smirks on their faces. I felt the flush in my own face and the sinking of my own stomach.
“I hated it,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t stay here when I was done school. I think that broke Gramps’ heart, but I couldn’t stay here. Not with her.”
“Yeah.” I said.
“Look,” he said. “I’m really sorry she did this to you.”
“Thanks,” I said. “The really stupid thing is that these are the kids that SHE introduced me to. I don’t know why she has such a problem with Matt.”
Da glanced at me askew. “She doesn’t want people talking.”
“Well what the hell would they say, other than that she’s crazy?”
He nodded. “That’s exactly it.”
“But she *is* crazy.”
“Maybe. But she’s your grandmother, and you need to follow her rules when you’re in her house.”
“I’d love to,” I exclaimed. “If I knew what they were! They keep changing!”
He sniggered. “It’s not the end of the world, though. It feels like it is, but it isn’t the end of the world.”
“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t believe him. I don’t know if I believe him now. Because at fifteen, that absolutely was the end of the world. It was the end of that world, that magical world of new things and new people and …and whatever it was that Matt was to me.
Scott didn’t call again that summer. I tried calling him, but he didn’t return my messages. I called Matt a few times, but he wasn’t home – his mum said he was out with Scott. The phone did ring every morning for the next week or so that summer, and my grandmother made sure to answer on the very first ring. It was never for me.
“Half the night I waste in sighs,
Half in dreams I sorrow after
The delight of early skies;
In a wakeful dose I sorrow
For the hand, the lips, the eyes,
For the meeting of the morrow,
The delight of happy laughter,
The delight of low replies.”
— Alfred Lord Tennyson (Maud, and other poems)