Grandpa Tells a Story

Grandpa was sitting in his medical oversupply wheelchair and humming to himself, remembering out loud. It was an old tune that he and Grandma used to dance to, before she left him. Some days he remembered he was alone, and other days he didn’t.

“Enough already, Grandpa,” said Miller.

“Yeah, you are humming AGAIN,” said Kimberly, exasperated.

“The problem with you kids is that you’re spoiled,” said Grandpa. “You can’t appreciate anything unless it comes in an electric box.”

Mom gave Grandpa a cool look and gently shook her head.

“But that’s okay,” said Grandpa. “You’ll outlive me, so I guess I should shut up unless I have something encouraging to say that makes you feel special.”

Mom nodded. Grandpa smoothed out his wrinkled face with a shaking hand and continued.

“At least one of you -- spawn of mine -- will live to be old. And then you’ll understand how it is,” said Grandpa. “All those memories tear holes in your brain after awhile, like bugs caught in a spider-web, twisting and trying to break free. It takes effort to be civilized, and why would you even want to be? For children? Children don’t know shit.”

“Time for bed,” said Mom. “Everybody is getting cranky. Hug your Grampy and say goodnight.”

Miller and Kimberly got up from the rug and glumly walked over to their decaying progenitor to present themselves for affection.

“What about a story?” said Miller, his eyes pleading for more time. Hoping he could squeeze out a few more supervised seconds, maybe even make his Mom late for whatever appointment she was trying to keep.

“We’ve got two stories on this house, and I want to keep them both,” said Mom. “Tomorrow is the first of the month, and that means rent is due. I’ve got to get out there and hustle. Mommy needs her space. Time for bed.”

Miller didn’t really understand any of this, but he understood that when his mother got that faraway look in her eyes that it was a bad idea to try and fight her.

“Did you say tomorrow is the first of the month?” said Grandpa. He wheeled his chair over to the foot of the stairs and looked down them suspiciously.

“I did,” said Mom.

“Of what month?” asked Grandpa.

“October!” said Kimberly. “Jesus Christ!”

“I thought so,” said Grandpa, wheeling back over to rejoin the others. “October First. The National Day of Morning.”

Mom’s eyes glazed over and she slipped away down the stairs as if hijacked by bees. The kids heard the door slam, the car start, and Mom drive away.

“What’s the National Day of Morning?” asked Miller. “That’s new at least.”

“A new kind of crazy,” said Kimberly, propping herself up on an elbow. “But at least we got rid of Mom and we can stay up now.”

“Yeah,” said Miller, sadly.

“You kids don’t know about the National Day of Morning?” shrieked Grandpa. “Goddammit, I swear I ought to have you taken away by Child Protective Services. You aren’t being raised right at all.”

“Sorry,” said Miller.

“The National Day of Morning is a celebration of the phenomenon of morning and all that it stands for. Jentacula, the youngest unicorn in the…whatsit…the pantheon…visits you in the night and fills your pots with oatmeal. You read books and do crossword puzzles. You stay in your pajamas all damn day. You get ready to start things, but you never do. You make morning last all day long.”

“Mom says I’m not a morning person,” said Kimberly.

“Who the hell is?” said Grandpa. “That’s why the holiday exists. Some people never get a chance to appreciate morning, because they stay up too late, or stay up too early, or they have to work too goddamn much. If there’s a whole day of it, you get a chance to get in touch with the spirit of morning, or whatever.”

“Do we get to stay home from school?” asked Miller.

“Sure,” said Grandpa. “You go on strike for the day. That’s part of it. It can’t be a big government deal, because you’ve got to make sure there aren’t any bastards celebrating something good. The bastards still go to work, because they believe in that shit.”

“What’s this about a unicorn?” asked Kimberly, interested. “I like unicorns.”

“Of course you do,” said Grandpa. “Because you are stupid, young, and misinformed. This isn’t a normal unicorn. You got to respect her, which means be afraid. Not drool and draw pictures. You telling me you don’t even know the story of Jentacula?”

The kids were silent.

“Fine, fine,” said Grandpa. “I get it. You don’t know nothing.”

Grandpa sighed, but he had their attention – which was rare.

“Anyway, Jentacula was the youngest unicorn of her tribe, you see. She got shafted, right, and so she was supposed to be Unicorn of the Morning, because nothing ever happens in the morning, and no one wanted the job.”

“So how many unicorns ARE there?” asked Miller.

“Thousands. One for every segment of time. It’s complicated. There’s a unicorn for the time it takes for popcorn to pop in the microwave.”

“Wouldn’t that be worse than being the unicorn of the morning?” asked Kimberly. “I mean, the morning is a pretty long time.”

“Shut up and let me tell my story,” said Granpda. “Anyway, Jentacula got shafted and she was put in charge of morning, which basically made her followers all the lazy bastards with nothing really to do in life and no direction. Those are the only people who can really appreciate a good morning. Anyway, the problem with having a bunch of lazy bastards as your coterie and acolytes is that they don’t really get around to promoting your agenda very often. But as it turns out, irrespective of her shitty assignment, Jentacula was kind of a badass.”

“What do you mean?” asked Miller.

“One day, on the last day of September in La-la land or Unicorn Island or whatever, the other unicorns are giving her a bunch of shit. They are talking about how she doesn’t know who her daddy is, and how she has a big ass, and how she can’t get her act together. They bring up the fact that she hasn’t got a damn plan in life, and she just sits around reading long novels and watching cartoons. Eating eggs. Doing grown-up unicorn things with her shiftless boyfriend. They start getting really mean about it. Crossing the line, you know? Real bitter and vindictive shit that should have been left alone. And Jentacula is the youngest and all, and so she realizes that she’s going to have to do something about it or she’s going to have to live with this kind of thing forever.”

“So what happened?” asked Kimberly.

“Well, she doesn’t say anything back, she just looks at them all with a withering go-to-hell look that nobody takes seriously. And then, when they are all asleep, she creeps into each of their houses in the dead of night and stabs them in the heart with her horn. She plans it right, and she has a good map and all, and so she is able to kill off the whole island full of unicorns without anybody noticing.”

“Jesus!” said Miller.

“Yep,” said Grandpa. “Pretty fucked up. So then she is all alone, and so she declares the next day the National Day of Morning and goes back to her life. Eventually, the bodies of the other unicorns start to really smell, so she sends her boyfriend out and he burns down all the other houses. Turns out Jentacula was the only unicorn who was comfortable with her own company, so she doesn’t really miss her family and cohorts all that much. And we don’t neither, I guess.”

“What was her boyfriend’s name?” asked Kimberly.

“Chester,” said Grandpa.

“But Chester is your name!” said Miller.

“Fine,” said Grandpa. “I don’t know what the hell her boyfriend’s name was. But it might as well be Chester. It’s a pretty good name.”

“I guess so,” said Kimberly.

“So let me get this straight,” said Miller. “Tonight, a bloodthirsty unicorn is going to fill all our pots and pans with oatmeal, and then tomorrow we just lay around all day and watch cartoons?”

“Sure, if that’s your thing. Maybe we can get your mother to make us pancakes,” said Grandpa.

“Yay!” shouted Kimberly. “I love pancakes.”

“Me too,” said Miller.

“Well, you had better get to bed then,” said Granpda. “It’s going to be morning before you know it.”

Miller and Kimberly looked at each other and shuffled away. Grandpa rolled over to the stairs again and looked down them. There was oatmeal in the pantry. He could reach it. But the pantry was downstairs.

“What the hell,” said Grandpa.

Grandpa locked the brake on his chair and started to hum again, softly.

Kimberly and Miller awoke in the morning to the sound of screaming. It was Mom. They leaped out of their beds and ran to see what the matter was. At the top of the stairs, Grandpa was sprawled out like a puddle of spilled milk, his hand clutching the last step in a fixed rictus, fingers splayed, unmoving. Miller bent down to help pick him up and put him back in his chair, but his skin was so icy that Miller recoiled and pressed his back against the wall, horrified.

“He’s dead, isn’t he?” asked Kimberly. She scrambled down the stairs, past the body, and scampered into the kitchen.

“But the pots and pans are all full of oatmeal,” she shouted back at Miller and Mom.

“Your grandfather has had a stroke and he has passed on,” said Mom, finally composing herself. “I am going to call an ambulance to take the body away. You kids get ready for school.”

“Aw, can’t we stay home and eat pancakes?” asked Miller. “And watch cartoons?”

Mom shivered and sat down.

“Hooray!” said Kimberly and Miller.


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