Sunday Stories: “Whitney Houston”


Whitney Houston
by Jacob Perkins

I take Grampa to the shake lot where the cedar mill used to be and he glurts, “Gurgle gurgle,” and I nod.

“Yes, sir,” I say, like always, because he used to knock down parachutes from a tree stand in Burgundy. “Elvis,” I say, turning up and pointing to the minivan radio. He leans a bald spot toward me, remembering.

I used to stare at the shallow square on the side of his skull as a kid wondering. I wanted to poke it. I wanted to know if it hurt to poke the sticky-note sized depression where only skin covers his brain. I guess I know better now, in my crippling shame.

On the way home Elvis is still alive and Grampa makes pointy shapes with his fingers, a pair of gimped legs straddling the seat, his wrists worming up and down like a dancer. Through so much coconut his eyes milk the shuttered ghost of an expression. Elvis, they say. Stars. “Big game tonight, Grampa,” I tell him, and he lowers his chin onto his chest and gurgles, “Glurt glurt,” and I nod.

“Yes, sir.”

There is always a big game going on. Even in the dead of summer the Buffalo Bills are warming up under three inches of snow, eying down their rivals, the New York Giants. It is the only Super Bowl decided by one point, and we always change the channel right before the last play, because we like the Buffalo Bills, and I can’t bear to watch, and really a lot of this has become about me. There is so much to forget.

Every night I break down and rewind the tape again, disappointed in myself, tapping the VCR as it whirs to a click while he sleeps. But I am still allowed to have secrets. I sit down on the sofa, pushing the buttons on the remote over and over again. When I press play Whitney Houston is in a track suit, her watered eyes braying the last spangled notes as four Gulf War Johns tear the evening sky open. It is one time I feel magic. It is one time I don’t want to forget.


Jacob Perkins is a co-founder of Mellow Pages Library in Brooklyn. His work can be found in Hobart, THE FANZINE, Everyday Genius and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He is a commercial fisherman by summer and a librarian by trade.

Image: DJ Ghost via Creative Commons

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