VCO: Chapter 12

"VCO" image

Chapter 12

I knock on the bright green door. It’s square on the bottom, round on the top. Grandma answers it with a squeal and a bear hug. She still stands a clear foot taller than me. I walk inside and I sit down at the kitchen table. She offers me tea and I accept because I like the way it tastes, and I was counting on her offering. It’s probably not a good idea. But I need some kind of stimulation going here.

I don’t want to tell her I’ve been drinking sodas even though I know it makes me dumb eventually. I’d like to, but I can’t work out karma at grandma’s house. I just can’t. I have one piece left of my fancy gum which doubles as a dietary suppressant and stimulant. I need something to simulate food intake so my body will slow down my heartbeat. 

I find most of the things I do now are to get my body to chill out.

Grandma sits across from me explaining why she hasn’t been able to call me as I gently push the teacup away from me. 

She made it with her back to me. After that night in Ray’s Hole, I can no longer imbibe any beverage I didn’t watch get made. Something colorless. Scentless. Dissolvable in water. She could have put anything in there.

Grandma keeps talking while I wonder if I’m being targeted by entities unknown. 

Or if it is the world that is poisonous to every species that isn’t a plant. 

Now I’m wondering if veganism is just a form of war against plants. 

I should be nicer to Everhet.

I used to be so nice. Gum makes me edgy, but I need it. I’ll quit later.

Grandma led me back to her bedroom to show me an old electronic device from the fifties she found in the back of her closet and is now lifting it up displaying each side and its bottom. 

She points at the plug-in chord and goes, “It’s got a plug-in chord.” And she points at the speaker and says, “And a speaker.” Then proceeds to showcase the other junk she found.

“I used to listen to Elvis on this. It hooked up to the phonograph over there.”

All I want is rare vintage stuff anyway. 

Old furniture and decorations fill in for my dead family members. 

This is my inheritance we’re talking about. 

Baseball cards and collectibles are the only retirement plan I have going. 

That once-in-a-generation out-of-the-fuck collectible you could sell online for a million dollars.

The most you can hope for is good furniture and coveted citizenship.

Her excitement reminds me that life is not about how long or short it is. It’s about how long or short it feels. 

I may start swiping my dating app again. 

Every time I see grandma I have a new vigor about my love life.

I bet life has always felt short for Grandma. Because even though she’s ninety-five she still has the plasticity and energy of an eighteen-year-old. She was young looking for an old person. You would have taken us for siblings. 

She tells me that there’s probably stuff in my dad’s closet. “But my back is really stiff from digging through mine yesterday.” She points and nods toward the other bedroom. Sounding like a brass instrument she says, “I left the stepping stool in your daddy’s room.” 

She’s done it again. 

Somehow by some spell she transformed me into free labor. 

My inner thoughts come to a frozen stand still and she says, “Or you don’t have to. It’s up to you.” 

Did she just give me the option not to? I look at her searching for a seam or an inflation tube from her lack of combativeness.

Historically grandma enjoyed employing any and all relatives of any age to help maintain her house because she felt she had deserved that privilege. 

Or maybe we all did it because we felt like we should. I truly don’t know.

I thought she’d be nicer to me now that her son and daughter-in-law were dead. Maybe grief only travels up. And the death of a child is so inconceivable, that it doesn’t even register. Her lack of noticing it is no longer a side effect, but who she is now. She is disassociated from that grief, like a tax exemption.

The tension was high, and she tried to deflate it by asking how I’ve been sleeping. “Same as always. Like shit.” 

I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep lately. I’ve been working out karma non-stop with fans since Everhet took me up on my promise that if my parents ever died, I’d do porn. It’s not that bad if you just do whatever you always do and forget about the cameras.

Nothing with me on camera has been posted. It is oddly pleasurable with it being available to me. But I would take sleep over sex. I’m the kind of tired where you’re not sure if one more cup of coffee will blow a gasket in one of your heart chambers and burst. 

One time I drank so much espresso that I couldn’t breathe. And I feel worse than that right now.

Grandma shakes her head and walks to the bedroom, her back perfectly healed now, like magick. 

“I told your mother not to let you drink so much caffeine.” She stands in the doorway and shouts at me like some wicked wytch, “She shoulda just let me feed ya!” While squeezing her boobs and shaking them.

It’s common place now but Grandma still lives off the money she made being a wet nurse. 

Hired for her breastmilk’s inherent genetic properties. Her prolactin was mutated or something. She’s explained it a few times. It was a big deal twenty years ago. 

She did tons of interviews and had an entire press junket for the adaptation of her memoir The Esoteric Milk Maid (MacFlower Press (a Random House imprint (a Random House Publishing Group imprint)) an imprint of Penguin Random House))).

And any positive effect it may have had on the children was deemed a psychosomatic response reinforced by the wealthy parents who hired her. Experts presumed the faith in the object was the same reason transcendental meditation mantras cost money. You get what you put in. In the West you’ll have more faith in something you paid more for. Or that’s what the doctors said. 

Others speculated the Oxytocin-rich milk made rich kids with absent parents feel loved. This was then evaluated and turned out to be true. After her breast milk was thoroughly analyzed and the findings published, her clientele skyrocketed. Which in turn relieved the parents of the simple burden of genuinely caring for their progeny who served mostly as the benefactors of estate-holding trusts. Children who were born solely so a family’s interests could be kept within that family.

She worked from home from then on. 

Made enough money in six months to buy a comfortable cottage in the middle of some woods like the Celtic psychonaut she is. 

Her spare bedroom housed a home milk parlor. The walls are lined with rune stones on little parts of the machine. All the equipment is still in there.

The ceiling in my dad’s closet is sealed by two planks of wood that are painted over. I push up on one of the pieces of wood and dust falls in my eyes.

Grandma still talks to me loudly from the kitchen, she says, “Still got it in the fridge in the basement. And your mother said, ‘Don’t you leave me nothing but your boob juice.’ God I’m glad I don’t have to hear that ever again.”

And she cackles before her sentence ends.

I shove the board up higher on one end and let the other end drop.

The shelf slides out. There’s nothing on the shelf.

Grandma says some more things to no one. 

Then she says, “So what’s happening with your love life Sully?”

I reach up into the shelf in the closet. 

I say, “Oh you know. Just hanging out with some people.”

The second board is still stuck and there’s something up there. I can’t really see it, but I feel a weight difference in the gravity of the area when I reach my hand in. I can sense things like that lately.

She says, “Well you think you’re ever going to get serious with someone?”

I say, “Maybe one day grandma.”

She says, “I wouldn’t.”

There’s some old gray rock pushed back in the corner. 

Porous and scraggly on the outside. Size of a ping pong ball. Picking up loads of lint. 

The minty-tingly feeling washes over my face.

It’s like the fact that he’s gone makes it matter. I was having this erotic moment with my dad’s moon rock. Which was a tennis ball, covered in what might be bird shit. Cradling it. Drowning out grandma’s voice while rubbing it and the unknown substances stuck to it against my cheek. The same sound of my dad’s scruff dragging near my ears. And I feel like I’m a child again. Letting go of his neck. He’s knelt before me on one knee. We’re outside somewhere. A field of some sort. A lot of kids are playing soccer. He’s got a beard and his old glasses. This must be in the nineties. I feel him pat my back. I feel love and warmth for and from my father. And I can’t feel anything else.

Then I hear Grandma go “Sweetheart. Oh.” 

She rubs my back, and the vision of my father went poof. 

He was gone again.

I tried to make sense of why she was taking this so lightly and maybe she was faking it for me.

Grandma says, “What’s in your hand?” 

And I look up at her and say nothing. I don’t say a word like a creep and just put it in my pocket.

Then say, “What?” My eyes are wet, and my mouth is dry. 

Grandma doesn’t look like grandma. But it is Grandma. I keep reminding myself. This is grandma. I can feel the untethering.

“If it was your dad’s, it’s yours now. When you look at it, you’ll think of him. And so, he’s not dead.”

I say, “I don’t have anything of my mom’s.”

All the extended family on my mom’s side died when my mom cut them off permanently. We had a funeral and everything about it. Dressed up and played sad music. Looking at photos of our still living extended family that we were mourning the death early of. It was an important ritual. We all cried. But mom was adamant on the importance of creating barriers between us and those who aimed (intentionally or unintentionally) to prolong our evolution due to either their jealousy or willful ignorance.

Grandma says, “Maybe that’s for the best. Not everybody needs to be remembered.”

Then she says, “That seems to be a man thing.”

In a way this feels like the first time I’ve ever seen her. Or I should say: it feels like the first time I see the features I got from her. 

Time moves like it does for trees. I feel like I am meeting a Gemini in the flesh. Like Buddha meeting Buddha.

I may have mourned the death of my parents too quickly or that I was prolonging the grief by unknown avoidance, and I was doomed to encounter an avalanche of emotions at any minute. 

But I really don’t think anything is wrong.

I say, “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.”

I make eye contact with Grandma. And I watch her pupils become the size of pinholes like her eyeballs were emitting light. 

We were two celestial beings separated by the cavern between heaven and Earth. Like the one Hephaestus fell through.

She says, “Just let it come to you.”

The wind blew hard. 

I could hear the soft bells of the windchimes outside.

A serene hiss of noise filled the space between us. 

Then my cell phone made a harsh and piercing electronic chime.


James Jacob Hatfield is a displaced engineer, a painter, and many other contradictions. His work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Maudlin House, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Barely South Review, Chaleur Magazine, Havik, and others. His ekphrasis poem “torrents of lahar, No. 36” was anthologized by the North Carolina Museum of Art. He is a Sterling Fellow and a Weymouth Fellow. He is the creator and curator of the Gemini Sessions Substack. He lives in Durham, NC.

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