We think he pulled an old Barcalounger across the room to barricade the door. That’s what it sounded like, though I don’t know how he had the strength. Those stories of women with babies trapped under cars come to mind, the strength in desperation. I worry that he has passed out or his heart has just stopped, and then I hear shuffling.
“I offered him a plum,” says my husband.
Not to be all woe-is-me but this is also the day I find out I’m pregnant. I found out this morning and I haven’t been dealing with it very well and this isn’t helping. My only response so far has been to drop all of my groceries on the floor at the market right in the checkout line and it was embarrassing and also somewhat cathartic.
I wanted to explain the situation to the employee who helped me clean up the mess but all I could muster was Thank-you-I’m-sorry.
My husband tries reasoning with him. I try reasoning with him. I simply ask, “Can you please come out?”
“No,” the attic door says.
I push as hard as I can against the door, really put my shoulder into it. It hurts. And then I remember that I should probably be careful now that I am growing life. A sense of self-importance mixed with daintiness fills me, and then I remember this situation again and a sense of unease returns.
Several hours pass and he still doesn’t come out, but we are hopeful. We remove all the plums in the house, just in case.
Grandpa Thayer started living with us when the dementia began. He is my husband’s grandfather, and my husband volunteered our home as a solution so that his parents wouldn’t have to take him in.
This is penance for Crosby’s wildness as a teenager. He experimented with drugs and reckless speeding, mostly. He had never really been punished for his past. He knows that if his adopted brother from Kenya had done those things he’d be in jail. But his brother was a mild-mannered child who grew up to be an oncologist in Miami. Crosby’s privileged self remains unscathed by his poor judgment.
Grandpa Thayer served in the war and now he can’t remember to zipper the fly on his pants. He is calm with occasional moments of exasperation. This sort of thing, this trapping himself in the attic, has never happened before.
Our attic used to be part of a second floor apartment at one point, back when this neighborhood was overcrowded and more popular than it is now. We never removed the external stairs from those apartment days. This task is on a list full of tasks that I threw between the couch and the wall, but unfortunately I can still remember it in its entirety.
I imagine him creeping down the rickety iron stairs, grasping onto the flimsy railing and relieving himself in the backyard when we are gone or unaware, like a domesticated animal. I haven’t caught him yet. It’s better than imagining the alternative; that he hasn’t gone anywhere at all.
He is becoming a mangey phantom, a spectral force. He is like having our very own pet ghost. I have noticed food missing from the fridge and I have never been happier to have been pilfered. He must be trolling around the house at atrocious hours of the morning, and good for him.
The door remains immovable. Crosby gets the crowbar out of the garage but I tell him to wait a couple more days.
Grandpa Thayer is breakfasting on our anxieties, ensnaring us with his own self-capture. If this is how he feels in control of his life, I can only blame him so much.
We lighten the mood by teasing each other. We think of ludicrous baby names. Crosby is more excited than I am, though I’m sure that will fluctuate. We call our fetus Trout. This is hilarious to us because our last name is Kilgore, and we are Vonnegut nerds who relish this backwards literary allusion.
A neighbor peers into our living room window for several uncomfortable seconds. She is on to us, I think. She knows what’s going on and she is going to charge us with elder abuse.
The neighbor finally knocks like a respectable person. I can’t remember her name. She says her son’s pet tarantula has escaped its cage, have I seen him? She says this like she is asking about going to brunch this weekend.
I blow past the horror of the statement, plus the idea of it underneath my pillow, and say, “No, we’re focused on getting things out of our house, not in. We haven’t seen it,” and close the door.
I search his room for clues. Rummaging around, I find handwritten letters of complaint to various frozen food manufacturers, an unusual amount of rubber bands, a squashed pack of American Spirits.
I find nothing. I do, however, unearth a piece of pickled asparagus from between two of my back teeth.
It’s like the more this person grows in me, the more removed the other becomes, like the new generation is replacing the other. Life cycles appear suddenly gruesome, medieval. I fear that once this human is born it will have caused the other one’s death.
When really this child will be born and grow relatively normally and will know her great grandfather long enough to shout his name through the monitor at night when she is supposed to be sleeping, saying his name repeatedly because she knows him, but he will already be freshly gone.
Claire Hopple’s fiction has been published in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Bluestem, Quarter After Eight, Timber, Hermeneutic Chaos, District Lit, Knee-Jerk, Third Point Press, Foliate Oak and others. She’s just a steel town girl on a Saturday night. More at clairehopple.com
Also by Claire Hopple Flat Earth
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