GLEAH POWERS

Canopic Jar 35: An Anthology, February 2021

 

Desert Solitaire

I

Give grandma a kiss. On the cheek. There are more germs in the mouth than anywhere else in the body. Don't ever let a man put his tongue in your mouth. I told your mother if this didn't work out, I'd have to send you back no matter how broke she is. I know you wanted your sister to come but she’d be too much for me. All the trouble she gets into, poor thing, born premature, she must have brain damage. But if you obey my wishes maybe you’ll do all right here. Your poor grandma could use some help. I'm no spring chicken. The things I've thought of so far are vacuuming; I'll have to teach you how to do it properly. Most people don't do it right. You have to go back and forth real slow or else it won't pick up the dirt. Give your vacuum a chance. And you can clean the windows with newspaper. Do you know how to do that honey? Check the roach motels once a week, iron and hang the clean laundry out to dry. I don't like to use the dryer. It wastes electricity. And the sheets smell so nice when they dry in the sun. You've probably never smelled sun-dried sheets before. I have small appliances that need cleaning and you can paste the S&H Green Stamps in their booklets so I can complete my set of plastic dishes with the wheat pattern. There’s no point using the china anymore. You can’t have a lot of friends here. Maybe one at a time. And no lying. I can’t stand liars. You can't open any of the windows. They're sealed shut. I had special screens put on and the alarm installed after burglars broke in and dumped your grandfather's ashes all over the carpet. I tried my best to vacuum him up, in a clean bag of course. He wanted them sprinkled over Honolulu. I never got around to it. We used to take cruises there. It’s good you came early to settle in before school starts. You'll need more closet space. I'll find another place for those hats. There was a time I had hundreds of hats. Hats with veils and feathers and little gold chains that hung slightly over my eye. But that was back in Chicago when your grandfather was alive and there were places to go that required a hat. It was his idea to retire in this goddamn heat. He used to call that one my chorus girl hat. Let's go out to the kitchen honey. Pour me a cup of coffee. Open the back door. We'll get a little fresh air in here. Listen. Hear that cooing? Coo ooo ooo. Coo ooo ooo. Sometimes I can get those doves to come to my feet when I call. You have that model’s stance, like your mother, standing there looking into the refrigerator. Don’t do that. It uses too much power. Look out the window. Do you see the shape of a rooster in that lemon tree? Near the top over to the right. And I swear there's a snake in the magnolia tree. Take a look. My carob got some kind of disease. It broke my heart to have to have it cut down. Sit down next to Grandma. I want to teach you how to play solitaire. It's a good way to pass the time. Don’t twist your hair like that. It makes it greasy. Does your mother know you smoke? You’re only fourteen. You could ruin your lungs. Your grandfather taught me to smoke and drink. It was the summer we met. I was wearing a thin white dress. My mother had told me to wear a slip under but it was too hot. He said he liked seeing my legs through that dress. I'm glad you came, honey. Now with solitaire, you don't have to cut the deck but I always do just so I'm in the habit. In case I play bridge or black jack again someday. The first card is turned up. See? Then 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 all turned down. 7 piles. See? Smile for Grandma, honey. It can't be all that bad. It's a mistake to feel sorry for yourself. It can ruin your life. I know from experience. Once you get into self-pity, it's hard to get out of. I think your grandfather wanted to die. It was only an ulcer. Whoever heard of dying from an ulcer? When we moved here he bought a boat and had that huge boathouse built out back. What a crazy thing. He only made one trip to Saguaro Lake. Black on red, red on black. Clubs and diamonds spades and hearts. I've wondered all my life if I was illegitimate. My mother used to beat me. She never beat my sister so I figured I was a bastard. I shouldn’t say that word in front of you. I searched the family Bible. Sometimes people hide secrets in there. Oh, I've gotten all sweaty under my tittibottles. Hand me a couple tissues honey. I try not to wear a bra. Ever since the surgery on my shoulder. The straps dig in. And it's too damn hot to wear a top. Have you been watching? Aces are low. Kings and queens, then jacks. Turn over every third card. In Las Vegas you're only allowed to go once through the deck, one card at a time. Looks like I've got a winner here. Yep, I do. This calls for a drink. Bring me that bottle and the shot glass over there by the sink. You can have a little in your coffee if you'd like. So, do you get the picture, honey?

II

Does that music sound familiar? My nurse, Violet, plays it for me every day. Your grandfather loved Edith Piaf. He cried every time he heard her sing. Give Grandma a kiss. And how about a smile? Violet is making us sardine and onion sandwiches on black bread. Remember honey, we used to eat those on Saturdays? And I still have some of that coca cola in bottles that you like. I didn’t tell you about the wheelchair, figured you’d see it soon enough. Well, I can’t dance and it’s too late to plow. I started to feel some numbness. At first, I thought I needed exercise. I hadn’t ridden my bike in a few years. Turns out I have a little tumor in my head. There’s nothing to do about it. The wheelchair isn’t so bad sitting out here in the sun. I can walk a little with a walker and I can still float in the pool. Violet has to help me in. Remember when I taught you how to float? I stopped drinking. Cold turkey. I got sick of it one day and that was it. Your grandfather was the one who taught me to drink you know, the summer we met. I was wearing a thin white dress my mother had told me to wear a slip under but it was too hot. He said he liked seeing my legs through that dress. Remember to never have mixed drinks or you’ll get drunk and throw up. I'm glad you came for a visit, honey. See how much the trees have grown? I had Violet put all those abstract pictures you took of them years ago in a box. It’s in the garage with the rest of your things. That life size naked woman you painted is in the attic. I put a piece of adhesive tape over her crotch. You shouldn’t have shown that. Oh, here comes Violet with our lunch. Don’t mind her attitude. She hates your mother. She comes over occasionally for 10 minutes and bitches about everything. Violet is such a help. I can’t even sign a check. My hand shakes too much. Orville from next door keeps track of receipts, bank statements and things like that, keeps a look out for theft. You went to that Mormon Church with his family once. They tried to convert you. Remember? They’re still trying with me. Coo ooo ooo. Oh, there are the doves. Hear them? What ever happened to your friend, Arlene? Did she ever go to that bookkeeping school? I heard she got pregnant and had to marry a black man with a jigaboo name, Frenchy or something like that. Oh, I know you don’t like me to use that word, but it’s a habit, it just slips out. In the olden days, everyone said it. Poor Arlene. I never saw that kind of thing here in Phoenix. It was more common in the nightclubs back in Chicago. I wonder what happened to the baby your sister gave up for adoption. Do you think we’ll ever see her? Remember when the two of you were little and danced in grass skirts to Hilo Hattie, then took naps under my mink coats? Well, you’d better go out to the garage and see how many boxes you’ve got. Be careful, there’s a black widow spider out there. I had Violet put a jar over it. This friend who’s coming to help you, he’s not black is he? I guess it doesn’t matter, you said he’s not your type, but honey, sometimes when we get the type we imagine for ourselves, it turns out to be a big disappointment. If you get married before I kick the bucket, I'll give you all my furniture. I'd like to find a fireproof concrete condo with a security guard out in front. I'm tired of this big place. I had aluminum walls installed. At night I press a button and they cover the whole house. No one can get in. There've been more and more burglaries in the neighborhood. Before your friend comes, fix the flower in my hair and wheel me out of the sun. Coo ooo ooo. Coo ooo ooo. Listen. There they are again. Coo ooo ooo. They used to come to my feet when I cooed. Remember, honey?

 

 

 

 

 

I

Give grandma a kiss. On the cheek. There are more germs in the mouth than anywhere else in the body. Don't ever let a man put his tongue in your mouth. I told your mother if this didn't work out, I'd have to send you back no matter how broke she is. I know you wanted your sister to come but she’d be too much for me. All the trouble she gets into, poor thing, born premature, she must have brain damage. But if you obey my wishes maybe you’ll do all right here. Your poor grandma could use some help. I'm no spring chicken. The things I've thought of so far are vacuuming; I'll have to teach you how to do it properly. Most people don't do it right. You have to go back and forth real slow or else it won't pick up the dirt. Give your vacuum a chance. And you can clean the windows with newspaper. Do you know how to do that honey? Check the roach motels once a week, iron and hang the clean laundry out to dry. I don't like to use the dryer. It wastes electricity. And the sheets smell so nice when they dry in the sun. You've probably never smelled sun-dried sheets before. I have small appliances that need cleaning and you can paste the S&H Green Stamps in their booklets so I can complete my set of plastic dishes with the wheat pattern. There’s no point using the china anymore. You can’t have a lot of friends here. Maybe one at a time. And no lying. I can’t stand liars. You can't open any of the windows. They're sealed shut. I had special screens put on and the alarm installed after burglars broke in and dumped your grandfather's ashes all over the carpet. I tried my best to vacuum him up, in a clean bag of course. He wanted them sprinkled over Honolulu. I never got around to it. We used to take cruises there. It’s good you came early to settle in before school starts. You'll need more closet space. I'll find another place for those hats. There was a time I had hundreds of hats. Hats with veils and feathers and little gold chains that hung slightly over my eye. But that was back in Chicago when your grandfather was alive and there were places to go that required a hat. It was his idea to retire in this goddamn heat. He used to call that one my chorus girl hat. Let's go out to the kitchen honey. Pour me a cup of coffee. Open the back door. We'll get a little fresh air in here. Listen. Hear that cooing? Coo ooo ooo. Coo ooo ooo. Sometimes I can get those doves to come to my feet when I call. You have that model’s stance, like your mother, standing there looking into the refrigerator. Don’t do that. It uses too much power. Look out the window. Do you see the shape of a rooster in that lemon tree? Near the top over to the right. And I swear there's a snake in the magnolia tree. Take a look. My carob got some kind of disease. It broke my heart to have to have it cut down. Sit down next to Grandma. I want to teach you how to play solitaire. It's a good way to pass the time. Don’t twist your hair like that. It makes it greasy. Does your mother know you smoke? You’re only fourteen. You could ruin your lungs. Your grandfather taught me to smoke and drink. It was the summer we met. I was wearing a thin white dress. My mother had told me to wear a slip under but it was too hot. He said he liked seeing my legs through that dress. I'm glad you came, honey. Now with solitaire, you don't have to cut the deck but I always do just so I'm in the habit. In case I play bridge or black jack again someday. The first card is turned up. See? Then 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 all turned down. 7 piles. See? Smile for Grandma, honey. It can't be all that bad. It's a mistake to feel sorry for yourself. It can ruin your life. I know from experience. Once you get into self-pity, it's hard to get out of. I think your grandfather wanted to die. It was only an ulcer. Whoever heard of dying from an ulcer? When we moved here he bought a boat and had that huge boathouse built out back. What a crazy thing. He only made one trip to Saguaro Lake. Black on red, red on black. Clubs and diamonds spades and hearts. I've wondered all my life if I was illegitimate. My mother used to beat me. She never beat my sister so I figured I was a bastard. I shouldn’t say that word in front of you. I searched the family Bible. Sometimes people hide secrets in there. Oh, I've gotten all sweaty under my tittibottles. Hand me a couple tissues honey. I try not to wear a bra. Ever since the surgery on my shoulder. The straps dig in. And it's too damn hot to wear a top. Have you been watching? Aces are low. Kings and queens, then jacks. Turn over every third card. In Las Vegas you're only allowed to go once through the deck, one card at a time. Looks like I've got a winner here. Yep, I do. This calls for a drink. Bring me that bottle and the shot glass over there by the sink. You can have a little in your coffee if you'd like. So, do you get the picture, honey?

II

Does that music sound familiar? My nurse, Violet, plays it for me every day. Your grandfather loved Edith Piaf. He cried every time he heard her sing. Give Grandma a kiss. And how about a smile? Violet is making us sardine and onion sandwiches on black bread. Remember honey, we used to eat those on Saturdays? And I still have some of that coca cola in bottles that you like. I didn’t tell you about the wheelchair, figured you’d see it soon enough. Well, I can’t dance and it’s too late to plow. I started to feel some numbness. At first, I thought I needed exercise. I hadn’t ridden my bike in a few years. Turns out I have a little tumor in my head. There’s nothing to do about it. The wheelchair isn’t so bad sitting out here in the sun. I can walk a little with a walker and I can still float in the pool. Violet has to help me in. Remember when I taught you how to float? I stopped drinking. Cold turkey. I got sick of it one day and that was it. Your grandfather was the one who taught me to drink you know, the summer we met. I was wearing a thin white dress my mother had told me to wear a slip under but it was too hot. He said he liked seeing my legs through that dress. Remember to never have mixed drinks or you’ll get drunk and throw up. I'm glad you came for a visit, honey. See how much the trees have grown? I had Violet put all those abstract pictures you took of them years ago in a box. It’s in the garage with the rest of your things. That life size naked woman you painted is in the attic. I put a piece of adhesive tape over her crotch. You shouldn’t have shown that. Oh, here comes Violet with our lunch. Don’t mind her attitude. She hates your mother. She comes over occasionally for 10 minutes and bitches about everything. Violet is such a help. I can’t even sign a check. My hand shakes too much. Orville from next door keeps track of receipts, bank statements and things like that, keeps a look out for theft. You went to that Mormon Church with his family once. They tried to convert you. Remember? They’re still trying with me. Coo ooo ooo. Oh, there are the doves. Hear them? What ever happened to your friend, Arlene? Did she ever go to that bookkeeping school? I heard she got pregnant and had to marry a black man with a jigaboo name, Frenchy or something like that. Oh, I know you don’t like me to use that word, but it’s a habit, it just slips out. In the olden days, everyone said it. Poor Arlene. I never saw that kind of thing here in Phoenix. It was more common in the nightclubs back in Chicago. I wonder what happened to the baby your sister gave up for adoption. Do you think we’ll ever see her? Remember when the two of you were little and danced in grass skirts to Hilo Hattie, then took naps under my mink coats? Well, you’d better go out to the garage and see how many boxes you’ve got. Be careful, there’s a black widow spider out there. I had Violet put a jar over it. This friend who’s coming to help you, he’s not black is he? I guess it doesn’t matter, you said he’s not your type, but honey, sometimes when we get the type we imagine for ourselves, it turns out to be a big disappointment. If you get married before I kick the bucket, I'll give you all my furniture. I'd like to find a fireproof concrete condo with a security guard out in front. I'm tired of this big place. I had aluminum walls installed. At night I press a button and they cover the whole house. No one can get in. There've been more and more burglaries in the neighborhood. Before your friend comes, fix the flower in my hair and wheel me out of the sun. Coo ooo ooo. Coo ooo ooo. Listen. There they are again. Coo ooo ooo. They used to come to my feet when I cooed. Remember, honey?