I’m driving to the Italian deli at 8:49 p.m. on a Friday night to get the right type of pecorino Romano because when I started shredding Parmesan cheese, and not Romano over my mountain of spaghetti, I felt my grandfather’s stern gaze from heaven.
Dinner had been delayed. I’d gotten home from work, put on an episode of The Sopranos, and fallen asleep on the couch. I dreamt my dead grandfather stood over me, hunched over his walker, which was covered in yellow smiley face stickers, teeth out, so his gummy smile gave me the chills when he said, “Get up, you lazy piece of shit.”
When I awoke, I realized it wasn’t a dream, but rather a memory I had of when my grandfather was alive—just three months ago—when he lived with me because no one else wanted him after the hip replacement he never fully recovered from.
“I live on a second-floor apartment,” my mom had said.
“We haven’t spoken in twenty years,” my aunt spat over the phone before hanging up.
So, it was me and Grandpappy—a name I called him in my head; in real life, he made me call him Richard—stuffed in my one-bedroom condo.
I moved into the living room, and he moved into my room, where he complained about the Grand Theft Auto and Evil Dead posters hanging on my walls, saying he felt like the devil watched him as he slept. When he wasn’t sleeping, he shuffled into the kitchen in a tea-stained nightshirt and instructed me to make him carbonara, barking the correct way to do it.
He’d make me drive thirty-nine minutes to the Italian deli and buy guanciale and fresh pecorino Romano or else I might as well not make carbonara, saying, “What kind of Italian are you, anyways?” “How could your mother fail you?” and “You probably think carbonara is supposed to have chicken in it, you little shit.”
After about forty-five times of cooking carbonara, he finally was pleased with how I made it, but then he stopped eating—two weeks before his death—out of nowhere, like he was tired of living. His chest shrunk in on itself, revealing sharp lines of bone popping through his skin. He refused the apple sauce I gave him with his medicine churned up, and before I knew it, I was calling 911, because one morning he stopped breathing.
So now I’m at the Italian deli, but it’s closed until the next morning. I go home to an empty condo, dumping the cold spaghetti in the trash, whispering to myself, “You little shit.”
A hard man to love, old grandpappy.
I hope the next time his devoted granddaughter visits the deli she’ll choose Parmesan, Romano, Mozzarella, Fontina or whatever cheese suits her fancy.
And savoring the cheese over her spaghetti, I hope she can whisper to herself “You did a damn good job with that testy old man.”
What a beautiful portrait of a relationship between a grandfather and granddaughter. Love the snapshots of dialogue
You little shit you made me cry. Bellissima … !
I’m intrigued why everyone is saying granddaughter – I thought grandson, personally, but re-reading the story there is no gender implied for the protagonist.
Nice writing, very enjoyable 🙂
Liz, I thought grandson too, especially with the “Grand Theft Auto,” and the “Evil Dead” posters. Not that a female wouldn’t have those hanging up, but even more than that, I can’t see an Italian grandfather speaking to a granddaughter in that manner. Being from an Italian family, boys were most likely to be treated irreverently, by a family patriarch. Either way a good story.
Enjoyed the comments as much as the story. Interesting view on the grandchild. I too thought grandson.
Great read… chapeau…
The complete opposite to the relationship I had with my grandfather, but I still felt the weight of the grandfather’s lingering influence. Well done.