This is How it Began
The house smelled as if he was hiding a corpse in the kitchen. There were pieces of raw chicken lining the countertop. The smell of death in the house was proof enough that they had been there for days, collecting stench and flies exactly as you would expect.
“Grandpa, what are you doing with this?” I asked out of frustration.
The old man was wearing stained-filled pajama bottoms and an abused wife-beater long past its glory days.
“I’m preparing it,” he said as he hurriedly walked into the kitchen.
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“You can’t eat this Grandpa, it’s rotten. Can’t you smell that?”
He stopped dead in his tracks and slowly raised his head so our eyes locked. He took a whiff of the horrid smell, and looked back down, overcome with defeat, before walking back into the living room.
Waiting for him were a pair of ancient La-Z-Boys. The one on the left was his specifically. The right one was for my Grandma. She died in her sleep on that chair a decade ago. He couldn’t find it in his heart to get rid of it. That was her chair. In a way, it was also her tomb.
I grabbed the garbage can from under the sink and started scooping the rotten meat into it. The old man sat in his chair and sighed.
After the clean up, I sat down next to him, in my grandmother’s chair.
“How you doing, old boy?” I asked.
What little hair he had left was scattered around the sides of his head like a halo made of dead grass. The top of his head had been vacant for years. This would later become my future.
He looked around the house. There were reminders of my grandmother everywhere he looked, whether it was the clear glass cat figure sitting on top of his old Zenith television or the candy dish on the end table filled with antiquated root beer barrel candies from years ago, which he couldn’t escape.
He said nothing.
“I got a call from a lady,” I proceeded cautiously. “They told me you are going to need assistance in order to keep living by yourself.”
He looked over to me and stared in my eyes for just a brief moment. I could tell he was scrambling his brain for something to say, but the onslaught of dementia wouldn’t allow it.
“I promised them I would come over more often.”
Silence filled the room. Perhaps he could sense that even more bad news would follow.
“I don’t need you to come, you have work,” he tried to assure me.
“It doesn’t matter Grandpa, this is too important. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
He took a deep breath and then stood up. I just sat there in my grandmother’s tomb while he walked back into the kitchen. He opened the first set of cabinets he saw and began frantically searching its contents.
“What is it, Grandpa?”
There was no response but the shuffling sounds of cabinets opening, sighs of frustration, cabinets closing, and then another set opening. This repeated three times before I finally got up from the chair to investigate.
“What are you looking for?” I asked with concern.
“The chicken… what did you do with it?”
His answer stopped me cold. I couldn’t even breathe. There was no possible response that would calm him down and I knew it.
“Grandpa,” I started. “I threw it away. It was going bad.”
The strange thing about all of this is as his mind was decaying like those dead chicken pieces on the counter, his broken English would somehow disappear. Italian was his native language. But now it would seem as if the 45 years of living in the United States finally caught up with him. Only it was too late.
“Why don’t you come stay with me at my house? I have an extra room. I could take care of you better.”
He scoffed, threw his hand up at me, and walked back to his chair. No one could take him from his home.
“You have no room for me,” he said, as if he were trying to assure himself he didn’t need the help, and I knew there was no way I could convince him.
“Okay. Let’s get you cleaned up and we’ll go out to eat.”
There was a small Italian restaurant a few blocks away. They had this amazing gnocchi dish there of which he couldn’t get enough. And it certainly beat the risk of eating something tainted living within his kitchen.
I helped him get cleaned up. It was the first of many times I would have to shower him. It was also the last time I ever took him out to dinner.
I visited him a few days later. When I opened the door to his house, the smell punched me right in the nose, as if it were trying to kill me. He wasn’t utilizing the air conditioner — the thermostat read 86 degrees. And there, on the counter in the kitchen, once again rested a countless assortment of raw chicken pieces. There were maggots squirming on the rancid decay.
Grandpa sat in the living room, resting his eyes.