“We probably should tell Logan to keep quiet about our little visit.” Adam stood in the kitchen with his wife Brittany. Their ten-year-old son Logan was in his room playing a video game.
“I don’t see why, but go ahead and tell him if you want to.”
“It would be better coming from you.”
Brittany was affixing a bow on the Easter basket she was making up. She stopped, pressing on the bow to make sure the magic circle was holding, and looked at Adam. “I’m not going to tell him something like that. If you think it’s so important, you tell him.” She stared at him until he looked away.
He said, “All right. I just think he listens to you better,” but he had no intention of saying anything to their son.
“I just think you should stop keeping secrets from your father.” She was still giving him a hard look as she removed her hand from the well-secured bow.
The next morning they went straight from the early morning church service to the nursing home. They found Adam’s grandfather Roy sitting before the TV in the day room. The old man’s eyes snapped open when Adam said “Grandpa?”
It took a few seconds for the old man’s eyes to focus on Adam’s face. “There they are. I wondered if you all’d come out to see me on a nice day like this.”
“We wouldn’t miss spending some time with you on Easter, Grandpa Roy.” Brittany held up the Easter basket she’d made for Roy and handed it to him.
“Good. Lots of chocolate. You know what I like.” The leer and the lascivious note in Roy’s voice jarred with Adam, as they had before. “Here, little’un, take one or two of those itty-bitty eggs. Leave the big ones and the chocolate bunnies for your great-granddad.”
Logan removed two of the small chocolate eggs wrapped in colored foil and put them in his pocket.
Roy glanced at Adam. “Savin’ ‘em for a rainy day, huh? Wonder who he got that from.”
“How are you doing, Grandpa? Are you getting enough to eat here?” Brittany, always the practical one, checking up on service providers. Adam wondered why she bothered. Medicare paid the nursing home, and he doubted that he and Brittany had any legal authority to complain about it.
“Oh, I do all right. Food’s pretty good.”
Adam tried to envision Roy as a younger man, but the shapeless, ninety-year-old face and the scant hair gracing the pale scalp looked timeless, a stone that had never known vigor. Only the dark eyes that flirted with Brittany gave a hint of past vitality.
“How are you doing, young lady? Are these fellows treating you all right?”
“Yes, Grandpa. They’re good boys.”
Roy guffawed, as though she’d made a hilarious joke. She laughed along with him, while Adam smiled and Logan looked puzzled.
They talked for a few more minutes, Brittany and Roy mostly, with Adam saying something now and then. Roy threw a few questions to Logan.
After half an hour Roy said, “I better let you folks go.” His eyelids were drooping.
Brittany said, “We’ll let you get back to your TV program,” although anyone could tell Roy would fall asleep before they left the building.
As Adam settled into the driver’s seat, he gave a sigh of relief now that the visit to his grandfather was out of the way. Half an hour after leaving the nursing home they pulled into his parents’ driveway. Entering the front door without knocking, they found Adam’s dad Keith in the living room watching TV. When they passed through the foyer into the living room Keith stood to greet them. “Hi, folks. Hey, buddy.” He high-fived Logan.
Adam, Brittany, and Logan went into the kitchen to say hello to Adam’s mom Gloria. She was using both hands to whip the potatoes with the electric mixer, so she stood on her toes and offered her cheek to Adam for a kiss. “You, too, buddy,” she said, stooping slightly to collect a kiss from Logan. Although Gloria said, “All right, dinner’ll be ready in a little bit, everybody out,” Brittany stayed in the kitchen as Adam and Logan returned to the living room.
“What’d you do today, buddy, go on an Easter egg hunt?”
Logan scoffed. “No. I don’t do that anymore.”
“Logan’s too big for that stuff, Grandpa.” Adam grinned.
“Sorry. I should have known. I keep forgetting how old you are.”
Logan said, “We went to church, and then went to see Grandpa Roy at the nursing home.”
“Who?” Keith’s eyes narrowed.
Keith paused. “Really.” A statement rather than a question. He looked at Adam. “How is the old gentleman?”
Missing the sarcasm in Keith’s voice, Logan chuckled. “He’s fine. He was asleep when we got there. In the day room. Watching TV.”
“Nice. Was that Brittany’s idea?”
“No.” Adam returned Keith’s gaze. He willed himself to maintain the stare, but was the first to look away, wordlessly admitting he was lying.
“Here, find something else on TV if you want to.” Keith held out the remote to Logan, who took it. The old man returned to his seat, satisfied, Adam hoped, with winning the staring contest.
Adam and Logan sat down. Logan scrolled through the program guide on TV while Adam and Keith talked about Adam’s job, and about Keith’s business. In a while Brittany called them into the dining room, where they joined her and Gloria around the table.
As always, Gloria managed the conversation during the meal, asking questions of each person in turn, telling funny stories about her and Keith’s week, guiding discussion away from unpleasant topics. Talk flowed smoothly until Keith said to Brittany, “The boys tell me you went to visit Roy today.” He always referred to his father, Adam’s grandfather, by first name.
Adam tensed up, but Brittany sounded unperturbed. “Yes. We thought it would be nice to take him a little Easter basket for the holiday.”
“Did we? Interesting.”
Adam waited for Keith to go on, but he didn’t. Just like when Adam was a kid, Keith used his own silence to pressure the guilty party into blurting out self-incrimination.
Brittany caved first. “We think it’s important for Logan to know his roots, to be respectful of his elders.”
Keith spoke in a sharp tone as he looked at Logan. “Respect is something that has to be earned. Remember that when you grow up.” He looked around the table, then devoted his attention to his meal.
Logan stared at Keith, who continued to ignore everyone as he put a piece of ham in his mouth. The expression on Logan’s face reminded Keith of how his dad used to make him feel, confused, unsure how to react. Anything he could say to relieve Logan might set Keith off on a rant about Roy, so Adam said nothing.
Uncharacteristically quiet, Gloria concentrated on her plate, averting her eyes from the others around the table. Even her eating was muted, as she used her silverware without it clinking. Logan resumed eating, followed by Adam and Brittany. Conversation was perfunctory until they finished the main course and Gloria said, “Who wants dessert?”
Adam said, “That sounds good. Did I hear we’re having strawberry shortcake? You like that don’t you, dude?” He could hear himself being too cheerful.
Logan said, “Yeah,” and Brittany said, “Let me help, Mom,” following Gloria into the kitchen.
As Gloria passed Keith, she touched his shoulder as Adam had seen her do before when his father was upset. Keith only acknowledged her gesture by placing his hand over hers before she moved on to the kitchen. He said, “You always liked her shortcake, too, didn’t you?” He smiled, his enthusiasm sounding as forced as Adam’s.
Adam said, “You bet!” relieved that Keith didn’t sound bitter now.
After dessert the three males went into the living room while the Gloria and Brittany cleaned up. Logan was in charge of the remote again. Keith and Adam had been making small talk when Keith said, out of nowhere, “How’d you know where Roy was?”
“We went to Aunt Grace’s funeral last year. Brenda mentioned that Roy was in the nursing home and didn’t get a lot of visitors.”
“So you finally met your grandpa. After all those years.”
Keith waited a while before saying in a loud voice, “What’d Roy say about me?” Logan sat on an ottoman near the middle of the room, facing the TV and sideways to Keith, his back to Adam. He turned his head now to look at Keith.
Sitting at the end of the sofa, next to and at a right angle to Keith’s easy chair, Adam said, “Nothing, Dad, he didn’t say anything at all.” He spoke in a measured tone, hoping to calm Keith down so he wouldn’t draw Logan’s attention again. Adam and his father glared at each other.
“He said you were a son of a bitch.” Logan looked straight at Keith, smiling as if he expected his grandfather to think the comment funny. He’d learned to get attention by using shocking language.
“I never heard him say that, Logan. Why would you say that?”
Logan swiveled around on the ottoman to face Adam. “He didn’t say it today. He said it when we visited him at Christmas time.”
“You went to see him at Christmas, too?”
“I didn’t hear him say that at Christmas, either, Logan.”
“He said it to me in the day room, while you and Mom were putting up Christmas decorations in his room.” Logan smiled, ignoring his father’s and grandfather’s agitated voices.
“Why’d he call me a son of a bitch?” Keith controlled his voice.
“He was just kidding, talking about how you don’t like to spend money.” Logan’s smile faded, as he noticed the anger on Keith’s face and the discomfort on Adam’s. “He wasn’t mad or anything.”
Keith’s softened. “Of course he wasn’t mad, son. He was just showing off to you, enjoying making fun of his son, who happens to be your granddad. That’s the way he is.”
“You shouldn’t have said that, Logan. You don’t have to repeat everything you hear.”
“Why shouldn’t he? If Roy didn’t want to be quoted he should have kept his goddamn mouth shut.”
In the past Keith was free with his language, but after Logan came along he became more careful with his words. He’d never said anything like that in front of the boy before.
Logan broke the pause that followed. “He didn’t say it mean, Grandpa. He’s not mad at you. He was just kidding around.”
“You don’t know him the way I do.” He struck a sad note, trying to be dramatic, Adam thought.
“Roy was a mean, selfish, rotten man. He mistreated my mother, your great-grandmother, terribly. Always chasing skirts. He made a lot of money in real estate, but blew it all. He’s why I had to go to Vietnam.”
“That was a long time ago, Dad. Why can’t we let bygones be bygones?” Adam had heard Keith’s Vietnam story too many times already.
Keith kept talking, looking at Logan and paying no attention to Adam. “I worked nights and in the summer when I was in high school, to save money for college. Roy, my own father, talked me into loaning him my college fund after I graduated high school. Said it was for a business deal, that would bring in big bucks before I started college in the fall. If I’d been older, more experienced, I would have known the whole thing sounded funny, but I didn’t think even he would screw over his own son. There wasn’t any deal and come the fall he didn’t have any money for me. I didn’t register for school, figuring to work in the fall and enroll in the spring. I got drafted in December. I figured I’d be safe until the new semester, when I could get a student deferment, but I figured wrong.”
“All right, Dad. You’ve made your point.”
“Then while I was away in the Army old Roy decided to leave my mother and run off with a tramp. I was sending my lousy GI pay home to my mother, because my no-good father wouldn’t even give her enough money to buy groceries.”
“Goddamn it, that’s enough! You’ve been whining about that story all my life. Get over it.” Adam glared at Keith, who looked away first this time.
After a pause Logan turned around on the ottoman and pulled up the cable guide on the TV. Keith and Adam looked at the screen as if engrossed in the program grid. Silence continued as Logan settled on a Western, and they all watched without speaking.
Gloria, coming in from the kitchen with Brittany, said “What’s on?”
Adam couldn’t answer the question, his mind elsewhere than the film. Keith also remained quiet. Logan came to their rescue. “El Dorado,’ with John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and James Caan.” He didn’t take his eyes off the TV.
Gloria chuckled. “Can’t go wrong with the classics. John Wayne and Robert Mitchum are two of Grandpa’s favorites, aren’t they, Grandpa?”
Keith waited a beat too long before saying, “Yeah.” Gloria looked from him to Adam.
“Like father like son,” Brittany said. “Those are two of Adam’s favorites, too.” She also looked at the two men who, along with Logan, continued staring at the TV intently.
Adam and Logan remained quiet during the ride home. Brittany studied each of them.
Logan, sitting in the backseat, broke the silence. “What does it mean to chase skirts?”
“What?” Brittany sounded somewhere between amused and shocked.
“Like I told you, Logan, you don’t have to repeat everything you hear.” Adam hadn’t intended to sound as sharp as he did.
She looked at Adam. “What brought that on?”
Before Adam could decide whether she meant what brought on Logan’s question or what brought on Adam’s response, Logan spoke.
“Grandpa said Grandpa Roy was always chasing skirts.”
After a pause Brittany said, “That must have been an interesting conversation.”
“Actually, we had a pretty good brawl while you and Mom were in the kitchen. I wish we’d explained to Logan about Dad and Grandpa Roy, like I suggested this morning.”
“I told you to go ahead and tell him if you wanted to. Besides, all you wanted to explain was that he should make a secret out of visiting his great-grandfather.”
With Logan there Adam couldn’t reiterate that it would be better for her to explain to their son about Grandpa Roy. He didn’t want to admit that she could talk to Logan better than he could.
After more silence Logan said, “So what does it mean?” Still no answer. After a couple of minutes he said, “What does it mean to chase skirts?”
They drove on home, with nobody saying anything more.
Tom Ray asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.