My grandfather’s face was red and swollen, and his eyes appeared shrunken like black marbles hiding behind his cliff of a brow ridge. His smile had gone flat, and his lips were the color of an over-ripe raspberry. He clenched his liver-spotted fists until they turned the same shade as his face, and his broad shoulders tightened as if he were preparing for a low blow. The thrift-store oxford shirt he was wearing was unbuttoned, showing a tank-top undershirt with an outline of a pacemaker on the right-hand side of his barrel chest. His legs were powerful trunks despite his age and his well worn Velcro shoes were tattered and made flip-flop sounds when he walked.
“Rose, you must be a gall-darned fool!” He shouted at my grandmother in a beastial voice. He then took a slight step backward, plopping down on his overstuffed chair. “Honey, I swear, the good lord gave you the sense of a child.”
“Harold,” my grandmother asked, “why do you have to get yourself all worked up? It isn’t like we don’t have the money!”
By now he was shaking his head from side to side, and the color had drained from his face. He squinted his eyes as if he were chopping a raw onion, and his mouth drew open, showing his teeth like he was forcing a smile. His sweat-stained, ragged hat sat uneven on his head. The stitched cursive which said ‘Disney’ on his hat had faded to grey, and at the edges the needlework was coming unraveled. His white hair stuck out and flipped up in the back around the bottom half of the cap. Once powerful shoulders now seemed to be pressing him down as he crossed his arms over his chest and gave a cat’s glare at my grandmother.
“Hmmphh” he said. “I damned well know how much money I have. You think I don’t? I had to work my rear off at that goddamned shipyard for thirty-five years. We woulda never made it if I let you spend money whenever you damn well pleased. I’m telling you honey, we ain’t got the kinda money we can spend on a whim. So I say, get rid of that thing.”
My grandmother stood with her mouth in an “O” shape, and her lucid eyes stared back at my grandfather. Her face was the color of linens, with the ruby blush on her cheeks providing the only color in her face. She began to pace back and forth. When she walked she took tiny steps with tiny feet, and she left the smell of dish soap lingering in the air. My grandmother began to fidget with her little arms as my grandfather glared at her. She continued to look away as if she was a child, lying to her mother about cleaning her room. Her head than shot up suddenly, causing my grandfather to jump.
“Well Harold,” she sneered, “I thought I wanted it so I bought it! You think what I want doesn’t matter? It should matter for something shouldn’t it! You think after fifty years your opinions would matter - but mine don’t. And I can tell you this much, Harold, I have had it!”
She wrinkled her nose and glared back at him with quarter-sized eyes. Her flower-printed shirt was unbuttoned and wrinkled, and had bits of egg and cheese on it from the breakfast she had just made for my grandfather and me. Her rose tinted hair was in bright pink curlers, and her faded blue jeans were wet from either bacon grease or water from washing dishes. She scratched a nervous itch on the right side of her head, and then took a small step back.
“I’ve had it.”
Her voice sounded like the screeching of brakes. She mimicked the arm-crossing of my grandfather, and took two steps forward to hover over my now sitting grandfather.
“So there,” she stated between long breaths.
Her voice had gone from booming to tiny like the rest of her. She began to pace around again. She checked the clock and picked up her half-broken duster and ran it along an oak cabinet. Her motions were choppy and sharp as she hunched over the piece. Her knees bowed out as she stood with her feet shoulder-width apart.
“Rose, I don’t care. Hell, we already got one phone in the house, and as far as I’m concerned, we don’t need that. I didn’t even have a phone till I moved out here. Back in Indiana I had no use for phones. Hell, my momma couldn’t even afford one of them phones. We was too poor for one of them. When we wanted to tell someone something, we cupped both our hands around our mouth and screamed till we was blue in the face.”
My grandfather laughed. He slammed his trunk-like legs on the coffee table, just inches away from the cell phone. He slowly reached down and grabbed the phone with his thick fingers. He brought it up close to his eyes and scrunched up his face..
“We got no use for portable phones.”
“Why don’t we?” My grandmother asked. “Why don’t I? Because you don’t want it? Can’t you let me make some decisions? Shouldn’t I be allowed to spend money sometimes. Can’t you…”
“No,” he said back. “If I let you spend my money that I earned, when will you stop spending my money?”
My grandmother was frustrated. She had been through this all before. Her cheek muscles drooped, and her back was hunched. From years of arguments she had learned that she was getting nowhere. Both my grandparents sat in stale silence.
“You are impossible,” my grandmother said. “I stayed home and raised the girls. I coulda worked, but then I wouldn’t have been there for them. I wanted to be there for them! I earned some of that money raising our children, Harold! Don’t you remember our children?”
“Leave them out of this,” he snapped. “They ain’t got nothing to do with this. It’s about my money and you spending it.”
The room felt cold. In the winter time, the house was always cold – heating a house was an unneeded extravagance in the eyes of my grandfather. The air tasted smoky from the burning of logs in the fire place. My grandfather grunted at my grandmother but she did not respond. Instead she turned and went over to place a log in the fireplace. When she turned, she had an absolute blank look on her face. She walked over to the stack of wood which lay in a cardboard box. She took great care in selecting the piece of wood, and gently set it down in the fireplace. She turned around one last time to say something to my grandfather. He was already fast asleep. His head was tilted to the side. He snored heavily and made whistling noises when he exhaled.
“You win, Harold.” My grandmother said dejectedly. She took timid steps past where my grandfather was sleeping and turned toward the stairs, then stopped to pick at the bits of egg and cheese off of her shirt. She glanced back at my grandfather one more time as she slowly climbed the stairs.