I was at the table eating lox and bagels, drinking her percolated coffee that was worse than burnt office Joe. She was potzching around the kitchen doing work to keep her busy. Already she had opened the cabinet under the old ceramic sink basin and was going through the contents, talking ceaselessly while she pulled out stale Ajax containers, dried-up Brillo pads, and a half-empty bottle of Murphy’s wood floor cleaner (she had no wood floors). She pulled out a long, thin glass container and her eyes lit up.
“I kept this,” she shook the bottle at me like the angry finger. “I kept this because Carl,” she looked at me inquisitively. “You remember Carl?” My mouth was full of cream cheese and fish, but it didn’t matter, she wasn’t looking for an answer from me anyways. “Carl stood up during Seder and hit his head on the chandelier.” She gesticulated the whole occurrence with an open palm hitting the back of her own head. “And the glass-,” she searched for the word, but couldn’t find it (“cylinder” would have been the word of choice). Abandoning the lexical pursuit she held up the long, thin bottle. “So I thought this bottle could work as a replacement. But,” she shrugged, “it didn’t. Still a nice bottle though, so I kept it. I have an old flower vase in the chandelier now.” She had hunched back over, sticking the glass jar back into its eternal prison under the sink, aimlessly talking into the cavernous depths. I could hear the echo of her voice as I munched the last of my everything-bagel and washed it down with the gritty remains of that God-awful coffee.
When she got up for a moment to hobble over to wherever she was going, I found a minute to slip towards the sink to wash my dishes. Carefully maneuvering between the kitchen-cleaning landmines and stray glass bottles and empty plastic hummus containers (“In case you want to bring a sandwich into the city”-as if a sandwich would fit in that farkakte container) I turned on the hot water. “Ah-ha!” I heard from behind me. I turned around to see Grandma holding a long wooden stick with a hooked end. It looked as if it had come off a once-solid drawer runner.
“I use this as a claw,” she said smiling grotesquely, her thick New York accent coming through strongly on “claw.” And then she demonstrated, clawing at the air with the wooden plank as if her hand were attached to a bicycle pedal. “See, I can use it to reach things.” She started hobbling towards me grinning maniacally with the weapon in her hand. I scrubbed furiously, quickly washing off the stray poppy seeds and onion fragments that lingered on the dish. In my haste to escape the cleaning-supply confines of the corner, I caught my heel on a spice rack attached to the open cabinet door under the sink.
“Careful,” she said. “I don’t want you to hurt yourself.” She was still holding the stick. I thought I could spot a rusty nail sticking out the hooked end of the wood.
Free from danger, I picked up the lox and wrapped it in a stray plastic bag to put it back in the fridge. I now saw what she wanted “the claw” for: she was hunched over again, claw in hand, reaching for the remaining plastic containers and empty glass jars that hid in the back of the decaying cabinet. She farted but didn’t notice, still clawing away under the sink. I left the kitchen and entered the dining room for some fresh air.
I looked at the chandelier in the dining room. It looked like a formaldehyde-preserved bronze octopus, its arms stemming from the central body and drooping for a while before curling back upward. The hands of the arms held frosty fake-candle bulbs. Around the lights were the glass cylinders, all dusty and discolored from years of neglect. I slowly circled the old Time- and National Geographic-covered table and sure enough, on the side near the large, crusty windows that overlooked the sloping hill of the tree-shadowed back yard, there was one light covered by a glass vase. The vase was too small and didn’t fit the brass hand that held it. Instead, it rested precariously slanted against the fake-candle bulb. It was glaringly obvious when you looked right at it, but to anyone not looking it was unnoticeable.
Twenty-two years. Twenty-two years I have been coming to this house playing with the ABC blocks in the case under the dated television next to the sepia photo albums. Twenty-two years I have been looking through the thousands of candy dishes on the old, two-thousand pound Japanese coffee table trying to find a piece of candy with an expiration date sometime in this decade. Twenty-two years I have been coming to this house scared to go into the guest room-turned-storage room in the basement with its cobwebs and old luggage. Twenty-two years and I never noticed the vase on the fake-candle bulb in the cluttered dining room.
I laughed to myself at the absurdity as I heard Grandma from the next room: “So that’s where this went!”
Check out Part 1!