The Chemical gets a call from his wife, the Chemist.
How old were you when your grandmother spilled (what did she spill? Boiling water?) on your foot? 7 or 8?
Boiling oil. I was 12. 11 or 12. Although, maybe 10 or 11 come to think of it.
So just a year or two before she died?
The Chemist is researching family history. She knows more about the Chemical than the Chemical does. The Carboxyl family, the Hydroxyls, the rest.
So my brother was 8 or 9, he says.
And how old was he when he ate her thyroid pills?
And that was after the mental hospital?
I guess? I was a little kid.
So was her thyroid problem diagnosed after the mental hospital?
I don’t know.
Maybe the thing with Amino…
Was enough stress to trigger a thyroid storm or some other crisis… and she was hospitalized and got the electroshocks… and eventually a thyroid diagnosis?
I don’t know the chronology. And anyone who knows is dead, except one or two who were directly involved in the whole scandal themselves so you can’t ask them, and their kids are all younger than I was so they probably don’t know either unless their parents told them later, which is entirely possible, everyone’s parents told them more than mine told me. Everything was a secret and now they’re dead.
Maybe ask Phosphate or Methyl, he says.
They finish their conversation and hang up.
The Chemical gazes out the window. It is a crisp fall day but warmish, the colors are bright (chlorophyll breaks down revealing yellows and oranges, any trapped sugars might turn into anthocyanins for the reds) and crows are arguing over the borders of their territories.
Mellow music is playing on his computer. The YouTube algorithm has decided to serve him mellow ambient music today, which irritatingly is just what he needs. He is wired, as if he had drunk a lot of coffee this morning, which he has but not that much, not any more than usual.
When he leaves the office in two hours he will walk to the subway, past various things including the attacking crow. He thought she had mellowed out, she stopped attacking him for a while, swooping only, but yesterday she whacked him in the head with her wing again.
Boiling fat, actually. His parents had a broiler pan in the oven, a flat pan to collect bacon drippings etc and when his grandmother forgot about it and it started to smoke, he drew her attention to it and stood there next to her and told her to use the oven mitts, so she wouldn’t burn herself. Careful, Grandma.
And she put on the mitts and took it by one end and as soon as it was free of the oven it tipped and emptied the boiling grease onto his right foot.
She felt terrible and he felt terrible that she felt terrible.
When he finished screaming every obscenity he knew, he tried to comfort her.
In the hospital where he got a skin graft he had rubber joke vomit and tricked a nurse with it, who then tricked another nurse with it.
Sometimes you’re awake and feel alive. Sometimes you’re tired and feel dead.
Anyone who thinks they understand this world raise your hand.
Tag Archives: grandmother
The Chemical gets a call from his wife, the Chemist.
A grave robber and a cat napper walk into a bar.
The bartender, drying a shot glass with a small white dishtowel, looks over towards them.
“Hi mom, hi dad,” she says.
“What’ll it be?”
(Speaker shakes gadget (not a euphemism) and it finally starts working, projecting a PowerPoint slide, showing the text of the joke in Comic Sans onto the large screen on one side of the stage, while making a disconcerting buzzing sound and a small wisp of smoke rises from its insides, so small you are not sure whether you really saw it or not.)
Speaker: “Why is this joke funny?”
Speaker: “Because it is really funny if you know us. By ‘us’ I mean my wife and me.”
Audience member: “You mean ‘my wife and I’.”
Speaker: (Fires bolt from small crossbow at audience member, bolt glances off audience member’s backpack, tangles in beard of second audience member sitting behind them.)
Speaker: “No.” (And to person with crossbow bolt tangled in their beard.) “Sorry about that.”
Speaker: “See, we’re going to a ball later this month so we were taking a refresher course because I forgot how to dance. And one evening my wife was early so she window-shopped and noticed how expensive jewelry made of stags’ teeth is, which gave her the idea to exhume her grandmother, whose funeral she had organized and whom she had had interred with earrings intact because relatives had been arguing about who should take possession of them.”
Speaker: “Which idea matched the legal definition of grave robbery, according to our legally-trained daughter.”
Speaker: “And a week or so ago our tuxedo cat disappeared, pitching us into sort of a Schrödingerish state where we try to imagine she adopted one of our neighborhood’s 4 (at a minimum) cat ladies (the way she adopted us as a kitten), and is sleeping on a pillow and drinking cream, and try not to visualize her dead in a ditch. Lucky for us, the former is a very realistic scenario, because our other cats have for years come in from nights out, warm, fur brushed and smelling of woodsmoke.”
Speaker: “And so I tried not to think about her too much and thought I was adjusting well to her absence and being a grown-up about it until one night my wife and I were driving home from the train station or whatever and roughly in front of the doctor’s office in our village I said, ‘Stop! Stop the car!’ And she did, and I got out and crossed the street because I had seen a little black and white cat in the shadows. And it marched right up to me. I petted it, and it lay down and I picked it up and it meowed in a friendly way and I carried it over to the car and got in.”
Speaker: “‘Look who I found!’ I said. I was so happy, sitting there holding our cat. The relief I felt made me conscious of how I’d missed her. My wife pulled back out onto the street, but also took a closer look at the cat. ‘That’s not our cat, honeybunny,’ she said. ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Are you sure?’ She pulled back over to the side of the road. ‘You have to let it go.’ So I let it go and it went about its business and we drove home hoping there had been no witnesses and that video evidence of my attempted crime wouldn’t be posted to social media.”
Speaker: “So that’s why the joke is funny.”
Speaker: “Thank you for attending my TED talk.”