Friday, April 29, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: He Wasn't Ready

He banged on the bedroom door again, louder this time so maybe Grandpa's hearing aid would pick it up.

"For the second time, Mom wants you in the car. We’re late."

The door swung inward. There were a lot of surprises behind the door. Grandpa in only tighty-whities and a silver crucifix was one. The look of animal revulsion in his face was another - he'd looked a hundred kinds of pissed in his existence, but never this way. And then there was the gun, the ancient service revolver that Grandpa pushed into his grandson's breastbone.

"You know what happened when I wanted my mother? She died having my third sister. When I wanted food, the world gave us a Great Depression. When I wanted to stay out of it, the Japs bombed us and the draft was on. When I wanted to finish school on the G.I. Bill, she got pregnant."

"Grandpa, what the f--"

"You fucking swear at me in the house I bought? When my first boy was born and I had his room set up for sports-everything, then he came out with only half a foot. When we were supposed to take a second-first honeymoon to Niagara Falls, Sissy got the measles."

He didn't even try to interrupt now. He raised his palms, imitating a submitting bank robber. Maybe it would get the crazy old man to lower the gun.

It didn't.

"When I told your grandmother I didn't like smoking, she said she needed something to cut the stress. When I asked her to see Schmidt about that cough, she said next month.” He stamped his heel on the redwood planks. “When I got down on this floor and begged her to take the chemo, she said it wasn't dignified."

Grandpa shoved the muzzle into him like a steel finger, sending him far into the hall. The old man retracted his gun, rubbing it across is sagging chest.

"No. I will go to the funeral when I am fucking ready. I see you once a year, and the next time will either be Christmas or my God-damned funeral, so if I hurt your fucking feelings, go sulk in a corner." He actually pointed to one, with the empty hand. "You go there and you wait for me to be ready."

He withdrew the hand, catching the edge of the door and closing it behind himself. His grandson stood there. He heard the radio flick on inside the room. Tinny AM music belting around him, the grandson pulled out his phone. He leaned against the corner and texted Mom.

gp needz 1 min


  1. Amazing... the summary SMS was simultaneously hilarious and utterly crushing. I don't know whether to laugh at the understatement or cry at the disconnect between grampa and grandson. This is one of your best, man.

  2. The story would have been good without the text message at the end, but with it. OMG that was awesome!

    But unlike Max, it didn't seem crushing to me, but rather uplifting. It feels like he's a very emotionally honest man, and his family know and understands this. They give him his space and don't make a huge deal about it. I like that.

    But to each his own :)

  3. I loved the SMS touch at the end - it made me laugh out loud and yet want to cry too! Poor grandpa, poor grandson, not on the same wavelength.

    Great story, you captured the anger the old man was feeling about the death of his wife.

  4. Truely a great flash: you have given Grandpa real depth and grit and his motivation is very believable. I agree about the text message: stroke of genius.

  5. Fantastic payoff John. I wasn't quite with your ranty man until he was cut off at the knees by 1 txt spk line

    marc nash

  6. Absolutely great!
    Nice way of showing what drove grandpa to have that meltdown so to say.
    Love the text at the end, priceless! Plus with the way people communicate now seems totally plausible if it were a real situation.

  7. Fantastic telling of a life, John. There are so many people who have just had to suck it up and make the best of things all their life... maybe all of us.

  8. Nice tension throughout, and the text message at the end was priceless. Yes, I'd say GP needs 1 minute, too. Just for grins, I think he should get 2 or 3.

  9. Max and Michael, you two have a wonderful 7/10 split of emotional reactions. Couldn't ask for two better ways to kick off the comments on the story. I won't side with one emotional reaction. I'm simply glad that the text message managed to elicit them for you.

    Helen, I'm curious if this tale actually gets anyone to cry. Still proud of the dueling emotions it pulled out. The wavelengths can be such a problem in families.

    Scribbler, I'm at once proud and sorry that I gave him those traits. The text message was actually a last-minute addition. Also glad convinced myself to keep it.

    Virginia, thank you kindly. Glad you stopped by today.

    Mr. Marc, I'm curious - were you not with him even after you recognized what event he was going to attend?

    Estrella, some grandson somewhere totally would do this. I was tempted to have Mom honking in the car outside, and him texting her over that short a distance. Couldn't make it fit, though. Do think that would have changed much?

    Tony, all of us in some way. Many people (who annoy the crap out of me) thrash around complaining about it and not bettering things at all. But there's a weight to sucking too much up. It packs on the pounds, yes?

    Stephen, I think if we do only give him the literal "1 min," that gun is going show back up again.

  10. John, you packed a Huge Life inside a short space here, very well done!

  11. I love "he'd looked a hundred kinds of pissed in his existence, but never this way."
    Brill story, but made me feel guilty at how few times I see my grandmother. The text line is a stroke of genius!

  12. This was a fantastic piece John. I actually held my breath the hold time as I read his litany of complaints against the world. The gun was scary but it made his dispair more real. The fact that he didn't use it made him a GREAT character.

  13. Excellent. =)

    Really good job building Grandpa's character and I think it shows some depth in the kid that he doesn't sensationalise or freak out. The final line works on both a comedic and an expository level too. Great touch.

    Should the line about Grandpa's state of attire have an 'else' after the 'nothing'? Reads a bit oddly to me.

  14. Excellent work, John. I was in two minds as to whether I liked ranting Grandpa by the end of this, but the text message was perfect; I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

  15. Deanna, I figure most grandparents have huge lives. Maybe sometimes their outrage can come from it going unappreciated?

    Sam, most grandkids dodge their grandparents, especially once they hit their teens. Ever since my matrernal grandmother passed I've made a point of talking daily to my grandfather. That was the origin of this story, though he is nothing like this Grandpa whatsoever. One of the most docile, sweet men I know.

    Monica, I got you to hold your breath? That a fist-pumping achievement!

    John, thank you for catching that. It was a vestige from an earlier version of the sentence. What a mess it looked like, hard to believe I overlooked it. Tidied it up now.

    Sam, which did you wind up doing?

  16. I'm kind of conflicted about this one. I can see where the old man's coming from — grieving over his wife who sounds like a lot of guys I know — but maybe his long (and armed) rants about life in general is the reason his offspring only visit him once or twice a year. The kid's reaction-text suggests this is something that happens from time to time.

    Just sayin': I have a grandson, and I'd sooner put a gun to my own head than point it at him.

  17. Heartbreaking, John. Yes, the text message clinched it. I want to give grandpa a hug. And maybe a few more minutes to prepare himself.

  18. I'm with Max. The bio reads like a tragedy. Grandpa seems like a man who has bottled a lot up in his life and isn't going to take anymore shit. I think most grandparents have that privilege.

  19. It put me in a mind to cheer for Grandpa. Text at the end was icing on the cake.

  20. I couldn't agree more, John, this is just great work. Few flash stories work this well for me. Initially I wanted to laugh, but grandpa just didn't deserve that. I rooted for him instead, while hoping that gun wouldn't accidentally go off.

    Your story telling chops just get stronger and stronger, man. Cheers.

  21. Mr. FAR, finally an outed grandpa weighs in. Thank you for the perspective. I can certainly appreciate prefering to put a gun to your own head than that of your grandson.

    PJ, if the grandson had attempted to jump the gun in order to hug the old man, I wonder how it would have gone...

    ZT, this reflects Tony's comment. If someone bears enough, they may eventually break for a bleak narrative. Will he think this life story is a tragedy in a month? In a year?

    Harry, so you loathed the grandson?

    Mike, I wouldn't let it go off on accident. That's the degree to which I looked out for old G.P. Thank you so much for the compliments - always trying new things.

  22. Really fine writing, John. I could just see that kid at the end, with that slouch peculiar to teens.

  23. This is a brilliant way to express a lifetime of bitterness and anger, and current sorrow and pain.

    The closing line takes the sting out of what could be a really dark piece.

  24. Great writing as ever John.

    As far as the grandpa is concerned, it must take a special kind of pissed-offedness to threaten your own grandchild with a pistol, but I still feel sympathy for the man and his losses and letdowns in life.

  25. I don't know whether to laugh or feel sorry for him. Funny and amazing.

  26. John this is amazing. The anger is so vivid. The kid texting at the end so fitting. You never cease to amaze!

  27. I wouldn't say I loathed the grandson. The impression I got of him was the typical put-upon youngster. I liked that the Grandpa set him straight and was damn well going to grieve at his own speed in his own way.

  28. Your use of understatement in both the title and the ending are brilliant. Perfect for the terrific story unfolding on between. Great story, as always, John!

  29. Lou, I can see that slouch. Love that you read that into the scene.

    Raven, I'm glad it rescued it from that, because pure darkness wouldn't do this justice. He wouldn't even be suffering if he hadn't loved at various points.

    Steve, would you not count the emotions he's going through as the sort of thing that would you in a special kind of pissed-off? Am legitimately curious if I failed you there.

    Sonia and Lara, thanks so much for the enthusiastic words. Can't believe I almost didn't post this one when it seems to have done so well you folks.

    Harry, thanks for returning to clarify, Harry! I can see that impression and siding with Grandpa.

    Chuck, "It didn't" might have been going too far on the understatements. Deliberate experiment on my part. Glad you liked it!

  30. Funny, fast-paced writing.

    How do I know this? Coz I read it twice.

    The first time I was watching the scene and hearing the dialogue from gp.

    The second time I could concentrate on the technique.

    And that, for me, is the sign of bloody good writing.

    New fan. Been trying to catch up with everyone's Friday Flash today instead of just lamely taking the comments on mine and saying thanks.

    It has taken me an hour to get round everyone's website. I was beginning to flag, to tire. The wine was calling me.

    But this was the best of the lot. Glad I kept going.

  31. I have to say I was surprised by this piece, it doesn't feel like your usual fare.

    Not to say I didn't enjoy it, and -- like everyone else, it seems! -- I thought the text message at the end was a genius touch!

  32. Brilliant. Having helped my mom care for my Grandma for years, this scene was frighteningly real. (so I guess Easter was a little rough then?)

  33. Ian, one of the most generous comments I've ever received. Thank you so much for giving it two readings and telling me about them. I did go over this for a few extra coats of literary paint, tinkering with the sentence balancing. If they held up under scrutiny, I'll feel even better about my work.

    A.M., I make an effort to vary what appears on here, day-to-day and #fridayflash-to-#fridayflash. Last week was an anthropomorphic comedy about the sun. This week? Angry single grandpa.

    Danni, actually Easter went very well. While visiting my grandfather brought the idea to mind, there is no relation in the two stories. He's never pulled a gun on me, never said "Jap" or screamed about my late grandmother. I'm sorry it has any semblance of familiarity for you, Danni. Hope it wasn't harmful to read.

  34. I loved this fresh take of walking uphill against the win both ways to school when I was young. Great closing with the text.

  35. Well it's easy to see from the number of comments that this one is a real winner! Absolutely superb, great details of his myriad disappointments, very human and as others have said, great without the last line but with it, bloody amazing. Really excellent, go to the top of the #fridayflash class.

  36. Wow! Excellent and powerful post. A pleasure to read and packs a punch. Also, love the ironic twist re grandson's casual acceptance of GPs (nearly literally!) explosive emotion. Great stuff.

  37. The whole piece is good, but that text message at the end is brilliant.

  38. I agree with the others, John. One of your finest flash pieces. The old man's summary of his hard life in juxtaposition with the boy's short message to his mother was all kinds of sad and funny.

  39. Aidan, haha, I didn't think about it that way. It is an "uphill both ways" sort of story, though I can vouch Grandpa's story is entirely true, insofar as it's fiction and I'm the authority on what I made up.

    Alison, do I get to make the Dean's List? The Strother's List?

    Deb, so you read the grandson's response as casual? Do you think Grandpa flips out like this all the time?

    Tim, once I wrote it that tab became indispensible. The story needz it, apparently.

    Alan, it is so funny to read comments like yours, Alan, and your note on the retweet. I nearly didn't post this at all thinking it wasn't good enough. Writing daily forces me to put things out there, and sometimes surprises me. The reception for this one is a definite surprise, though also one of the most pleasant surprises of my year. Sometimes I really don't know my own work until others have it. That's potentially dangerous. Heartening, too.

  40. I felt quite sorry for him but at the same time it did seem a little like he was throwing a tantrum because things didn't work out the way that he wanted. Sure, he's trying to grieve, but waving a gun around isn't going to help anyone.

  41. I like gp, I wanna be just like him. Let him have a couple of minutes. He's earned them.

    I used to know someone whose father was a veteran in a wheelchair with a gun holster attached to its arm.

  42. Icy, to be fair to Grandpa, a great deal didn't go his way. Did you think his emotions were entirely unearned? Did I drop the ball on it, or did he?

    Mark, I wouldn't mind having the toughness to last through all I put him through in a few scant paragraphs. Meanwhile, a gun on a wheelchair? You won't mess with that guy's handicap spot.

  43. Very powerfully told story. One of your best.

  44. This is brilliant - the differences of two generations - grandpa with his ways of the world and the grandson with his simplified texting. Great piece - sharp!!!

  45. Hi John, No, I didn't think Grandpa flips like this all the time! I probably didn't word it very well (not good for a writer! What I meant was the irony of his understated reply - in that it sounds casual and everyday but you can feel the tension and panic behind it. Hope that's a bit more clear!

  46. Catherine/Ganymeder, wow, thanks! It's so surprising to get people claiming this is one of my best. It's definitely elicited high reactions.

    Brainhaze, thanks so much for the praise and the retweet. I'm glad you enjoyed this so much. Are you doing a #fridayflash next week?

    Deb, thanks for returning to clarify. I'd conflated your sentiments with a couple other commenters, erroneously as it turns out. Your response makes total sense to me. Thank you for reading!

  47. That last line elicits so many reactions, but it is absolutely perfect to finish this piece.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  48. Wowsies, that hit the mark on so many levels. Funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. Completely human and real and unbelievable at the same time. I agree with max Cantor on the SMS. Absolutely perfect finish.


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