Grandpa’s soft, leathery hands cover mine as we sit at the kitchen table. The whole house smells like cigarettes since he picked up smoking again three years ago. The bowl of blue wrapped chocolates on the counter is stale. None of the grand kids come around anymore besides me, and I’m diabetic. Across the room, the clock on the wall ticks down the seconds until I have to leave. Grandpa’s clock reads 5 pm. My phone says it’s 5:18 pm.

My chair scrapes the tile as I stand. “Ready for dinner?”

Grandpa keeps hold of my hands, his eyes staring at the blank TV screen in the living room. I pick up the remote. “Wheel of Fortune?”

His head bobs up and down with slow deliberation. I press the power button. Since Grandma died, he’s never changed the station. I guess he doesn’t want anymore change in his life. He threw a fit the one time I bought him oatmeal cookies instead of oatmeal raisin.

As the TV blares through the house, I grab frozen chicken strips, precooked and cut, from the freezer and throw a few on a cookie sheet. The oven starts to preheat. Grandpa starts to guess aloud the first phrase on the show. The screen reads: H_ _ _ E     _ E _ _ _ E    _HE    C _ _ _.

“‘Before He Cheats’ by Carrie Underwood.” Grandpa takes a sip of his coffee. I made it earlier for him, but he doesn’t eat or drink much unless he’s distracted.

“I think it says, horse before the cart.”

Grandpa glances at me like he forgot I was here. “You think you’re so smart, but I’m telling you, it’s that Underwood song.”

The oven beeps before I can argue. Sliding the chicken in, I relish in the heat pouring from the oven. Grandpa likes it cold in the house, so cold I worry that his feet are blue under his socks but he won’t take his socks off. My phone reads 5:37 pm. I have to leave at six if I’m going to make it to work on time, but I can’t leave the chicken in the oven. Grandpa would let the house burn down, maybe with himself in it.

I set the timer for twenty minutes. Grumbling, Grandpa heaves himself up, grabs the remote, and turns the TV off. “Damn show isn’t good anymore anyways.”

“Do you want me to turn on the news?”

“Nothing good on the news either. Dow is always down. What’s the point.”

I join him at the table and take the remote. “Your dinner will be ready soon.”

Grandpa looks over his shoulder and lowers his voice. “Did Vivian remember to boil the potatoes? She don’t know how to work the microwave.”

My stomach clenches. He doesn’t forget often. I watch the color drain from his face, and he lowers his head into his hands. His shoulders shake. Sobs break the silence and shatter everything inside of me. The timer goes off, but he doesn’t raise his head again.

Fiction

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