by Benjamin Andrew Moore
“You’re dying, Jimmy, from the moment you take breath.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. He keeps on talking, but all I can think about is how he’s got one of those receding hairlines with the V-shape backward. You know, like Dracula. Not the bald spot in the back. I remember hearing him, when I was younger, say it was so much worse to lose your hair that way, from in to out. Well, maybe it is, and maybe I’d think the same if I were in his position, but as a young person who doesn’t have to worry about any of that shit yet—losing hair is losing hair, man. Get over it. It’s not coming back.
And he keeps on talking.
“From the moment that tiny, microscopic piece of ejaculate swims upstream into your mother’s baby-growing egg and apparatus. BOOM! Like an explosion. From the moment your heart beats its first beat, sending blood from point A to point B and back again, keeping you warm all the while. Like when you hug someone who makes you hard, boy. Yeah, you know. Best, warmest feeling in the world. And then BANG! It hits again, louder this time. From the moment your feet first kick in anger or excitement. BAM! BAM! Deafening now, too loud. From the moment your hands grip their first thumb, to the moment your eyes first flinch in surprise, to the moment your skin first shivers at the sight of this beautiful world. So beautiful you know—even in that tiny, baby-sized brain of yours—that when they do eventually take you from this bright and beautiful place, they’ll have to utterly ruin you, inside and out, to get you to budge just an inch, and not even that.
“Because from the moment we’re living, Jimmy…we’re dying. You hear me?”
“Uh huh,” I mutter, half there, half far away, at my house, in my room, by my computer playing Burning Crusade, and yet completely wishing he would just stop talking so I could go home and do that for real.
But Grandpa continues unabated, as he always does: “At first you don’t see it, James. At first it’s not clear. You know things are changing in, on, and around you, but nothing’s getting worse. In fact, if your head’s to be trusted, it's’re getting better. It's getting better all the time.”
Thank you, Paul McCartney. Do you see what I’m saying?
“Unfortunately, though, your head is never to be trusted. About anything. Everything. Remember that. ‘Do not trust your head!’ That’s the one thing I would tell myself if I could send a message back in time. That and, of course, the obligatory, ‘Never trust a girl with rings for nipples.’ Or is it rings ‘in’ her nipples? Which is it, James? You tell me.”
“I…I really—I really wouldn’t know, now would I?”
“Hm. Well. I would. It’s rings in her nipples, Jim. Never good, not a one of them. Always got Daddy problems…and Mommy problems for that matter. Just problems in general, all around, I suppose, from feet-to-face and head-to-fucking-toe. Anyway! Fact is, we get so reliant on our heads that we don’t see what’s ruining us. We don’t see ‘the wear’ begin to grow until it’s too late and too far gone—like global warming, yeah? Yeah, you know what that is. Fact is, it’s the body that figures this shit out, way before the head—figures out what’s happening to you like Sherlock Holmes on steroids. The head, as wonderful and absolutely necessary as it is, don’t get me wrong, just gets dumber and dumber and dumber, until it works about half as good as it used to. And then you start to wonder, did it ever really work that well in the first place, to begin with, way back when I thought I was better than everybody? If your head worked half as well as it did this, that, or some other guy’s head, way back when, then how well does it work now, compared to, say, that other guy’s son’s head?”
“Yeah,” I say as I pick the dirt out of my fingernails with a mechanical pencil. It leaves a graphite streak where the dirt used to be. Kind of defeats the purpose, I know, but I do it anyway. “He’s probably a genius, though, so…I mean…what’re you gonna do…”
Grandpa pauses for a really long time. For a second there, in the middle, I honestly wonder if he’s dead. It’s possible. That shit happens all the time, or so I hear. He could’ve died just like that, right there, sitting straight up in his chair, telling his stupid stories. It’s how he’d want to go. But then his blue eyes close as tightly as possible, and his old and tired lungs breathe in the air around him like it's the most delicious thing in the world.
“They say I’m attractive for an old man, Jimmy. They say I’m pretty attractive for an old man. Do you know what that really means?”
I really don’t, but I take a stab. “You’re no Sean Connery, but you’re all right?”
He shakes his head like he didn’t even hear me. “It means I’m not attractive at all, is what it means. If I was attractive, they’d just say that. They’d just say, ‘Damn! I mean, God-damn, would you look at that man? He’s old, but Goddamn is he attractive. Goddamn-Goddamn!’ And that’s all they’d say, just like they used to say. None of this ‘for an old man…’”
Then he looks at me with those frosty blue eyes of his. I’m jealous of those eyes, and not much else.
“It’s such a shame. I used to be so good, Jimmy. So Goddamn good. I just wish you coulda seen me…are you even listening?”
I’m sorry, what’d you say, old man? I was busy thinking about Caroline and Nancy and Jennifer and Lucy and Ann-Margaret even, and speculating, imagining all of them at once, in a line, and wondering which one would look better with rings in her nipples and elsewhere, all over. And then without the rings, and without anything else. Just them, displayed in all their naked glory, in different patterns and colors for me to see, and me alone. It’s not half-bad.
I don’t tell him that, of course. Instead, I just nod my head in the affirmative.
“No,” he whispers, after squinting at me for a while. “You’re not, are you?”
I don’t answer this time.
Then he blinks at me slowly, pulls the lever on the LAY-Z-BOY he’s sitting in, leans back, kicks his feet up, and closes his eyes again in unison with the click of the leg-lifter falling into place. Yeah, time may have taken his hair, from front to back, and his body, from in to out, but it hasn’t taken his eyes. It can never take those eyes.
And, God hate him, he knows it.