That Time We Won
the Samsara Sweepstakes

by Bethany Holmstrom

They delivered a man and insisted it’s Grandpa—but we don’t believe them, because this man hates Fig Newtons. He even looks just like Grandpa did in his wedding pictures: twenty-five, runner-lean with a little muscle. Smooth face and baby cheeks and a smile that twists up and to the left. Full set of teeth and full head of wild dark hair.

We went ahead and let Not-Grandpa sit on the front porch, in the ratty yellow-and-brown plaid recliner Grandpa made us drag out there years ago. Not-Grandpa wears the same fuzzy slippers with clouds on them, and keeps cussing at the kids who drive by too fast.

Goddamn speed demons! 

Why don’t you have another glass of sweet tea, Grandpa, I say each time.

He still adds more sugar even though Ma makes it sticky as hummingbird syrup.

They never manage to kill themselves—he sighs as usual—always someone else.

Ma called the help line at Samsara. It’s not him, she complained to a customer service representative.

Ma’am, we used the DNA from his remains and all the files you gave us, they told her. Might be a gap in the data, or a natural part of cell deterioration. Something he lost as he aged, the first time.

It’s not just a gap—that’s not my father, Ma said.

Ma’am, you won the opportunity for a remarkably innovative and expensive procedure—and they left it at that, as if it was some kind of answer. Ma hung up because she didn’t know what else to say.

Bobby tried hard to make Not-Grandpa budge. Bobby’s even more creeped out than the rest of us. Maybe it’s because Not-Grandpa is only a year older than Bobby, so my brother doesn’t know how he’s supposed to act around the man. Bobby won’t really talk to me about it.

Don’t you want to go out and live your life, Grandpa?

Already did that, Not-Grandpa said. Why don’t you go on out and live yours. What kind of man lives at home with his ma, at your age — eh, Bobby boy? You ain’t ever gonna find a woman. What’d you even tell them down at the bar—’wanna come back to my mama’s place and fool around on her couch?’

Bobby’s heard it all before, and he went back inside long before Not-Grandpa finished. Slamming the porch’s screen door behind him used to be Bobby’s signature dramatic move, but Not-Grandpa replaced the rusty spring with a new closer and now it slowly whispers shut—so Bobby can’t even do that anymore.

Could be a mean ol’ bastard when he wanted, Bobby said. Wish we had him cremated like we did Grandma.

Your grandpa’s kinda hot, my best friend Heather said last Saturday, when she came to pick me up for the field party out by the Tyree’s place.

Shut your fucking face, I said. You ain’t getting any of my Tito’s tonight.

But I poured her some with OJ while she was behind Jimmy’s truck, showing him her tits so he’d give her a few joints. We drank and smoked and sat on the barely warm hood of her car and watched people come together and break and weave through the tall grass.

Must be nice, your ma winning that sweepstakes, Heather said. I knew who she’d bring back, if her family had won. Her father died last Christmas. Diabetes took one leg a few years ago, and he didn’t survive long after they cut off the second. Her dad was an asshole who drank too much and stared at me and made my skin prickle and feel like he was trying to peel it off my bones, but I told Heather—yeah, we got real lucky.

When I came back early the next morning, Not-Grandpa was already out in the recliner with his straight young spine hunched over—almost like he was trying to shrink back into his old body. A bulge of chaw in his lower lip, spitting cup at his side.

I brought Fig Newtons and Sprite out to the porch—best cure for a hangover: Fig Newtons and Sprite. Don’t listen to them doctors, those two combined are better than any drugs, Grandpa used to say. I offered some to the man sitting on our porch.

No, no, I can’t abide those cookies, Not-Grandpa said. He squinted into the sun, and I swear I could see the lifetimes start to gather in the small crinkles around his eyes.

Bethany Holmstrom is an English professor at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY. Originally from rural Appalachia, she now lives in Brooklyn. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Appalachian Review and MoonPark Review.
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