An Intervention of Sorts
by Lancaster Cooney
On the 12th of October, 1987, my uncle Corbly beats my Grandpa George nearly to death with the elbow end of a fire log. I sit on the living room couch, watching movies and carting M&M’s from the two-way pocket of my hooded sweat shirt. It’s the first of a double-feature hosted by Rhonda Shear. Secretly, I desire Rhonda. The enormity of her hair and breasts, and that sexy squeaky way she enunciates the word “Up” in “Up All Night”. In the movie a research team of scientists find themselves marooned in the Arctic, where something bad has gotten into their blood. Had my mother not been in the next room, I would have already begun to pet myself beneath the blanket.
An early snow amasses, covering everything in what looks to be fresh cut coconut. My mother cradles the phone and does what comes naturally, unloading every sordid detail and bloody fact. How Grandpa had obeyed the ground rules, waking Uncle Corbly with a tug on the toe followed by a quick exit. How he had mistaken Grandpa George, you could see it in his eyes, for one of them, and how the struggle which began at the base of the steps, ended in the family room, where one said fire log was obtained and in a matter of moments used to cave Grandpa’s cheekbone.
“He’s not dangerous,” she felt it necessary to add. “He’s not dangerous, Richard. It’s just that his dreams have all gone bad.”
With her closing argument she places a kiss on my forehead and suggests a reasonable bedtime, preferably around the time the credits start to roll. Ah yes, but we have ourselves a double-feature here, see.
“I mean it,” she adds.
On the television, a man’s chest cavity rips open into a horrid, toothy bear trap. I watch with newly imagined fear and that horn-doggedness that propagates those on the cusp of puberty.
Sometime later I awaken to the aromatic smell of those who live mostly out of duffle bags and stake claim to random couches. My uncle sits opposite. The peaks of his shoulders damp from snow. An unlit cigarette buried in the butt crack of his mustache.
“Mom will kill you, you put a burn in that fabric,” I say.
“Don’t I know,” he answers, spinning the threaded wheel of his lighter. “Taking advantage of tonight’s events, are we?”
“No,” I say. “I fell asleep.”
“Ah!” he says. “Sleep will have you at unfortunate times.”
His words seem nothing more than flatulent balloons, zipping past and spraying. In seventh grade, while teaching the mechanics of a free-throw, he offered this: Explode the spine up through the heavens, guiding the forearm up with a flip of the wrist, leaving it limp as a sulking swan. Audience and verification.
I never took a shot.
Mostly I felt sorry for him. Before moving back in with my grandparents he lived in a shitty-ass apartment down off Telegraph Hill and spent most of his time watching Clint Eastwood movies and smoking weed. It was common knowledge that he was something of a protégé when it came to the movements on a chessboard, but that was before he went away and that too had drained from him. One Thanksgiving, when a no-show, my mother and the rest of the siblings predicted his future on a paper tablecloth.
Aunt Jean: “We will find that he bore a Vietnamese child, a girl, and the mother now a nationalized citizen will demand 13 years of alimony.”
Uncle Vaughn: “Tracheostomy by age 41.”
Aunt Syd: “On the day of his burial, the wind shall not allow the flag to blanket his coffin; instead sending it scrambling out across the cemetery, in the manner of an angry snake. Uniformed soldiers will reach and stoop and the grass will stain their knees.”
With each admission they hunched over the table and pressed the backsides of their wrists against their lips to curb the need to spurt beer and liquored coffee drinks.
“There anything you want to say to me?” he asks.
“No,” I tell him.
My mother’s headlights stretch and bend the room in an assembly of malformed light. Uncle Corbly looks small, leaning his head back, releasing an herbicidal rainbow of smoke. And each time he does, there seems to be less of him, as though a baby drowning in fat.
“I’m gonna go to bed,” I say.
None of them saw this coming.