“Beaky Pa” is what Ma called Gramps this morning. Always mussing with her business. “Last time, old man,” she snarled, teeth fresh.
Hot breeze as she passed me, tangled up in long division at the kitchen table. Forgot to fuss my hair, like she usually do. The porch screen rattled its hinges after her backpack, her boots, the baseball cap she got me that one time.
“Strange bedfellows,” Grandma’s ghost muttered from her corner. She always said it, each time they tussled. On her camp bed by the coal-store, she’d roll her elderly bones up in the blanket chrysalis-style, leave them to their heat. Died that way, not-a-year back.
Go Cubs, I mouthed at the empty doorway, the contrails of dust kicked up on the path. Restarted my homework. Failed.
But here, on Gramps’ rowboat, fish schooling silver circles all around, it’s starting to come clear now. I can see the big and small of it: how neither of them loved either of us really, and how that’s okay, reckon we’ll get by. Willow branches brush the lake. Gramps steadies my fishing line, hands clasped over mine, and together we pray for pike.
Back on shingle, foil parcels crackle in the campfire’s belly. Scales shrivel, blacken, hiss.
“School tomorrow,” Gramps says, wiping the bulb of his nose. “Just us now, Son.”
Something pinches in my stomach, sharp and foul like burnt egg. But we clink tin mugs, and I drink anyways. Hot chocolate and brandy. Me and Old Beaky Pa.