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Community Service
by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz


    I saw him as dictated by the court. If I couldn't go by - and only in the case of extreme emergency - I was allowed to call him on the phone.
    Before I'd get there, he'd clean for me. Least he said he did. It was hard to tell. He owned so little. Still, he lived with three cats and some birds. I don't remember his apartment pungent with the smell of an unkempt litter box. I never saw newspapers crusted with bird shit in the cages. So maybe he cleaned.
    He told me to call him 'Grampa Frank' first time we met. It'd made me uncomfortable, but what the hell, maybe he'd put in a good word with my probation officer.
    I had to listen to him for sixty hours. He was without human companions, but someone in the city had decided he didn't have to be. I first thought if I spent eight-hour days with him (though not the weekends), I'd be done in less than two weeks, but after the first day when he tried to get me to kiss one of the cats, I knew it'd have to be an hour here, another there.
     “Remember the time when you were eight and you...” he'd often say, his voice conjuring up some other time.
     “Of course I remember,” I'd tell him, not caring that I was stealing someone else's memory.
    Or maybe he was making the stories up. How could I know?
     “Yeah,” I'd tell him, prompting him to go on. Later at my own place, I lie on my bed and wonder what it might be like to have been his grandson at eight, drinking his wife's lemonade spiked with vodka when she wasn't looking. Imagine his grin and that wink when his wife - Elaine, he'd said her name was - stood at the back door and asked if it were too strong.
     “Nope,” he'd grin. “It's just fine.”
     “Just like Esther used to make it,” Grampa Frank tells me now as he takes a sip from each of the two glasses in his hands. He sets them on the table, pours a steady stream of Smirnoff into each. Then he takes something more than a sip from each and smiles as he slides one glass across the table. “And now, it's just the way I used to make it,” he tells me.
     “I thought you said your wife's name was Elaine,” I say.
    Grampa Frank sits a bit too heavily in the only other chair at the table. His hands instinctively grab for the wooden corners.
    He doesn't look at me. He lifts the glass to his mouth, drains more than half and then sets it back down.
     “You said she was the love of your life; how the hell do you forget something like her name?” I ask.
    For a few moments, he stares at the place where the glass sits; he turns the glass in circles.
     “I should get coasters,” he says. When he raises his head and meets my eyes, he shrugs. “Elaine. Esther. It started with an 'E.'” He sort of laughs. “Maybe it was Esther Elaine.” Another half-laugh. He lifts the glass again.
    I should apologize. I should search a drawer until I find a marriage license, just so he'll know. I should reach out and stop the glass in his hand from trembling, wipe the stream of lemonade from his chin, but I don't need to get personal.
    He isn't my grandfather, after all.



About the author:
Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a fiction writer and poet, writing for children and adults. Her work has appeared online and print, as well as in five anthologies. She can be reached at gwendolynjoycemintz@yahoo.com.



© 2011 Word Riot

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Midnight Picnic
a novel by
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