Kate Duva lives and writes in Chicago, Ill. For more from her, order our 10th-anniversary book anthology, All Hands On, in which she commands a special section.
My parents held their wedding at home. It was 1979, a second marriage for them both, and their biological clocks were pounding. They lived in a scrappy Chicago neighborhood and instead of a living room, they had a private saloon with a mammoth mahogany bar. Al Green and Blood Sweat ‘n Tears sang through the record player, and the vast mirrors behind the bar reflected the guests as they mingled, sparking up, laughing, dancing, dissolving into stupor.
It was at this homespun wedding that my father’s father asked my mother’s mother for the service of a blow job.
Helen was my grandma’s name. She wore a knit turtleneck dress that night, and a silver owl-shaped bolo tie. She had beauty moles and her hips swooped like a ripe, soft, pear. She saw people’s auras, knew the arcana of the tarot as intimately as her alphabet, and smoked Luckies with a fuck-all verve that many men found magnetic. Helen had been married six times, and now she was about done with the male species.
My father’s father, on the other hand, kept the same sweetie his whole life. He made good money running taverns, and he passed a mighty alcoholic heritage and a liver of steel to all three of his sons. Cletus was his name, and his hair was white as snow. His brain was mildly seasoned from a drag-racing accident many years past. He was the kind of fellow who would walk into the lounge of his favorite suburban supper club just as they opened at 5 p.m., booming “All right, ya sons a’ guns, let’s get this show on the road!” Cletus attended church weekly, but only since his first heart attack, when he had a sudden vision of hell.
His wife was a submissive woman, a casserole baker and a collector of figurines who chose to remain as woozily unaware of his roguery as possible. She was the forgiving kind, the forgetting kind, the kind to sit quietly swallowing vodka until she fell off her stool.
My mother wore a simple cream-colored shift and a string of precious pearls that night. “Never wear a dress that’s prettier than you.” That was always her advice. She looked stunning. She was a chiseled blond sexpot. She was a fiendish reader, a wicked gossip, the kind of woman who would cross the street to give a dollar to a panhandler. She had sworn that day to forever love and cherish my father, a pothead with a healthy salary, a foulmouthed, exuberant man who collected rocks and cried whenever he was happy. She made him cry a lot.
In the kitchen, Grandma lit Mom’s cigarette, caught Mom by the small of her back, and reeled her in. If you’d watched her holding her daughter close, you would have noticed Grandma’s huge, honking rings of tarnished silver and speckled turquoise. I imagine her aura at that moment as blazing orange.
“Hey,” she whispered to her daughter. “Your new father-in-law just asked me for a blow job.”
The bride’s blood jumped to her face and then she crumpled halfway floorward with a seismic laughter, choking on her smoke.
“I was heading for the john,” Grandma said, “and there he was at the door when I turned to close it — ‘how ‘bout you give me a blowjob, babe?’ I just shut the door in his face!”
That bathroom where my grandma was propositioned is exactly the same as it was in 1979, but everything else has changed. My parents made a baby and split up. Helen died of lung cancer. Clete met his maker and ascended to heaven from his adjustable motorized bed.
When I enter that crapper today, I note the golden eagle knocker that’s always hung on the door. The tiles are the same beige and the walls are the same dusty rose. The wood of the cabinets still matches the wood of the toilet seat, and my father still lives here, still a pothead and a rock collector, still a man who cries when he’s happy. When I sit on his toilet, I envision my face in the mirror as a fresh-blooded combination of my various ancestors. I envision my dad’s dad rejected by my mom’s mom, tottering back to the bar muttering, son of a gun, ya used to have to beat the broads off with a stick. I envision my mom’s mom plopping to this very toilet with rolled eyes and a girly snort, murmuring, mmm hmm, still got it. I flush. I cackle. I bang the door open, eagle knocker quivering in my wake, and my dad says: “Whadayou laughin’ at?”