The Jesus picture hangs above the TV cabinet, lit up with a tiny bulb tucked inside the frame. There’s a faux marble fountain right there in Grandma’s front parlor, and a naked cherub squirts a trickle of water into a giant bowl that looks like a baptismal font. Decapitated heads of artificial daisies float in the dyed-blue water. We’re under blankets on a three-piece s-shaped sectional upholstered in a black and gold brocade. A mid-century, first-generation Polish style home.
Tonight, circa 1985, Grandma snores softly in the La-Z-Boy, a mound of Salem cigarette butts beside her in a freestanding ashtray. When we grandkids sleep over, there are no comforts of bedtime rituals, like story time or lights out. Teeth brushing is loosely enforced. And beneath the son of God, the TV set stays on all night.
Things that Dropped (1961)
- My grandfather. Dead. At work, while operating his crane at Bethlehem Steel, when Grandma was just 29.
- Grandma’s cup of coffee. From her hand. When she got the call, they say it shattered on the kitchen floor.
- What would’ve been their fifth child. Out of Grandma, months too early.
Mom was only four, and she never had a bedtime because Grandma didn’t want to be alone.
On this sectional sofa, I sleep wake sleep wake and watch most of an old movie about a teenage girl crushing on a mysterious older man. Near the end, a different man tries to assault her, but crush-man chases him out the window, and the would-be rapist drops to his death while trying to escape down the gutter. I will think about this movie for decades.
Nearly twenty years after this pajama party, Grandma will die in the Lay-Z-Boy. We will sort through tangled mounds of pastel-colored costume jewelry, a collection of tiny beaded fancy purses strung on metal chains, and thousands of dollars rolled up and tucked into Nips coffee candy boxes.
Tonight, Grandma’s police scanner is also on, and around 4:00am, I hear the dispatcher say that a woman called to report a bird-like creature trapped inside her car. She is afraid to open the door and see what it is. I think it might be some kind of vicious hawk. My chest gets tight. Maybe it’s a gremlin. But slowly my muscles relax as I feel the velvety fabric under my ear and absorb the fullness of this parlor. Electric Jesus is with us, and I know this gremlin-hawk can’t take on all of us together.
Jessie Lovett Allen is originally from western New York and currently teaches English at North Platte Community College in western Nebraska. She holds an MA in English and a PhD in Literacy Education. Jessie enjoys loitering around the MFA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where she irregularly takes classes. Her stories have appeared in The Forge, JMWW, and Storm Cellar, and she was recently nominated for Pushcart. Twitter: @jesslovettallen