Patrilineal

by | Feb 13, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Seven

Dad got taken by Grandpa again. We were all sitting around the dinner table when his eye did that twitchy thing, his head snapped back, and he screamed, “Timmy!” (That’s Dad’s name.) Head slumping forward, he stared straight at me and shouted, “How many times do I have to tell you: No elbows on the table!

Only my elbows weren’t on the table; Dad’s were. Then he bellowed at me to go to my room.

It’s been happening a lot lately. I get sent to my room by Grandpa for something Dad did a gazillion years ago, while Mom makes the sign of the cross and reaches for the potato salad.

Sometimes, Grandpa yells at her, too. Calls her Nancy (Mom’s name is Margaret). Tells her she’s a good-for-nothing shrew, says he’s sick and tired of her hiding his favorite socks.

Other ghosts slip in now and then: a little girl crying from the bottom of a well; a racecar driver going on about taking that one turn too fast; a dog, snarling and drooling.

Most of the time, though, it’s Grandpa. You can always tell by the raspy voice. And Dad’s face gets funny. It twists and scrunches up and looks exactly like the photos we keep on the living room side table.

When it first started happening, I protested, told Grandpa he had the wrong guy. But nothing I said got through, so now I just sit there and take it like Mom. Sometimes I forget that it’s not me he’s screaming at, and that Dad isn’t really Dad. It gets confusing, all that yelling. You forget it’s a ghost in there and that the words aren’t meant for you. You start to put your elbows on the table because it makes more sense that way. You wonder who’s the real monster: Grandpa, Dad… maybe you.

Mom must have had enough because she finally called an exorcist.

The exorcist looked exactly like the one in the movie Poltergeist. Pint sized with mounds of hair piled on top of her head. She sniffed at me and gave me a judge-y look, then said something about Dad being particularly vulnerable to “the spirits” due to his lack of boundaries. “Just like his father before him.

After that, she got down to business: told the little girl it wasn’t her fault she fell down the well, convinced the racecar driver his dreams of glory were a big waste of time. Grandpa didn’t show up (was probably onto her), but she said that didn’t matter because she was going to set a boundary to prevent him from ever again wiggling into Dad.

She made Dad sit cross-legged on the garage floor and sprinkled some stuff in the doorway that looked like volcanic sand. Said he couldn’t leave the garage for three days. Mom would have to bring him everything he needed.

It hasn’t been 24 hours, and already the silence is driving me nuts. I keep waiting for Grandpa to start screaming, only he doesn’t, and the anticipation is killing me. It’s weird, but it’s almost like I miss it. I want to scream myself just so I can relax again.

That’s probably why Mom’s been getting on my nerves with all her dramatic tiptoeing around the house. When she isn’t complaining about how messy my room’s gotten, she sits around all day smoking cigarettes and staring into the distance like she thinks she should’ve gotten someone else’s life. Like she thinks she’s better than the rest of us.

I’m starting to think Grandpa’s probably right. Mom’s Nancy; Nancy’s Mom. With Dad trapped in the garage, just like Nancy, Mom’s doing one annoying thing after the next to spite me. Like all those times she let Dad yell at me without doing anything about it. I bet that’s exactly something Nancy would do.

I was having all these horrible revelations about Mom, and then I couldn’t find my sock—the one that belongs to my favorite pair.

That’s when my eye began to twitch, and I felt the drool sliding over my mouth.

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