New Year’s Day is 80 degrees in Port Hueneme, California. The Prodigal Daughter pulls her Datsun B210 into the space her grandmother has reserved for her with a Cabbage Patch kid sitting in a kitchen chair. Grandma Carmen’s mobile home is the sweetest on her row. Lemon-cake yellow with white plastic awnings. Grandma has requested one more look before the Prodigal Daughter moves across the country. Already, her mother, father and sister have arrived. The windows are steamed over. The Prodigal Daughter has requested tripe soup. The prodigal daughter loves it. Also, her tight-ass sister is a vegetarian.
Grandpa Roy has been moved from his recliner in TV room. From his living room recliner, gaze averted, he receives side kisses. His maple cane rests against the green wall paneling. His useless arm is before him on the TV tray. In his heyday, he was a boxing announcer. Back in the 1960s, Grandma Carmen was a “ring girl;” one in a bathing suit and high heels who held up the placard announcing the number of the next round.
Hello! Hi! Grandma Carmen stands in her slippers before the steaming pot. Her red “Hot Damn; it’s Christmas!” apron features a Mother Brown clogger, kicking up heels.
The Prodigal Daughter extends greetings and does the usual: stops in the second bedroom. Slides a fistful of Grandma’s brown More cigarettes into her bra. Foregoes the guest bathroom for the one in her grandparents’ bedroom. Clocks the medicine cabinet and pockets three Valiums; swallows a fourth.
In the gravel back yard, the men pour snorts of whiskey. They squint in the sum, surrounded by Grandma Carmen’s collection of plaster religious statues. The Prodigal Daughter’s sister is done laying out soup bowls, spoons, an iceberg salad, two brand new bottles of French dressing, tortillas, and butter.
Grandma Carmen beckons. “This is for you, honey.” It’s her engagement ring, a real sparkler.
The Prodigal Daughter’s sister, who has not —
- dropped out of college after a single semester
- shacked up after high school with her boyfriend in a seedy Norwalk neighborhood
- sworn like a sailor since she was old enough to talk
- dressed for this occasion like she is going to a third-rate disco
- who is further not about to disappear for six years without a word to anyone in the family
—stands silent, biting her nails. After dinner, she’ll clear beer cans and ashtrays while the PG feasts on cake and fields questions, sucking frosting from her new bauble. Grandpa Roy won it in a poker game in Mexico City back in the ‘50s.
No one cleared the gift with him; that much is clear when the Prodigal Daughter kisses his cheek in farewell and he feints a punch, then grabs her wrist, hard.
Demands in his papery voice: “Give it to the good one.”