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What Grace There Is

By Meera Lee Sethi

Sooner than you think, everyone will be drunk. You won't know it, but Kenny will be upstairs banging out a punk rock rhythm on your drum set. The sticks will explode from his sweaty grip. The next day, you'll find a neat hole punched in the surface of your wardrobe door.

The boy you all call Gecko will be in a heap. He'll be moaning the name of the girl who does not love him. Other people will pitch to and fro, their bodies stirring even in the silence of someone kneeling to change the CD. A few girls will have wandered down the street for a quiet gossip. Later they'll reappear in a flurry of complaints, fleeing the attentions of an old man even drunker than they—but that won't have happened yet.

Your grandfather will surface in the living room, borne through the partiers as if on a gentle current. He'll clutch the folds of his falling-down sarong. It will be past time for him to sleep, but routine will be dislocated. There is no point making sure the door is locked if the strangers are already inside.

You will feel him next to you.

Where is your father, he will ask.

You'll remind him your parents are on a cruise in Alaska, seven thousand miles distant.

When are these people going home, he will ask.

You'll pat him on the shoulder, not unkindly for an eighteen-year-old, and suggest he go to sleep. It will trouble you to see him standing there in his worn T-shirt and enormous plastic spectacles while “Give it Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays.

He is eighty-seven, and was once the manager of a sporting goods store.

After a while, he'll say, It’s all right. He'll adjust his hold on his sarong before he shuffles off.

You will go outside, sit on the grass with a cigarette, and consider the speed with which people have become intoxicated. Is it a testament to the success of your hosting technique, or the low caliber of your guests? The thought will remain unfinished. A soft hoot will come from the girl beside you, looking through the window into the house. Uh—your grandfather’s making a speech.

~ ~ ~

He will have buttoned on a gray shirt and smoothed the ends of his soft white hair. Your friends will be gathering agreeably before him, holding their plastic cups. Someone will turn off the music. Even Kenny will descend, twirling a drumstick. It will be inevitable.

Your grandfather will raise his right hand, a guru blessing the assembly. I am very happy to see you all, he will say. I wish you good health, long life, and best of luck! His voice will be very loud. He used to be a singer in his temple. He has trained lungs.

He will gaze at the girls in tight T-shirts and boys in falling-off pants, and frown and smile at the same time.

Good health, long life, and best of luck, he'll repeat, and you'll wait for him to say it again.

He will. Then fall silent. He is used to being tugged down by a son or daughter-in-law. Now he will stand, still running on some unfathomable adrenaline. Heat in your cheeks.

But when you turn, there are grins. Someone will clap. Then everyone will follow, and Kenny, who'll have met all your family, will slap your grandfather on the back. Great speech, man! he'll say.

Your grandfather will put his palm out. A modest gesture. It’s all right, he'll say, with startled pleasure. He will stay for the last of the whistles. He'll go back to his room and unbutton his shirt. Then he'll sit on the bed in the dark.

In a while, then, those girls will come in fussing, and someone will go outside to make sure the old pervert is gone, and people will start to collect their things. When the house is still, you'll wait on the stair and look down. The blue sarong will approach the front door. The knob that locks it will be checked: once, twice, three times. You'll see the blue move back across the living room and disappear from your view.

Eight years later, you'll miss his last day. You'll be nine thousand miles distant. He won't ask where you are.


Meera Lee Sethi is a Chicago-based science writer whose micro-essays have appeared in such short-form literary journals as escarp, Seedpod, 7x20, and 140Max; she was quite happy to scale things up for Brevity. You can find more of her writing at her website, scienceessayist.com, and at the online photo-literary journal Utata.org, where she is a contributing editor.

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Photo by Dinty W. Moore