the museum of americana

a literary review

A Callous Gene — Nonfiction by Bernard Grant

 
After my grandmother’s last stroke her eyes remained open, but whether she saw anything was debatable. Twelve years old, callous and selfish, I didn’t care that the stroke eventually killed her. She took her final breath in a nursing home. Her funeral was on my thirteenth birthday. I was pissed that my plans to spend a weekend at Sandy Shores, a hotel my brother, my mother, and I frequented in Corpus Christi, were cancelled for someone who wouldn’t know, who didn’t know anything for the last year of her life.

Those are the feelings I remember most from that time, but they’re challenged by my mother’s anecdote. During the funeral, according to her, we were so upset we ran outside and hid behind the church. She says we were close to our grandmother, makes claims I must’ve forgotten: that we talked to her on the phone, raced to her lap when we saw her, watched hours of TV with her, soap operas and games shows.

What I remember is that, though elderly people frightened me, with their deep wrinkles, odd smells, and general frailty, I wasn’t afraid of my grandmother. She wore a relentless smile beneath high cheekbones and round eyes that grew wider when she saw me.

These differences in my mother’s story and my own bring to mind a memory, one I can’t shake. My grandmother would take immodest bites of my sandwiches—when asked, I always conceded to share—and after, I’d sneak into the kitchen, and wiping her spittle from my forehead, cut off the end she’d bitten.

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Not even an hour old and already I’m flying. Jaundiced, shriveled and yellow, gasping for breaths. A doctor snipped the cord. My heart stopped. I went limp as they separated me from my brother. He’s healthy, dark and chubby. He screams anyway, perhaps because they’re airlifting me to a separate hospital.

Later, after I’m better, after my mother gives my brother her father’s name, Burnett, she gives me a name, she says, that came from God, her other Father. Bernard. But over the years I begin to wonder if my name came from exhaustion or meds or a need to exploit twins, to remove our identities, so people will not only marvel at our physical likenesses but will also exclaim at the likeness of our names.

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When asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I am embarrassed to admit that I want to write books and publish in magazines and teach people how to write books and publish in magazines. Maybe I’ll be a father and I’ll worry that my children will grow up to be callous like their father cut off and isolated because their work is just so important so they’ll end up alone believing that they’re not lonely and maybe they’re not lonely or maybe they are but they see loneliness as a condition not an affliction because for their father it’s always been a condition sans that brief respite as somewhat-of-a-father and he’s tired of it—affliction or not—and he’ll wish that when he was younger he spent more time with his mother his brother and his friends because in his need for isolation to obsess over his reading his writing his teaching to exclude from his life all those who do not read and write he’s developed a callous gene he’s passed down to his children and now because of these past decisions he’s alone. He can’t figure out if he’s lonely.

 
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Bernard Grant3637_for web useBernard Grant is the author of the prose chapbook Puzzle Pieces (Paper Nautilus Press, 2016). He has received fellowships from The University of Cincinnati, Jack Straw, and Mineral School, as well as scholarships from Pacific Lutheran University, Sundress Academy for the Arts, and Fishtrap. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Chicago Tribune and Crab Orchard Review, among others. He serves as Associate Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown.