Grandpa sat at the table poking at his turkey. It was too dry, but he would never complain about it. It was food, and food was for eating, and if you had food, you were a pretty lucky guy. But still, it was too dry. It was too dry every Thanksgiving. Wendy just wasn’t a very good cook and her husband Ron was an idiot. The kids, Sam and Josie, were also idiots. They looked like they were about college aged. There was still a slim chance they’d grow out of it, but most people grew more and more into it.
Grandpa remembered when Wendy was still a child. She had been such a sweet, intelligent girl, and now she was a robotic harpy. A robotic harpy married to an idiot, and she still didn’t know how to cook a turkey.
“Ron, what are you doing?”
“You said to start the coffee.”
“Not that coffee, the good coffee. The beans, remember? I had to remind you to buy them a thousand times.”
“You always complain about me nagging you, but it’s because you don’t listen, you don’t think.”
“I’m trying, Wendy.”
“You’re always trying, but nothing is ever good enough, because I’m such a monster.”
“You two idiots should have never gotten married,” said Grandpa. Sam and Josie looked at each other and tried not to giggle. Ron and Wendy looked like they were about to defend themselves and their marriage, but they exchanged a coded glance and went back to preparing the coffee and desserts. So that’s how it is, thought Grandpa. He was just a crazy old man now, he could say or do almost anything and no one would care. When he was younger he’d thought that this would be liberating, and it was in a way, but it was also insulting and frustrating. It made him angry because it was a lie. They could pretend all they wanted, but they could still see him and hear him. He wasn’t a ghost yet.
“Here you go, Grandpa.” Wendy handed him his coffee. Lots of cream and a little sugar, almost perfect. For a second he saw the little girl he had known.
“How about you Irish this up for me?”
He could see guilt and apprehension warring within her. He could sense Ron gesturing “no” from somewhere off to his side. Sam and Josie looked expectant. They couldn’t wait for old Grandpa to get uncorked and start his old-timey ramblings. He’d be the punchline to some story they told their friends back at college. You wouldn’t believe what he said, and then he said this. In general, he agreed with them. People had to die. Old people and old ideas had to die, or the world would never change. People got too stuck in their stupid ways, himself included.
Wendy brought over a bottle of Early Times and poured half a shot into his coffee.
“Okay Grandpa, but just one.”
“The fuck?” said Grandpa. “
“You shouldn’t drink too much, and you shouldn’t curse.”
“Why the hell not? What is this, Nazi Germany? I’m 80 fucking years old.”
Grandpa fished a cigarette out of his sweater pocket and lit it.
“And you know you’re not allowed to smoke in the house, and you shouldn’t smoke either.”
“What? Why? You want me to stand outside in the cold like a goddamn hobo?” Grandpa slugged down his coffee, muttering to himself. “Not allowed. I didn’t shoot all those Koreans so I could stand around smoking cigarettes in the goddamn snow.”
Wendy took his cup.
“I’ll get you a refill.”
“Yes, please, and you can skip the coffee this time.”
“Grandpa – “
“Grandpa is right. Show some respect for your elders.”
Sam and Josie started sniggering.
“What are you two idiots sniggering about? You catch a Pokemon?” Grandpa took a long drag off his cigarette. “Fucking Koreans.”
Grandpa stood up and took the cup from Wendy. He moved to the bar, removed the bottle of Early Times, and brought both back to his seat, cigarette dangling from his mouth.
“See, I can still walk around and move objects. I am not a ghost! Not yet!”
Wendy sat down next to Grandpa.
“Of course you’re not a ghost, and we all respect you. I just don’t think you should drink and smoke so much, that’s all.”
“What you think doesn’t matter. And if you respected me so much you wouldn’t make me stand up and roam around like a goddamn bum in a soup kitchen.”
Grandpa poured himself a couple fingers of bourbon and slammed it down, then refilled his cup to the top and took a small sip. He puffed on his cigarette.
“So Grandpa,” said Josie, “what do you think about World War II?”
Grandpa caught a warning glance pass from Wendy to Josie. Josie was feigning interest, trying to cause trouble. At least she wanted him to talk.
“World War II was the last war we had any business fighting, and we would’ve been better off sitting it out. Who the fuck cares about Europe? We should’ve let the damn Nazis go to Korea. We sit that war out, the Nazis would be living on Mars by now.”
“What do you think about women in the military?” asked Sam. So the mama’s boy wants to get back at his sister for Mommy.
“If it would’ve kept me out of Korea, I’m all for it. Any idiot who wants to go to war deserves whatever they get. But as a society, as a human being, I think it’s absurd.”
Grandpa stared hard at Josie.
“The reason you women are oppressed or protected or whatever the hell you want to call it, it’s because you’re important. 99% of the men on Earth could die and humanity would be fine, in some ways we’d be better off. If 99% of the women died, well, there’s just no way for one woman to impregnate hundreds of men. This is why the Amazons went extinct.”
Grandpa took a long sip from his cup and put out his cigarette in his unfinished turkey. He lit another one.
“Grandpa, don’t you think you’ve smoked enough?” asked Wendy.
Grandpa took a deep pull off his cigarette and exhaled slowly. He addressed Sam and Josie.
“What your mother just did there, that’s fascism. That’s what we were fighting against in WW2.”
“Grandpa, you can’t seriously be arguing for smoking?” asked Wendy.
“And that’s more fascism. Get the shit out of your ears, Wendy. I’m not arguing for smoking. I’m arguing against fascism. I’m arguing against assholes like you who always have to stick their goddamn noses into other people’s business and try to tell them how to live.” Grandpa caught a brief glimmer of life from Ron. Wendy caught it too and immediately snuffed it out. Her look demanded that Ron defend her.
“I don’t think that you should talk to your granddaughter like that.” said Ron.
“Why the hell not? Because she’s a woman?” Grandpa looked back at Josie. “What the hell do you women want anyway? You want to be equal? Fuck you. I’d say it to a man and I’m saying it to you. No one is equal.” Grandpa finished off his cup and poured himself another drink.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” asked Wendy. So he wasn’t ‘Grandpa’ anymore. He was just another annoying asshole like everyone else. It felt great. Josie gave him a genuine smile. Maybe pissing off Wendy was a part of it, but not all of it.
“And I will not have you ‘mansplaining’ to Josie,” said Wendy. She looked to Josie for approval and Josie rolled her eyes.
“What the hell is ‘mansplaining’?” asked Grandpa.
“It’s how men are always trying to explain things to women, how men always act like they know what’s best.” said Ron.
“You mean like Wendy busting your balls about the goddamn coffee?” asked Grandpa.
“That’s different. That’s just being a bitch,” said Josie.
“Is it like Wendy busting my balls about smoking?” asked Grandpa.
“Actually, it kind of is.” said Josie.
“That’s just being an asshole. Why the hell is it called ‘mansplaining’?” Grandpa looked at Wendy. “Are you saying that women aren’t allowed to be assholes?”
“I’m saying that society doesn’t allow women to be assholes to the same extent.” said Wendy.
“Look in a goddamn mirror, Wendy. Society is doing a lousy job.”
There was a moment of silence. Wendy looked upset. Grandpa wanted to tell her that the reason he was so hard on her sometimes was because he remembered the little girl she had been, so smart and sweet and above all, so happy, but he knew that saying anything of the kind would only make her feel worse.
“Can I have a drink?”asked Sam.
“Me, too,” said Josie.
“How old are you?” asked Grandpa.
“18,” said Sam.
“20.” said Josie.
“Well, I guess it’s still up to your mother.”
“You gave me my first beer when I was eleven. When my parents complained, you told them to go to hell.”
“You were only eleven? Shit, maybe they had a point.”
Wendy smiled and looked at Sam and Josie.
“One drink.” said Wendy.
“How about Ron?” asked Grandpa. “Is he allowed to drink?”
Ron reddened, but had a drink with the rest of the family, spirits for the adults, beers for the kids.
“What the hell is a Pokemon?” asked Grandpa. “I know they’re popular with you kids, but I don’t actually know what the hell they are.”
Josie and Sam looked embarrassed, maybe they didn’t know about Pokemon either, but Wendy and Ron got very excited and told him all about it.
“Sounds like a big waste of time to me,” said Grandpa, “but there’s nothing wrong with that. I ever tell you about my friend Calhoun in Korea? Calhoun was a cocker spaniel, and the best pal a guy could have, always good for a beer and a laugh. At least, until she got pregnant.”