NEW WEATHER

In the night there was a big rainstorm that blew the remaining leaves off the trees and brought the tide up over some of the piers in the cove. The sewers flooded and floated leaves onto the street and sidewalk. Now it is Saturday morning and the air is much cooler, with big clouds moving across a deep blue sky. My father is working on his Studebaker. It is a 1948 red Champion convertible and he is doing something to the engine. He wears old dress pants that shine at the seat as he bends over the fender. I am on my tricycle, moving it slowly over the mat of shiny brown leaves on the sidewalk. Some of the leaves stick to the big front wheel and ride up until they hit the fender and fall off. My head is covered with white bandages to protect the spot where Sylvia Jackson hit me with a rock on Monday, after I threw her toy frog onto the roof of her house. They took me to the hospital in the Jacksons’ Buick. I bled onto my mother’s dress and the front seat of the Buick.

 

My mother comes out of the house carrying a basket of steamy laundry. She walks carefully across the wet yard to the lines that are near the edge of the yard. The wind blows her hair back and forth in front of her face. She wears red slacks that stop at the middle of her calves, and a light blue jacket and white tennis shoes with tiny holes near the little toes. I move the tricycle up the sidewalk toward her for a distance, looking behind to see if I leave tracks. When I look back toward the car, my father is raised up from the hood, and is looking up the street. He goes back to the engine for a second and then he stares up the street again. Far up Oak, across from the baseball diamond, there is an old man in a dark suit, walking slowly down the sidewalk. I turn my tricycle around toward my father, to watch the man. At first I think it is the blind man who lives at the end of our street. But it is the wrong time of day for him to be walking down the street. And this man is not carrying a white cane. My father is standing straight up now.

 

“Grace,” he says, without turning toward my mother. She takes a clothespin out of her mouth and looks up the street, and then I see that it is my grandfather, on the way to visit. It is the wrong grandfather—not the one in Virginia, but the one we go to visit sometimes on Sundays. I have never seen him at our house. He lives in a dark cold house that smells like a wet couch. It is downtown near the stadium. Sometimes when we go to visit, he stays behind the gray curtain that separates the living room and the bedroom. My grandmother sits alone with us in the living room, rubbing her hands over each other again and again. On other Sundays, my grandfather comes out from behind the curtain and plays the violin. On the way home from the visits, my mother and father talk about how he was doing that day. The talks and the gray curtain and the odd smell have taught me to be afraid of my grandfather.

 

When he is just up the sidewalk from the Studebaker, my grandfather says, “Good morning, good morning, good morning,” with a little bow toward each one of us. He speaks with an accent that I think has to do with old age and the way he is on Sundays. His suit is dark wool. He wears a white shirt, and a tie with brown and blue stripes. His hair is white and tufty, like a chicken’s, and the little silver hairs on his chin and cheeks glisten in the sunlight.

 

“Trouble with the Studebaker?” he says. He pronounces it “Stootabecka.” My father has told me that he and my grandmother and grandfather came over from Germany in a boat, when he was just a little older than I am now. I have no image of my father on a tricycle.

 

“What do you want?” my father says, still standing straight up. My father is exactly the same height as my grandfather, and has the same little ball at the end of his nose.

 

“How’s the head?” my grandfather says to me, and puts out his hand. “You have to be careful with the women, you know, Alex.” He holds my hand for a second between his thumb and first two fingers.

 

“Fine,” I say, turning to look for my mother. My grandfather seems bigger and even more frightening than he has before. There is some combination of heat and smell that tells me to be afraid. Once I saw my grandfather pick up a brand new toaster from Montgomery Ward and throw it at a refrigerator door. My grandmother screamed and picked up the toaster and then he threw it again, making another sunken place in the refrigerator door. Then he stayed behind the gray curtain and we didn’t go to visit for six or seven Sundays in a row.

 

“Oh, it came down real hard around midnight,” my mother is saying to my grandfather as she comes down the yard.

 

“Nearly two inches downtown,” my grandfather says. “The bus almost didn’t make it through there at Erdman Avenue.”

 

My grandfather turns toward the Studebaker. My father is back at the engine. My grandfather walks around to the opposite fender—the one that is out in the street. “You going to speak to me?” he says, talking down toward the engine.

 

“What do you want?” my father says.

 

“Why must I want something?” my grandfather says, his voice raised.

 

My father sinks down deeper toward the engine. One of his feet leaves the ground as he bends over the fender. My grandfather turns away from the car and stares across the street toward the cove.

 

“How about a walk, Edwin?” my grandfather says.

 

“I’ve got the brakes to do yet,” my father says.

 

“You need help?”

 

“Jock Armstrong across the street usually helps.”

 

When my father is finished with the engine he gets the jack out and starts to jack up the front wheel nearest the sidewalk. I watch the car move up into the air and wonder why the wheel stays on the ground so long. When the car is up at an odd high angle, my father slides a red metal stand under it. 


When he jacks up the other wheel, my grandfather slides another stand under the other side of the car. They do not talk to each other while they do these things. My mother finishes her laundry and goes back into the house. A big cloud makes the sun go away for a time, and then my father starts to take one of the wheels apart. My grandfather squats next to the work.

 

“What do you want?” my father says again. “Just tell me what it is you want.”

 

My grandfather stands and puts his hands on his hips. “Three hundred dollars,” he says, almost in a shout. “I need three hundred dollars.”

 

My father takes his hand away from the wheel and looks down at the ground. He holds a long shiny wrench, and it glints in the sun as he lets his hand fall.

 

“I had to give up the violin last night,” my grandfather says.

 

“Had to?” my father says as he stands up. His voice is high and loud.

 

“I can get it back.” My grandfather reaches into his back pocket and then holds out a piece of paper.

 

“Gott im Himmel,” my father says in a hissing voice, and throws the long wrench onto the street next to the car. The wrench makes a loud ringing noise as it hits the street, and when it bounces up it hits the headlight nearest the sidewalk, breaking the glass. My father looks at the headlight for a second and then picks up the wrench. “It’s worth ten times that,” he shouts.

 

“Not quite,” my grandfather says.

 

The loud noise and the broken glass and the shouting make me begin to cry. I get off the tricycle and turn to look for my mother to come outside and make everybody be quiet.

 

“It’s been in your family for almost a hundred years,” my father is shouting now. “You’ve drunk away your livelihood.”

 

“Do not shout at me,” my grandfather shouts back. “I came to ask you for three hundred dollars. And that is all.”

 

My father begins to shout again and then they are both shouting in a long string of German words that I do not understand. The words are harsh and scraping, coming from their throats and teeth, and then forced out of their mouths at each other. My mother opens the door and runs to me. She picks me up and carries me back to the house.

 

“You lie down for a while and then we’ll have lunch,” she says. I have had to go back to naps since I was hit in the head.

 

In the bedroom, I lie down until my mother is gone, and then stand in the bed and strain to see out the window, to watch my father and grandfather. They are still shouting at each other. Across the street, Mr. Jackson is standing on his porch with his arms folded across his chest. And Mr. Parsons is leaning on a shovel next to his house, looking across the street.

 

My mother picks me up from behind. I cry because I did not see her coming. She carries me with one arm around my waist, at an angle on her hip. I cry loudly as she carries me out of the house and past the car and across the street. We go down through the Armstrongs’ yard toward the cove. My mother does not say anything to Mr. Armstrong or Mr. Parsons as we go. At the cove she puts me down and we walk out onto the Armstrongs’ new pier. It is the biggest one in the cove. The planks of wood are new and clean, and smell like wood. The nail heads catch the sunlight. At the end of the pier, we sit down and let our feet dangle above the water while my crying goes away completely. My mother puts her hand on the back of my neck. “We’ll just stay here awhile,” she says. She is crying. I can still hear the voices at the car, but they are far away. The sun is bright now, and shines down into the water to show sunfish moving in quick swirls below our feet. We sit for a long time on the pier and my mother does not say anything else. We watch the water and the fish and our own feet.

 

After a while, my mother says her legs are going to sleep, and we stand up. The voices are quiet. She says it’s time for lunch. We walk back off the pier and through the Armstrongs’ yard. My father is under the Studebaker, with the bottoms of his shoes sticking out into the street. My grandfather is sitting in the car, with the door open and one leg hanging out.

 

“Okay, pump,” my father says as we are crossing the street. And then, “hold it.” When we are at the kitchen door, he says “pump it” again.

 

For lunch, my mother breaks saltines onto a plate and pours a mixture of tomato soup and melted cheese over them. My father and grandfather do not come in for lunch. My mother sits across from me, eating slowly and turning pages in a magazine. The kitchen gets dark as the clouds move outside. Then my mother spoons out a little dish of the orange-banana sherbet she gives me only on special occasions. When I am finished eating I go to the window to look at the sky and the car. My father is looking up the street the same way he was when I saw my grandfather coming. I go outside to my tricycle and move it up next to my father to watch my grandfather walk up to wait for the bus. As I sit on the tricycle in the wind, I do not know that my grandfather has the three hundred dollars in his pocket, or that he will live for only four more months. I do not know that the two men fighting in the street will become the basis for a whole body of neighborhood folklore about my father, or that my own memories of my grandfather will be forever entwined with the three hundred dollars, the broken headlight and the lost violin. I do know that my grandfather looks very tiny and old as he goes up the street, and that when my father goes into the house to talk to my mother, I will stand high on the pedals of the tricycle and imitate the sound of those rough foreign words.


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