Monday, May 19, 2008
The Guy Upstairs by Mary Castillo
"Now don't get out until I come around with the umbrella," Dori ordered.
"Who are you to tell me what to do?" Grammy demanded.
"It's wet outside."
"So? I ain't no wicked witch. I ain't gonna melt."
Dori carefully placed her booted foot on the wet ground, avoiding the oily puddle next to the car. Good thing Grammy's arthritis was acting up because she only got the door open when Dori arrived. Shielding her with the umbrella and offering her arm, Dori waited patiently as Grammy eased out of the car.
They walked across the uneven pavement to the mausoleum.
"Don't let the flowers get wet," Grammy snapped as they took the steps down.
"Hold the umbrella straight. I got my hair done."
Dori glanced at Grammy's freshly colored and coiffed up-do. Diamond earrings glittered at her ears, ropes of pearls hung over her reinforced bosom and her red pant suit could beacon ships safely into harbor. Grammy had gone all out for her weekly visit with Grampy.
Grammy's hand grip on Dori's arm tightened as they turned at the bottom of the steps and moved towards Grampy's crypt.
When they stopped in front of him, Grammy let out a long sigh. Her hand reached out, shivering in the cold. She hesitated just before she caressed his name, Vincent Gregorio Orihuela, 1929-1985.
"I had a dream about his mama," Grammy said. "That woman will haunt me till the day I die. She didn't think I was good enough for your grampy but I was a good wife. He was the only man I was faithful to."
"Hi Grampy," Dori said, putting her hand next to her Grammy's. "I still keep my back to the wall like you told me to."
Dori could hear her Grampy's quiet, soothing voice say, "That's my little girl."
Grammy's hand fell away and she leaned slightly against Dori.
"We didn't get enough time, Vince," she said softly.
On the morning of his funeral, Dori had packed the pockets of her gray coat with the mini-Kleenex packages her mom kept in the cabinet over the toilet. Even then, she'd always been prepared for anything and she didn't want her Grammy to be without tissue when she cried. But Grammy never shed a tear. She stood straight and proud, looking down her nose at his green and gold coffin that had been specially painted by his low-rider car club. Grampy's old girlfriends wailed and wept but Grammy seemed unaware that they were even there. When it came time to leave the cemetery, Grammy had stepped forward and placed her hand on the glittery lid.
"It's real," Grammy had said. "You're really gone."
Dori eyes got wet and it wasn't from the memory of her Grampy's funeral or from the rainy wind zipping around them. She cried tears of envy that her grandmother had found and kept the man she'd loved, whereas Dori didn't have much so much as a picture of Pete, her One True Love. Then again, she'd thrown out the box of his letters and pictures so it was her own damn fault.
"Mija, get some water for the flowers. I want some alone time with your Grampy."
"You want the umbrella?"
"I don't need it."
Dori hurried away from Grammy and Grampy so they could have their privacy. She slowed as she rounded the corner, the little American flags flapping against the white marble. La Vista Memorial Park stood at the top of a hill and on clear days at its highest point, you could see a ribbon of ocean across town. Cars whooshed up and down the 805 freeway and the shaggy eucalyptus trees swayed in the wind. Dori noticed they'd drained the memorial pond where she and her brother and sister used to feed the giant goldfish. Even though the cemetery was a strange place for kids to play in, they'd loved it for the steep hills that would make them feel like they were flying as they raced around on their bikes.
Dori had been spending a lot of time with Grammy since Robbie's wedding and Christmas. She now saw how old and frail her grandmother had become and the time when Grammy would no longer be around waited for her around the corner. Dori shivered because when that happened, Dori would really have no one. Mom was shacked up with her new boyfriend. Sela was busy with her music. Robbie still wasn't calling, or returning their calls. Dad was somewhere in Mexico with his new wife who, according to Aunt Delia, was five years younger than Dori but looked ten years older.
When she came back to Grammy with the flowers, the clouds broke and the sun spot-lighted the old section of the cemetery where the massive gravestones rose crookedly out of the grass. The wrought iron fences were brown and crumbling with rust.
"Thank you, mija," Grammy said and pointed to the place where she wanted Dori to put the vase.
"It's crooked," she accused after Dori carefully slid it into the holder. "The flowers will fall out."
Dori made an adjustment.
"It's still crooked."
Dori nudged it just so.
"Psh! Let me do it."
Grammy shouldered her aside and jimmied the vase. "I was telling him about that house you bought," she said. "He thinks it was a good decision."
"I'm not doing Thanksgiving or Christmas this year."
"I said I'd do the cooking!"
Dori refused to admit to Grammy, or Grampy for that matter, that buying 120 year-old Victorian house was a huge mistake. Not only did it need a massive overhaul, it had more than enough bedrooms to qualify Dori for hosting each and every single family occasion.
"I'm fixing and flipping it," Dori said. "I'll be out of there by Thanksgiving."
"Now why would you go do a stupid thing like that for?"
"Because I-" That was as far as Dori got because suddenly, she didn’t know why she was just as determined to get rid of the house, as she had been to buy it a month ago.
Grammy turned back to Grampy. "Tonight, you need to talk some sense into her. You were the only one she listened to."
Dori opened her mouth to say something along the lines of: Grampy, the last time I listened to Grammy, I was wrestling a guy in the kitchen at the Hotel Del.
But he probably knew all that and would probably just shake his head and tell her, "You know your Grammy."
"I'm ready to go," Grammy said. She kissed her fingertips and then pressed them to his name plate. "See you soon, amor."
"Bye Grampy. I miss you."
They got to the car when Grammy asked, "Where would you go if you sold your house?"
"I'd have to look for a new place."
"I know that but where?"
"Downtown. Somewhere closer to work."
"Is it about the money?"
"No, it's just- I don't know, Grammy. It's just too much for only me."
"Have Sela move in with you."
Dori stopped mid-reach for the door handle and made a point to stare at her.
"You said it's a big house," Grammy said.
"No good mouthy kids," Grammy muttered and then said loud enough for the crowd of mourners walking to their cars. "Then find yourself a man and at least get laid."
As Dori slowed to the stop sign at East 24th Street, the house – wait - her house came into view. It stood tall and proud like a society matron who had lost her looks but not her bearing.
Dori turned right onto her street and her tires thudded over the reflectors embedded into the pavement that spelled out: DEAD END.
She stopped up in front of the house and stared at it with the motor still running and Mala Rodriguez singing, "Jugadores, jugadores…" on the radio. Three stories high with fish-scale wood siding, a glassed-in "solarium" and windows that offered a view of the city and the bay, the house had been a beauty in its day. Now the white paint was peeling and stained with age. Five windows were fitted with plywood
Dori backed up a few feet and then parked in the semi-circle driveway. As she reached for her bag, the back of her neck tingled. She straightened up and looked behind her. She heard kids hollering at each other the next street over. A dog barked at them to shut up.
She got out and then slammed the door. The steps to the front door had been removed and she had placed some yellow tape to keep people from being swallowed by the rotted front porch. The bay windows reflected Dori as she walked to the side door of the house.
Idly wondering what she should have for dinner, Dori fished out her keys and then stopped suddenly when she saw a man looking at her through the window in the door.
His eyes narrowed with unspoken threats. Dori dropped her bag and reached for her Glock. But she wasn't wearing her holster. When she looked up, he was gone.
He couldn't duck faster than the blink of an eye, nor was the shade moving in the wake of a sudden movement. But she had seen his dark hair and his intense eyes. She hadn't imagined him.
Warning pricked her nerves. But she stood still, listening, looking and feeling for anything or anyone in the vicinity. When her gut gave her the all-clear, she approached the door, hesitating in case the man appeared in the window again. She inserted the key and turned.
The stuffed-up smell of dust and mildew wafted around her after she gave the door a push. The blind flapped against the window. She took one step across the threshold, the linoleum crackling under her foot. As night crept steadily across the yard, something told her not to shut the door.
Oh hell, as a cop she'd been in much scarier situations than this. Then again unlike now, Dori had had a gun at her hip and a retractable baton. But figments of her imagination didn't draw blood. Dori told herself to go inside her damn house. God knows, she paid enough for it.
Just to be certain, Dori dragged her bag and set it against the door to keep it open and clear. She still wished she had her Glock. But bullet holes in the wall might affect the resale value.
Dori made her way through the gloomy kitchen and switched on the light. The fluorescent light flickered to life and its buzzing hum filled the silence. She poked her head through the door leading into the dining room. The air was completely still as if the house held its breath.
She reached in and turned on the chandelier, which miraculously had survived the architectural rape and pillage of the 1970s. The double pocket doors had been drawn shut and a stab of fear shot up her spine.
She'd left them open.
Her pulse ticked in her throat as she debated whether to run out the door and call the cavalry, or get all cavewoman and reclaim her domain.
"I'm armed," she called out, moving back into the kitchen for a knife. Then she remembered they were still packed in a box. But she had a spork from last night's binge at KFC. "Walk out the front door and you won't get hurt."
She waited for an answer. She got one when the lights snapped off.
Copyright © 2008 by Mary Castillo