Joyland

The South |

Come Home

by Joseph Grantham

edited by Michelle Lyn King

Margaret called and said I needed to come home because Dad was sick and I was her brother and she was no fun.

She didn’t say she was no fun. She left that part out. But it’s true. She was never any fun when we were growing up and she’s still no fun. It’s not entirely her fault. Margaret is a name that allows for little fun, and her life isn’t much different in terms of fun allowance. She sells trees. Door to door. The little trees that hang from the rearview mirrors of cars. Car fresheners. She does it to pass the time. To make a little money on the side for her husband Dan, a carpenter, and their newborn, Elijah. All of that being said, she was right about me being her brother and about Dad being sick, so I went home.

I got on a red eye flight to Kansas City—the Missouri one—and the plane flew for a while before it landed. It was a summer afternoon when I disembarked, my rolling suitcase bumping along behind me as I worked my way through the worm that leads to the terminal, and already I noticed the weight of the air. It was heavier, suffocating.

In the airport restroom I walked past the trough and the line of men who stood dripping, emptying themselves of their coffees and beers and waters and spritzers and vodkas, and turned to stare into the mirror that lined the wall. My eyes were red. That’s what the flight advertised.

I bought a bag of Blue Diamond almonds on my way out of the airport and paused every few minutes to lift the bag up to my mouth and let handfuls of them collect in the sides of my cheeks. I’d commence with the crunching and chewing as I walked, pulling my suitcase with one hand, cradling the bag of almonds in the other. I’d read somewhere that almonds were a great source of energy and my legs ached.

In front of the airport, I hailed a cab and gave the driver the address of my uncle’s place, the only address I knew in Kansas City. When the cab pulled up to his driveway, I got out. My uncle accosted me, he gave me a hug, and my cousins stood behind him smiling, arms crossed. No one was expecting me.

“Do you want to go get some barbecue?” they asked me, all of them. The cab drove away. “Where’s my dad?” I asked them.

“Your dad?” my uncle said.

“Your brother.”

“Hell if I know. Wouldn’t he be in California?”

I thought about that for a second and asked my relatives for a moment of privacy. They took a few steps back while I called Margaret.

“Margaret?”

“Are you at the airport? Need me to come and get you?”

“No, no. I’m already here. I just got a cab.”

I could hear her put the phone down. I could hear her moving to the window, pulling aside the curtain. A second later I heard the phone press against the cartilage of her ear.

“You’re not here.”

“Margaret, Dad’s not here. Uncle Tim said he was probably in California.”

I kicked some gravel around, and saw my uncle wince when a pebble bounced up and hit the side door of his red Datsun. I stopped kicking gravel.

“Uncle Tim is right,” Margaret sighed. “Jesus, Joe, he’s here at home with me. He’s in his bed.”

I nodded as if she could see me through the phone, pacing back and forth in the driveway. “I think I flew to Kansas City because that’s where we were born. You, me, Dad. You said to come home.”

“We were born in Kansas City, but our home is in a place called Dublin. Remember? It’s where we grew up,” she said. “Get on another flight. Come home.”

“Right, right. Yeah. I’ll come home.”

“And if you fly to Ireland I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

I hung up the phone and my uncle and cousins stepped forward. I told them about the misunderstanding and about my dad and how he was sick. They said they knew he was sick. He was their brother and their uncle. I asked my uncle if he could drive me to the airport so that I could catch a flight to California. He said, “Sure, under one condition.”

We ate pulled pork sandwiches at LC’s, a roadside barbecue place where the owner sat in the corner of the restaurant, his eyes fluttering between dreams and visions of my uncle, cousins, and me wolfing down meat. We looked out the window while we chewed. Outside was a road, and some bushes and trees. My aunt once took a picture of me out there, standing in the middle of that road holding an old Underwood typewriter from the thirties—it was her father’s. In the photograph, I appear to be subduing a stupid grin—lips apart, teeth bared, eyes squinting. She gave me the typewriter because she thought I might use it. I still haven’t used it.

My uncle told me about my aunt. He told me he could move to California now, like he’d always wanted to, because she’d left him. He said she wasn’t really my aunt anymore, she was now a woman who used to be my aunt. My cousins told me they’d always had a hard time liking her. Their mom.

Outside the airport, I gave them each a hug before entering the terminal. “Thanks, Uncle Tim,” I said. I gave him a firm pat on the shoulder.

“Tell your dad we’re all praying for him out here.” He pointed up at the sky. “Even though we’re smack dab in the middle of the damn country, He can still hear us.”

“I will, I’ll tell him.”

On the plane, heading west, a cousin in a dream slowly repeated the phrase, “You remember to come back here and get some barbecue. Come back here and get some barbecue. Get some barbecue...”

When I woke up I was sitting in the backseat of a cab listening to the driver tell me about the place where I grew up. I watched him. He was hunched over and pointing out the windows as we passed through the hills.

“The Irish settlers, they called it Dublin because of the rolling green hills,” he told me.

“They also probably called it Dublin because they missed Dublin,” I said.

And when I arrived at Margaret’s house, she was there at the window, one hand pulling the curtain aside, the other making a visor above her eyes, and somewhere else inside, Dad was in his bed.