I haven’t seen my little grandson Carlton in 18 months. But now I’m vaccinated and my son has a wedding tonight, so I’m here, in this awful city, to babysit.
My son answers the door, looks me up and down. “Why are you wearing a hazmat suit?” he asks.
“I have asthma,” I say.
“Do you also have a bag of Reese’s Pieces for E.T.?”
He reminds me to take Carlton and Stinky, his French bulldog, to the park later.
“Make sure Carlton wears a mask,” says my son. “Oh, one other thing. You need to clean Stinky’s vulva.”
“Umm, what’s that?”
“She’s got a crooked vulva. Her pee doesn’t go straight down, and I don’t want her getting a UTI.”
“Jesus, Dad, I don’t know. The urine goes down her—”
“No, how do I clean it?”
“You lift one leg up and rub your finger around what looks like the inside of a flower. Wipe in between the crack too, that’s the trouble spot. And use a baby wipe, of course.”
“Well, I wouldn’t touch it with my bare hand.”
My son rolls his eyes. “It’s for her sake.”
Inside Carlton runs towards us. I get on my knees, extend my arms, and wait for that long overdue hug.
“Mmm, no,” he says matter-of-factly, as if he’s my right hip on that first step in the morning.
Despite my son’s warnings, I try expressing to Carlton how much I’ve missed him and why I’ll never go that long again without seeing him. And that’s when he slaps my cheek like a dusty cushion. There’s crying and screaming, until my son tells me to stop.
Next he shows me the new condo with its deck of bird poop, view overlooking a highway, and kitchen/dining room/living room. He also spells out, as if I’m an idiot, all the products for Carlton’s ass: diapers, baby wipes, a butt paste, a rectal thermometer, laxatives, some type of enema, an elbow length latex glove.
“He poops a lot,” says my son. “Dad, I swear, yesterday, after a big one smelled like mothballs, I bought a fecal blood test and it came back negative. I still spent ten minutes digging around with a popsicle stick, but thankfully nothing was there either.”
“Then why would you . . . go through his . . .”
“Well, I’m gonna head out. If you need anything at all, call me, okay?” My son slowly gathers his things before rushing out the door, like a passerby finished gawking at an accident. “But make sure it’s really, really important. I’ll be dancing all night.”
“Wait. Can you at least show me how to turn on the Hallmark Channel for during his nap?”
“Absolutely not,” says my son. “It takes me four phone calls just to get you to answer one email. So don’t touch my TV. Anyways, thanks, Dad. Bye!”
Carlton gives me a glare, chin tilted down, eyes right under his forehead. I rush into the closet and, when he opens it, I shout, “You found me!” He’s good at playing hide-and-seek too, except for the child-shaped rug on the floor.
I can’t wait any longer. I give him my present. He shakes his head, whips it into a corner, and runs away shrieking.
I chase him down. “Carlton, I don’t think your daddy believes in this ideology, but I do. Manners are the basic building blocks of civil sodomy—wait, hold on, that can’t be right.”
He reaches up. I unwrap the present, a Lego Millennium Falcon set.
“You want to build it with me?” I ask.
After studying the box, he says, “I’m Batman!”
My son warned me this is all Carlton knows how to say. It doesn’t seem very accurate right now.
I spread the pieces on the ground.
“Do you like the city?” I ask. “I sure don’t. All the crowds and noise and traffic and crime and costs. It’s too much. But your daddy’s different. He’s always thrived with chaos, with competition. In fact, you know what he calls himself? A type A plus personality. What a jackass.”
Carlton puts a tiny lightsaber in his mouth, then smiles.
“Another show-off, huh?” I say. “Anyways, you’re welcome anytime to stay with me in the suburbs. We’ve got space for everything, Carlton. Everything. Not just big homes, but malls, movies theatres, parking lots, lawns. Our lawns are so big people put pools on them, Carlton. And you know, we’re more cultured than your daddy gives us credit for too.”
I stop him from swallowing the piece like a snake eating an egg.
“Does that mean you’re hungry, Carlton? Me too. Let’s order Korean cause there’s none by me.”
For lunch I feed him cut-up grapes and whole milk, which actually means I’m picking up the same fucking grape 30 times and needing more paper towel than a Costco.
The intercom buzzes. Stinky barks. I answer the door, take the plastic bag, and give the delivery man cash.
“Need any change?” he says.
“No, I don’t, though you might,” I say, raising my eyebrows for emphasis. “It’s a pandemic, son. You really think it’s a good idea to be hand delivering food to customers?”
He glances past my eyebrows, at something in the background.
“Dude, I’m not a parent or anything,” says the man, “but is it a good idea for that kid to be eating Chapstick?”
Although I ordered mild, my gravy is too spicy, and I don’t even get a fortune cookie.
After eating, Carlton runs around and I pour kibbles into Stinky’s bowl, but she just stares at it. I add a little more, she comes closer. We repeat this several times. Eventually I’m fully bent over and she’s merely inches away.
At this exact moment, Carlton sprints underneath me to see what’s going on, causing his face to run straight into my ass—all skin, no meat, like a pancake on granite.
I help Carlton up, but his whining makes Stinky upset, so she starts biting and humping her bed. Carlton laughs. Feeling embarrassed, I try taking the bed away, yet Stinky won’t stop. “How’s this even possible?” I yell. “You don’t even have a penis. You’ve got a crooked vulva!”
I decide it’s nap time. I change Carlton’s diaper, put him in his crib, and finally sit in front of my son’s TV. Yet with six speakers, a dozen apps, and more menu options than the NSAID aisle at Walgreens, I test Newton’s first law: An object at rest does stay at rest, but a flying remote shatters against a brick wall.
Stinky sits on the couch beside me. I slide over, but her wet jowls and vulva follow me. Within minutes I’m asleep, face pointed at the ceiling and mouth open wider than Ms. Pac-Man.
Suddenly I’m woken up by Carlton’s screams. I open his closet and tell him to pick out a toy. He reaches for one in my pockets, shoes, and scrotum. “Kid,” I say, “you’re fun and all, but that thing hasn’t been one in 20 years.”
Everyone wants a child who’s smart, attends the best college, makes more money than God. But after I direct Carlton to find a book for us to read together, he brings back a plunger. His face is expressionless.
“What,” I ask, “do you plan on doing with that?”
No response, no reaction.
I tell him to return the plunger. He puts it on the bookshelf and sticks his hands in Stinky’s water bowl. Well, we always need toll booth operators.
Then I take the creatures to the park. Carlton hates not only the mask, but the swing, climber, and merry-go-round. Bored as hell, I do the first thing that comes to mind: wrestling moves. It’s going well and he’s giggling every time I clothesline, leg drop, and chokeslam him, that is, until he vomits on every quadrant in four square, plus his shirt.
I panic, thinking if my son sees this, I’ll never get to babysit my grandson again, so I try cleaning the mess.
Out of nowhere we hear a jingle. Carlton starts running towards an ice cream truck. I follow and order him a scoop of chocolate.
“He’s eating it,” says the man in the truck.
“I know,” I say. “To think, maybe I’m the first person who’s ever given him ice cream . . . it just makes me feel so . . . special.”
“No, the mask. He’s literally eating the mask.”
Once corrected, Carlton licks only the top of the ice cream, so the rest dribbles down his hands. He smiles at me. It’s so cute I need to document it.
I pull out my phone and begin reading my son’s taped, handwritten instructions on the back for how to take a photo, but Carlton wants my phone. He’s pissed—screams, arm flails, tears, future therapy sessions—so I give it to him.
The phone rings. I try asking for it back but Carlton refuses. Taking it by force fails. Distracting him with my keys doesn’t work. Instead I walk around him and am surprised to see my son’s face on my phone.
“Dad?” he says.
“Well, hello,” I say.
He shakes his head. “I’ve been calling you every damn week on Facetime for months and now you answer me? How’d you figure it out? Tell me. How?”
“By adapting, son. Technology is adaption. Learned it on the YouTube.”
He sighs. “So you’re at the park. How’s he doing?”
“Great. We’re having some ice cream.”
“I told you to give him only healthy food.”
“Because I was overweight as a kid and I don’t want him getting made fun of because he’s too fat to fit on the slide or teeter-tot, all right?”
“It’s teeter-totter, son.”
“Dammit.” My son takes a deep breath. “Look, Dad, I know you’re doing me a favor here, but I need you to follow my instructions, so I can trust you, okay? Carlton is basically helpless, and since you don’t know him that well yet, it’s really important that you do everything I ask to—”
“Yup, yup. Got it. Listen, I have to pee so bad I’m sweating. Gotta go.”
I pack up the boy, vulva, and diaper bag. Because the car is hot, I open the windows and start the AC. As I’m buckling him in the car seat, Carlton leans forward and gives me a hug. It’s beautiful. It’s the sweetest thing ever. It makes me feel so good—no, better than good, perfect—that I begin crying.
“What a great day,” I whimper. “And it’s all because of you, Carlton. You’re the best thing in my life. Like they say, nothing is more important than family, and this social distancing stuff has been really hard on me because I love you. If there’s anything you ever need, Carlton, just let me know, and I’ll be there, I promise. It doesn’t matter if it’s money or a friend or a—”
The car is moving. I must’ve forgotten to pull the parking brake. I run towards the driver’s side but trip and fall. As the car keeps rolling, I hear only one thing: