“Yes. I can see that.”
Frankie laughed. A short chuckle and then silence. He rolled his shoulders and cocked his head, looking at the photo in his hand. He frowned.
“I brought this in to show you but now, I don’t know, it seems silly.”
David waited a moment. He was behind the counter. Frankie was to his right, leaning against the ice cream cooler. His body was turned just enough that David could not see the image he was holding. Frankie was short and plump, his round cheeks and shallow chin covered with a scruffy fuzz that was not quite whiskers. He pushed his glasses up with one finger.
David could tell Frankie was stuck. Unable to make a decision. Torn between wanting to share whatever it was in that photo and wanting to keep it for himself. Embarrassed was the word that came to David’s mind, but upon closer inspection he decided it was uncertainty.
“Let’s have a look,” said David. He kept his voice neutral.
Frankie rolled his shoulders again, as if uncomfortable in his own skin.
David reached out is hand and beckoned with a flutter of fingers. “Come on now,” he said, “You brought it with you, so let’s have a look.”
Frankie straightened. He handed the photo to David, but did not turn to face him.
Calmly, as casually as possible, David took the photo.
It was a picture of an old lady. She was in her sixties, perhaps older. (David was terrible with age. It’s why he carded so many people for smokes.) The photo was slightly out of focus, the woman off centre but the focal point of the photograph. She was laughing, a big laugh with an open mouth that had very few teeth. Her hair was tight curls, her face a wrinkled map of the ages.
“This the grandma you’re always telling me about?” asked David.
“Yes,” said Frankie. He had settled back against the cooler. With slumped shoulders, he gazed absently at his shoes. One was untied, frayed laces laying on the ground. He picked at the hole in the knee of his jeans with fingers dirty from the pencils he used to sketch in his notebook. That notebook was tucked into his jacket pocket. Most of its length stuck out. The edges of the pages were wrinkled.
“What is she laughing at?” asked David.
A pause and then…
“I don’t remember why exactly, but I remember the day that picture was taken. That’s our house. Not the one we’re in now. The other one. The one before where we are now. My dad picked her up that day, early. It was a Saturday. When I woke up she was already there. Mom cooked a big breakfast. Bacon, eggs, toast, juice. I remember because it was the smell that woke me up. Anyway, the three of them were at the table when I came out into the kitchen. I took a seat and ate and afterward while my mom cleaned up the dishes and my dad went outside to do something or other, I walked her into the living room and got her settled into this chair she liked. It was grandpa’s. From their place. My mom kept it after, you know, grandpa died and grandma had to move. And she sat in that chair and rocked back and forth ever so slightly. Her knees creaked as much as that chair, I swear. And that is what we would do, see. She would sit and rock and I would sit on the sofa and watch her. But this time, all of a sudden, she started talking, telling me this story about grandpa.”
“She said, ‘Did you know your grandpa was a rodeo clown?’
“I perked up at that. I said I did not.
“‘Well, he was,’ she said. She was very serious. ‘Local rodeo. Travelled from town to town for the events. Wore the costume– big overalls, polka dots, the works. Got in the barrel, all that. It’s the clown’s job, you know, to distract the bull so the cowboys can get to safety.’
“‘This one time, the cowboy goes down, goes down hard. So Michael– your grandfather– runs out into the centre of the ring, flapping his arms and hooting to get the big bull’s attention. Meanwhile, his partner goes to help the cowboy up. Your grandfather looks over his shoulder to make sure that is going as planned and in that moment the bull charges. Your grandpa sees it coming out of the corner of his eye or hears it maybe but whatever the reason he moves. And his foot comes down in a pile of shit. He slips and falls down at the same moment the bull thrusts forward with that big head and those pointy horns.’
“It took her forever to tell the story.” Frankie paused and frowned, unhappy, perhaps, thought David, with his choice of words. “She’s old, right, so it takes her time to talk so much, like her brain can’t get the story straight for her. It’s, I don’t know, sad in a way, you know. I think about that sometimes, like how awful it would be to be like that, to not be able to do all the stuff you used to do. I wonder if you remember, remember what it was like before.”
“So your grandpa was a rodeo clown,” said David, seeking to distract Frankie from whatever thoughts had caused him to fall silent.
“Yeah,” said Frankie, straightening a little. “After she was done with that story, she looked at me with this serious look. She wasn’t rocking anymore.
“‘Bullshit saved your grandfather’s life,’ she said.
“And I remember feeling, like, wow, what a crazy cool story.
“Anyway, a moment later she started laughing and laughing, so much so my mom came in all worried, but a moment later mom was in and out in a flash with a camera in hand and snapped that there photo.”
Frankie fell quiet then.
David looked at the photo. “It’s a very nice photo. She looks very happy.” He held it out for Frankie.
Frankie took it back from David tenderly, like the photo was fragile thing. He did not look at it before slipping it into his jacket pocket.
The only sound for a period of time was the hum of the ice cream cooler and the shush-shush of fabric as Frankie rolled his shoulders.
[20 Minutes is a self-imposed ritual in which I write, uninterrupted, for 20 minutes a day. No self-editing is the goal. Just 20 minutes hammering on the keys. After the 20 minutes, I am allowed to clean up spelling and grammar errors, but the rest must stay as is. 20 minutes a day. Every day. Today is day 2.]