On a bitter Sunday in November,

in the middle of the second world war,

my great-grandfather shut the kitchen door

on his wife’s voice.

 

Her threats sliced the air with each

trudging step he took up the hill,

until he knocked on the door

of his own house to evict the tenants.

 

He had put this off for weeks.

But he could no longer stomach

his wife’s back like a garden wall

in bed, the bills stacked like a deck

of cards, his in-laws’ opinions

elbowing him at the dinner table.

 

He knocked on the door of his own house

and the loose laughter of the men inside

drummed against the frosted windowpanes.

Calloused hands spread over the cards:

bleeding red hearts, black-night-diamonds.

 

The tenant swung open the door,

and his drunken breath met my

great-grandfather’s practised speech.

Their words mixed like ice and steam

in the bitter November night. At the piano,

someone tinkered a Gershwin tune;

the men’s laughter and the lamplight sparkled.

 

The tenant’s calloused fist struck jaw.

A shot like a block of ice cracking

rang out.

And my great-grandfather stumbled,

tipped backwards,

and fell the six feet

to take his last breaths

while staring up at the stars sparkling

so clear, so bitterly bright,

a stranger playing Gershwin,

and there he left this earth,

knocked down at the foot of the porch

of his own house.

 

 


First published in Italian Americana (Winter, 2012)

Vanessa Blakeslee is an award-winning U.S. writer of short fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Her prose story, ‘Ask Jesus’, is available in our current print/audio edition, Going Down Swinging No. 33.

Photo by Marlon Bunday