national anthology of the best
undergraduate writing 2010

Si Sangre Está lo Mismo

Generations, Derek Ouyand

I finger my purple clutch, a readying gesture should I decide to commit an action I believe he is unready for—

“Yes, I will have a(n): Insert preferred alcoholic beverage of choice here.”

This will age me, validate my emerging young adulthood to the man who knows all too well the fine spirit of growing old. I ponder ordering a Bloody Mary. No, too early.

If I were with my other grandpa this would be a non-issue, a preposterous train of thought. He gave me my first sip of alcohol at age four, sitting under the Christmas tree, eye-level with his signature Budweiser can.

“Water,” I conclude, “is fine, thank you.”

My grandfather’s mushroom-ivory crown buttons atop a lounge chair on the lanai. He occupies my destination; seems we both seek the partiality of the evening trade winds’ teasing.

I take the chair next to him, intending to sit together in silence. Separate in our endeavors: I to read, he to think. Lo mismo.

I break open the week’s third selection, ready to upend another writer’s take on craft, yet reticent to know more of what I seek: writing, reading. Lo mismo. My pattern of reading is slightly settled: just beginning to crack the piece’s form, bracketing sentences, and cataloguing phrases of truth. When he leaves, I listen.

His sloughed nostalgia waves into the kitchen like the backyard lake. Just past the bar where he fills a crystal tumbler with brandy and water, he tells the wife, “Darling Dearest, she brings back fond memories for me. Of the library, and books….”

A bevy of bibliophilic images flutter as I meditate on what these memories could be for him. When I arrived five days ago we exchanged a snippet about the library we share. I stampede: question! question! Eager to speak about the rainforest of our common ground, we boast plenty, but we are (on) the island(s).

“Do you remember the library back home, Grandfather?

“Did it have oak back then along a lengthy hallway? Is it even oak wood, Grandfather, because you know a lot about native trees and local fauna? Stained glass windows everywhere and a courtyard?”

It has never been an effortless stride, language with this man I adore yet have been forced to disdain, with a distance between us.

He is the father of the father I never knew (read: left). Si sangre está lo mismo. We stick to the superficial: Rotary meetings and simple-sentence family updates, often denied answers to my furrowed questions, rushed goodbyes on the telephone. If we are to ever hold a conversation worthy of insight, crossing generational thresholds of familial intimacy, I will weep. Imbued with the salted-water of these island, I think that such a thing only seems possible when one of us is dying.

“Well.” Pause. “It doesn’t seem to have changed much then,” he bellows, voice orotund from the eight-hour steady stream of liquor.

I know he spent hours there feeling that time had not passed, that he had simply been living. And I wonder: At what age do you replace books with brandy?

He returns from inside, cloaked in long-sleeved pajamas, a contrast to the tropics where he resides. “I hope you don’t mind. I’m quite relaxed.”

Methodically, I purse my lips, administering facil-smile so he’ll believe there is a listening.

Returning to the book: the pages are thick and remind me of the paper I use for ink washes. Edges the same too, and my mind synchronizes media with notions of art.

Somewhere in the slightly more settled pattern, I log a bracketed sentence into my notebook—he speaks. I rest the pen, look.

He is not speaking with me, nor speaking to me. It seems we are not conversing. He is releasing. Releasing: a consciousness he usually leafs through solitarily into the equatorial sunset, letting me catch spectrumed hues of a life I want to know. Perhaps, it is the point when enough brandy water slips through his veins, si sangre está lo mismo making the daily routine of conversing with strangers-cum-bar-regulars, our family edition special. Each dive more knowing than the last. Each dive knowing more than this house of Us.

Perhaps a grandfather sits beside his granddaughter, gives her a book, asks her to read.

The islands whisper rain.