My girlfriend, George Washington, took me to her grandmother’s house to meet her family after we had been together for just a month. I agreed, on the terms that she would let me ride her prized cherry wood motorcycle, which she never let anyone touch. She told me we had a deal, provided that after the meeting, her grandmother approved of my character. Although I despised familial gatherings, I knew I was charming, especially toward older women, and I desperately wanted to feel the wind dry out my eyeballs going thirty over the speed limit on that pristine machine. This knowledge propelled me to pull out all the stops and win over George Washington’s grandmother at all costs.
George Washington was much taller than I was. Once, she told me that my slight height was what first turned her on. She was tired of dating guys who stood a head above her, stooping down with bent necks just to give her a goodnight kiss. What first attracted me to George Washington was her thick jaw and tightly wound, white colored ponytail. That, and she tended to wear thigh-high motorcycle boots to bed, which I regarded very much as a plus.
On the evening we were to meet her folks I had my best suit pressed, my hair cut, my beard shaved off, and my teeth whitened at the dentist’s, and I jogged six miles, after losing count doing push-ups. My diet during the weeks prior to our visit had resulted in noticeable weight loss, so I guess there is something to be said for eating strictly grapefruit for a month straight. I stared at the mirror one last time before we left and felt satisfied with my appearance. I felt ready to meet Grandma Washington.
We arrived later than planned, so I was already impatient by the time I walked through the door. Upon entering, I was hit with a smell of stale bread so powerful I sneezed a dozen times, thrashing about the room and knocking knickknacks off shelves as the force of the mucus exiting my nose rocked my entire body. George Washington didn’t seem to notice and helped herself to some shrimp cocktail.
Her father, Buck, seemed to like me okay because I had a firm handshake, developed from hours of practicing with my personal collection of life-sized, large-handed dolls. Her mother and I hit it off immediately, and I could see that the apple did not fall far from the tree, at least as far as the size of George Washington’s ass was concerned. Side by side, they were nearly identical, and I became hypnotized for a moment just staring at the pair. In bright red mom jeans, Mrs. Washington’s behind resembled a maraschino cherry, and I grew thirsty for childish beverages. Mr. Washington caught me staring and winked lewdly.
Grandma Washington came out from the kitchen at last, where she had been preparing the family dinner feverishly. I gave her my best smile as I took her little old raisin hand and prayed she’d notice my teeth. I commented that the food smelled absolutely mouthwatering and that, if the house were a painting, it should be hung in a museum. We continued to exchange pleasantries, and I felt I was winning her over, most likely due to the Coyote Brand Cologne I had purchased to wear for this occasion especially.
Sit down, sit down, dinner is almost ready, Grandma Washington said.
She led us to the living room, where there were couches for sitting while we waited for the food to finish. I remarked aloud that the pillows on the couch were absurdly comfortable, and Mr. Washington explained they were stuffed with the remains of executed banking executives, the softest material known to man.
So, tell us, boy, what do you do for a living?
I thought you’d never ask, Sir. I make gourmet cigarettes. Handcrafted. Care to try one?
Ah, now there’s a young man with some get up and go! An artisan, a smokesmith, yes. Let’s have one!
Who taught you the trade? asked Mrs. Washington.
My father, ma’am. I learned from the best. Let me show you one I’ve been working on.
I pulled out a cigarette and said, Anybody got a light?
At that precise moment, Grandma Washington came in and announced that dinner was on the table.
Mother, would you be so kind as to provide our guest with a light for his handmade cigarette? asked Mr. Washington, adding, We’re all eager to try it.
Without missing a beat, Grandma Washington started rubbing her fingers together so hard that they started to spark, producing a flame that flickered out from her thumb, and then the cigarette was ready to come alive.
That’s a neat trick, Grandma. Remember when you used to light our hair on fire when we were kids? If we misbehaved or used a naughty word? George Washington asked, laughing.
How could I ever forget? And if you don’t get to the table while our meal is still hot, I’ll be forced to do it again.
On the table was a spread of old leather and shoe polish that looked absolutely delicious. Without waiting for the blessing, I dove in with my fork, devouring plateful after plateful of the stuff. Grandma Washington could cook, that was for sure. I shoveled on the praise, exalting the woman’s work in the kitchen, declaring she was an angel in an apron with a refined palette for seasoning. After I’d made her blush, I was certain that I had won her favor and would be riding home in triumph on that wet dream, the cherry wood motorcycle.
Mr. Washington looked suddenly concerned and said he smelled charcoal burning, worried he might be missing a company barbeque. I insisted what he smelled was the distinct aroma emitted from my handmade cigarette. It was then to my horror that I realized in my haste to eat, I had left the cigarette still burning on the armrest of the sofa. I dashed to the living room with a pitcher of water to douse it, but by then I was too late. The room was ablaze.
Screaming, I ran back into the dining room and told everyone that I hoped they had paid attention during the fire drills at school because now it was happening for real. Single file, they all walked, not ran, to the nearest emergency exit and neatly descended the fire escape to freedom. I was just about to go out the window myself, when looking down below I saw that Grandma Washington was not with the group. A-ha! Here was the chance to truly prove myself, to win her favor once and for all. I would save her frail old body from being consumed by the flames.
I could hardly see through the smoke as I rushed back to save her. I burned my hand quite badly on a doorknob and could feel the blisters rising up, and it HURT. But I didn’t have time to worry about blisters. Through the haze, I could just barely make out Grandma Washington, putting away the leftovers into tupperware containers for safekeeping in the fridge. She noticed me screaming and flailing my arms about.
This refrigerator is fireproof, she said, These leftovers will keep at least another week.
And that was the last I saw of her before the floor gave out. She fell straight through, along with the remainder of dinner. What a waste! At the last possible moment, as I felt the floor around me begin to crumble, I leapt into the open refrigerator and slammed the door shut. I could feel it tumbling down into the inferno, but I was pleasantly cool the whole time and even helped myself to some cake, which I assumed Grandma Washington had been saving for dessert.
When the fridge settled, I kicked open the door and heaved myself out onto my feet. I looked around me. The house was leveled, nothing but a smoking pile of ash and debris.
My girlfriend, George Washington, was nowhere to be seen and neither were her parents. Perhaps the fire got them or they had escaped on foot; I never learned what happened to them either way.
The motorcycle vanished along with them, and for that I shed a solitary tear. I reconciled this loss in my heart and snapped out of my despair just long enough to hail a cab off the street back into the city.
Do you care if I smoke in here? I asked the cab driver as I pulled out a handmade cigarette and snapped my fingers together.
A shame I couldn’t have stayed longer, I muttered as I smoked.