O Mangi Questa Minestra…

by John Kaufmann

(this is part III. read
O Mangi Questa Minestra…
from the beginning)

Seeds of Love

I will never forget the night when my eldest, Josh, was made.  My father had moved to Arizona, and I had an apartment above a bar in Seneca Falls.  I went downstairs to the bar and woke up between two girls.  Some lady was standing over us, shouting, saying that she was their mom.  Nine months later, I held my little boy in my arms.  That was the day when I, J.B. Foster Smith, J.B.S.F., became a father.  I was fifteen.

I had seven more (nine, if you count stepbabies, ten in all).  My second, Jesse, was made with Ashley, the girl on the right, a year later.  Then Jayden, Brielle and Jax with Bridgette, Bayleigh with Carolyn, and Jake with Donna.  My wife, Esther, has two kids, Jed and Brenna, with another guy, who I raised as my own.  Her sister, Franny, blessed me with our baby girl, Bree, after Esther and I split up – but I’ll get to that later.

I got Esther out of a jam in Lowville a few years before this all happened.  I loved the way her hair fell over her shoulders, her delicate wrists and hands, the way her jeans hugged her butt and her legs, the black eyes that hid behind her glasses, and the way her cheeks dimpled when I replaced the sill plate on our home, fixed the plumbing, or shot off fireworks for the kids on the Fourth of July.  When she would leave for the store, she would say, “I love you”, kiss me deeply and rub my tongue stud with the tip of her tongue.

I knew something was up when Josh called me last year.  It was seventeen years after the night in the bar with Ashley and her sister and he, Josh, had met some girl and wanted to get out of Seneca Falls.  I was managing a manufactured housing community in Freeville for a guy who lived downstate.  The singlewide that came with the job was tight quarters already – we had two bedrooms and one bathroom, me, Esther, Jed, Brenna, a ball python named Slick and a bearded dragon named Boots and a shepherd mix named Hector.  Josh and his girlfriend, Gracie, made nine – but Josh is blood, and mi casa es su casa.

Gracie had a mouth on her.  Esther told me that according to Gracie, she, Gracie, had done everything she, Esther, had done, twice as good and in half the time.  Gracie was three months pregnant when they arrived.  Just laid on the sofa in the living room covered in blanket and played with her phone.  Esther called her ‘TLB’, for ‘The Little Bitch’.  TLB didn’t get out of bed today, except to puke, she’d say.  TLB left for the day and isn’t back.  Jed and Brenna started saying it, too.  Mama – TLB is hogging the bathroom!  Wait your turn, baby.

I thought it would get better when they got their own place, an empty trailer at the other end of the park.  Sammy Korda, the owner, signed it over to me and told me that Josh and Gracie just had to pay lot rent.  He had a son the same age as Josh – same birthday, same birth year, same time of day he came out of his mother’s you-know-what – and he’d ask about Josh and Gracie whenever he called.  How’s Josh and Gracie, he would ask.  Good, I would say.  They can keep an eye on things at that end of the park, he’d say.  I’m gonna be a grandfather, I’d say.  Hey, Grandad.  But it didn’t get better.  They got into drugs, and Josh started slapping Gracie around, or so she said.  He said she hit him.  The police came by once, maybe twice each week.  The neighbors complained.  I even got a call from Korda, who asked me what was up.  I don’t know, I said.  I think the devil got him.  Tell him to knock it off, he said.  It’s affecting business.  And then I come home from a roofing job in the middle of the day, and I find Josh and Esther in our bed.  I mean, he’s banging her head against the wall, the trailer is shaking off the blocks, the anchor ties are ready to break, he is grabbing her ass and she is screaming at the top of her lungs.  While this is going on, Toni Little and her husband George are sitting on their porch next door in lot 20 B, sipping lemonade and reading the paper and Melissa Rookman, in 24B on the other side is pushing her kids on their swing-set.  When I walk in, Josh looks at the floor and Esther pulls the sheet up around her neck like they do in the movies.  Get out, I say, get the fuck out, and then I leave.  I walk out the door, past old Mr. and Mrs. Little and Melissa and her kids.  I wave to Art Neff, who’s looking out his window across the street, get into my truck and drive out.

Korda didn’t seem to care much when I told him about the situation.  I’m living outside the park for now, I said.  I’m getting divorced.  Oh, he said.  You want to know why?  I said.  No, he said.  She did things, I said.  She did things with Josh, my son.  Is she his mother?  He asked.  No!  She’s not that weird, I said.  Then, Can you hold it together and keep managing the park, he asked.  That’s all he cares about, is money.

So, that was that.  Josh moved out and Esther and her kids left eventually and I moved back.  I still manage the park.  I’ll tell you about me and Esther’s little sister, Franny, another time.  But what’s important here is that, four months after I caught Esther and Josh doing those things, I held my sweet grandbaby girl Blessing in my arms.  That is the day when I, J.B.S.F., became a grandfather.

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