Robert F. Bradford
The new baby comes home to Mormor’s house. Mormor means mother’s mother in Swedish. Morfar is here, too, but it is always Mormor’s house, and in 1947 it is crowded with ex-Marines (but they say there is no such thing as an ex-Marine) back from Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, pregnant brides, uncles, kids, and now another baby.
The new baby is favored with the best room in Mormor’s house, which he shares with only his parents and his four-year-old brother. Mormor lays him in his crib in the corner and lilts, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
The child comes home to Mormor’s house for his first sleep-over since moving to a three-decker two miles closer to downtown. All the Marines and wives and kids have moved out to homes of their own, except Morbror Don, who has given up on Australia and his Aussie bride and kid and come home.
The small child feels at home, too—after all, he lived here for nearly the first two years of his life, and Mormor has been allowed to wipe his bum many, many times—but when she innocuously makes some mention of what his mother might be doing at the moment, his self-assurance crumbles.
He has never before realized a sense of separation, and it devastates him even in the sanctuary of Mormor’s house. He sobs hysterically until she telephones his mother to come and pick him up.
The word-drunk kid comes home to Mormor’s house to use it as his own quiet playhouse and reading room. Mormor gives him a heaping bowl of ice cream and returns to her relentless housecleaning (three days a week, she also cleans house for a Jewish family who owns the biggest diamond store in Worcester—the hygiene standards of a Swedish maid are legendary). Morfar sits on Mormor’s back steps, sipping a glass of Knickerbocker beer from a case of quarts in the cellar, smoking a pipe.
The word-drunk kid has cracked Morbror Don’s bookshelf. (Morbror Don is the family intellectual—he has a bookshelf.) The best thing is the Complete Sherlock Holmes, in six volumes and “handsomely bound” (well, at least they’re not paperbacks). The 19th-century British vocabulary (carbuncle? orange pips? made his toilet?) staggers but does not derail him. He is hooked.
He understands nearly all the words in The Sun Also Rises, and already knows that Hemingway is reputedly the greatest living American author, but he just doesn’t quite get it—where’s the triumph he expected to have from reading cheesy historical novels? So he reads it again. And again.
He understands Guadalcanal Diary, but can’t truly envision the carnage, and Morbror Don politely shrugs off his questions.
“Did you kill any Japs?”
“I don’t know. I shot at a lot of them, but it’s hard to see much in the jungle.” It was his longest speech on the matter.
The word-drunk kid founds a Pirates Club, which is really a Pirate’s Club since he’s the only member, which meets at a round table in Mormor’s cellar. He draws a circle on a piece of paper, fills it in with ink and writes, “He who finds the Black Spot shall die tomorrow.” He folds the piece of paper and very surreptitiously drops it in the street in front of Mormor’s house. It’s just a little joke, of course, to shock someone, wake someone up, make someone think, but what if it’s picked up by someone with a weak heart and a superstitious nature, har har!
Three days later, half a block away with his head in the moon, he innocently picks up the vaguely familiar piece of paper and fervently hopes that, this time at least, he has overestimated the power of words.
The young hippie comes home to Mormor’s house with evangelical fervor after the Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. Morbror Don sits on Mormor’s back steps, sipping shots of whiskey from a pint of Seagram’s Seven and smoking a Camel cigarette (unfiltered, of course—filters are new, and marketed for women).
Mormor still gives the young hippie and his brother heaping bowls of ice cream. His brother, a hell-raiser (no Marines in this generation), who has always dressed like a gentleman, wears around his neck a God’s Eye—brilliant multi-hued strands of yarn twirled into a diamond pattern around the arms of a unilateral wooden cross.
“Ish!” says Mormor. “Not you, too!”
The young hippie says, “I made that for him, Mormor,” and her eyes grow moist. It’s the first time he has ever seen that happen to her.
She says, “We always hurt the one we love.”
The old hippie comes home to Mormor’s house, where his mother lives now that Mormor and Morfar and Morbror Don are gone. His daughter and nieces and nephews all call it Gram’s house now.
His father has done all the upkeep on the house for more than 50 years—painting, plumbing, electrical, heating—ever since the newlywed days when he first lived here, and even during all the decades when he didn’t, but today is his funeral. The house is full of brothers, sisters, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, even a new-generation Marine in full dress uniform.
The old hippie sits on Mormor’s back steps, sipping a Samuel Adams lager from a case of 12-ouncers in the cellar, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes of blended half-dark Dutch shag. He has lived in California for more than 30 years, and has not made many new friends in Worcester, where the dead ones now outnumber the living.
He begins to jot down notes for a story that will be called “A Ghost Among the Ghosts.”
The uncle comes home to Mormor’s house, and his Marine sergeant nephew has come home, too, and they are ensconced in the best room (they make a joke of it).
The nephew’s parents have long since divorced and have new partners in new houses, so when he comes home from Iraq to recuperate from a roadside bombing, it is to Mormor’s house (he’s old enough to remember her, too). Gram gives him heaping bowls of ice cream and, as his broken jaw heals, his favorite childhood meals of macaroni and cheese with hamburger and canned tomatoes, and creamed tuna and peas on toast.
His right arm is torn up from shrapnel and he’s missing a lot of teeth, but he has all his fingers and toes, brains and balls. He also has a nine-months-pregnant bride, and they stay up late into the night in Mormor’s kitchen, talking politics and philosophy and tactics with the uncle.
The day the uncle returns to California, the new baby comes home to Mormor’s house.
Robert F. Bradford has won two Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards for Best Play in the Fringe of Marin Festival, and his plays have also been produced by Construct Theatre Company on W. 14th St. in New York, the Black Box Festival at College of Marin in Kentfield, CA, the Ross Valley Players, the Petaluma Arts Council, and Café Amsterdam in Fairfax, CA, and published in Mused (Bella Online). His stories have been published in Bohème Magazine, SoMa Literary Review, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Coastline Journal, and Long Story Short. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English and Humanities, teaching Critical Inquiry & Reflective Writing and Foundations: American Pluralism, at Dominican University of California.