Potato lumps smothered in burnt gravy
Uncle gets up to scrape his plate
Garbage can clangs
Her knee knocks the table leg
Spilled milk soaks into white fabric
Dad claps his hands
“Alright,” he says. “Let’s order pizza.”
I watch the elephant crash to the hardwood floor. It seems to happen so slowly that it feels like I’m outside of time. Nevertheless, my chubby hands don’t get there fast enough to alter the course of its fall. Major Altitude, a six-inch man in a green jumpsuit, is thrown from the back of the elephant. He slides to a stop several feet away, but he’s made of plastic so he may have survived. I examine the elephant. Its left front leg is broken clean off above the shoulder.
My eyes glide over to the second elephant, the larger one, mounted by Sergeant Slaughter. Slaughter stares at his fallen comrade from behind aviator sunglasses. He has the look of smug indifference permanently plastered on his face. No doubt he’s calling this in to base: this recon mission just turned into a rescue mission. Major Altitude can still be saved—the elephant is my problem.
Someone is ascending the basement steps. No doubt the adults downstairs heard the crash. There’s no time to hide the crime scene. The elephant is far too big to be stashed under a couch cushion. I can either come clean or formulate an excuse. My imagination gets to work.
It’s my grandma who walks into the room. I’ve lied to my parents (that was easy), but I’ve never lied to her. She sees the broken elephant and her face does something that I’ve never seen her face do: it looks disappointed. A pretty convincing story forms in my mind, but by the time sound leaves my lips all that comes out is, “I’m sorry.” The truth is that I really am sorry; I just didn’t expect to break so easily.
Grandma quickly switches off her disappointment—my parents are coming. Before they even enter the room she’s explaining to them that it’s not a big deal and Ed, could you find the Krazy Glue and at least no one got hurt. My parents get their reprimand in anyway, but it doesn’t sting too badly. I cry because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you do wrong to someone and get caught, but deep down I’m trying to figure out what just happened between my grandma and I. I broke something she cares about, yet she’s the one coming to my defense. It’s then that I realize that she’s not just my father’s mother, the person who sneaks me extra Dream Puffs cookies and takes me to McDonald’s and buys me cap guns, she’s more than that—she’s my ally.
My grandpa glues the leg back on the elephant, but there’s a visible fracture line. It looks good, we all say, even though I know we can all see that line. As for Major Altitude, it turns out that there was a second recon team in the area when the incident occurred. He was safely extracted and is expected to make a full recovery. And if you think that that bit of good news put a smile on Sergeant Slaughter’s face then you don’t know Sergeant Slaughter.
There is something strange on the top of my foot.
“It’s a wart,” my mother says.
“I don’t think so. I looked it up. Warts are generally on the sole or on your hands.” She looks at me like I’m an idiot for believing the internet over my own mother. It’s not that I don’t trust the wisdom of mothers, mine has sometimes been right, but after twenty minutes of Google image searches on warts, I feel as if I know more than I ever wanted to.
“There’s a Freeze Away medication you can buy. Takes one treatment.”
“It’s not a wart.”
“What is it if it’s not a wart?” she says. Maybe she’s right. Maybe my half-assed research was inadequate.
“It’s been there for months,” I say, as if that explains it.
My feet, like everyone’s feet, are naturally disgusting. Adding a weird little bump certainly doesn’t help matters. I’ve seen people try to jazz up their feet with jewelry or tattoos. Put a ring on your pinky toe if you like, it still just looks like a malformed finger.
My concern wasn’t aesthetics. Whether or not I was going to be flashing these hooves in public wasn’t really the point. There was something on my foot that didn’t belong there.
“Try the medication,” she says.
I pick up the off-brand version of Freeze Away because it’s cheaper. Add to that the incentive that if I had a member card I could receive 20 bonus points. Now, had the wart been on my hand I would spare no expense. It’s not that I don’t value the work my feet do, but like I explained, they’re fucking feet. So what if this cheaper brand requires two treatments? The box says it’s good for up to ten treatments. I figure I’m still coming out way ahead of the game.
I’ll admit I’m pretty excited to get home and try this stuff out. However, I don’t want to be that guy going through the checkout line with just a box of foot medicine. I grab a few normal-looking items and the clerk rings me up: Doritos, Wart Blast, another kind of Doritos, spearmint gum. Of course she has to ask me if I have my member card on me. When I tell her I don’t have a member card she asks if I’d like to get one, to which (as is my instinctive reaction) I say, “No, thank you.”
At home I wash my ugly foot in the tub and pat it dry. I take care to read the instructions in the box and follow them to the letter. The spray is cold, the idea being to freeze the wart off. My wife, hovering over me, cringes at the sight of my self-surgery (or is it purely the sight of my naked foot?). Two days later I repeat this procedure. I note no change. I call my mother.
“I don’t think it’s a wart.”
“Did you buy Freeze Away?” my mother says.
“Well, make sure you keep it, it expires after a year but you can stretch that. That stuff isn’t cheap.” If nothing else, she’s right about that. I tuck the box of Wart Blast away in the bathroom cabinet. I look at my flat foot and a part of me kind of hopes I get a real wart before the expiry date runs out, if only to get my money’s worth.
I’m watching my grandfather gulp down his coffee seated in front of an early morning campfire. Somehow it doesn’t scald his throat as the boiling liquid disappears. I look at the mug of coffee in my ten-year-old hands, steam coming off of it like a cloud from a train’s smoke stack. I put it up to my mouth and, before it even touches my lips, I recoil from the heat. I’m not allowed to drink coffee at home, but this is camping. I want to look like a natural when I take my first sip so for now I warm my mitted hands on the mug and wait until the liquid cools.
You can acclimatize your mouth. I learned that from my sister who finishes bowls of hot soup before I even start. I’ve tried it, but I don’t think the pain is worth it. I look at my grandpa in his red and black plaid shirt and blue skull cap, his white beard kept neat and close to his face. It’s his birthday today. My dad takes him camping here every year and now I’m old enough to tag along. It’s a men’s retreat, they tell me.
“I used to hunt squirrels in these woods,” he says. “There was no camping here back then. It was all Provincial Parks territory.” He grew up here. His father used to supervise the park. He’s told me all this before.
“Americans used to come up here to hunt,” he says. He gives the cast iron skillet a purposeful nudge, the bacon fat crackles in response. I ask him about his father.
“My father fought in both World Wars. He had one of those stories from the first war that reads like bad fiction.” My grandfather prefaces it this way, guessing that I won’t believe him otherwise. “It sounds corny, but my father kept all his letters from home in his breast pocket next to his heart. His sisters would send him letters and pictures of Jesus and the Saints. He kept it all in a leather wallet. He was riding a horse up to the front line on one occasion, they still had cavalry in the first war, and a piece of artillery went off near him. The men who found him thought he’d been blown to bits, but it was just the horse’s entrails. Mess all over him.” I stare at the bacon; my appetite doesn’t wane at this description. “He didn’t have a scratch. Piece of shrapnel hit that wallet near his heart, would have killed him, but it didn’t even break skin.” I let out a low whistle. “There are a thousand stories like that,” he says. “Stuff like that is bound to happen when so much killing’s getting done.”
The bacon’s almost ready and he cracks six eggs into the pan. Real estate is a problem and the whites of the eggs crowd each other. My dad comes back from the showers. He’s using a walking stick he must have found on the way.
“It’s funny,” my grandpa continues without looking up at my dad, “my father never spoke about that war, yet for some reason that story got passed down. A little too romantic, I always thought.”