“Come on, Grandpa, get up,” I said.
Grandpa didn’t budge. He’d been sitting on that ratty, brown armchair for years. I tried once a day, then every few days, and finally once a month. I was close to giving up. Nothing could make him move. I barely spoke to him. I’d visit the house to sort the mail and tidy up, then leave, not even a goodbye. Then, I remembered how much he liked Prince when he was younger. I went into the attic and searched through his boxes. I found his Walkman. As a kid, I would always see him bouncing around with headphones, Prince blasting in his ears. The Walkman seemed to be a part of him, like some weird plastic appendage. He looked so old, but seeing him with those goofy headphones on made me giggle every time—my grandma’s annoyed “Bill. Bill. BILL!” when he had the music too loud. I popped the Walkman open. Empty. I kicked around some shit, climbed over a few dusty bins and found a box labeled “toons.” It took four seconds to find a Prince cassette, the album Controversy. I put the tape in, put on the headphones and hit play. Three seconds of fuzziness, then Prince really started going.
“Let me take you to another world, let me take you tonight.”
I hit pause, rewound, and headed downstairs, skipping two steps at a time and hopping over the last four.
“Grandpa,” I said. “I have a little gift for you.”
He looked at me, dry mouth hanging open, eyes droopy and dead. He was totally still, consumed by the chair, not a twitch from his nearly-translucent, shriveled finger. I started humming “Sexuality” and did a little dance. I spun around. I moved my butt. He just stared. Still moving my butt, I hit pause again, placed the headphones on his head, put the Walkman in his hands, and put his finger over the play button.
“Ready?” I said.
I pressed his finger down. I put the volume up all the way.
“Stand up everybody, this is your life.”
Gradually, Grandpa started bobbing his head. His lips moved, mouthing the lyrics. He’d had hip surgery, but he got up, shaking to his feet.
Life seemed to pour back into him. He danced like a madman. He looked younger. I offered him his walker, but he pushed it away.
The dirty, brown chair: where his body had been there was a lighter brown shape of a person.
Grandpa danced around the house.
The chair looked comfortable; I thought I must have pulled a muscle in my leg while dancing.
I put my hand on the chair’s arm. It felt moist and warm, a vague organ in the body of the house. Kind of gross yet inviting. I eased myself into it, as if getting into a steaming bath. It was OK. I hadn’t realized how tired I was. My back, my legs, my mind.
Grandpa sang. Where did he find the energy? I kicked off my shoes. The veins in my feet were thin and very blue. My toenails were yellow, skin-thin and wrinkled, almost translucent. I couldn’t believe I’d had the energy to walk up the stairs, climb over his boxes. It seemed I’d been another person up there in another lifetime. I wanted to sit for a while.
I was warm, and the pain in my back was subsiding. I drifted into a deep, untroubled sleep.
Michael Seymour Blake is the author/illustrator of the book, 12 Days of Santa Crying. His work has been published at or is forthcoming from Paper Darts and Uno Kudo among others. He has painted various murals around NYC, including one prominently featured at Silent Barn in Brooklyn, home to the new Mellow Pages Library. He lives in Queens, NYC. www.michaelseymourblake.com