Granny has been in the shower for three hours. Her groans and whimpers pierce through the thin walls as I rummage through my closet for a white bra to match my white dress. Mother and I are late for church, but Granny will finish when she finishes. The bathroom will be occupied till then, but Mother is incessant.
“WE’VE GOT CHURCH, MA! MAAAAAAAAA!!!” Bang bang. Bang bang bang!
Despite Mother’s repeated pleading, Granny stays inside, heroically. The more persistently Mother bangs, the louder she moans. When she starts moaning in staccatos, I stand in the hallway and wait.
Granny emerges. The steam wafts out like clouds at heaven’s gates. She leans against the doorway, panting. There are water droplets on her forehead. I am sure that they aren’t from the shower. She holds a towel in one hand and her new vibrator in another. It is neon pink. Shaped and sized just like a toddler’s arm.
Mother glares at her. Granny glares back, still panting.
Mother turns and stomps away. Granny wins this one.
“I’ll start ordering these for my store,” Granny says, turning to me once she finally catches her breath, “Holy balls of god!”
The evening service is already in full swing. People sway and sing to the band onstage. Father Francis rocks side to side to the increasingly upbeat music, like a boat in distress. His palms open to the fluorescent ceiling and his eyebrows knit together as he concentrates hard on communing with the creator. As the music hits fever pitch, he shouts, crescendoing, “OH JESUS CHRIST, OH GOD, OH JESUS!” The congregation responds with equal enthusiasm, “OH JESUS CHRIST, OH GOD, OH JESUS!”
There is a new convert. He is given the name “John.” John Zhang, The Born Again. He is quiet during the ceremony. Usually, eager to prove their worth, the born-again’s roll their eyes back and fall to the ground, spasming and mumbling incoherently.
The only time I managed to convince Granny to come with us to church, she burst out laughing during the baptism. She took her phone out to record the scene, “Seamus would absolutely love this, darling.” Seamus was a bandana-wearing, piercing-laden, gun-owning biker who owned three Chihuahuas. Too bad Granny got bored of him. He still sends me photos of his dogs in tutus. Mother, who refused to sit next to us that day, turned around from the front and gave us her death stare. Granny mouthed “Sorry,” but turned to wink at me.
Today, Mother is annoyed at John. I can tell, because she goes up to greet him afterwards.
“Welcome, brother.” She smiles her tight lipstick smile, gives him her tight church dress hug.
John is wearing gold-rimmed glasses and a blue striped shirt. His hair is parted on the side. Also, khaki slacks and brown oxfords. He looks like Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker, if her was never bitten by a magic spider.
As they talk, I notice that mother listens to him with her head slightly tilted. She is also laughing.
Afterwards in the car, I tell mother I like the John guy.
“He works in insurance.”
“He just moved back here from Singapore. His father is sick, so he came back.”
“I invited him to book meet tomorrow.”
That is all the confirmation I need. I need to alert Granny.
Mother declares that she is going to bed as soon as we get home. She is still furious with Granny. Granny is unremorseful. She is contentedly parked on the recliner, watching Golden Girls, clad in her red bathrobe. Her eyebrows are dark brown caterpillars, and her lips still stained pink. I take off my bra and sit next to her on the couch.
“The one from wine and paint night?”
“How was it?”
“He got scared when I told him I own a sex toy shop.”
I remember the wine and paint night. It was mother’s birthday and Granny had booked us a session as a surprise. About half an hour into the session, mother had started giggling uncontrollably, and Granny had caught the attention of the man next to her.
He was very tall, probably in his 40s. Granny loves men in that age group. She says that they are “well-aged, but still have a firm grip.” The man had a tangled mop of beard and hair. It was hard to tell where the beard began and the hair ended. He was lanky and had really big, hairy hands. Much to my annoyance, he wore flannel, like a Hipster Big Foot.
“I’m more of a whiskey kind of guy usually.”
“But sometimes I drink wine. I do like to paint though. Usually I use oil, I’m not an acrylic kind of guy.”
“I’m here to support my sister… it’s her first class. She’s been looking to teach for a while, this is a temporary thing. We’re happy so many showed up though.”
Granny softened. At the end of the night, Hipster Big Foot walked us to the taxi.
At 65, my grandmother is still very much herself. People of all ages, all genders, and all shapes come in and out of our house often. It has been like this for as long as I can remember. Mother does not condone her appetite, but she accepts it. Occasionally, however, the delicate balance snaps. Like when one of Granny’s guests ate all of our figs. Or when Mother offered to give Father Francis a ride home from the store when his car broke down, and ended up coming late to a party. Or when Mother found the large stash of condoms that Granny gave me for my birthday.
On days when they unleash their ferocious roars, I lock the door to my room and curl up with some Billie Holiday. Sometimes the floorboards rattle as one of them punches the wall or slams a door or throws an unfortunate piece of décor at the other. When the house quiets down enough for me to sneak out for a snack, I usually see the two defeated behemoths slumped on the couch, speechless and in tears. All would be well again. Jesus’ portrait in the living room stays hanging. And the Kama Sutra prints.
In the dim light of the living room, I notice how beautiful my grandmother is.
“So… Mother might have a crush.”
Granny raises her eyebrows.
“Been a while.”
“John. Has gold-rimmed glasses and parted hair. Insurance.”
“So, we wait and see?”
“You know how your Mother is. We stay hands off.”
I nod. We keep quiet for a while.
“So, what about that boy you met yesterday?”
“He did not trim his fingernails.”
“The boy before that?”
“It was great, until he told me that I’m not like the other girls he’s been with.”
“And the one before?”
“Too much tongue.”
She reaches out to gently stroke my head. I doze off to the soothing hum of the television and her gentle touch.
I wake up to a ticklish sensation at the bottom of my feet. There is some shuffling and hushed laughter. I should have remembered. It’s Wacky Wednesday. The third Wednesday of the month. Granny warned us well in advance of this monthly get-together. I prepare myself before opening my eyes.
Sitting at the end of the couch is a human-sized bird. Or bird-like man. The costume is gorgeous. Blue, purple, green, turquoise. Shiny too. He is wearing a pair of mother-of-pearl earrings. On top of all that, a golden beak. He blushes at my awestruck stare and flutters his long eyelashes.
“Don’t mind him, he’s shy!” a naked woman with the biggest belly I have ever seen plops down across me. The rest of her body is slim. Stretch marks patterns her breast and thighs. She smells of lemons. Goddess.
I apologize to bird man, who only blushes harder and says nothing. I turn around to see another person making eggs next to Granny. He gives her a kiss.
He is petite and fat, body quivering as he giggles to Granny’s whispers in his ear. His big eyes are lined with kohl; his nose is wide set and majestic. He has a well-trimmed beard as well, a feature I know Granny appreciates. I appreciate it too.
“This is Bob,” Granny smiles at me with a twinkle in her eye, “he doesn’t talk much, but we love him.”
Granny loves everyone. Granny fucks everyone. Wacky Wednesday is about to get wacky. Time to get out.
Classes do not start till the afternoon. I think about my recent adventures as I wheel my bike into the parking area. I was not interested in sex until college, when a drunken night of fooling around with my best friend made me realize that I like it very much. I have been updating Granny constantly ever since. She is excited that we now have another thing in common.
It is reading weather. My favorite tree sways gently to the breeze as I sit beneath it.
I look up from my book. It’s Ali from yesterday, with the untrimmed fingernails. Oh no.
“Please… I am so sorry about yesterday.”
“Let me buy you coffee. We can walk around?”
“It was a hookup, Ali. And it was bad. I think that’s the end of it.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“You didn’t even have—”
“I thought you would have—sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed.”
“You really didn’t know what you were doing”
“I did try following what you said—”
“And you still failed miserably. ”
“It was bleeding, and I freaked out, I’m sorry.”
“You couldn’t even find my… “
“We could try aga—”
“I’ll go down this ti—”
“Let me at least buy you coff—”
He hangs his head and apologizes one last time before leaving.
I look around the university grounds. Most people are paired up or in groups. Laughing, kissing, eating, or just sitting quietly together. My tree sways and drops me a leaf.
Granny is already cleaning up when I get home. From the unforgiving scent of antiseptic and the way she is aggressively rubbing at the surfaces, I can tell that she has had a good day. I hug her from behind.
“Everything okay, love?”
I hang on, inhaling her deeply.
“Want to talk about it?”
We let the silence sit for a while.
“I want a boyfriend.”
She turns around. Eyes all soft. She strokes my cheek.
“Are you sure?”
“Good love doesn’t come easy. Not from men, at least.”
“Father was okay.”
“Yeah. Yeah, he was alright.”
We hear the key turn. Mother walks in with some grocery bags. She is wearing her yellow dress and eyeliner. Radiant.
“Rendang tonight? I also got stuff for prawn sambal and ulam!” Perky.
My favorites. Book meet must have gone well.
“How was your day?” Granny asks innocently.
“Good, good.” Is mother blushing? She avoids Granny’s gaze as she starts unpacking the groceries.
That is all we can get out of her for now. Good enough for me. Granny mouths “hands off.” I giggle. The room glows.
Artwork by Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, “Mother of God, it’s a girl,” 2016.