Entry # 22
The Time Travel Jeep
by Stephanie Karfelt
It is so weird coming back to my hometown. The Laundromat is now an art gallery. Abstract zombie nudes are displayed facing Main Street, next to Rockwellian oil paintings of apple trees. The corner store’s become an upscale coffee shop full of white people with dreadlocks. Sipping my skinny, non-dairy, salted caramel latte, I’m torn between nostalgia and caffeinated bliss. The Jeep struggles as I mercilessly accelerate, running a yellow light. I laugh. Norman, Ohio has gone hipster. Never saw that one coming.
Forgetting to slow for the railroad tracks the Jeep bounds recklessly over, the satellite radio cuts out in the middle of White Stripes. Coffee splatters over my sweater. I wipe it off with a sleeve. Blotches now dot it. The family will notice. They’re going to be checking me for crow’s feet, and taking bets on whether I’ll ever marry again or just get a cat.
Oh, God. My heart sinks into my stomach. I shove the coffee towards the cup-holder, spilling it all over the console. I don’t care. A four-lane highway now takes up what used to be a farm and Gram’s house. I yank the steering wheel and the Jeep skids into the parking lot of a brand new gas station. I park about where Gram’s rose bushes used to be. Leaning my head against the steering wheel, I know I shouldn’t have come here. Gram died in a nursing home three days ago. Seeing the house gone makes it worse, like she’s been erased. I miss her. Selfishly need her advice. What would she tell me to do? She wouldn’t, she’d feed me spice cake and tell me to get a cat.
Static AM music scratches from the speakers. MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This’. “Not even,” I slap the dial, silencing the radio. What is wrong with the satellite radio? I didn’t hit the railroad tracks that hard! Then everything changes. The gloomy overcast day is suddenly full-on sunshine. Blinking against it, I try not to see that the gas station is gone. I’m parked in the middle of a half dead rosebush of mammoth proportions. The backside of Gram’s butterscotch colored house is in front of me. Most of the leaves are off the Maple tree, and the yard needs raked. There are clothes hanging on the clothesline even though it is the end of October. I’ve had a stroke. Oh my gosh, I don’t want to have had a stroke. I’m too young for a stroke.
I nab my keys and root for my cell, coffee drips from it. I clean it with my doomed sweater, and slide it into a pocket. Swinging the door open, I get one leg out before it rebounds in Jeep fashion, against my leg. The smell of Maple leaves mixes with a familiar scent of baking, Gram’s poppy-seed cake. My eyes tear up and I slide out. I’ve had a stroke, I’m dead and this is heaven. Norman, Ohio is heaven. Never saw that one coming. I slam the door shut. Thorns jab through my pants, snagging the material. Automatically I stuff my keys into my pocket, and pat the other making sure I didn’t forget my phone. Like I’m going to be using it here. Is there cell reception in heaven? I’m about to test this theory when Gram comes around the corner of the house. She stops and stares at me. She’s alive and healthy, wearing her green housedress with her stockings rolled around her ankles. It used to be the in thing, back in the day, she told me that once.
“Lizzy? Is that you?” The sound of her voice makes me cover my mouth and start to cry. That’s my grandmother!
“Why did you park in the backyard? Elizabeth Marie, get out of my rosebushes! Those were my Mother’s! I brought a clipping with me….” Back in…carried in a handkerchief.... I echo the lecture inside my head. I remember this one! “Move it! What is wrong with you?” she grouses. I run across the yard and hug her hard. She smells like mint julep shampoo and laundry soap, like Gram, she pushes away and frowns. Her perceptive grey eyes are exactly as I remember, I don’t even care that I’m dead.
Poking me right in the middle of the chest she asks, “Why aren’t you at work? You’re gonna get fired.”
“Gram? I…” I trail off, what do I say? I’m dead, we’re dead. Doesn’t she know? Why doesn’t she know?
“What’s wrong?” she’s frowning. “You look so…tired,” she finishes diplomatically.
“I’m on my way to a funeral.” I touch her.
She makes her “tsk” sound, grabbing my arm. “Want a piece of poppy seed cake? You look skinny.” She’s my favorite person ever. We round the corner of the house and her old rat terrier comes barking. I’m not in heaven. Duke would never have made the cut. I still have the scars he gave me last time I gave him a bath. Bit me right on the nose. Duke died…I try to remember, it was before Gram started to forget. She opens the screen door and her cat wraps itself around my legs, purring. It died long before Duke. The wallpaper in the kitchen is outdated. Gram takes plates out of the cupboard and cuts the familiar poppy-seed cake. I can never make it like hers.
“Will you give me the recipe for this?”
“Since when do you cook?” she teases.
“Jon always loved it when you made it. He said it wasn’t the same when I make it.”
I almost answer, almost say ‘Jon, my husband who died,’ but can’t. My gaze moves to the kitchen table. Gram’s Scrabble board is set up. She always spent hours a day playing Scrabble by herself, trying to talk one of her many visitors into a game. Next to it is the newspaper. The front page has an article about the dawning of the computer age. It’s dated October 31, 1990. I was eighteen years old in 1990. I sit down at the table. Gram slides a slice of cake at me.
“Now who died? You didn’t tell me you were going to a funeral this morning.” I lived with Gram in 1990. Am I in heaven? Or 1990? It definitely can’t be both, I remember 1990.
“And whose car did you park in my rosebush?”
I take a bite of her cake. Maybe 1990 is heaven.
“Gram, do you want to play Scrabble?” Her smile lights her face. I’ve missed that smile, she forgot it years ago. Scooting her plate towards the Scrabble board, she warns, “Mix up the letters before you pick them. No cheating.”
Time slows. Gram puts ‘Oxter’ on the board, pats my hand and gets up to make tea. I’m leaning towards heavenly 1990. Then a car pulls into the driveway. Tearing out from under the table, Duke conks his head on a chair, barking like the idiot he is. I’d forgotten he did that! I think I’ve missed him too. Jumping up and down, he wets a bit. No, I didn’t miss him. Standing, Gram plunks letters on the board and gives me her Scrabble victory smile. Obovoid.
“Is that really a word?” I try to check if it is really a word on my cell, but there’s no reception in Heaven, or 1990. The dog barks so loud, I go to the door and look outside. It’s my Uncles. I shove through the door and we hurry outside.
They’re digging in the trunk of a convertible. I remember this car! Slamming the lid, they look at me. I stare back at them, suddenly not sure. These are my Uncles, I decide after a minute. Except they’re young, and good looking. My stroke theory makes a comeback. It can’t be normal to think your Uncles are attractive. Definitely a stroke. Duke is jumping up and down, nipping at my handsome Uncles. Gram holds onto the railing to step off the porch.
“Go move your car!” she orders me, explaining. “Lizzy parked in my rosebush!”
I dart forward and kiss her. She grins.
“You better not have wrecked my flowers.”
I race for the backyard and Duke chases, snapping at my feet. We both hop into my Jeep. He starts licking the spilled coffee off the console. I don’t care why or where, I’m glad I’m here. I slam the door shut and everything disappears. The sunshine is gone and I’m staring at the Quik-Fil gas station again. My cell rings in my pocket. Automatically I dig it out and answer. It’s my sister.
“Lizzy? You’re late, the funeral started! And Uncle Nick is telling everyone you stole Duke and lied about it for years. I said I took that dog to be put to sleep myself. Do you think Alzheimer’s is genetic?”
Slowly I turn to look. Duke shows me his teeth. Not exactly a cat. Never saw that coming.