False Expectations: A Short Story
One of my earliest memories was a family barbecue in a town that we didn’t stay in long enough to complete my first year of elementary school. I was playing in the gravel outside with the neighbor’s children while my parents played pool in the garage for bets we couldn’t afford to lose. I heard that my mom’s father was coming and was excited to meet him. I was told that he was a traveler. He spent many years in Poland delivering bibles and accepting sums of cash that were not equal to what he paid for them. But I didn’t know this at the time. I thought of him as a strong, man—a hero that traveled the world saving lives.
I continued building rock structures with the other children, looking up from my structures each time someone drove by. After some time, I noticed that the garage was filled with adults. I scanned the area for the tall, strong man I had constructed in my mind, but no one fit the description. The other kids grew hungry and went inside. I sat on the gravel watching the sun go down as I continued stacking rocks on top of one another. As I picked up a handful of gravel, I felt a sharp pain, like a burn on my hand. I screamed as the rocks flew out of my hand along with the source of my pain, a long, orange centipede.
“Mom! A bug hurt me,” I screamed and ran into the garage. As I ran, blind from the tears in my eyes, two hands gripped my waist and lifted me onto the pool table.
“Here. Calm down. What’s your name?” The woman was not my mother. She had long, stringy red hair that reminded me of a witch I had seen on TV. She asked me where it hurt and used her long, salmon fingernails to touch the two red dots on my hand. “Oh, did you get bit by a centipede? I know just what to do.” She picked up my hand and put it in her mouth. “Got to suck the poison out,” she murmured out of the side of her mouth while she continued to drink the blood out of my palm.
When she was done, she grabbed one of my dad’s old car rags from a shelf and wiped off the excess spit. “Good as new. Do you want a Band-aid?”
“Yes,” I whimpered. She took me into the kitchen and began digging through the cupboards. A hairy man with tattoos and no shirt on came in too.
“Who’s this sad camper?” he said and patted me on the head.
“This is your granddaughter,” the vampire lady said as she unwrapped the bandage and stuck it on my wound.
“Oh, hello, Bree. I’m your grandpa. How old are you now?”
“Five,” I said and lifted up my wounded hand to show five fingers.
“Well, you’re a big girl then. Big girls don’t cry. They shake it off, like this.” And he shook his tortured body in front of me until my mom came in.
“There she is,” she said. “What happened?”
The vampire woman told her about the centipede and my mom introduced me to her father and second stepmother.
I guess when you're little, your parents tell you the good parts about people and leave out the parts about sleeping in vans, child abuse and drugs. And sometimes, it's easier to wait for that hero to come than to accept what kinds of people you share one of your earliest memories with.