They are all led to a white table cloth and Joseph finds Mom’s arm, but not for long, because Mom tells him to sit next to Dad and she tells Grandpa where to sit. Joseph sits next to Grandpa, who is sitting at the end of the white table cloth. Men in white and black suits push their chairs in and Grandma, who is sitting across from Joseph, likes this, but he does not. Mom is sitting next to Grandma and Dad sits next to Joseph. The table cloth they sit at is in the middle of the restaurant, which is really just one large room with high ceilings with high chandeliers. Everyone begins asking questions to each other, except for him. He just plays with the edge of the table cloth. After a man comes by to ask them what drinks they want, he is just good with water, they keep asking questions. Dad says this place reminds him of the one place Grandma took us before she died.
When did she die, Mom asks.
Oh, I don’t know, Dad says, looking over at Grandma, like three or so years before we met? Grandma nods and so does Grandpa.
Whose mother was it, if you don’t mind…
It was mine, Grandpa says, with his elbows on the table and his old hands folded in front of his mouth. He sort of nods his head and Mom says, oh, I’m sorry. What was her name, if you don’t mind…
Her name was Rudy. She was one tough lady, I tell you, Grandpa says.
Yeah, Dad says, she was physically capable and just mentally strong until the very end. She refused help most of the time. We would go over to check up on her and she would say, yes I’m fine, now go on home.
I can’t believe I have never asked this or don’t know this, Mom says, but how did she die, if you don’t…
Brain hemorrhage took her in her sleep, Grandma says. The words are surprising to hear from her mouth. I did not expect Grandma to talk. I look at her and she has her reading glasses on so she can read the menu, her eyes are just reflections.
Grandpa is silent but then he just says yep, good lady. There is silence, but then Dad touches Joseph’s shoulder and says, I remember when I was your age, I would stay at her house when my mom visited friends and Grandpa was on business trips. She would take me to her church and they had this kid’s church that I absolutely loved. They would ask us a lot of questions and give us candy when we answered. One day, then Dad looks at Mom, I figured out a way to work the system. I would ask the youth pastor questions back, you know, just trying to get him to ask me more questions, and eventually I had so much candy, I would eat it all and get sick when I got back to Grandma’s house.
What was she like, Mom asks Dad, looking at me and smiling.
Oh, Dad says, looking at Grandma and Grandpa, she was like Grandpa said, one tough lady and good too, but she was also full of stories. She had been through so much in her life, but she was still willing to give herself and always give herself. Dad, you would know more about this, how would you describe your mom?
Grandpa is looking at the bread basket that a man sets in front of him. He takes a roll and bites it. And he takes awhile to respond, but everyone waits for him. He takes a sip of water then says, Oh, Mom was an angel. I really believe she was actually an angel. Not much else to say. They say angels take the form of humans. Mom was, was an angel.
Everyone, except for Joseph who is looking up at Grandpa, is looking down.
She was ready to go when she did and I am glad she went in her sleep. She is with the Lord now, I know that, Grandpa says. I see Dad bite down hard on a roll of bread. Grandma nods her head. Grandpa says, And after all the surprises in my life, I think I’m ready to go be with them, too.
Um, Mom says quickly, interrupting Dad, well what about your dad?
Mom’s face turns red and takes a drink of water.
My dad, Grandpa says, Oh, only God knows about him.
I mean, Mom asks, clearing her throat, what was he like?
Oh, what was he like? Grandpa says, God, my dad was a hard hard man. He died before Elijah was born. He died even before I met Lucy. He was a depressed alcoholic and an abuser and an adulterer. He took his own life.
Mom knows this and so does Joseph and they both look down. Dad does not like when conversations are negative and Joseph can feel that he is trying to avoid a negative conversation.
Are you ready to order, asks a tall man in a black and white suit. He stands in between Grandma and Grandpa.
Yes, I think we are, Dad says.
No one is ready to order. Everyone asks what the specialties are for today. There is some sort of steak sandwich and Mom and Grandpa get that, but Grandma and Dad get the wedge salad. Joseph has his dad ask the man if they have macaroni and cheese, which they do. The man goes away and says that he will be back to refill their glasses.
Grandma takes a sip of her wine. Mom leans forward with one elbow on the table cloth in the direction of Grandpa.
So, when you say that you have gone through surprises, Mom asks Grandpa, what kind of surprises do you mean?
Oh, the kinds that most people don’t know about, Susan, the kinds of things that people don’t like to think about.
Like, what do you mean, Susan asks.
Dad takes his phone out and looks at his phone under the table. Grandma sips her wine, leaning back.
I have seen things, Grandpa says, things I don’t like to think about anymore.
I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I’m sorry I brought it up.
No, no, it’s fine. As a Christian, I believe those forces don’t hold power over me anymore. I believe Christ reigns in me and because he reigns in me, I now reign over the forces that once had me.
Mom leans back in her chair. I’m sorry to have brought it up, Mom says.
Dad puts his phone away and I hear it click. Dad believes he was possessed by a demon, Dad says.
I, I didn’t know. You never told me, Mom says. And that surprises me, I don’t know, just because I ask a lot of questions about you guys and about what your lives were like. I like to know what happened to people and how it makes them who they are. But this never came up?
Mom is always asking people about themselves. She almost only asks questions. She says she likes to know about people, because the more you know about their past, the more you can guess about their future.
That’s because it never happened, Dad says.
Grandpa still has his elbows on the table. Elijah, he says, I am not the only one. We are all possessed, I believe. I know. I saw my own demon with my own eyes and I touched him.
Grandma sips her wine. Her glasses are big reflections and she is smiling.
Well, that’s just great, Dad says.
There is silence, except for the tables around them.
Dad, anyway, we are here for your birthday, Dad says, and I brought a gift for you.
Dad sets a wrapped box on the table.
Oh, thank you Eli, Grandpa says. Dad hands him the gift over the flower vase in the middle of the table and he takes it and sets it next to his chair. Can I open it after dessert, Grandpa asks.
“So, Joseph,” Grandpa asks, “How was your school year?”
“It was good.”
“Yeah? What was your favorite class?”
“I think I like Spanish the most.”
“Spanish! Why Spanish? I was never a language man myself.”
“Well,” Joseph says, “I like the teacher. Her name is Mrs. Ramirez. She is really nice.”
“What makes her so nice, do you think?”
“I don’t know. I think she has a lot of kids in her classes.”
Grandpa nods his head.
“That can help,” he says, “especially if the kids like her and don’t disobey.” Joseph nods.
“Well, Joseph, I know you’re here to celebrate my birthday. And I appreciate that,” Grandpa says, “but I brought something for you.”
Grandpa takes a pocket knife out of his pocket. It has a blue ribbon wrapped around it.
“I was just cleaning through my old things in the attic and I found this. I used it all the time for work. It’s a handy tool.”
Joseph takes it from him and immediately pulls it out of its sleeve and seeing the different knives and tools.
“I remember you telling me that you wished you had your own pocket knife, so I thought I would give you this one,” Grandpa says.
Joseph smiles and gets up from his chair and hugs Grandpa. He kisses Joseph on his messy black hair and rubs his old hand through his hair. “I love you, buddy,” he says, “you’re my little bud, aren’t you?”