My Grandfather’s Condoms – Calvin Atwood

My grandmother gave us our Bible lessons after our naps. Up until this point, at age eleven, I was still a decent kid, headed to heaven, a big money career ahead despite some minor academic trouble but my grandmother got a little excited that early August afternoon and I’ve been fucked ever since. After all, she was a backcountry Louisiana beauty who’d married into Old Big City Baptist money. Before meeting my grandfather, at age fourteen, Louisiana being a majority Catholic State, she’d been on a dark path. Simply put, she hadn’t always known the Lord.
        So, on that day, per usual, we gathered round the circular table for our afternoon Bible lesson. She didn’t mean to arouse me, but the topic was Flesh, so a few minutes in the Lord started working through her. Her eyes rolled back, and her voice turned low and breathless. She kept trying to catch her breath, and suddenly, she sounded like a man. Something else was at the controls.
        “Take heed little ones who touch the private areas, the regions beneath the underwear that fill with euphoric glee. But oh Father! it feels so right down in those “nethers.” Just rolling in the filth! But these children are prone to remove clothing and engage in mock child making – they know not what they do. The removal of undergarments invites the master in, and little ones are no match for the enemy, their armor is weak. But you know all our thoughts. Soon these children will be held to account at the gates.” 
        I knew my cousin June offered something in the way of quick access to what my grandmother was referring to because, shortly after her Bible lesson, within my grandparents’ Olympic-sized swimming pool, I was gliding along the floor of the deep end when I looked up, toward the heavens, and noticed June pulling the lower portion of her bathing suit aside. She’d shown me her vagina. She must have known I was down there with my snorkel.
        But as I lay in bed that night, June and her bathing suit, and the spaces within, were dismissed as inadequate. Instead, I found myself laser-focused on my grandmother’s words, and yes, the spaces beneath her underwear. So, now desperate to get my grandmother naked, but to no actual end, I took to scheming.
        My grandmother was small but mighty in spirit. She was a national prayer warrior. I considered luring her into my room by smashing a window with a bedside clock, but I feared waking my grandfather, as he always kept his pearly handled sawedoff within arm’s reach for intruders and race wars.
        But I couldn’t sleep. I was called to action by a wiry energy and this new energy was calling the shots, so I snuck downstairs and into my grandfather’s study. I was searching for an object that would provide an effective experience. I considered viewing a steamy shampoo commercial, but I couldn’t risk waking my grandparents, so I sat in my grandfather’s executive chair and looked around the room for anything new. That’s when I spotted that crocodile briefcase. It was in the corner. I rushed to it, popped it open and discovered a shiny stainless 44 Magnum (Snubby) Revolver, Listerine Original Flavor (travel size), an empty whisky bottle and Big Band Standards Compilation Cassette. But as I removed these items, I discovered something else, still deeper, within that crocodile briefcase. Behind a few legal pads, I found a little glass bottle of Johnson & Johnson baby oil, an empty box of Rough Riders and a Playboy Magazine featuring Vanna White on the cover. 
        Just before I opened that Playboy Magazine, I observed the rocking of shrubbery outside my grandfather’s study window and beyond the shrubbery, in the distance, I watched a cloud pass over the moon, which felt very important as the cloud left part of the moon exposed when it passed over it. I was able to zoom in tight on that sliver of moon as it changed in real time. I’d never slowed down enough to watch something like this. Some old burden lifted as I watched. But it quickly returned. I hadn’t even opened the Playboy Magazine, and I was already in uncharted territory.
        Despite the troubling commercial breaks for products that implied nudity like soap and clothing, I watched The Wheel most weeknights with my grandmother. She was a five day a week Wheel watcher. She prayed for Pat and Vanna. Maybe that’s why Vanna only did Playboy once.
        At age eleven I couldn’t truly appreciate Vanna’s little body. I was obsessed with mass for mass’s sake. I had to quit drinking my own urine (an old family tradition) to understand how nicely a small frame would work with my own. Mrs. Carswell, a large black lady, and my fourth-grade teacher had ample reserves, secret areas, and with each discovery a fresh experience, or so I imagined. With smaller women, like Vanna, you know what you’re working with in an instant. 
        The words Rough Rider stayed with me. I found myself repeating them over and over, inducing a trance like state. So, a few days later, at a classy local pharmacy, I spotted a box of Rough Riders. That’s when I figured out, they were condoms and then I realized exactly what condoms were for. That was one hell of a realization. I was anxious to share this intoxicating information with a teenage skateboarder named Steve.
        Steve, age fourteen, lived down the street from my mother’s home. Despite our age difference, he’d once respected me but recently, I’d hedged all my emotional bets on Steve’s fickle validation. I figured Steve was all I had going for me. Being an only child, I couldn’t help but take every opportunity to undermine my peers, children my own age. I didn’t need them because I had my Steve, but Steve was giant and moody. My presence seemed to remind him of something he’d just spent the day trying to forget. Simply put, I was desperate to get back in tight with Steve and I had a strong feeling that this information, regarding my grandfather’s empty box of Rough Rider Condoms, would be of interest to Steve and, somehow, the sharing of this information, would bring us together. He’d see that I’d also changed and that I was unusually cool and advanced for my age. I had nothing else going for me. I was terrible at athletics and school (a double loser). I figured getting back in with Steve, by way of this information regarding my grandfather, would, somehow, feel satisfying. 
        So, I approached Steve with a newfound confidence as he practiced his skateboarding tricks in some random neighbor’s driveway.
        “What’s up, faggot,” said Steve. This was his name for me. He didn’t even bother looking my way as he spoke. He was intensely focused on his trick practicing, and I was disrupting this. He figured; I had nothing to offer. But I had some information regarding an empty box of condoms.
        I didn’t want to appear too eager to share all that I knew. I didn’t know exactly why Steve would care so much about my grandfather’s condoms. I just knew, in my body, that he would, and that somehow this would lead to a vaguely fulfilling relief experience.
        I could feel that wiry energy starting up again, so I didn’t hesitate. I got to it.
        “My Grandfather’s got an empty box of condoms. I guess he uses them on my grandmother,” I proclaimed.
        “You don’t use condoms on old ladies you little faggot but sounds like gramps is a player. Maybe it’s in the blood.” He seemed to respect this information regarding my grandfather and in turn me.
        “You’re probably right,” I confirmed, as if I’d been thinking the exact same thing.
        Steve was no longer practicing his skateboarding. My Rough Rider talk had triggered something desperate in him. Despite my recent growth spurt he had at least a foot and maybe 60 pounds on me. He stood before me, from maybe two feet away, holding that skateboard very tightly to his chest with the wheels, trucks and a giant dripping red pentagram sticker exposed. 
        “So many faggots around here. Somebody’s gotta do something about it. (Then he spit on my shoe, which I hoped was an accident). You think gramps could hook a brother up or is he greedy with that trim.”
        I didn’t know what he meant by trim or why he now considered my grandfather to be his brother, but I was excited by it all- something was working out. I knew this information, regarding the condoms, would take me somewhere new. It was clear that Steve, like me, wanted to enter my grandfather’s secret world forever, or just pop in, occasionally, as needed.  
        “Sure,” I responded with postured indifference.
        But Steve was in no mood for games. 
        “When can I kick it with The Gramps?” he asked.
        “Whenever is fine.” I didn’t know what I was agreeing to.
        “It better be pussy,” he whispered. 
        Then he stared me down like he was about to begin assaulting me if I didn’t make this happen immediately. But then he thought better. Maybe he realized, physically forcing me into arranging this meeting wasn’t, at least for now, the best course of action. So, he said his goodbyes. Apparently, he had a busy day ahead of him.
        “I’m just fucking with you pussy, whenever is fine, but unfortunately, right now just won’t work. I gotta meet up with this hoe behind the abandoned gas station.”
        He left it at that. He checked his watch and skated off, but I knew I’d see him soon. I’d triggered some kind of wiry energy in him.
        I knew Steve coming over to my grandparents was a terrible idea, but I was desperate to privately team up with Steve. I was hazy on the details. I just knew this was the darkest path I could take and, once on it, turning back would take a lot of self-control, self-control I lacked. But it didn’t matter anyway because I was already fucked, given my failure to put even a small of amount effort into being just an average athlete or even a passing student. I’d like to think I just had other interests, but interests imply choice.
        I suspected that in order to stay on this dark pleasure path while avoiding prison, I’d have to get rich enough to control people while keeping my private life private, like my grandfather had done. I was already desperate to get my own apartment because if my grandparents or mother or law enforcement caught wind of my plans, the shame would be more than I could handle. In order to do the things that somehow traced back to my interaction with that crocodile briefcase, I’d need to, like my grandfather, keep up appearances. But I’ve never been able to focus on two things at once. 
        I wanted Steve to secretly take me under his wing, but the last thing I wanted was to take him to my grandparents. Steve was visibly unChristian. I was afraid he’d directly mention the Rough Riders to my grandfather and my grandfather would figure out where he’d gotten this information. So, I tried to swear Steve off. I promised myself that I’d avoid him at all costs but this was difficult to maintain because now, suddenly, Steve was always around, riding his skateboard up and down the street or practicing his tricks right in front of our house. He was always waiting for me to walk outside. He always acted surprised to see me, as if he didn’t know he was in front of my house. He always started with some small talk, something about women always badgering him for sex behind the abandoned gas station. But he’d eventually get around to it and ask if I, by chance, was headed to my grandparents’ home, and, if so, could he come along.
        I had no friends. I was desperately lonely and the wiry energy was growing by the day. I was finally ready to make something ambiguously sexual happen with Steve. Something that was difficult to picture. I figured Steve had access to some nether world that I could hide out in whenever I felt like it and return from for Christmas and my birthday or whenever I needed Steve to beat the hell out of some kid in my class who called me gay.
        I approached Steve as he practiced his skateboarding tricks in my driveway. He quit practicing and held his board close as he watched me approach. The time had come. He made his customary small talk. Then we got to it.    
        “So, when are you taking me to see gramps. Motherfucker’s sure stingy.”
        “Very soon. I told him all about you.”
        Steve didn’t say so explicitly, but he seemed to doubt that this conversation between my grandfather and me had actually occurred.
        “Really?” he responded just before skating off without even saying goodbye.  
        A few days later, I encountered Steve again in front of my house. This time, when he noticed me approaching, he violently discarded his board and started walking directly toward me. He was done with small talk.
        “What’s your grandfather’s phone number?” he asked.
        “I don’t know.” But of course, I did.
        “Don’t worry about it, I’ll just look it up, or I’ll just stop by.”
        “They never answer their phone,” I desperately countered.
        Steve tucked that long black hair, hair that normally covered his face, behind his ears and showed me those baby blues. He was done waiting for an invite. He was taking matters into his own hands, which I had to stop.
        “I’ll go inside and call my grandmother. She’ll come and pick us up and take you to my grandfather.”
        I guess we both knew I’d betrayed my grandfather by mentioning the Rough Riders. That was family business. I was terrified of Steve exposing me to my grandfather and, in time, the police as a sex obsessed rat, but I figured by accompanying Steve to my grandparents’ home at least I’d be able to create a diversion or somehow control things and after this initial visit, even though it wouldn’t pan out on Steve’s end, he’d appreciate my good faith effort. He’d invite me to enter his world. A world that was all about hanging around the abandoned gas station and ideally, one day, I’d just find myself at that station, just leaning on some dusty pump. This perfect life with Steve was all about chilling, around or mostly behind the abandoned gas station. Maybe we could set up a little pup tent back there for extra privacy. Frankly, I was a little nervous about Steve seeing me naked for the first time.
        Best case scenario, once I brought Steve over to my grandparents, he’d be frightened by how powerfully religious they were and wouldn’t dare bring up the topic of my grandfather and his box of Rough Rider Condoms. Anything was better than Steve ringing my grandfather and potentially arranging a private meeting with him.
        Steve was disgustingly long-haired and dressed in sloppy black clothing. I knew my grandmother would think him a Satanist, which I could use to my advantage. My grandmother was molding me. She believed me spiritually capable of leading our nation’s young people back to Christ. But I was already beginning to realize that this was very uncool. Still, I was terrified. According to my grandmother, the Final Holy War was fast approaching, and finding and saving people like Steve was just a small part of the Daily Battle. I went inside and called my grandmother.
        “Can you pick up Steve and me? We want to go swimming.”
        “Well of course I can honey. Is Steve saved?”
        “I don’t think he is.”
        “I’m so proud. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
        As I spoke to my grandmother on the phone, I could see Steve out the window tapping his foot and wiping his brow, trying to play it cool in the driveway as he anxiously awaited my return.
        Steve wasn’t playing around, and neither was I. Part of me sincerely wanted to forget all the crazy sex stuff and just focus on fighting the devil and saving Steve from hell, but then I thought about Vanna White naked, and this triggered some reckless impulse. I headed out to share the good news with Steve.
        “My grandmother’s on her way over. We’ve got plenty of extra swimsuits.”
        “Fuck you, bro! I didn’t mean like right now.”
        Steve feared a trap.
        “I thought you wanted to meet my grandparents?”
        “Fuck your nasty granny. I just wanna chill with gramps. Dude’s a pimp.”
        “He should be home,” I said.
        “He better be, faggot!” 
        Just then my grandmother pulled up in her magnolia yellow Cadillac Sedan De Ville. 
        “Here she is. Let’s go.”
        I let Steve take the front seat since as he was so much bigger than I was and because I knew my grandmother would make him extremely uncomfortable. She was more than willing to meet Steve, spiritually speaking, exactly where he was, minus the shame, because, like all of us, my grandmother hadn’t always been saved. She believed all people, no matter how unattractive, poor or mixed-up with Satan, were save-able, and being from Louisiana, she was an extremely impulsive person.
        “It’s nice to meet you, Steven. Jasper has told me so much.”
        She winked at me through the rearview mirror as she said my name. She thought we were on the same team, which felt terrible. 
        “Yeah whatever,” said Steve under his breath while still managing a nervous smile. He was forced to put his wholly sexual agenda aside as my grandmother was uncomfortably well-meaning.
        When we stopped at a residential stop sign, two bikini clad girls not much older than Steve walked in front of my grandmother’s car. They were laughing, as they euphorically rushed from Country Club Pool to some fortress-like stone Tudor. They were all wet-haired and tight-skinned as they laughed at secret things. But Steve knew their thoughts, and they were too true. They were all about him. He slumped even lower in his seat, some pathetic last-ditch effort to hide.
        As Steve ducked, my grandmother flashed me another smile through the rearview, and I flashed her one back. And for a moment, I took comfort in knowing that, unlike Steve, I was at ease in my grandmother’s presence. But then I remembered the Rough Rider condoms, and, like Steve, I felt exposed and overwhelmed by a hard-earned self-loathing.
        Then I thought better. Maybe God was testing me, and by pulling Steve out of the darkness, out from the clutches of the Enemy, I’d, by way of my service, also get a little relief, or maybe even taste The Infinite.   
        We parked at the top of the wide circle drive, right in front of the impressive custom-built Moorish Revival home. My grandfather’s car, a creamy white, all stock Lincoln Town Car, was also parked in the driveway. The appearance of his car made me extremely nervous as it reminded me of how terrible things could potentially go, given Steve’s presence.    
        “Oh, father’s home!” said my grandmother with a hint of forced perky in her voice. She was surprised that he was home in the middle of the workday as this often meant, more than likely, that something had gone terribly wrong with one of his many businesses and he’d be extremely irritable and clearly this was the case as that Big Band Compilation was blasting from behind the double doors of the study. The study was to the right upon entering so we were immediately confronted with a high energy rendition of “In a Sentimental Mood” from behind those dark wood double doors. Of course, neither of us said anything. We quickly made our way past those study doors, through the home, to the informal dining room where my grandmother conducted her Bible studies, did her own daily Bible readings, and watched Wheel of Fortune. Of course, Steve had no clue what was going on behind those doors. That Big Band blaring meant, more-than-likely, that we wouldn’t see him for hours or, at least until dinner time. My grandmother spoke as we followed her through the home. 
        “Now before you boys change into your bathing suits, we’re going to have a little devotional time. Just a few minutes in the word and then you boys can swim until dinner.”
        I could tell Steve, walking behind him, wasn’t impressed with the home which surprised me as I knew his family, although hardly poor, was certainly solidly middle-class. He didn’t even look around or seem slightly interested in the gaudy Moorish interiors. Everything had been purchased during my grandfather’s many business trips to Spain where he made aggressive moves, deflating and inflating commodities, double-crossing cash starved regional partners, and exploiting local rivalries. For the Midwest, it was certainly an exotic look/ a real casbah that never failed to mystify but Steve was, to his credit, completely unfazed. He was laser focused on my grandmother’s little bottom. He stared and nodded approvingly at her rear as we moved through the atrium and into the south wing. 
        So, we gathered round that circular table for our afternoon Bible lesson. My cousin June wasn’t around. She’d returned to Dallas. The topic that day was the mind. Steve kept his head slumped and stared at the table as my grandmother read directly from the Bible. His long glossy black hair hung loose over his face and on to the table, completely covering his eyes and mouth, as my grandmother read from the Book of Ruth. Then Steve interrupted her prayers with a muffled mumbling. He was softly, you could barely hear him, speaking in tongues. My grandmother, out of respect, quit her trivial Bible readings and bowed her own head. Steve was, clearly, taking us somewhere but then he suddenly stopped. He raised his head. He was coming out of a trance state. Something else was, briefly, at the controls. My grandmother was impressed. Tears of joy were streaming down her face. Steve clearly had the gift. He was steeped in that old-timey/back-country faith. The kind of religion that had, originally, saved my grandmother, back in some swampy holler in Louisiana. It had been years since she’d witnessed it. She’d left it behind to marry my grandfather, who was brought up in some big city/Tulsa Baptist Church. My grandfather hated this kind of Christianity and he’d been standing just outside the room listening to this white trash nonsense.        
        “Now Steve, where do you go to Church?” asked my grandmother, now beaming with joy.
        “Rugged Cross,” said Steve, his voice cracking open on the cross part. I was surprised to hear that Steve even attended church. This was an enormous disappointment.
        Just then my grandfather, dressed, as usual, in his casual house blazer, a double-breasted linen job in a pale blue with the golden buttons, buttons that matched his golden aviator style eyeglasses, entered the room. To be clear he was a man of the church. He’d been a deacon and he still taught Adult Sunday School. What does the Bible have to say about the practical matters of our time, this was how he introduced each lesson. The Bible was, according to him, a book with so much practical guidance on matters ranging from finances to the ballot box.
        “That’s all a bunch of inbred hogwash,” he muttered now standing before Steve.
        My grandfather thought this “country nonsense” gave decent Christians a bad name plus he hated any boy or man with long hair. But Steve wasn’t backing down. He boldly stared right back from his seated position. 
        “He’s got the gift. Don’t hurt him, James,” pleaded my grandmother, now desperate to protect Steve and the old-time/nondenominational style of Christianity he embodied, and that, back in some snake infested shack had saved her filthy soul.
        “Now tend to dinner, woman,” my grandfather gravely stated, excusing her.
        Of course, she didn’t dare disobey. And it was, after all, well past time for her to start on dinner. She scurried out of the room but not before giving Steve a gentle gaze.
        “Bless you, sir,” she said under the breath.
        But Steve didn’t give a fuck about any woman’s validation. He’d come for the Big Dog and all his bitches, and he wasn’t backing down. 
        So now, it was just the three of us. A standoff of sorts. Steve was calling everyone’s bluff.
        “Your wife is hot. I’d hit it.”
        He boldly looked directly into my grandfather’s eyes as he casually spoke these words. 
        “Excuse me, son,” my grandfather replied, still, somehow, remaining calm. He was, rather shrewdly, playing the Concerned Sunday School Teacher which Steve, ignorantly, took as weakness as he only knew one kind of church elder. One that was quick to violence and even screaming at the slightest hint of defiance.
        “You heard me, player. I hear you got a whole stable of bitches. Why don’t you sit and chill, my man.”
        Thinking he’d prevailed, Steve was trying to get chummy with my grandfather. He thought, he was getting somewhere with him. He now saw him as an equal. This was the wrong move as my grandfather, to his credit, never chilled and had self-control. There was a time for the sword, and this wasn’t it. He didn’t mind letting you think, when it was useful, that he was just a humble man of humble origins. He’d even, when wheeling and dealing in Spain, once posed as a Catholic but, in reality, he was done playing nice with Steve. So, he withdrew that glossy piece. I’m talking about that 44 Snubby Nose, AKA The Bulldog, from somewhere deep within that double-breasted blazer. He didn’t need to pull the hammer, it wasn’t even loaded, or even point it at Steve’s head. He just held it up, barrel pointed to the heavens, and admired the barrel. But you better believe he kept that wrist firm. Unlike Mr. Alden T., he didn’t let that beautiful pistol dangle. He inspected his snubby and, as was his habit, took out a lavender hanky and gave her a quick wipe down. To be clear, he’d be doing this either way. He wasn’t trying to intimidate Steve. He just smiled wide. He was filled with the lord’s grace and the grace extended to Steve.
        “Time to go home, son,” he calmly stated after slipping her back in. He didn’t bother with a holster. He wasn’t into country western music. He was, like his father before him, first and foremost, a Tulsa Oil Man.
        And Steven didn’t hesitate. He was out the door. In his world, a man only took out his piece if he was planning on using it. And now, it was just my grandfather and me. He took Steve’s seat beside me.
        “Wonder how Steve got all these ideas about me.”
        He inquired aloud.
        I was terrified of what was coming my way but my grandfather just grinned. I knew better than to lie or try and defend my actions. I remained silent. I was prepared for the worst.
        “Well, that’s alright, Jasper. You’re alright buddy. How about a swim before dinner?”
        And he joined me in the pool, it had been a while. The light was getting soft, and the water was nice and warm. We had fun. And, even though I’d grown considerably, he was still able to gently toss me up into the air, like he’d done since I was two or three. Then we did all the old stuff. We raced the breast, back and freestyle until my grandmother called us in for dinner.