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Insufficient Transaction

by Christian Riley

When they came to get my grandpa a few days ago, he was babbling like a small child. Tears bore down his face in reckless rivulets, while he wailed endlessly in the street, them yanking and shoving him into that black van of theirs. I tried to help out with the whole scene, as did my mother, but they just pushed us away. ‘We’ll handle this, son.’

He seemed fine before they arrived. We were just sitting down for lamb stew, his favorite. And my mother made her special mashed potatoes, the ones with the peels left on, and all that butter. Grandpa was sprinkling chives onto those potatoes when the doorbell rang.

‘Mr. Sackleson?’

I looked over at him, and upon hearing the man’s voice, Grandpa didn’t turn to look, but rather he just... he just froze in his chair, spice jar in hand, staring listlessly down at his plate. It was almost as if he knew.

‘You need to come with us, Mr. Sackleson.’

And then came the blubbering.

After hearing him start, three men dressed in white barged in and hauled him away.

Onlookers would reason my grandpa’s behavior to be the result of an affliction of senility, and who could blame them really? It’s what I thought at first. But then, as I was standing in line yesterday over at Spend-Go, I found myself thinking about some of those stories Grandpa used to tell me about whenever we went fishing.

He always had an enchanted look upon his face when he told me those stories. Especially the one about all the different banks. If I remember correctly, his was called Cedar Coast Credit Union, and he had a girlfriend who worked there long ago, when he was a client.

‘She had the nicest legs, that one did.’ That’s what he would say, before he went on to explain what it was like to be a member at a credit union.

The first time he told me it, I found the story to be rather boring, until I pondered the notion of having an account to save money in. He used to have one, and said it gave him such an “able feeling.”

Ten percent a month. That’s how much he put in there, in that savings account of his.

Of course I asked him what he was saving for.

‘Oh... I don’t remember, Danny,’ would be his reply. ‘Just what people did, back then... I suppose.’

As foolish of an idea as it is, the concept of saving money certainly had me thinking, and apparently my grandpa thought it was wonderful. You could always see it in his eyes when he talked about it...

He had other stories from that era as well, but hands down, my favorite was the one about the little old lady from the taco shop. My grandpa would go on and on about that store until he would fall into a mess of laughter. And my grandpa’s laughter was very contagious.

I never really “got” what was so funny about that story, because shortly into it, as we were then both laughing hysterically, all I could ascertain were bits and pieces. But for the most part, I remember him telling me that that shop had the best tamales on the planet; that the little old lady was from some town in Mexico; and — most strangely of all — that she always had the lowest prices on carne asada. He would say it just like that, almost as if there were other places to buy that stuff.

But one thing’s for sure, my grandpa loved his carne asada.

He wasn’t laughing when we drove by that taco shop last year, though. Well, when we drove by where it once was. Now the place is a warehouse for electrical components, and I told my grandpa that that’s where they store the new Hybrid Data Chips — the ones they use for graphic inner-phase drivers typically seen on most video game systems today.

That was a big mistake on my part. Grandpa hated video games. For reasons I can’t explain, it was always such a sore topic with him.

Spend-Go used to sell books,’ he once told me. ‘Children’s books... you know, the cute ones that had those pictures that popped up when you turned the pages?’

No, I didn’t know.

‘A huge selection, half an aisle’s worth!’

That was actually an alarming day for me, because I truly believed that perhaps my grandpa was losing his mind. There were never any books at Spend-Go, or so I thought. But later that day, as I talked to my mother about the incident, she confirmed my grandpa’s argument. Apparently there used to be books there.

As I stood in line reflecting upon my grandpa’s stories, I also found myself recalling that day he came home from holiday shopping last month. There was a strangeness about him, something I had never seen before. The incident was brief, and occurred while he thought no one was watching him, but I caught it, just as he was standing in the garage hiding the presents he bought for us. All at once, he viciously grabbed a handful of his hair, slammed his head onto the work bench, then held it there while he mumbled something to the effect of, ‘Fool... they’ll catch you... you damn fool!’

And then he started to cry, very quietly.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I had never seen my grandpa break down like that, trembling with fear, crying as he did. I knew that if I went into the garage to comfort him, he’d probably get embarrassed. It was such an awkward moment for me, but when he got back into his car later that day and drove off to meet his friends for Scrabble, I went into the garage and stole a peek at what he got for us.

My mother never paid any attention to the cost of goods. When something was needed, she just bought it. Most items, like food and what not, weren’t all that expensive, but during holidays, or birthdays — all of which my mother absolutely lived for — she would just rely on the shopping carts at Spend-Go to keep track of her spending. When they beeped, she was done. And during holiday shopping, they always beeped for her.

But I know that when my grandpa bought for me that collection of Solar Wind Trading Cards, and the box of chocolate liqueurs; and for my mother that matching silk blouse and dress, with the teal shawl and embroidered scarf... Well, I know his shopping cart didn’t beep.

And when I saw those gifts neatly tucked away into that cupboard, and inspected them as I did, naturally I assumed that Grandpa hadn’t finished with his shopping for the upcoming holiday. But when that holiday came and went one week later, well... let’s just say I was somewhat surprised.

I suppose you could say he was a rebel at heart. I know that when my grandpa was a lot younger, he used to join those silly parades where all those people carried huge signs, complaining about everything. They would shout and scream, and sometimes curse at the camera stupid junk about some idiot named Bill Right.

I know he used to be that way, but they always say you’re stupid when you’re young. And that’s what I assumed; that my grandpa was stupid when he was young.

But you don’t do that stuff now. You don’t rebel. Not against them, you don’t.

And there’s no need to, for crying out loud. Times are different. Much better than back when he was a kid, I suppose.

Anyways, when you get your paycheck, you spend it, plain and simple. They know how much you make. Most of the time, they’re the ones who give it to you!

The numbers all get reported to Spend-Go, and if you don’t hurry up and spend what you’ve got, if you don’t do your part to “keep the engine running,” well, let’s just say you get in trouble.

I have a sad feeling now that that’s what happened to my grandpa. It all kind of adds up, when you think about it. He must have had a moment where he missed being young again and wanted to rebel, because he certainly knew better than to go shopping at this time of year and not spend all of his money.

Copyright © 2011 by Christian Riley

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