My Grandfather’s Girlfriend
Lunch time traffic was just beginning to swell at the McKinley Stop strip mall, just outside of Austin. A white Ford F150 pulled through the only light for miles and made a quick left, racing in front of oncoming traffic into the parking lot. It’s driver, Doug, turned the wheel even more sharply to the left and threw the truck through a smooth 180 degree turn, coming to a stop in one the empty spaces directly across from a Mexican fast food joint. His door swung open, a company name emblazoned on the side — Harris Painting and Contractors in slick professional type, and Doug stepped into the humid and stuffy day. “Shit, I wish we had a breeze today.” He thought to himself as he walked across the asphalt towards Los Pedritos and opened the door, a bell jingling to ring in his arrival.
Five or six people were ahead of him in line, which was actually pretty good considering how popular this place was with locals. For the past two years Doug had been on a job north of the city and hadn’t had Pedritos for a while. He pulled out a slip of paper where he’d written down what the other guys wanted. He was going over the list — two #6’s, a #7 with extra guac and a #8 with ground beef when he heard a familiar laugh.
In a booth just slightly beyond the edge of the counter, near the entrance of the hallway to the restrooms he could see his grandpa facing him. He was laughing and making a weird gesture, like reeling in a fish or something. Doug arched his neck, trying to see who he was sitting with but the backs of the booths were blocking his view. Doug almost called out and waved, but decided now was one of his rare chances to get the jump on that old prankster Harris, who owned the painting company Doug worked for and was lucky enough to spend his days in his office back in the city. What he gained in air conditioning he lost in time. He knew the toll that building and running the company took on his grandparents. His grandmother, Maurine recently complained of seeing him less than she ever had before. The company was in a unique phase, his grandfather would say. A couple ahead of him finished paying and the line crept forward by a few feet.
Doug, wondering if he would be able to get the jump on the old man, glanced towards the line and back, just in time to see his grandpa stand up and step towards the other side of the booth. A young woman stood up and his grandpa approached her with a large smile, gently grabbed her shoulders and gave her a long kiss. She leaned back against the corner of the booth, the kiss seeming to take her strength before they finally separated. His grandpa’s lips, still an inch from hers, moved, saying something inaudible over the din of the other patrons. Her body shook with a small laugh as she turned and began walking, suddenly making eye contact with Doug. Lisa from accounting stopped suddenly. His grandpa bumped into her back and laughed before looking in his direction. His smile disappeared and the three of them stood, immobile. His grandpa’s fingers were curled around Lisa’s lower back, where he had grabbed her when they collided. It was an expression he’d never seen on his grandpa’s face. He was the well from which the small company’s morale sprung, especially in recently tough times and his smile defined their attitude with each other and their clients. His grandpa looked down and Doug could see Lisa’s waste move forward, pushed from behind by his grandpa’s hand as the two walked towards the front of the restaurant. Doug’s eyes followed them until the man behind him tapped his shoulder. Flustered he looked at the man, who nodded forward, urging him to close the gap that had formed in the line. He looked back just in time to see the door close behind the pair of them. He stepped forward to the counter in a haze, trying to remember how to order. He looked at this hands, still poised in front of him like they were when they were holding the list, which he had dropped.