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Listerine

Listerine

Jono Naito

Grandma has been sober twelve years, we think. She says it’s ‘cause family fucks her up plenty. She says that from her seat by the window—by the action, she calls it. As police cars and packs of teens pass, she comments on them, even when she’s alone, like she is the voice in their heads. We don't listen to Grandma too much because she already is the voice in our heads, from the second we are born. It is a real something to find your consciousness in the living room every day, decomposing, complaining about the orange juice.

It is a real something to find your consciousness in the living room every day, decomposing, complaining about the orange juice.

 

Momma, Grandma, Mildred my sister, Mikaela my other sister, Francis my brother, and cousin Wayne live in the cubbyholes of a two-story house on Spring. Momma says family is closer this way. Security. I get insecurity. When a friend comes over, I have us sit on the porch no matter the weather. I do not want them to see that my sister's room is the end of the hallway, walled off by frayed curtains.

When Auntie calls me, I have to yell for her to hear me through the muffled static. She says she got evicted from her own house. Her boyfriend waved that gun of his around until the cops came and told her it was best for her to go. She has twenty-four hours, and the same cops circle the block when they are off-duty.

I call up the other black sheep. Marcus, Rueben, Clara, the ones who stood at counters all day serving up food they can't afford. The food stamp gatherers. Marcus lives with his parents and kid sisters on Hudson, surrounded by parking lot. Rueben and Clara share a single room they rent from a retired hairdresser next door. That old ogre loves Rueben and Clara, and hates me, and when she wants to be rid of trash, it’s sprayed with Febreeze and left near my bedroom window because she heard I have asthma. She does it because I’m a “meddler.”

The group and I pull into Auntie's driveway and come in all at once. She hugs Clara first, then Rueben, then me, then Marcus. I appreciate that I come before someone. We pack her collections of magazines and records, all quiet and listening to her boyfriend loading and unloading the gun in his room. He won't come out and kill us—he can't afford the bullets. So we start packing his silverware too, all three sets, and the pans. By the time we roll away, he is out the door, yelling after us, firing off a shot into the brown lawn. We don't hear from him again; we think the cops heard.

She hugs Clara first, then Rueben, then me, then Marcus. I appreciate that I come before someone.

 

The community garden is getting shut down next week. I work there every day, pulling weeds. I want the block to be beautiful, for people to look at it like it isn't Mikaela snoring, hidden at the end of the hall. The town wants it turned back into a trash heap. I send them a letter by sliding it under the chained front door of town hall, saying they need trash cans for all that trash. The trash piles up on corners, it piles up in homes. We are not allowed to have trash out on the lawn for pick-up, you have to hand it over at 7 a.m. to the truckers. So we have people out on the lawns instead, all that garbage stuffed in the house with the animals and grandparents.

I am in charge of Thanksgiving this year, and to make space I put all the trash in the yard and hide it under a tarp. I gather up all the vegetables in the garden; I don’t want waste. I count the chairs in the house and have one short, so I steal a chair from the hairdresser's porch. Grandma mumbles to the bright-red tomatoes, the clean lettuce, the baked potatoes right out of the earth. Auntie says she never saw food so delicious, let alone ate it. She says I should be a chef and we all laugh. Grandma takes a whole tomato and eats it raw, the blood of it soaking down her chin. Wiping her up, Marcus says it’s good to have us all in one place, without all the garbage. We are a real family, he says. Security, Momma says. But when we gonna get privacy, Mikaela says. We laugh again, and Grandma excuses herself. She sneaks Listerine in the bathroom, and remembers the first tomatoes she ever grew.


Somewhere in the snowy drumlins of Syracuse University, Jono Naito is searching for their MFA and a telescope. Their work is in or forthcoming from Gravel, bluestockings, and more, as well as online at jononaito.com.

Illustration by Keit Osadchuk.

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