Uneven by Tanner Smith

Uneven by Tanner Smith
Photo by Federico Respini / Unsplash

            It was just getting dark when I grabbed a bottle of Guinness from the fridge in the garage. I’d been staring at a blank Word document for almost an hour and it only seemed to be getting warmer in my bedroom. When I returned with the beer, I brushed the sweat that burrowed its way into my eyebrow and reached up to pull the string on my ceiling fan. However, I pulled on the wrong string and turned off the light.

            Another fifteen minutes went by and I still didn’t know where to begin. I considered writing about my grandmother, who’d suffered a heart attack a few weeks ago and barely survived. It seemed like something worth writing, but none of the details that came to mind felt worthy of a story. When I visited her in the hospital, I held onto her hand, which was varnished in black and blue from the blood drawn, and I told her she was a miracle. Yet, after I left, the only thought passing through me was a critique of my choice of words. Constantly being reminded that I’m the writer in the family, I suppose I felt responsible for saying something more profound than that.

            Eventually, I noticed my unopened bottle of Guinness immersing itself in a condensation ring on my desk. Only then, when I finally went to open it, did I realize it wasn’t a twist-off cap. I staggered my way back to the garage to look for a bottle opener, which took another twenty minutes—not to find it, but to decide a beer wasn’t worth the trouble. Instead, I unearthed a barely empty bottle of Cognac and poured a little into a red Solo cup, but as soon as the taste grabbed my tongue, I remembered how much I hate hard liquor, and I gagged.

            The time I spent in the garage made me cold. Back in my room, the heavy draft from the fan was becoming counterproductive. I went to turn it off, but once again, I pulled at the wrong string and the room went dark. I yanked at the metal string a second time so I could see it, then swatted at it as hard as I could. It shot straight into the fast-moving blades, which cut the bottom half of the string clean off as it ricocheted right back at my face. I glanced over at my computer screen. It had turned off from sitting there for so long, but I knew what was waiting behind it—or rather, what wasn’t. I stomped out of my room as fast as I could and found the bottle of Cognac right where I left it.

            For the next several hours I forgot about writing, and nearly everything else, too. I remember mixing Canada Dry in with the alcohol until I could bear the taste. At that point, it was really no more than a slightly diluted ginger ale. It would’ve been harmless, if I didn’t drink eleven of them. I must’ve tried making s’mores at some point in the night, because there was a box of graham crackers spilled on the floor, and a Tupperware container in the fridge, holding only a single marshmallow. It had a sticky note on it that read “midnight snack” with a smiley face.

In the course of events, either very late or very early—depending on your life choices—I wandered out to the end of my driveway. There I sat up against the mailbox and let my hands run across the chilled grass on the lawn, where dew had yet to even settle. I could almost feel soberness slinking closer from behind to tap me on the shoulder, like an old friend surprising me after what seemed like years. In that moment, I thought of my grandma—something about the way the sun was starting to rise, maybe. I pulled out my phone and began to call her, only for a couple rings until remembering what time it was and hanging up.

She called me back only minutes later. Guilt filled my face to the brim when the phone’s vibration tickled my lap. I thought about not answering, just letting it ring, and apologizing when I knew I could form complete sentences. But there was some eagerness that came with the idea of speaking with her at that exact moment.

I picked up and greeted her with the most cacophonous belch, right into the speaker.

“Shane?” she gruffed, thinking I was her son. She sounded tired, but in a different way than I expected.

“I’m not Uncle Shane, I’m your grandson,” I shot back. “I—I didn’t—didn’t mean to wake you up, Grandma. And I’m sorry for burping.”

“Oh,” her voice chipped up. “Hey, kiddo. You didn’t wake me up. Grandma’s been having trouble sleeping. Keep waking up all gosh-darn night.”

“Ah, that’s…um—” my voice trailed off thinking of a response, until I’d forgotten what she said. “Uh, hey do you have any chocolate?”

            The absurdity of what I said sent a flash of energy into her voice. “Huh?”

            “Grandma, I was so close to having all the right ingredients for a s’more. I just needed chocolate, and maybe a fire—ow!”

            “Are you okay?” she asked, ignoring the rest of my strange comments.

            “Erm, yeah. Just hit the back of my head on the mailbox.”

            “What? Mailbox—sweetie, what’s happening?”

            I held my mouth shut for a second to avoid another loud burp. “I don’t—I’m just trying to write a story—something good—but it’s all terrible, it’s all nothing. Everything is nothing.”

            I practically heard her smirk through the phone. “You’re my grandson. I know you’ll get it eventually.” Her words embraced me in a way that mine never could. She took a trembling exhale and continued. “I told all the nurses in the hospital how my grandson called me a miracle, probably annoyed ‘em to death with how much I mentioned it. You made my week with that, you know?”

            I half-chuckled at that. “I guess.” Suddenly, tears circled my eyelids as I reflected. “I’m happy you’re okay, Grandma.”

            “I am, too,” she responded. “Things are gonna be a little uneven for a long while, but it’ll get better.”

            “Maybe it’s not uneven,” I stopped for a second to sniffle. “Maybe it’s just odd, is all.” We both paused.

            Grandma was about to say something when I burst out in heavy, heavy laughter. I could hear it echoing on the pavement.

            “What’s so funny?” she asked.

            “Heh, uh, nothing…it’s—that was so dumb. I’m sorry.”

            “No!” she blurted. “That was gorgeous! Hey, you should use that in your story.”

            “I should put this whole conversation in it,” I cackled.

            “Yeah, you could do that.”

            “No,” I contemplated. “There’s no way I’ll remember any of this in the morning.”

            “I don’t know,” she began, “you could just make up the stuff you forget.”

            And that’s exactly what I did.

            After sitting in silence for a few minutes, I used the mailbox to pull myself up and took one last look at the sky. “Grandma, you’d love this sunrise.”

            I didn’t wake up the next day until evening, about an hour before the sun would set again. My head didn’t hurt as much as I expected it to. I checked the timestamp of the phone call with Grandma, and to my surprise, we talked around 3AM—which meant that there was absolutely no sunrise. My best guess is that I was mesmerized by the street lights.

            As I hobbled out of bed, whatever sunshine that crept through my window shades wasn’t enough. I looked up at my ceiling fan, the uneven strings attached. I recognized the shorter one as the switch that I wanted. So I turned on the light.