The Tower Journal

   Ashley Henyan

   Channel Surfing

We stopped speaking to my paternal grandparents when I was eleven. I don't know why. I think it had to something do with money. One day, out of the blue, my mother declared we were done with them. This made her exuberance over the distribution of our inheritance even more disturbing. Disturbing, but not surprising. You see my mother had quite a knack for disturbing.

Grandma Jane died four or five years ago.  I think she outlived most of the money. Grandpa Rock died four or five weeks ago.  I know he outlived all of the money. The day Grandpa Rock died was the day my mother became obsessed with her self-assigned position as Heirloom Superintendent.  It was all she spoke of during our phone conversations and I was sick of hearing how excited she was to “get down to Florida” so she could give me “a few of Jane's things.”

It had been relatively quiet all morning but that would soon change. Mom and Dad were scheduled to arrive any minute– inheritance in-tow.  And although there wasn't enough Vodka in the world, I headed to the liquor store in hopes of re-stocking my emergency supply.  Fuck! We practically ran right into each other in the parking lot. Oh Jesus, I'm just not in the mood.

Normally I would surrender to her narcissistic charm. Normally I would agree with everything she said.   Normally I would pretend not to notice the inhumane way in which she treated my father. But I guess today wasn't normal. I took one look at Dad and became emotionally ill. He obeyed her every command like a well-trained service dog.  Look he has the word HEARTBREAK tattooed on the front of his face. He hadn't spoken to either of his parents in over 15 years.  HEARTBREAK isn't a tattoo, it’s graffiti. His emptiness was a paralyzing virus, so potent it could spread with one glance. My father and I were both infected and suddenly my desperation to find a cure became overwhelming.

"Hey best Mom in the world." My sarcastic tone went un-noticed.

"Hi Dad!" A lifelong curse of helplessness overshadowed his large frame. Hugging him felt like being buried alive. I could not get out of his arms fast enough.

Now I'm not sure if it was the Vodka talking or maybe I hadn’t drank enough.  And I don't know if it was God or the Devil who gave me a pep talk. But right then and there, in my shitty apartment parking lot, I did something I’d never done before. I dared defy my mother.

"You think you can hand out a bunch of shit people we used to know used to own, and pretend everything's normal!? I’m done!  I’m done pretending anything is normal!  You may not remember mother but I majored in biology, not acting. I don't have the skills required to continue this…this…this ridiculous charade!!"

"Oh Shelly, for your father's sake, would ya relax."

Less than a minute in and she was threatening to cry. It was an act I'd seen way too many times.

"My father? My father has no parents; don’t you get it?”

"Your father needs to pick out a headstone for the grave."

"Seriously? Could you at least let him pick out a fucking headstone on his own!"

"Oh come on, you know very well it won’t get done unless I get on his ass about it. He can't do anything on his own."

"Just stop."

"He gets dumber and dumber every day. Do you know what he did on the drive here? We stopped for gas in North Carolina and I decided to let him drive for a while. I close my eyes for fifteen minutes and realize your stupid father had gotten on 95-North."

"Come on Mom, give him a break."

"Forty-five minutes outta the way! That's counting stopping at the same exit again on our way back thru so he could take a shit. Selfish bastard!”

"YOU STOP!!!"  I was screaming right along with her and found it necessary to reach through the driver’s side window and lay on the horn. Choosing the car horn as my accompanist sent neighbors onto balconies to watch our family feud. Maybe the horn was a little too much, huh Shel?  Oh shut up.

As soon as she noticed an audience my mother lowered her voice, "Stan. Are you gonna to let her speak to me like that? I don’t have time for this shit. Let’s go.”

Dad was holding three bags of groceries and a duck-taped-up shoe box.  He remained at full alert near the trunk of the car.  He's waiting for her to tell him to shut the trunk. Totally.  Would you two please SHUT UP!

"Jesus Christ Stan! What are you waiting for? Leave her shit on the ground. Let’s GO! See Shelly.  He's a complete moron. You have no idea the hell I have to live in."

With that she slammed her door, he dropped everything, and they sped off like two teenage boys. That was fast. Maybe a record?  Yeah, maybe.

The shoe box wasn't that big or heavy, so I carried it with me to the liquor store, bought the Vodka, and opened both on the way home. What about the groceries? She doesn't want them. I don't want them!  By the time I entered my 900 square foot piece of paradise I had officially inherited the following items:

A book about John Lennon. Ok…apparently one of them was into the Beatles.

A diamond bracelet. Whatever, she had tons.

A few unsigned Babe Ruth rookie cards. Your brother probably got all the good stuff. Oh I'm sure he did.

A framed photograph of my parents. Your mother is unbelievable! I know.

A little glass bottle of perfume. Kinda strange huh? Yup. Yeah, totally strange.

I poured more Vodka into my glass.  

Not your typical inheritance, but what bothered me was I could not recall Grandma Jane being a perfume enthusiast. Even if she was, this bottle did not look like her typical perfume. I think she wore Chanel. Yes, Chanel No. 5. She was a classy woman and owned a spectacular collection of clothing, jewelry, shoes, and perfume. But I sort of remember shoes being her thing. Yes, I was certain, she was way more into shoes than perfume.  Where are all the shoes?

I searched the bottle for that familiar Chanel logo.  All I found was a little painting of Mary and Baby Jesus. Grandma Jane went to church? Beats me.  Mary and Baby Jesus were hand painted in two colors– black and blue. Grandma Jane never went to church. Your face would be black and blue if your mother was in a really bad mood today. Yeah, thanks for the reminder. Oh come on, cheer up.  I just mean you’re probably having a lucky day! Whatever. More Vodka.

I attempted to unscrew the top but couldn't for the life of me get it off. Ha! This bottle top looks just like a silver nipple. It was completely stuck. The damn thing must have been put on ages ago. More Vodka.

Weird huh?  Yup, this bottle is kinda shaped like an urn. Minus the ashes add the Channel No. 5.  That's funny, Ha Ha! Channel 5, get it Shel? Should we write that down? Will you two please SHUT UP! More Vodka.

Was she even cremated? Like any of us would talk to Dad about something like that. How has no one heard if she was buried or cremated? Whatever it’s obviously not ashes, you moron. The bottle is clear… you can see inside. Could it be clear ashes? Ok this nipple top is finally loose. Open it. Fuck! Stupid idiot! Don't yell at me! It slipped outta her hands, it was an accident. Oh, ok sorry.

I had spilled my inheritance and was covered in half the contents of the bottle. This perfume smells like nothing.  I noticed the word "LOURDES" written in tiny little letters on the bottom of the bottle. Definitely not Chanel. Where the hell is that silver nipple? Where the fuck is my drink? We could ne-ver b-e ROY-ALS...It don't run in our bloooood. Didn't that chick win a Grammy? Maybe. Where is your drink?

Then I drank what was left of the perfume straight from the bottle. This perfume is water. The perfume is water? Yes, the perfume is water! I'd give you some but I drank it all, Ha! You got a bullshit water inheritance, HA! Language! Please act like a young lady. Jesus Christ give her a fucking break.

Without hesitation, or thought, I refilled the little bottle with Vodka and put the silver nipple top tightly back in place. Good. This way if your Mom comes back you won't get in trouble for spilling. Oh haha, apparently I did find the nipple top. Has anyone seen my drink? Seriously what kind of idiot loses a drink in a two room apartment?  Maybe that's why you don't live in a nice place.  It's for my own protection? It's totally for your own protection. You're right! I'd lose everything. Look at that Shel-bel, we agree on somethin’.  Found your drink!

I had to pee. I finished my drink on the way, sat down, and started to go. Ahhhhh sweet relief.  Only your fucking mother could make someone so nervous they forget to take a goddamn piss. Umm yeah, quite obvious, I didn't forget. Oh relax, you know what I mean.

That's when I saw Grandma Jane for the first time since I was a little girl. She was sitting at my vanity brushing her hair. Her make-up was meticulously applied and she looked absolutely gorgeous. Oh this is exciting.  See Shel, it IS your lucky day!

"Hi Grandma Jane," I squealed as I got up and flushed, "Can I use the sink too?"

She said nothing. Just smiled and kept brushing her hair. She's probably a little freaked out. Like you’re not?

 I washed my hands and headed to the kitchen for more Vodka. I had practically climbed into the freezer searching for ice when I heard the apartment door fly open. I held my breath, then cautiously, stuck my head out of the freezer. Oh man Shelly, I hope it's not your mother!? It wasn't.  It was Grandpa Rock! He had on his yellow cap and a rolled up newspaper tucked under one arm. He always carried a newspaper around with him. Yes, he totally did!

"Sweetie I'm home!" Even though I'd forgotten what his voice sounded like as soon as he spoke I knew it was him.

I ran over to give him a big hug but he passed right by me. He can't see you. He can't see me? I don't know if he can see YOU, you idiot, he can't see Shelly! Grandma Jane hurried out of the bathroom and greeted her husband with big a kiss. He picked her up as they embraced. Well look at that. They’re still in love! EWWWWW do they have to kiss that much!? Oh you’re too young to understand, it's nice, they’re happy.


I woke up on the couch.  It wasn't morning. Water. Oh good the Britta is full. Well that's a first. I staggered to my bedroom hoping I'd put sheets on the bed. You forgot Shel, they’re still in the dryer. Fuck it, I'll just sleep on the mattress. You will not. You will pull out your inner rock- star, walk twenty feet across that room, and get the damn sheets. Fine. What are you doing awake anyhow?

On top of the dryer was a blank index card. Odd? I turned it over and found two lips, perfectly imprinted with fresh red lipstick.  It's her color, I'd recognize it anywhere. Beautiful isn't it? I held the index card up to my face and kissed her lips. Suddenly all I could smell was the comforting scent of Chanel No. 5.


  Copyright © 2016 Ashley Henyan

Ashley Henyan Originally from Corning, New York, and now a resident of Los Angeles, California, Ashley is earning her M.A. in English/Creative Writing/Screenwriting at Southern New Hampshire University’s College of Online and Continuing Education. In 1998 she accepted an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Maryland, College Park, and in 2002 graduated with a B.A. in Government and Politics. As an athlete, she was awarded multiple All-American honors and in 2004 was inducted into the Corning Painted – Post Sports Hall of Fame.
In addition to her studies, Ashley works on the Communications and Marketing team at the American Red Cross, writing and editing articles for newsletters, websites and social media. During free moments, she enjoys volunteering at blood drives and the VA Hospital.

The Tower Journal
Winter 2016