The Weapon of Young Gods #10: It’s Quiet Up Here

I know Grandma’s here when I arrive because the wind chimes are ringing. My grandparents’ one-story, Camelot-era ranch house is halfway up a tastefully crowded hill in South Laguna, and it catches the breeze coming right in from the ocean. If there’s no wind, the courtyard is still and silent as death, and I’d know she’d be off somewhere else, but today the chimes tinkle as I open the gate, and leaves float across the yard and an occasional olive plops down from the tree standing in the middle of it all. I take Mom’s key to her ex-in-laws’ house out of my pocket, wrench the massive front door open, and enter the musty, stuffy darkness that my father grew up in. There’s a little light coming in from the glory of Outside, and I pick my way with care through the gloomy kitchen to the back door. It’s very quiet, but not absolutely, so before I go back outside I say it softly, the same way I always do when I come here alone.

Previous Episode

Soundtrack (mp3): ‘It’s Quiet Up Here’ by Low Tide

“Hi Grandma.”

Hello David.

She’d always refused to call me Derek. “Um, I’ve just got some work to do in the back for a few hours, okay? Don’t mind me.”

Of course not, dear. You go right ahead.

“Thanks Grandma.”

I slide the back door open and then shut the screen behind me, and put my bag down to get to work, which really won’t be that difficult. “Gardening” at Grandpa’s usually means just turning the water on for a few hours and chilling out on the back patio. The garden is watered not by sprinklers, but a drip-system of irrigation that Grandpa installed a few years back in a fit of pique at his water bill from the city. He tore out all his sprinklers not, as we assumed, for any environmentally conscious reason, but because his Depression-era spending ethic was immensely offended at the newly-incorporated city’s water rates.

“It’s goddamed outrageous,” he used to thunder. “Those yoyos at City Hall are leeches, just leeches.”

I chuckle to myself at the memory of it while turning on every tiny tap, and then drag out one of the plastic lawn chairs onto the grass. I riffle through my bag for some sunscreen and the book I blindly saved from the donation pile, which turns out to be Mom’s copy of The Joy Luck Club, so I groan and put it back, deciding simply to sit and think, or not. It’s a gorgeous day, what’s left of it; the bike ride over was uneventful, and the exercise made me feel Purposeful and Worthwhile, and this place has always felt like a refuge to me when everything else was going beserk.

It seemed bizarre to many of our family friends that my mom would have a better relationship with her ex-parents-in-law than their own son did, but that’s exactly what happened after my parents divorced and Dad took off back East. It wasn’t that much of a surprise to me, though; my grandparents doted on Hannah and I the same way all grandparents did, but the bonus of having them only a five-minute drive away was a welcome relief to my parents, both of whom had to hold down full-time jobs during my childhood. My dad was bent on proving that he could make it in the world without any financial help from the man he called his “fat-cat father,” and that weird dynamic meant that us kids usually ended up at our grandparents’ for most of our early childhood while our parents stayed at work.

We had a blast, of course, but for every good time of Grandma teaching us to play cards or reading fireside from Stevenson or Jack London, there was surreal strangeness like the time when I was home sick from school one morning, watching the Challenger explode on TV while Grandma was cleaning my barf off the bathroom floor on the other side of the house. After those wild poles, life with my parents always seemed a bit milder.

Today, though, I don’t have to think about anything. I can stretch out and listen to the water gently quench Grandpa’s thirsty flowers, and look out at the stunning but familiar view. Down in one direction, past the tiny cars on PCH, I can see the whole coastline all the way back to Dana Point, a vista blotted only by the hideous outline of the new Ritz-Carlton hotel. Grandma showed me a photo of the same view in 1965, when my grandparents first bought this property; there she was, sitting and smiling on a huge boulder, with nothing behind her but sea and sky. That same rock now lies to my left, surrounded by overgrowth but still perched like a monument.

To my right, there are a few insolent eucalyptus trees from a neighboring yard far below that prevent a clean view, but I can still make out the ocean through the leaves, and on clear, bright days like this afternoon, I can see Catalina float on the horizon like a long, skinny whale. There are a million sails out there right now; must be a regatta or something going on. A small Cessna trailing a beer ad hangs in the air down there over the beach, its faint buzzing carrying up on the breeze like a harmless insect.

I close my eyes and let the neighborhood’s silence envelop me. It’s the harmless silence of age, of old money planting itself in a new place to lord over new serfs, of decrepit Birchers and transplanted proto-suburbanites from other exclusive enclaves all around the country. My grandpa was always proud to be the only FDR liberal in this sea of ossifying fascism, but he could be as crusty as any of them when he wanted to, and generally he and his neighbors left each other alone. “We came out here from Michigan to get away from people like that,” he used to laugh, “and we just met more of them!” Apparently there had been sinister whispers when his son, my father, had “married that Chinese girl,” but Grandpa would erupt with indignant rage if he ever caught wind of anyone disparaging Mom that way. My grandparents adored their daughter-in-law, and they didn’t let inconvenient things like my parents’ divorce get in the way of that. Seven years ago, Grandpa insisted that they both show up for Grandma’s memorial, custody trial be damned.

Warmed by the afternoon sun and legions of memories, I sink a little further away from full consciousness. The low hum of traffic on Coast Highway melds with the plane’s drone and the steady drip of the irrigation taps to make one long rhythm of a lullaby, and it must put me under for a while because I lose track of things and almost get a glimpse of the vast scope of time stretching behind and before me, a continuous arc of history that whispers the secrets of the universe to anyone who’s listening. I let the song play itself out for a long time, enough for me to pick out one or two identical notes that keep popping up like neon in a sea of grays. It takes a little while longer for me to recognize the voice.

David, wake up.

I float back toward the surface. “What’s going on, Grandma?” The sun is almost setting behind the eucalyptus trees.

You’ve been here for some time now, dear. You may need to go home, you know.

“Oh… oh yeah. Right. Thanks, Grandma.” A chilly gust blows in from the Pacific. I slowly get up, still half-asleep, and make my way to each tap to turn them all off.

Don’t forget to put the broom handle back and lock the doors.

“I won’t.”

You know how your grandfather gets about these things.

“I know.” I know because I’m the same way; I got all of Grandpa’s genetic paranoia and I have to check all the locks on the doors and windows at night, no matter where I am. I do as she says and check the whole house before I leave. I’m just about to start down the darkened hall to the front door when she mentions something else.

There’s a young lady here to see you, David.


She’s out in the courtyard near my olive tree.

I peek through the heavy curtains and jump about a foor in the air. Lisa Arroyo is slowly walking around my grandparents’ courtyard, furtively taking in her surroundings as if she’s mistakenly bumbled into a haunted mansion.

“Holy shit! How did she find me here?”

Language, dear.

“Sorry, Grandma.”

You weren’t expecting her?

“Um, no…no I wasn’t.”

Well, I should hope not. I run a decent house, young man.

“No. Nothing like that. Not her.”

All right then. I’ll see her out, and you make sure your grandfather’s house is ship-shape.

“Okay,” I say, but don’t move, and watch Lisa through the window as she seems to get more and more agitated, glancing here and there and looking jumpy. She shivers once, takes a step backward, then shivers again violently, and abruptly turns on her heel and steps quickly out the gate and away. I feel a little goosed myself, and take another lap through the house to make sure everything is secure before I leave.

“See you next time, Grandma,” I say as I bolt the front door.

Goodnight, David. Be careful on the road.

“I will.” I shut the gate behind me, hop on the bike, and coast back down the hill.


Skip to comment form

    • dhaynes on February 16, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    …the entries like this one, that have a soundtrack, always read best when playing the music along with them. Hope you all enjoy it.

  1. draws him in….  

    • dhaynes on February 16, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    I’m running away for a few hours. Be back around 7 PST or so. Thanks for the comments & recs…

    • RiaD on February 17, 2008 at 1:40 am

    you better be wary of that one…

    gram already warned you…

    take heed~

    • pfiore8 on February 17, 2008 at 2:55 am

    grandma’s spirit hangs around… but didn’t get a sense for where grandpa was.

    i love the past, the ambient sounds, the sun, and water all enveloping derek in that wonderful semi-sleep

  2. has Lisa followed him or was he drawn to the house by the spirits? Do they unnerve her as she didn’t know they where there and chanced upon them. The sense of place is concrete and yet the characters all are ambiguous. You really captured Laguna, I could see, feel and smell it.    

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