By Nicole Lacy

My grandfather existed in one of three places: stretched sleeping on his worn recliner, downing shot after shot at Sal’s bar, or late in the evening, sitting alone in the cellar—all the lights out. He’d descend silently, never explaining the reason, and remain there for hours. Each time he disappeared downstairs, my grandmother shooed me from the stairwell and warned me not to follow. 


One night before bed, as Grandma watched reruns of The Lawrence Welk show, I crept close to the top of the cellar stairs, cracked the door, and waited. Shifting uncomfortably on my knees, I heard him stumble into a piece of wayward furniture, muttering “cocksuckers” as he did. The legs of a chair creaked under his weight, followed by the crack of a can of beer being opened. A moment later, my grandfather began talking to himself in the dark.  

It started off quietly enough—muffled murmurs and tittering—but before long his voice rose upward in anger. All was peaceful for a time, then peals of laughter shattered the silence. As I stared into the stairwell concealed in black, I tried to make out his words, but they were unintelligible. Soon I began to imagine the sounds slithering from the mouth of a demon. 

Terrified, I ran to my grandmother to demand explanation.

“Sometimes Pap-pap just needs to be alone,” she said.

I went on, trying to tell her about words I couldn’t decipher, and she told me he was speaking Hungarian. 

“Who’s he talking to?” I asked.

“Himself,” she responded. 

“Do you know what he’s saying?”

“No—only his mother would understand.” 

I thought of my great grandmother, sitting alone in her cluttered house in Munhall. I always dreaded visiting—the rooms smelled sour and there was not enough light. She seemed rooted in the same spot, seated upon a tattered floral recliner in the living room, frail body wrapped in a crocheted throw, hair concealed by a babushka. There was no television, or if there was, it was never turned on. No cartoons or coloring books. She didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Hungarian so we never spoke to each other, though my grandfather sometimes translated simple phrases like, “Look at those fat cheeks!” as she pinched me, leaning so close that I could count her chin whiskers. She died the year before, having been a passenger in her daughter’s car when it lost control and slammed into a telephone poll.

As I gazed toward the cellar, wishing I could understand my grandfather, I wondered if he was speaking to his mother in the darkness—telling her all of his secrets.


About the Author:

Nicole Lacy holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Carlow University in Pittsburgh. Her work has been published in Tin House Online, Word Riot, and The Los Angeles Review and is forthcoming in the anthology Waves: A Confluence of Women’s Voices.

About Weekly Flash Prose and Poetry:

CutBank Online features one work of flash prose or prose poetry every Monday. Submissions are free and open year-round. Send us your best work of 750 words or less at https://cutbank.submittable.com/submit.