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Circus Peanuts

Nicky finished mowing the lawn for Grandpa Rod, moving faster once he realized he had completed both the front and the back yards, power-walking to the shed with the engine still running to put back the lawnmower. Rod sat in his wheelchair on the wooden patio situated on the side of the house, watching in stern approval, maybe disapproval- it was definitely stern. He sat in front of his rubber-duck-yellow house, which looked antiquated, and smelled like casseroles that his wife Yoko had been making since he bought the house in the early seventies.

“Alright, now, got dammit,” Rod yelled to Nicky, “Just make sure ya get it put in the same way ya took it out, and put the tank of gas back up on the shelf, and hey, don’t forget about re-threading the weed-eater, don’t think I’nt seen you eatin’ up the sides of the pool with it all fucked up. Re-thread it before you lock it up.” Nicky repeated some of these words in a mocking, ugly tone, scrunching up his face while reciting them, still in the shed, away from the ears and eyes of grumpy Rod. “I did It, already.” He could hear from the patio, “Ya sure ya did it right?”

Nicky slammed the shed door and closed the padlock. He walked up the steps to the patio, wiping sweat off his head with his shirt, saying, “Yes, why can’t you just trust me for once in m-”

Rod smacked Nicky in the temple with a rolled up newspaper, while yelping a gravelly “HEY!” The fact that the paper was already rolled up in his hand seemed premeditated, as if he were planning on smacking him, regardless of whether or not Nicky planned to give him some lip. “Don’t think you can prance around my house with your whining,” he said, as he unrolled the paper. “Your sassy little dad can prance around his house and you can join him in the prancery with your mom and your prancey little brother. My offspring and his family, the prancing geniuses. But when you’re over here, you’re gonna do what I tell ya, I can bet you that, dollars to donuts, without any if’s, and’s, and certainly no butt’s.”

Nicky remembered thinking Grandpa Rod’s general air of grouchiness was funny and charming, or at least what a four-year-old considers charming, but now that he had entered a pre-teenaged phase, the grouchiness had become more targeted at Nicky himself, at least when he was around. It was, of course, not his choice to be around. Few eleven-year-olds would choose to spend time with a grouchy old fellow. Since Rod’s amputation-of-leg earlier in the spring due to a nasty bout of gangrene, though, he needed help around the house, a lot of it, and Nicky’s prancing father insisted that he come over and help on a weekly basis, at least.

Rod put a hand on Nicky’s bare, sunburnt shoulder. “I know he gives you a bit of allowance a week. He told me. He also told me that I should be giving you a little extra coin as well, just for you helping around’ere. If you go inside right there into the kitchen, there’s a cupboard right above the knife drawer, and in there there’s something for you, go get it.” With the strength he had in his gripping hand, he pushed his grandson towards the door, causing an “Ow” reaction due to the sunburn.

Nicky walked inside the musty house that always had a strange lingering smell that reminded him of hot dog buns, a smell that he only enjoyed in the context of being coupled wit the possession of a hot dog. He stood on his toes and reached into the cupboard above the knife cabinet, as directed. There were three shelves, stacked on top of eachother, in the cupboard: The top shelf, which was too high to be reached without the use of a stool, had seasonings and salts and packets of mixtures made for easy-to-prepare Miso Soup, ingredients that he intuited had been left over since the passing of his grandma, Yoko, a year before; the middle shelf featured different sorts of breads, one of the bags containing one full hot dog bun and a half of another, which wasn’t enough to emit the scent that Nicky had been so acquainted with since babyhood; and the bottom shelf, which had one small bag of Circus Peanuts, a candy that he had eaten once and enjoyed zero. The fluorescent orange peanuts were in a transparent type of plastic, and stapled shut with a piece of red cardboard folder over on top that read “CIRCUS PEANUTS” with no discernible logo to signify who made it, or why. Nicky scoffed and threw his hands in the air, and back down again quickly, landing loudly on his thighs, as if to signify to nobody in particular that he was frustrated with this reward.

He stormed outside, the squeaky aluminum door slamming behind him, holding the bag of candy. Rod shouted, “Don’t slam the got damn door!” Nicky walked up to grandpa, responding, “I didn’t slam the goddamn d-”

Rod put one of his large hands on the side of Nicky’s neck, squeezing it tightly, cutting off part of his circulation, but not all of it. He smacked him lightly with the other hand, and said, “You don’t talk like that, Prancer. That’s the reindeer you and your dad wish you guys were, ain’t it? No Donner, no Comet. You wish you were Prancer, prancing around, doing whatever you want, fuckin’ up my grass.” The choking victim’s face turned red from a combination of the stranglehold plus some embarrassment. He let go of his grip and grabbed the bag of Circus Peanuts out from his grandson’s hand. “Ah, you found it. This is what you get in exchange for your work, instead of extra money that you have no business spending anywhere. What the hell does a ten-year-old need money for?”

“I’m eleven.”

“Well’n act like it.”

“Okay.”

“Okay, what?”

“Okay, sir?”

“Naw, you’nt need to say sir to me, I’m not a sergeant. Just don’t be a smart ass and we’ll be okay, you and me. But back to my question, which I’m gonna change to a statement, which is, you don’t got no business with money. You should be doing this work regardless of me having two legs, one leg, no legs, one arm, no brain. You listening? This is what I used to give your sensitive little dad, your useless, no-working, sensitive little prancing dad.”

Nicky didn’t believe his dad had ever liked Circus Peanuts, based on logic, the logic being that the general consensus was that they were objectively bad and tasted not good. “I don’t want them, I’d rather have money.”

“Well, sounds to me like you might just be walking back to the Prancers household with nothing but a sunburn and grassy-green shoes.” He had rolled up the newspaper again, without Nicky noticing, and struck him in the red shoulder several times, causing him to “Ow” with each smack. “Now you’re gonna eat one of these, and I’m gonna sit here and watch you enjoy it.”

Nick, after rustling with the difficult plastic for thirty seconds, opened the bag, and put one in his mouth. After three chews of the orange peanut, he made an ugly face, and dropped the orange ball of putty into his hand, but not before Rod started yelping at him, not entirely unlike he would do with his dog, like, “NO, NO, NO. AYE, STOP IT.” He smacked him in the back of the head six times with the newspaper, causing him to drop the Circus Peanut on the ground of the splinter-infested porch. “Got dammit, you never cease to piss me off anymore.” Nicky picked it up and tossed it into the trash can, with contempt for the trash can. He was growing tired of being beaten by his grandpa. He stayed near the trash can, out of reach from further pummeling by newspaper. Nicky, annoyed, asked wheelchair-bound Rod, “Why do you hate me so much?”

Rod put the newspaper on the white table, the corners of it rusting a little, and let out a little smirking “Hmph.” The subtle smile that he gave Nicky made him look younger. It was a look associated with sarcasm, a format of speech that he hadn’t witnessed his grandfather express before. Rod looked mischievous, a look that Nicky didn’t associate with elderly and old folks.

“That’s what you think, is it, boy? I hate’cha? No, no, that isn’t it. I don’t hate you, course not. You’re my son’s kid, I don’t hate you. But I want it to be clear, that just like my son, I think you got something in your brain that makes you unlikeable. You both seem to just be, as a whole, unlikeable, at least from where I sit. And you know as well as I do, I sit a whole hell of a lot these days.”

Nicky gave a look to express confusion, hoping for him to continue, if for no other reason than letting the pain from the sunburn smacks dissipate.

“Your dad thinks he knows everything. He thinks he’s special. And I can tell that you do too. And He isn’t gonna be the one to tell you this, but you aren’t. You aren’t special. You aren’t individually yourself. You aren’t unique. You aren’t whatever it is that he’s got loaded in your brain from that computer uh’ his. You are annoying and not unique, and that’s the way I look’it ya.”

Nicky’s mouth was a straight line. He felt belittled, but felt there was no way to appropriately react, besides to stand there, without probably getting hit with the weekly Tribune.

“You have a way of doing things, just like your dad, that drives me nuts, up the wall, crazy, do you hear me? When he told me he planned on having you come by and do some uh this stuff for me, I was hesitant. I’d just as well set my good leg on fire and go up in flames with this house than have you come and mow my grass in unsymmetrical lines. You soil my day with your general pissantry. I don’t know, I was going to make a trite point about how I don’t like you, but I love you, but thinking more about it, I’m not sure if I feel that way, either.

Nicky’s mouth a straight line.

Rod pulled a Circus Peanut out of the bag, and examined it, holding it between his thumb and index. “No, I don’t love you, either. I don’t feel any type of good way about’cha. Matter uh fact, I don’t even remember your name a lot of the time, and I couldn’t remember it until about halfway through your fucking up of my lawn. You’re undesirable, unwanted, not far off from the way you feel about this here peanut. Is there much nutritional value in this? No. Well, is there much value in you, Ricky?”

“It’s Ni-”

“Nicky, right. Well, what value do you have?”

“I don’t know, maybe none.”

“Okay, now you’re being a Debbie Downer, as your prancing mother used to call me. Come on, everything has some value, what do you got?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does this Circus Peanut have any kind of value that you can find?”

“No, probably not.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, boy. There’s several things to value in this here piece of candy.” He tossed it to Nicky, who thankfully caught it, else he be called a prancer by grandpa. “Now look at it, for a minute.” Nicky observed it between his fingers like how he observed Rod doing. It was slightly rubbery and very styrofoam-y. Malleable and fluorescent. “This isn’t an or’idnary peanut we have here, boy, you can see that, clear as day. Although this candy’s shaped like a peanut, it’s orange in color and has a banana flavor. You hear that? It’s an orange, banana-flavored peanut.”

Nicky took a smaller bite this time, chewing, trying to note the flavor. He took a moment before saying, with his mouth full, “I don’t taste the banana.” The insides of the peanut looked like foam, similar to remnants of pink stuff he found in the crawl space under the house.

Rod followed his lead, putting the whole thing in his mouth, chewing for a moment, before letting out a disgusted groan. “Ooooh”, he whined, disgusted, spitting the chewed-up remains back into the bag, for some reason, “I forgot how nasty as hell these were.”

“What, you don’t like them either?”

“Oh, hell no! Did I say I did, boy? No! That’s cause nobody does! Don’t ‘member a time when people ever liked these. Man who says this here is his favorite candy is not to be trusted.”

“So why the hell di-”

Rod picked up his trash-grabber thingie that he kept in the basket of his wheelchair and swung it into Nicky’s arm, hard. “Hey, watch that mouth. No, I got ‘em because I think there’s something to like about ‘em, even if it can be hard to figure out what that is. I don’t have to like the combination of all the things innit to appreciate the good variables themselves, don’tcha think?”

Nicky gave a confused face again, which warranted another strike, this time in the leg, from grandpa’s trash grabber thingie.

“Okay, son, so first off, there’s the orange color, which is the first thing you notice. Bright, neon orange, almost toxic looking. What do you think of when you see orange?

“I don’t know.”

“Ah, you don’t know! Well, see, when I think of the color orange, I think of orange juice. I think of vitamin C, I think of the sun setting. I also think of autumn, I think of leaves dying, I think about pumpkins. I like those things, Nicky. Don’t you? I like the color orange quite a bit, turns out. It’s a good color, Nicky, yeah?” He took out a full Circus Peanut and threw it at Nicky’s torso, playfully. Nicky’s mouth bent from it’s straightened position, turning into a little smile. “Yeah, it’s nice.”

“Got damn, well me too, I told you that. Hell, I’ll make the bold proclamation again, I like the color orange! I’ll say it all day!”

“I do too.”

Rod pulled out another peanut to hold in his hand.

“And the banana flavor, now I know what you said about it not tasting like banana, and I sure as shit do agree, but just for the sake of this conversation, let’s say the banana flavoring tastes just like one of them bananas you and your dad are so fond of carrying a bunch of in that fruit basket of yours. You bunch of fruits, anyway, so the banana flavor, you like bananas, don’t you, Nicky?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Why?”

“I like how they taste and they’re good for you.”

“Well hell, that’s about the reason that I’d say too. Not that I carry a dozen in my house like your prancing little house, but still, I like ‘em too. And you’re right, they’re good for you. Countless vitamins and minerals and all that stuff in the magazine articles your dad brings over for me to read, on account of you know how he worries about my health. And you know what, Nicky, between you and me, I read ‘em, and learned a couple things from it, and don’t tell him I said that,” He playfully struck him again with the thingie, “Or I’ll double the dose on this trash grabber against your damn head. Bananas’r good for digestion, good for building muscle, they relieve stress, and I got this all from them damn articles. Not to mention, they taste good. I can safely say, I like ‘em.”

Nicky, smile growing into a mischievous smirk, joked, “I wish I had a banana instead of these.”

“Now watch it, got dammit, lest you get your ass whipped up and down the street like I used to do with your dad.” He threw the peanut in his hand at Nicky, who had relaxed his shoulders a bit, feeling less tense. It hit him in the chest, and fell to the ground. Rod pulled another peanut out of the bag, the one that he had half-chewed moments before, covered in slobber, looking like a dried up piece of Silly Putty. He clutched it in his hand, hiding it from Nicky.

“Now, we went over the orange color and the banana flavor. Then there’s the peanut shape. You like peanuts?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“I know ya do, ‘cause we ate ‘em here and watched Bonanza together, long time ago. I like ‘em, myself. I don’t personally like them with the shell. I like them once I break that shell apart. I don’t like the shell itself, at all, but I do like the process of breaking each individual one out of their shell. I like the process, and it makes enjoying them more rewarding. Nicky realized he was making some sort of parable out of the shells. He remembered that at one point he was even smaller than he was now, and the would sit together, Rod on the couch, him sitting on the floor next to and kind of below him, sharing two bowls, one for shelled peanuts, and one for discarding of the shells. “I agree. I like ‘em too.”

“He agrees! Wonderful. Maybe I won’t have to beat you for the remainder of the day, after all, even while I eyeball my yard to see that you have faithlessly fucked it all up. God damn man, you’re worse at mowing this lawn than your grandma was, bless her heart. God damn! Looks like shit!”

Nicky laughed.

“Don’t laugh at that,” Rod said, laughing a little bit over his words himself. “Do you see what I’m saying about the Circus Peanuts, now?”

“Kind of, I think so?”

Rod sighed, and put his head in is hand, shaking it, “No.”

“You damn kids, you and your brother, the thickest skulls in the business, good Lord.”

“What did he do?”

“No, I’m not mad at you for being stupid, nor your brother. We’re all born stupid, I suppose. I just hope for your sake that you get less stupid soon.”

“I’m not stupid.”

“No, you are. You’re incredibly stupid. And to go back on what I said earlier, I do love you, actually, but it is very conditional, on account of you being my grandson. If you weren’t him, I wouldn’t love you at all. And I know you want me to do the whole ‘I don’t like you, but I love you’ thing, but you know what, turns out, I actually like you, too. I don’t like the overall person that you are in this moment, being ten, eleven, however old. My point is, I don’t like the overall you, you as a whole person. I used to when you were younger, when your entire self was just a cute little kid who would eat peanuts with me, and I would teach how to break them open right and we’d watch Bonanza together, because your parents would fight, oh like hell they’d fight, all the time, they would, and dad’d drop you off here so they could fight more.” He held the chewed-up peanut in his hand, still, unbeknownst to Nicky. “These days, you’re whiny, pouty, can’t get you to do a lick of work without making a fuss, can’t get you to enjoy any valuable time with me without a similar fuss. No work without fuss, no fun without fuss. You don’t like me any more than I like you, don’t you think?”

“I guess you’re right, yeah.” Nicky felt guilty and sad at his own admission for not liking his grandfather. He felt his head drop down, and put his hands in his pockets, with the exception of his thumbs. “I’m sorry.”

“You got no need to be sorry, boy, it’s mutual, and that’s OK if it’s mutual, as far as I see it, cause that means at some point we can make a mutual point back to liking each other again, so long as they don’t cut my other damn leg off .”

Nicky laughed one “Ha,” sounding more like a “Huh.”

“You’re like one of these Circus Peanuts, Nicky. You can say to me all the live-long day that you don’t like them, that they’re nasty, that nobody likes them. And that all may be true, regarding both the peanuts, and you. But you know what? I can find value in both of you. The Circus Peanuts, I figured them out, as far as value goes. There are things to like about the Circus Peanuts. Just because they’re dismissed as bad does not mean every single little part about them is bad. If you take a second, try to look at all the little parts that make up the whole thing, you may find that you then can enjoy the whole thing. Things ain’t as easy as good or bad, Nicky. Now, you may take a minute longer to crack, but I think I could find something about you that’s worthwhile for me, and for other people, to like.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah, it may take awhile, sure, but I think so. There are things about you that I’m sure people can muster the strength to like about you, things that they find interesting, things that are the true, raw you, even if they don’t like you at all at first. Hell, the ones that don’t like you are probably more apt to find the good things about you, and that’ll really grind their gears, I’ve found. You’re the exception here, of course, cause I don’t like you, and I can’t find anything about you I like, yet, but I think I’ll find something eventually. Once again, so long as they don’t cut nothing else off of me.”

“Well, what can I do to change that?”

“Two things, Nicky. First, don’t mow my lawn again until you mow the lawn at your own little prancing residence for a month straight. You hear that? Tell him to call me if he wants proof. I don’t want you here fuckin’ up my lawn again. I want it done right. Tell him to come mow it for me, and you mow his lawn. Once you get better at mowing your own lawn, you can come over here, and then you can mow my lawn.” Nicky didn’t like the idea of getting assigned two lawns a week instead of one, but Rod wasn’t one to argue with, especially with that trash grabber by his side.

“Okay, I can do that. What’s the other thing?”

“What?”

“What’s the other thing I can do to make you like me?”

“Oh, yeah. Hmmm.” His hand was still clutched with the chewed-up peanut. “I’ll throw this to you. If you catch it in your mouth, I’ll like ya.”