Lena’s Never Had a Boyfriend

By Sophie Panzer

My grandfather loved giving out money. It didn’t matter if you were a relative or a telemarketer trying to scam him – if you asked, he gave. At every family gathering he slipped bills into hands and purses. Do you have enough cash? Go get my wallet and take a twenty.

He was a Depression baby who told stories about eating dandelions and Jell-O for dinner. As a child he had no ambition beyond earning enough to ensure his family would never have to endure the same deprivation. He made it big in advertising and retired a multi-millionaire.

The only thing he liked better than giving out money was telling me how important it was that I find a good man, someone I could build a future with. No one knows true happiness until they have children and grandchildren, Lena. His house was plastered with photos of his progeny. We beamed down from the walls and jostled for space on the refrigerator.

I didn’t think this would be a problem until I saw Katie Dominic in her prom dress and felt my world stop spinning.

My mother said I couldn’t tell him. He won’t understand. You’ll break his heart. I thought of how he had paid for braces and college, of all the checks he had slipped into birthday cards, and felt a surge of guilt. I said nothing.

When he got dementia he began saying things over and over again. Things like Did we get the Times today? and Lena’s never had a boyfriend. As if it was a puzzle he just couldn’t solve.

When he became bedridden, my grandmother had to go to the bank every few days because he kept trying to give. We would sit by his hospice bed and he would ask Do you need cash? Do you need cash? and try to press money into our hands three or four times in an hour.

After he died I helped my mother clean out his office and we found a box overflowing with receipts for charitable donations. I was about to throw it away when I saw one slip emblazoned with a rainbow. It was for a gift he had made to a nonprofit that advocated for gay rights.

There was a memo line at the bottom for donors to leave a message or dedication. My grandfather had written simply, For Lena.

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Sophie Panzer is the author of the chapbooks Survive July (Red Bird Chapbooks 2019), Mothers of the Apocalypse (Ethel Press 2019) and Bone Church (dancing girl press 2020). Her fiction has been long listed for Wigleaf Top 50 and nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Microfiction. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in New World Writing, Heavy Feather Review, MAYDAY, The Lumiere Review, Club Plum Literary Journal, Whale Road Review, The Hellebore, and others. She lives in Philadelphia.

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