The DNA test was a mistake. An email appeared in my inbox one Wednesday morning. I was at work with nothing to do. Facebook status updates, The Huffington Post, and The Onion didn’t seem to change much after I hit the refresh button for the seventh time, so when the email about tracing my genetic ancestry hit my inbox, I clicked on the link. I almost never click on the link. My email was cluttered with offers, deals, and promotions and I deleted them. The offer was simple. I’d pay a company a flat rate. They would send me a kit to collect samples of my DNA and I would mail it off. They would run some tests, and report my genetic history down to the village where my distant relatives farmed the land to prepare for the harsh European winters.
The day the test was scheduled to arrive was in the thick of winter. A company representative wanted to schedule a time to speak with me about the results of the test. I told him to come by after work. The fee I paid for the test didn’t seem like it merited an in-person visit. I was also pretty sure they would just send me a package with the results. But I didn’t really question it because I really didn’t remember what the paperwork said. When I got home, there was a squat pudgy man with glasses sitting in a black car. He stumbled out of his car before I was halfway to my door. He exuded a nervous energy.
“Mr. Ruttle.” He shoved his hand in my face. His face was red from the freezing air, and I could see his breath form steam. I was holding a messenger bag in one hand and an empty lunch container in the other. After an awkward moment of shifting my items in my hands to accommodate a handshake, he launched into some scientific chatter that went over my head. He produced some documents with graphs I couldn’t identify.
“Slow down,” I said. “Come inside and we can talk.”
I let him into my small nine hundred square foot house. The living room consisted of two mismatched couches I found on the roadside with the words “free” taped to the side, a coffee table cluttered with empty beer bottles and fast food wrappers, and a Craigslist purchased entertainment center. The TV was the old square variety that weighed a ton. The game station was a first generation Xbox that I took with me from my parents’ house. I never upgraded because the games were insanely cheap for the old systems. Most used game stores tried hard to get rid of the old games. The clerks would save the choice ones for me. I swept the coffee table clear in one swoop, and all the trash crashed into a bag I set down to collect the trash.
“You want a beer?” I said as I dragged the trash bag into the tiny kitchen. My ex-girlfriend used to complain about the size of the kitchen, and she always fantasized about what life would be like with a larger kitchen. I assumed she got her larger kitchen because I hadn’t talked to her in a year. The fridge had beer, leftovers, and condiments. I pulled two bottles from the twelve-pack and popped the tops. I tossed the caps into a small pile that had accumulated on the countertop.
“No thank you,” the man said as I wandered back into the living room with the beers.
“More for me,” I said and set one on the coffee table and sipped from the other. “Now, let’s start with your name.”
“Oh,” the man seemed taken aback, “Doctor Leonard Schuasenburg but you may call me Len.”
“Call me Jed,” I informed him. My name was technically Earl James Ray Ruttle III but most people called me Jed. It was a nickname from high school that seemed to stick. The only person who refused to call me Jed was my mother and my ex-girlfriend. They insisted on James because my father was the Earl of the family. We had come from a long line of Iowa farmers until the corn conglomerates swept into the country buying up farms. My father used the money from the farm to buy out a hardware store in Des Moines. After my father died, my mom closed the store. Large chain stores killed the business years back but father refused to be run out of a second business. What money was left from the business bought my mom a tiny condo, and she worked part time as an educational assistant. My older brother was practicing law in Boston, and my older sister was off in some other country living in a hut and working for the Peace Corp. That left me to stay in Des Moines to look after my mom.
“Mr. Rut… Jed.” Leonard launched into an explanation. He pulled out the same confusing paperwork that he tried to shove in my face earlier. It didn’t make sense then and certainly didn’t make sense now. “The autosomal and mitochondrial test both…”
“Whoa! Whoa! Doc, in English.”
“I am speaking English.”
“You are your mother’s grandfather.”