I already dealt with motherhood, after a fashion, so why not jump up one step on the old family tree?
One of the things I like about writing these super short pieces is how it allows me to engage in vigorous genre-hopping. This time, I put the supernatural and the weird aside, and just went for something I have a deep and abiding love for — crime. To be honest, it’s a little surprising that it took me eight stories to get to it.
The opening line came from Eevi Korhonen. It goes, “Until yesterday, my grandmother had never murdered anyone.”
Until yesterday, my grandmother had never murdered anyone. She’d done a lot of things during a long life; she’d been a thief, a getaway driver, and a con artist. She’d been a blackmailer and a gambler, a forger and a smuggler. Once, in the 70s, she ran a whorehouse for eight months, all the way to the ground. She had been on cocaine, then, full of bad ideas and worse decisions. She’d been to jail three times, and married twice. But she’d never killed anybody.
Anyway, that was all a long time ago. She was retired now.
And yet I and my sister were standing over the body in her kitchen in the middle of the night. The pool of blood was inches from my right sneaker. I felt a little sick. Even so, I was vaguely impressed. The dead man was huge, bodybuilder type. You wouldn’t think somebody in her 80s would have it in her to kill a giant like that. I said something along those lines, and grandmother scoffed. She was seated at the kitchen table. She waved her cigarette around.
“That’s why God gave us guns, kid,” she said. “I wasn’t going to fight him. I’m not stupid.”
Cloud was kneeling next to the body, inspecting it. She shouldn’t have been touching the body, but she didn’t seem to care. She looked up at grandmother. “What happened, Grandma?”
“He broke in. He threatened me. I shot him.”
Cloud nodded slowly, kept looking at the body. He was dressed in dark cargo pants, a dark hoodie. He was wearing gloves. She pulled something from the man’s hand. It looked like a length of wire. Cloud blew her hair out of her eyes, showed the wire to grandmother.
“Do you think we’ll ever find out what he wanted, Grandma?” she asked, like it was a joke.
Grandmother glanced at me and pursed her lips. “Oh, who knows. Probably on drugs. They’re all on drugs these days.” There was a briefcase on the floor, set against the kitchen cabinet, and grandmother bent down, picked it up, placed it at her feet under the table.
I stared at the blood, and felt another wave of sickness. I swallowed hard, and forced myself to look up. Grandmother was watching me closely. Judging me. I had to say something.
“Grandma, look at the size of him. Jesus. He could’ve broken you in two.”
“You don’t need muscles to pull a trigger. My hands’re a little shaky, though. I missed the first two shots.” She sighed. “I really liked the clock. Stole it in 1962, you know. That’s an antique.”
I turned to look behind myself. I’d always liked that clock, too. It was dead now, its intricate face shattered by a bullet. Time of death, 1:44. The cops were going to appreciate that little detail.
“Whew,” I said. “You’re lucky you woke up when he broke in.”
Grandmother shook her head.
“C’mon, Brad, you know better. Old people don’t sleep,” Cloud said, digging into the man’s pockets, pulling out a bulging wallet. “They just sit around and wait to die.”
“I’ve got bullets left,” grandmother said. She was cranky, now. “Keep running that mouth, girlie, we’ll see what happens.”
“You’ll kill another household item,” Cloud said, not paying attention. She took cash out of the wallet, a stack of crisp hundred dollar bills. She put them in her pocket.
“Hey,” I said. “That’s evidence.”
Cloud and grandmother exchanged a look. Cloud rolled her eyes. I’d been fighting it hard, but realization sunk in.
I had to ask. “Grandma, you called the cops, right?”
Grandmother smirked. Cloud smirked. The world suddenly seemed unstable. I had to sit down. I wasn’t built for this.
“Oh, God. I can’t be involved with this.”
“Buck up, kid,” grandmother said.
“Oh, God,” I said again. It came out as a moan. “Why did you even call me? You know I can’t… this isn’t me.”
There was a pregnant silence. Finally, grandmother sighed. “Because this huge son of a bitch weighs at least 350 pounds, and Cloud ain’t gonna be hauling his ass out of here by herself.”
“But he broke in. We could just call the police.”
“Get real. I can’t do time, kid. I’m too old for that.”
“But it’s self-defense,” I said, and realized I was whining.
“Hey, Brad. How about you stop getting involved in shit ain’t none of your business since you’re so eager to stay out of it?” Cloud said. “And grab his legs.”
So I did.
Somewhere in the desert, Cloud dug a grave with practiced ease. I fumbled with my shovel. It was too dark, the ground was all rocks, and my back ached. I didn’t complain.
“Buy you a beer after this,” she said, and punched my arm. My little sister.
The trunk of her car was full of bodybuilder and quicklime.
We sat on the hood of Cloud’s car, beers in hand. She’d already had two and she was going to drive me home, and I knew I wasn’t going to say a word about it.
“Why’d she call me?”
“You know why she called you.”
“Was this a test? Did I screw up?”
Cloud didn’t say anything.
“I mean, I’m not—”
“Hey.” Cloud patted my leg. “You’re gonna visit her like you always do, and she’s gonna bake you cookies like she always does, and that’s that.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say to that. I drank my beer. “What about you?” I finally asked.
Cloud put her arm around me and squeezed me close. I leaned my face into the top of her head, breathed in the smell of beer and cigarettes and blood and quicklime.
“What about you, Cloud?” I asked again, and she looked up at me, her face unreadable.
She drove me home, and I drowsed, staring at the streetlights going by.
Until yesterday, my grandmother had never murdered anyone. I was pretty sure.
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