by B J Bourg
part 1 of 2
I kicked the door open and warm air gushed from the house, carrying with it a smell worse than overdone road-kill in mid-summer. I cupped my hand over my face and jumped off the wooden porch, swallowing a mouthful of vomit in the process. I spat in the grass and wiped my hand on the dry siding that cloaked my grandpa’s ancient home.
A splinter shot into my palm. “Crap!” I pulled it with my teeth and blew it out my mouth. I leaned against the house. There could be only one explanation for that smell. My heart beat faster. Tears welled up in my eyes. I wiped them away and shook my head. “No, that’s not what it is. There’s some other explanation.”
I took a deep breath and held it. I set out on legs that shook, my face buried in the front of my shirt, where the smell of Obsession was still present from the morning’s spray. I peered over my collar and strained to penetrate the shadows of the dimly lit interior; first checking one room and then another, as the floor creaked beneath my hundred-ninety.
I flicked on the light switches in each room, but nothing happened. I shook my head. Grandpa never did like climbing up on a chair to change light bulbs. No matter. Not an inch of his place was alien to me.
When I made my way to the innermost depths of the shotgun house, beyond the reaches of the sun’s fiery rays and where absolute darkness reigned, I began to operate by feel. I pushed on the door to Grandpa’s room. Old hinges cried out as the door swung open. I knew I was getting closer, because the Obsession on my chest could no longer compete with the rancid odor that clung to the air.
I heard a faint gasping sound. A flicker of hope ignited a sense of joy within me and pushed me forward. “Grandpa? Where are you?”
I reached out in the darkness and my fingers brushed against something wet and cold. I wiped my fingers on my pant leg, dug my Motorola flip-top from my pocket, and pushed it open. I slowly lifted my right hand.
As my heart beat a thunderous tune in my chest, my eyes followed the green glow from my cell phone. My eyes locked onto the source of the gasping sound — a blackened, swollen body with blistered skin and gas bubbling from the nostrils. “Oh, my God!”
I bolted from the house and barely made it off the steps before the shrimp stew I’d eaten for lunch landed on the ground at my feet. I fell to my knees and wretched violently, tears mixing with the bile that flowed from my throat. They say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die. I must’ve been about to die, because mine flashed in front of me and every page had a picture of Grandpa.
* * *
“Classic case of suicide,” Detective Rich Harley assured me when he stepped off Grandpa’s porch.
“That’s impossible! My grandpa would never kill himself.”
“Son, I know this is tough. Suicide is a hard pill to swallow, but it’s what happened.”
“How can you tell?”
Detective Harley removed his wet latex gloves and tossed them to the ground. “Let’s see; first, the victim is locked inside a building and there’s no sign of forced entry, other than you having to kick the door open to discover the body. Second, there’s the self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head—”
“But his face... it’s... it’s so messed up. How can you tell it’s a self-inflicted gunshot wound?”
“Son, why’d you call me all the way out here to the middle of Crapville if you planned on investigating this case yourself? Hell, I could still be home eating my lunch, which is all lonely and getting cold by now.”
The sorrow I felt turned to anger. I began to say something smart but thought better. “I’m sorry, detective.” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “It’s just hard for me to think of life without him.”
“I understand.” He handed me two large Ziploc bags. One contained a brown leather wallet, a silver Zippo, and some loose change. The other contained a smudged paper with faint writings. “He’s wearing a wedding ring and some other ring. The coroner will have to cut those loose. The body’s too swollen—”
“I get it, sir. You can leave the rings on his body. He would want to be buried with those, especially the one he got while in the Army. It’s got his infantry emblem on it; never left his finger.” I held up the bag containing the smudged paper. “What’s this?”
“Suicide note; in your grandpa’s handwriting.” He raised his hand. “Course, that’s preliminarily speaking. We’ll know for sure once our handwriting expert has a chance to compare that there note with your grandpa’s writings we found in the house.”
I nodded my resignation. “How long do you think he’s been like that?”
“Exactly five days.”
“How can you be so sure?”
My face reddened when he pointed to the date at the top of the suicide note. My eyes burned when I realized it was addressed to me.
June 06, 2006
Dear Winston, I’m sorry you had to find me like this. I couldn’t take living without your granny any longer. The burden was too heavy for my tired heart to bear. Please see to it that my body is cremated and that my ashes are thrust out to sea off the beaches of Grand Isle, where I met your grandma, my only true love.
Your Grandpa, Teddy Guthrie
“A hell of a day to kill himself.”
“What do you mean?”
“Six, six, six; the Devil’s number.”
My mouth dropped open. “What?”
“The date on that note is the sixth day of the sixth month of ’06. That won’t happen again in a hundred years.”
“Excuse me?” I clinched my fist.
“Are you blonde under that brown hair? What I’m trying to tell—”
“I understand what you’re trying to say. I also understand you’re an inconsiderate prick who needs a good ass-whipping.”
The detective’s eyes narrowed. “Son, I’m going to let you get away with that comment. One more outburst and you’re going to jail. Now give me back the note.”
I handed the bag that contained the suicide letter to Detective Harley. “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be—”
“Forget it.” He held the note up to the sunlight. “What happened to your grandma?”
“She died when my dad was a kid.”
“Your grandpa never remarried?”
“Yeah, but Esther divorced him three years ago, after thirty years of marriage.”
“How old is she?”
“Knocking on seventy.”
“Jesus Christ! Who gets divorced at that age?”
“Apparently she does. Of course, she looks twenty years younger and she married some young, rich dude who used to be her boss.” I shook my head. “Grandpa wasn’t the same after that. The best part of him died when that bitch left.”
Detective Harley grunted. “Anything else you need from me?”
“I want to honor his wishes.”
“Not a problem. Here’s my card. Call if you need anything.” He walked to his car and then stopped, a thoughtful look scratched into his dry, weather-beaten mask. “I do have one question for you; how’d he know you’d be the one to find his body?”
I pondered that for a minute. “He knew I was coming. Besides, I’m the only one who visits him anymore.”
“Did you call him and tell him you were coming?”
“No, he called me. Told me he needed to talk. I said I wouldn’t be able to make it up here for about a week. He told me that was perfect.”
“What’d he want to talk about?”
I stared down at the bag of personal effects. “I guess we’ll never know.”
* * *
The next morning I set out to clean Grandpa’s house. Miller Lite beer cans and Marlboro Red cigarette butts were strewn everywhere. Dishes were piled high on the table and cabinets. Clothes covered the floors in every room. It was worse than last time I’d visited. I frowned at the picture of him and my dad that hung on his living room wall. “How could you stand to live like this?”
There was no response from the photograph, so I began pitching beer cans into a Glad garbage bag. They all bore that familiar dent I’d remembered seeing as a child. I smiled when I thought back to the first time I’d seen Grandpa pop the top on an aluminum can and twist the tab off. I’d climbed onto his lap and asked why.
“The tab grabs my moustache when I drink,” had been the explanation. He’d then proceeded to push a dent in the neck of the can just beneath the opening.
My young mind had been curious. “Why’d you do that? So your beard doesn’t get caught?”
Grandpa had laughed and shook his head. “That’s so I can catch the last drop. If I don’t put a dent in the can, it stays trapped inside.”
At five years old, I hadn’t gotten it. Now, it made perfect sense. That last drop was the best, and it always escaped me.
I shook my head. “I’m sure gonna miss you, old man.”
When the cans were out back in the trash, I rummaged through Grandpa’s desk drawers. After several minutes of shuffling papers, my cell phone rang. I pulled it from my pocket and recognized my dad’s number. “Hey, Pop, what’s up?”
“You okay, son?”
“I know how close you two were.”
I sat on the desktop and stared at the brown spot on the floor that marked the spot where Grandpa killed himself. “I feel guilty for not visiting more. Maybe if I’d come by every week—”
“Son, don’t beat yourself up. Your grandpa was a smart man; he knew you were busy.”
“I guess you’re right.” I sat silent for a few seconds.
“Did you contact Esther?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Well, she was married to him for thirty years.”
“To my way of thinking, she’s responsible for this. Had she never left him he would still be alive.”
“Winston, it could just be that he was missing Mom and wanted to be with her.”
I thought about that for a minute. “Maybe.”
“Look, I think we owe it to Esther to let her know what happened. If you want, I can do it.”
“No, you have to take care of Mom.” I sighed. “I’ll do it; just tell me where she lives.”
“Last I heard she moved to Thibodaux with her new husband. I don’t know the address.”
“What’s his name again?”
I snatched a pen from the desk and jotted the name on the back of my hand. “Got it.”
“When will you get back here?”
“I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
I smashed the red button on my phone and rummaged through Grandpa’s papers. By some stroke of luck, I found an envelope that was addressed to an Esther McKinley of 917 Gracie Lane. It had been shoved at the back of the bottom drawer. It was sealed and the outside of the envelope was faded. I flipped it over and found the dreaded return to sender stamp that must have pierced Grandpa’s heart like a javelin shot from a rocket launcher.
I exhaled a lungful of air and shoved the envelope in my back pocket. I disagreed with my dad on this one. We didn’t owe her crap. To my way of thinking, a cheating ex-wife’s entitlement ended the second she crossed that line into the land of the adulterous.
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by B J Bourg