What Grandma Done
by Tim Simmons
“‘Another helpin’?’ she asked me, digging a ladle into the mashed potatoes.
“‘I’ve had a plenty already. Can’t hold another bite,’ I told her and pushed my plate away.
“‘Well, why don’t you go on to bed and I’ll take care of the kitchen,” she said, leaning over to pick up my plate.
“‘Bed? It’s only seven o’clock. I ain’t near sleepy yet,” I said. “I believe I’ll...
“I paused because while she was a-leanin’ over, a right odd piece of jewelry fell out into view, danglin’ from her neck just above the plate of fried chicken.
“‘Say, Ma, that’s a mighty pretty necklace,’ I told her. It looked sort of white. Triangle shaped, too. Seemed to be made from three separate pieces tied together in a triangle shape.
“For some reason, it reminded me of them African folk with bones for jewelry or maybe bamboo sticks. Oddest thing I ever saw. It was hangin’ from a thin gold necklace. I ain’t never saw either one before. I reckoned she might’ve picked it up at the flea market. ‘Is that one your boyfriend gave you?’ I asked, just tryin’ to tease her a bit.
“Her face crinkled up and you’d ’a swore I slapped her. She whipped her hands up over her chest, like she was a-tryin’ to hide that necklace and rushed into the kitchen. I wondered if I’d struck upon the truth at that point. See, she’d been actin’ awful strange in the past few weeks. She was gettin’ up late at night but I didn’t think much of it. Case of the heartburn, I reckoned.
“Later that night, I woke up just a-sweatin’. I remember havin’ a bad dream but I can’t recall much about it. I believe it must have been the wind that woke me up ’cause it was just a-blowin’ like crazy outside. A thunderstorm a-brewin’. I turned my head and sure enough — she was gone!
“I laid there and listened for a spell, wonderin’ what time it was. The wind finally seemed to calm down. But my mind didn’t.
“Now a man can get plumb jealous if he ’spects his wife ain’t bein’ true. All these years... and now she done found herself a boyfriend? It didn’t seem right. But I knew she’d never admit it — much less say who. So I aimed to find out for myself.
“That next night, I pretended to fall asleep. Downright creepy layin’ there knowin’ she was awake, just waitin’ till she thought I’d dozed off so she could sneak out in the dark of night and meet her little loverboy. I just laid there all stiff-like. My thoughts just a-racin’. Was it Ronnie? Or maybe it was old Cletis. God, not Cletis! What could she see in him?
“Right then I felt the bed a-shiftin’. She was gettin’ up real slow-like, tryin’ not to wake me. I heard light shufflin’ ’round the bed. Then the door knob. Now a light creakin’ sound as she pulled open the door. I waited for a spell then opened my eyes. It was dark, all right, but I could see the room was empty. I flung them covers off and put my slippers on. Then I shuffled over to the door.
“If she saw me I’d just tell her I had the heartburn somethin’ fierce. I reached for the doorknob but I jerked my hand back. I was afraid to touch it. I was afraid she’d be a-turnin’ it from the other side. ‘No,’ I said to myself, ‘she’s probably outside by now. Outside with him.’ I opened the door.
“No lights on. I figured she wouldn’t be crazy enough to invite him inside the house and risk getting’ caught. So I went like normal to the kitchen, peeking back easy-like to see if maybe they was a-smoochin’ in the den, but it was empty. I ran over to the kitchen door and peeked through the curtains.
“There! Almost to the gate of the old barn... A flashlight pointin’ this way and that. It was her, all right. In nothin’ but her nightgown. I had to bite my lip to keep from going crazy with the rage. I swear I was tempted to fetch my gun, but I decided to bide my time.
“So, it’s out in the old barn, is it? I saw her open the gate and walk toward the barn but the workshop blocked my view of the barn from where I was a-standin’.
“Seemed like an hour I stood there watchin’. I kept on watchin’ and wondered what could be keepin’ her. How long does it take to smooch a little and... I threw the curtain down and stomped over to the corner where I keep my 12-gauge. I reached down and grabbed the barrel. ‘No,’ I says to myself. ‘If I’m gonna do that I wanna be sure I catch the scoundrel in the act.’ I ran back over to the door and peeked out again.
“Sweet Jesus! She was comin’ back and almost to the screen door! I thought I saw her look up right before I eased the curtains to. I went back to the bedroom, shut the door and slipped into bed as quick as I could. Just as I was pullin’ the covers up, I heard the doorknob a-turnin’.
“I clamped my eyes shut and tried to act asleep but I just knew she could hear my heart poundin’ away ninety to nothin’. With my eyes squeezed shut I heard her. Shufflin’ about. Breathin’ hard. Around the bed. Just shufflin’ and puffin’ like she was out of breath. Oh, I wanted to get up right then and end it.
“Then she finally sat down on the bed real slow-like. Just sat there for a long time. Then she got under the covers and a chill shot through me, making me jump. I don’t reckon I got any sleep that night.
“The next mornin’ at breakfast, I tried to act normal, like nothin’ at all happened.
“‘You look plumb wore out,’ she said.
“I chewed a bite of scrambled egg. ‘Couldn’t sleep,’ I told her. ‘Just a flare-up of the heartburn.’ I was afraid to look her in the eyes. I tried to glance up real normal-like after she looked down at her plate. Was wonderin’ if she still had on that damn necklace. No. She done took it off. Didn’t want me a-seein’ it, I reckon. And to be honest, I didn’t want to see it noways. I knew what was goin’ on. Didn’t need no reminder.
“‘I been havin’ the heartburn myself, lately,” she said and bit into a crunchy piece of bacon.
“Is that a fact? I felt like sayin’. And I s’pose you keep the Rolaids out in the barn?
* * *
Grandpa looked over at Hannah as if snapping out of a daydream. “God knows I had a good mind to just come out and tell her I knew all about it. But then, I was a mite too jealous to do that.”
He moved closer to the stall where Grandma lay and placed a hand on the top rail. “I wanted to know who it was. Had to find out the truth. So I couldn’t let on that I knew anything. If she was a-cheatin’ on me, how could I believe what she told me anyhow? It was all I could think about all day. But after a time, I came up with a little plan on how I could find out.”
* * *
“‘I’ve a good mind to go on to bed, Ma,’ I said, while seeming to read the newspaper.
“She was watching the TV from the couch and without even lookin’ over at me, she said, ‘Well, you go on to bed. I’ll be there directly.’
“So, I got up from my chair, tossed the paper on the dining table and headed for the bedroom. My plan was right simple. Make her think I was in bed asleep but the truth of it is, I’d be out in the old barn. Waitin’ fer the two of ’em to show up.
“I grabbed an old blanket from the closet, rolled it up and put it under the covers. In the dark she’d never tell the difference. Now, the hard part would be to sneak back out without her a seein’ me. With that TV a-blarin’, I figured I wouldn’t have no problem. And if she caught me in the house, it’s just the heartburn a-flarin’ up, I’d tell her.
“So I eased the door open and tiptoed my way to the hall where I leaned just far enough into the dinin’ room to see her sittin’ there on the couch. Now, I knew better than to be gawkin’ at her while I tiptoed around or else she’d know I was up to somethin’. So, I just walked into the dinin’ room and on into the kitchen.
“I turned to see if she was lookin’ my way. No. Still watchin’ the TV. So I grabbed my shotgun and eased out the kitchen door. I made sure to shut the door real easy like and then headed out to the barn with my shotgun ready. The night was warm but a chill hit me like when you think somethin’s behind you. I turned and looked but didn’t see nothin’. When I finally got to the barn, I stood at the doors a thinkin’.
“I went over in my head how it was all gonna play out. I’d wait there hidin’ in the dark, hidin’ in one of them stalls until I seen the two of ’em. Wait till I knew fer sure they was romantically involved. If I seen him kiss her, that’d be all the proof I needed. I’d jump out quick-like, before they had a chance to make sense of it. Wouldn’t care if it was Cletis — or even the preacher for that matter — I’d fill that scoundrel full of lead. Then I’d see what to make of it. Whether to finish the job.
“I dragged open the barn door and closed it behind me. It was so dark I couldn’t see a hand in front of my face. I had to feel my way to one of them stalls at the very back of the barn. I just waited, listening and watching for light.
“And I kept waitin’. Seemed like hours. Couldn’t crouch down because of the rheumatis’ in my knees so I just hid there in the dark with my back up against the back of that stall and the butt of my shotgun restin’ on the ground, cold steel in my achin’ hands... and my heart... my heart poundin’ too fast and hard for an old man of my age.
“Then a thought come to me in that black silence. What if he ain’t plannin’ to show up for another three or four hours? What if they wasn’t plannin’ to meet tonight at all? I began to feel right silly thinkin’ ’bout me and my shotgun just waitin’ all night in the blackness of that old barn.
“Right then, I heard a creakin’ sound at the other end of the barn. They was a-comin’! My heart began a-poundin’ somethin’ fierce. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a spell. When I opened them again, dim light was shinin’ down the middle of the barn. I couldn’t hardly contain myself. I wanted to jump out of that stall and get right to the bottom of it. But I waited. I had to hear it. Had to see it for myself.
“A single flashlight. Comin’ closer. But there weren’t no talkin’ far as I could tell. But then my hearin’ wasn’t what it used to be. Then I thought I heard footsteps. It could have been footsteps on the ground or maybe I was just imaginin’ things. But one thing was sure. That light was getting’ closer. It started bouncin’ around in my direction so I crouched down as far as I could to be sure my head wasn’t pokin’ up.
“I got worried I wouldn’t be able to hear if they was a-smoochin’ and talkin’ sweet to each other. The light got brighter. Oh God, they was comin’ my way! The light flashed around and came to rest in the stall right beside me!
“I heard somethin’ swish sort a like a match being struck and then a wooden clunkin’ sound. Then a click and the light went dim. It just stayed dim like that. But I noticed it looked like it was flickering now. They’d lit a candle! Now ain’t that romantic?
“But why couldn’t I hear any talkin’? Who was it? Why didn’t they say nothin’? Now that I think on it, I didn’t hear any smoochin’ either. I got real scared then. Maybe I’d just have to jump ’em. Whip right around into that stall and catch ’em both off guard. I wondered how romantic he’d think a double barrel shotgun pokin’ his gut would be. I started to take a real gentle step away from the wall when a sound stopped me cold.
“It ain’t somethin’ I can even really describe. It was Ma, all right. She was talkin’. But she weren’t sayin’ no words I’d ever heard of. It was somethin’ mighty strange — like some foreign language. So... he done taught her some of that fancy, romantic French language, I thought to myself. I reckon that rules out Cletis.
“It went on for some time and I thought I heard paper sounds, rustling sounds, like maybe she was turnin’ the pages of a book. Now don’t that beat all? I thought. He went and bought her one of them books what to learn French with! She was comin’ out to the barn to practice up so to impress him the next time they met up, I reckoned. My anger was a-flarin’ up and I felt weak all of a sudden.
“Then she started speakin’ where I could tell what she was sayin’. But she was mumblin’ real soft-like and with my hearin’ what it was, I couldn’t make out but some of it. Somethin’ like, ‘Everythin’ comin’ into place... Wait for the right time... Can’t rush it...’
“That’s when I thought maybe they were plannin’ on runnin’ off together, but then my heart nearly quit beatin’. That ain’t all they was a-plannin’. They was a-plannin’ to get me outta the picture so they could get hitched proper!
“Cold sweat commenced to drippin’ down my neck. I stared up into blackness, strainin’ to hear anything else she might be a-sayin’.
“Then the oddest thing happened. I could have swore I saw a faint green glow start lightin’ up that stall for a time. But as I turned my head to get a better look, the flashlight clicked on again. I watched the beam leave the stall and trail off down toward the barn doors. I sneaked a look and when I poked my head out of that stall, all I saw was Ma openin’ the door and leavin’.
“The stall was still lit up from that candle. She forgot to put it out. Now that my eyes had adjusted some, I took a peek through the cracks in the planks and saw a table with some books on it. Well, let’s just have ourselves a look in that stall, I says to myself. So, I walked around the corner and went in.
“There weren’t much light but I could see a large book lying open on the table. Weren’t like no book I ever saw. It looked right ancient. Pages were yellow and bumpy, with fancy designs on the corners of each page. Took up most of the table and there to the right was another book. It was smaller than the other. Lots of strange lookin’ knickknacks was on that table. And that candle was a quiverin’ and castin’ odd shadows that gave me a sudden shiver.
“I think havin’ that dark empty barn at my back was makin’ me right nervous. I kept lookin’ back to be sure no one was a-sneakin’ up behind me.
“I bent down to see if I could read what was in that big book but I couldn’t make out anything. It looked like chicken scratchin’ to me. I fought off the urge to just rip out the pages but I figured I needed to keep my cool and come to the bottom of this li’l mystery. I reached over and picked up the other book. Turned to the first page and started to read.
Copyright © 2013 by Tim Simmons