Emily set the spoon down on a paper towel that she’d neatly folded into quarters and placed on the counter. She turned slightly, and said over her shoulder, “Tea’s ready.”
The old woman sat at the kitchen table, leaning slightly to the left with her arm propped on the walker that stood next to her chair. “Lovely. Add a good sized dollop of that Jameson’s.”
“Gran!” Emily feigned astonishment. “It’s barely even 10 a.m.!”
“Fuck that. It’s Ireland somewhere, and I may need a little liquid courage to tell you what I’m about to tell you. Besides, I’m ninety-goddamned-one. I think I’ve earned the right to drink whenever I want to in whatever little time I have left.”
“That you have, Gran.” Emily couldn’t help but smile. The woman was her hero, no question about it, no challengers anywhere in sight. She tucked the bottle of whisky under her left arm, then picked up the two mugs and brought them to the table. Sitting down across from her grandmother, she uncapped the whisky and poured in a hearty shot. When Gran winked at her, she then made a great show of pouring an equal amount of it in her own mug. Gran smiled her pleasure and nodded at the woman who’d once been the tiny baby she’d crooned to sleep. It seemed like yesterday. It seemed like a home movie that had belonged to someone else. Ninety-goddamned-one years old had a way of doing that to memories though.
The two sipped in relative silence, punctuated only by the necessity of smacking their lips and letting out an “Ahh” as the whisky hit them with its heat. Finally Gran slapped her hand on the table and said, “Nuh! Enough procrastination. I promised to tell you the story, so tell you I will. Keep in mind, you‘re the only living soul in this family to have heard it. The only other person who ever knew what happened was your Great Uncle Jack, and his part died with him back in ‘95, angels and roosters pr‘tect his soul.”
“You have my word, Gran,” Emily replied. “All I know is something happened back in ‘66. Mom remembers spending a week with Grandpa Jim and Uncle Jack’s parents, something she claims never happened other than that one time. She just remembers a week of being told to sit up straight, eat her vegetables, wipe her feet, and keep quiet.”
“I’m glad that’s all she remembers,” said Gran. “She was my eldest, but at twelve years old, she didn’t need to know anything about what happened.” Gran paused and stared into her mug for a minute, collecting and sorting memories and bits of the story. She took another long pull from the mug before she continued. “Yup. She was twelve, your Uncle Ted was ten, your Aunt Annie was nine, and Uncle Ray was seven. By then we were living on Lake Shore Drive. Your Grandpa was working the fishing boats. He’d be gone for weeks on end, then home for maybe a week before heading out again. Those weeks he’d spend resting, drinking, bribing the kids to go to sleep early so he could have at me.” This she said with a knowing smirk. Seeing Emily blush, she continued, “Oh-ho-ho… you kids don’t think you wrote the book on having fun in the sack, do you? He was a handsome, strapping man, and we were both blessed with healthy libidos.”
Gran let a wistful silence drop between them for a minute then, almost as if to herself, “What’s it been? Twenty seven years? I still miss the man every day. I miss his grin, and I miss the way his massive hand would cup the back of my neck when we kissed.” Gran sighed.
Emily shifted in her chair. She wasn’t uncomfortable with this intimacy. In fact, she was glad to hear that her grandmother had had such a wonderful love life. However, she was more than a little anxious to hear The Story. She watched Gran carefully. She didn’t want to tire her. Gran must have sensed Emily’s slight disquiet. She waved her hand in the air next to her face, as if brushing away old cobwebs.
“Yes. Lake Shore Drive. 1966. Your Grandpa had just left on another fishing trip after having been home for a week. I dropped the kids off at school and went on to do my errands - the grocery store, the butcher, the cleaners. I got back to the house and a fella, name of Jerry was waiting by the garage. That was no big deal. Your Grandpa was gone so often that he had hired Jerry on a few occasions to fix things in the house that he didn’t have time for. I figured he must have called him to do some odd job and forgotten to tell me. I opened the garage door and he offered to help me carry in the groceries. I was happy to let him help. Once everything was in, I offered him coffee and some blueberry muffins I’d made that morning. He thanked me but said no. He seemed uncomfortable being in the house. I tried to set him at ease and asked if Jim had called him to fix something. That seemed to make him even more uncomfortable and he didn‘t answer right away. I don’t know why my hackles weren’t up - I guess I was just too preoccupied with what I needed to get done that day. It wasn’t until I felt his knuckles on the side of my head, throwing me to the ground, that I realized what… what was…”
Gran paused. Raising a wrinkly, leathered hand to her equally wrinkled face, she scrubbed at it as if trying to remove decades of filth. Emily let out a shuddery sigh and said, “Gran, you don’t have to…” But Gran, eyes still closed, raised her hand in the universal sign for stop. Emily clamped her lips shut with an audible noise that sounded like she was trying to swallow the word hub.
Gran looked up at her, managed a slight smile, and said, “It’ll be better once it’s out. You’ll see. But creepin’ Jesus in the dark, child! Pour me another shot of that Irish Joy Juice, willya?” Emily obliged and helped herself to the same. Gran took a sip, grimaced a little, and then grinned. “How do you kids say it… that’s some good shit!” They both laughed until Gran once again waved her hand in the air as if clearing away cobwebs.
“Back in those days, women didn’t talk about rape. It was still seen by most folks as something shameful that happened because women somehow asked for it. I remember, when the door slammed and I knew he was gone, I wept. I wept because I was so glad to still be alive. The whole time I kept thinking, ‘I have kids. I can’t leave my kids.’ And I think that maybe saved me. It called on something steely and strong in me. I don’t know how long I lay there on the floor, but eventually I sat up. I was in rough shape - he’d hurt me pretty badly. If he hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have called anyone. As it was, the only person I could think to call was Uncle Jack. He was still with the sheriff’s department then. I didn’t even have to tell him what happened, or to come right away. He knew when he heard my voice that it was bad. He showed up ten minutes later, said he’d left the lights and sirens blazing until he got into the neighborhood.
I must have looked pretty bad. Jack took care of everything. Everything. He cleaned me up like I was a little baby. Held me like a little baby when I fell apart sobbing. He cleaned the house and put away the groceries I’d brought in. He picked up the kids from school and brought them over to his folks house. All he told the folks was that I’d come down with a late-in-life case of the measles and the doctor said to keep the kids away for a week until they ran their course. Nobody questioned it. He came over every day and fed me. But, hell’s bells, wasn’t he relentless about asking me what happened and who did it."
After a couple of days I finally broke down and told him. It wasn’t that I was trying to protect that piece of shit in any way. I think it was that I just couldn’t bring myself to speak his name. The next day when Jack came by, I was sitting in the old rocker. He came in, took my hands and got down on his knees like he was going to propose. All he said was, ‘The cause of your pain is no longer an issue.’ I must have seemed a little confused because he gave me that look that you give a child when you’re trying to tell them something for their own benefit. He tried again, ‘You don’t need to worry. Everything’s been taken care of. Everything. Understand?’”
I understood. Back in those days Everett was just a little nothing town. Not much to it at all. It would have been easy to “lose” someone on one of the nearby old logging trails. Easy to lose them in such a way as they’d never be heard from again. I have a hunch that Jack and some of the other deputies took Jerry for a hike in the woods and… he simply got lost is all.”
Here Gran leveled Emily with her classic Get This Straight look and continued, “A little more than eight months later your Uncle Tommy was born. No. I know what you’re thinking. But, no. Your Grandpa wasn’t the father. I always knew almost right away when I was pregnant, and I know I wasn’t pregnant when Jim went back out to sea. I know when it happened. But I never told your Grandpa. I never told anyone. And Jack only knew his side of things. He might have suspected, but obviously, he was a beautifully discrete man.”
When Tommy was born, I doted on him. I know everyone thought it was because he was the baby of the family, or that I loved him more, or some such nonsense. It wasn’t that at all. If I gave him more of myself than I did to my other kids, it was because… well… I just felt like a child who’d been spawned in such evil as all that needed something extra to carry him through this life. I wasn’t about to let the horror of one morning ruin the life of an innocent.”
“There you have it, Lovely Girl. The Story. Now I guess I don’t have any secrets at all to take with me to the grave!” Gran chuckled. She sat up straight and put the mug to her lips and took in the remaining whisky in one big gulp, then sucked air in through her teeth before she let out a forced breath.
Emily said nothing for many moments. She sat looking across the table at the old woman. She could see the wrinkles shift slightly, as if a veil, and she saw the strong, energetic, beautiful young woman that her grandmother had once been. She saw the fierce determination flash in her eyes, and the humor, always the humor. Gran raised an eyebrow at her as if to ask, “What have you to say to all this?” Emily pondered the many things she could say right now. She could say that she was honored to have been the one to whom the story was told, that she thought her grandmother was an amazing human being, that she felt blessed to have come from such good stock. A million things to say ran through her mind at a frenetic speed. What she managed to get out, through a half-choked sob, was, “I want to grow up to be just like you!”
Gran laughed. Gran laughed so long and hard that it sent her into a coughing fit. She wiped at her eyes with a crumpled napkin and took a few deep breaths. “Ohhhh. Hooo. Lord love a duck, Emily. I do believe you’re already there.” She reached across the table and took Emily’s right arm by the wrist. “Everything you’ve ever needed, everything you need, is right here,” she brought Emily’s hand up and made her touch her own head. “And right here.” She placed Emily’s hand over her heart before letting go of her wrist. “Believe me, Honey. It’s all there. Everything else is just the business of life.”
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: Lake Shore Drive, 1966. I gave Jester Queen this prompt: All it needs is a little elbow grease.