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Molly and the Geezer
Molly and the Geezer
and the Death of Grandma Claire
A joyful look at the highest of human values: greed, double-crossing, poor parenting, love, spite, and come-uppance!!
Copyright 2012 Michael Spooner
All rights reserved. Feel free to share a link to these pages,
but do not copy the text, print, or re-post it on any other
site, personal or public.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters herein
to persons living or deceased is purely coincidental.
If it weren’t for Grandma Claire, obviously, Molly and
Rhinehart wouldn’t have anything to do with each other. Why would they? Molly’s
a kid. Rhinehart is a geezer. That doesn’t go.
Molly is busy with friends and school, and Rhinehart is like
an old piece of furniture in Molly’s life. Old and in the way, although
sometimes useful for standing on.
If Molly were to think about it at all, she would say that
Rhinehart is ancient, weird, smells like a farm, has ear hair and a neck made
entirely of turkey skin. He’s a classic. He looks like that old guy on the
evening news, but with warts and a ponytail. And eyebrow dandruff. Any of these
traits would disqualify him from American Idol and likewise from Molly’s top-five list. There isn’t a ninth-grade girl
in Henderson Falls, Minnesota, who would name him among her faves. Molly only
tolerates Rhinehart because Grandma Claire is sweet on him. Otherwise, it’s
understood that Molly—like most people—finds Rhinehart crusty,
cantankerous, overly cautious, and bossy.
Still, Rhinehart does surprise Molly once in awhile. He knows
stuff, let’s say. He helps her out with
some great scams, and he has never mentioned her dark skin or that she isn’t
Grandma Claire’s real
granddaughter—both of which Grandma Claire’s adult children point out all
So, don’t think she hates him. Sometimes, Molly even feels a
little sorry for Rhinehart, because Grandma Claire decided years ago not to
marry him. At the same time, Molly fervently thanks her lucky stars for this.
Imagine being related to a guy like Rhinehart.
For his part, Rhinehart sees himself as a mature and
sensible person, and he has sagely understood from the start that Molly was
going to be under foot for a while—and there would be nothing he could do
about it. You don’t change Grandma Claire’s mind. Rhinehart knew this all
along, and he wished Molly no real harm. In spite of how he loved to trick and
infuriate her, Rhinehart truly wanted everything to go just peachy for Molly.
Because that was the only way that she would ever grow up and go away, and his
life could get back to how it was when he and Claire were a little younger.
Rhinehart is fully aware, though he would never say this out loud, that even
after fifty years, he is still fond of the old bat—Grandma Claire, that
is—and he’d like to have her all to himself again.
But his childhood sweetheart is one thing; Molly is another.
No one ever accused Rhinehart of being fond of teenagers—especially
active, noisy, playful, drama queens like Molly—and he thanks his lucky
stars that Claire never put it in her will that he should be Molly’s guardian.
So it’s complicated.
The main thing to know here at the beginning is that Molly
is an orphan. This is nobody’s fault—least of all hers. Sometimes,
becoming an orphan just happens. Sometimes, there’s a tornado, and your parents
are taken, and you move in with someone named Grandma Claire in an old farmhouse
outside of Henderson Falls, Minnesota (otherwise known as the armpit of the
world). Being an orphan is nothing to laugh about, but it doesn’t make you a
tragic heroine, either—obsessed with your own fate. You keep on going.
You turn two years old without your parents, and then you turn four and eight
and twelve, and you just keep going. And while you’re doing that—tending
to business, doing your best to grow up without your parents in a weird little
town—other people are making decisions for you. And that’s fine. That
works. You can wait. But somehow it’s still a huge surprise when you don’t have
any vote in the biggest decision of your life. Not a good surprise, either.
For Molly, this isn’t having no vote as in Grandma Claire
talking with her teachers, checking her homework, making her brush and floss,
put out the recycling, and so on. That’s just normal family stuff, and Molly
really sort of likes it anyhow, because Grandma Claire is fun and nice and even
silly in a wrinkly, perfumy, old lady way, and it makes Molly happy to make
Grandma Claire happy. This is different. This is Molly having no vote about
what happens to Molly when Grandma Claire passes away.
Because the thing we don’t think about very often is that
grandmothers (and foster grandmothers) don’t last forever. Grandma Claire got
sick last year. At first, it wasn’t too bad, but then pretty soon it was. They
took her to The Cities for treatment, and after about a million tests, the
doctors said there was actually nothing they could do. It was that simple.
Molly and Rhinehart were both used to being in control,
keeping the world working for Grandma Claire, each in their own ways. Molly was
a problem solver; Molly talked excitedly through things; she remembered things
exactly; she had strong feelings. Rhinehart could fix or build or lift or find
or prevent anything—especially prevent. Molly was the cheerful optimist,
a fountain of wonderful big ideas. Rhinehart lived a safe and skeptical life,
and carried a wisdom born of bitter, bitter experience.
Not that they worked together, exactly. In fact, they argued
about most things (Molly and Rhinehart could argue at the drop of a hat—anyone’s
hat). But the point is they were individually used to making things work for
Grandma Claire, and they were good at it.
So it’s really no surprise that neither Molly nor Rhinehart
could accept the simple fact that neither of them could fix this problem.
Grandma Claire was about to leave them. It was the one thing that Molly and
Rhinehart couldn’t argue about, couldn’t even talk about. They—and
everyone else in Henderson Falls—knew it wouldn’t be long.
She had plenty of good days, when the cough subsided long
enough to let her rest on the sofa, watching TV with her feet on the coffee
table. But the cancer specialist over in The Cities made it clear that there
wasn’t too much time left—a year at most.
Molly and Rhinehart both hated the hospital, though they
could see that the doctor was doing her best. She was always ordering one more
test or trying one more medication. There was medication for the cough in
Grandma Claire’s chest, and medication for the constipation that the first
medication caused, and medication for the nausea that the second medication
caused. And so on.
Grandma Claire didn’t want to spend a year in a hospital, so
she hired a hospice nurse to come see her every day. “Hospice,” Grandma Claire
said, “is what you say when you just want to die at home like a respectable old
lady.” Grandma Claire had a practical streak.
Last night, Grandma Claire sort of went to sleep and didn’t
wake up. Molly was there when it happened. One minute, she was sitting in the
big chair by the bed, holding Grandma Claire’s hand, and the oxygen tube was
hissing quietly and Grandma Claire was snoring a little bit. Molly kind of dozed
off, too. And the next minute, there was no more snoring, and Molly snapped
awake to see Grandma Claire smiling at her, all sweet and dimply just like
always, and then Grandma Claire’s eyes went kind of blank and she slid away
into the dark.
When you’re an orphan, even when you’re an optimistic person
like Molly, there is often some small gloomy part of you that is constantly
expecting your favorite people to leave you—like your parents did. And
people do leave, of course, so it looks bad. It’s scary and lonely, and you
even blame yourself a little bit. You can’t help this. Nothing is your fault,
but there you are, being orphaned over and over again for no good reason.
Molly feels absolutely alone right now, without Grandma
Claire, and she needs someone she can lean on. But she deeply dislikes the idea
of getting attached to anyone—anyone—and
especially her realistic choices—who are all Grandma Claire’s children,
Molly’s “aunts and uncles.” She hates them.
So there it is. This is the only serious part of the story,
but we have it out of the way now, and we can move on to more cheerful
things—like fighting over the estate and what to do with an inconvenient