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
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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.
Western Minnesota, eons ago, was shaped by glaciers inching their massive bulk down from Canada, grinding the earth into a sunburned flatness for as far as the eye could see. It took millennia to achieve this. A glacial pace, they say—and Molly found this especially hard to believe—was actually even slower than the speed at which Rhinehart normally drove his truck.
The inside of the pickup smelled like warm dust and pipe wrenches, and it always put Molly to sleep in a hurry, especially if there was no one to talk to. Riding with Rhinehart was essentially having no one to talk to. He always found a zone of his own somewhere amid the truck smells and road noise, and his one-word responses didn’t exactly encourage conversation. He didn’t care, besides, about what interested Molly: friends, music, movies, school. He always said he didn’t see the point of kids; they weren’t even interesting until they got out of college, he said. For her part, Molly had no opinion on the price of corn futures or whether the Twins had a shot at the pennant this year. Molly sighed.
“What’s ‘gee’ and ‘haw’ mean?”
Rhinehart glanced over at her. This was one of the few intelligent questions he’d ever heard from Molly. Well, that wasn’t fair, he told himself. Molly was plenty smart in her own way. Only about stupid things, but that wasn’t her fault exactly. “Where’d you hear about gee and haw?” he asked.
“You say them to your horses.”
“Hmmph. Guess I do, at that” said Rhinehart. “Learned it from my dad.”
“So what do they mean?”
“They mean ‘go right,’ and ‘go left.’”
“Oh,” said Molly. “Well, why don’t you just say ‘go right,’ and ‘go left’?”
“Horses don’t know English.”
Molly groaned. “Look, if you don’t know, you could just say so.”
“Wouldn’t be as funny, would it?”
“Whatever.” Molly stared at the ends of the corn rows flipping past the window. She imagined them falling down one by one like slow dominoes or bookshelves in the library. Like all her plans with Greg Elmerson, which Rhinehart had so casually toppled.
“Hey, Rhinehart?” Molly said.
“Are you and Grandma Claire going to get married?”
Rhinehart squinted at the highway. “Can’t say as it’s likely.”
While Rhinehart had, over the years, given up any dream of actually getting rid of Molly, he still nurtured hopes that she would someday grow up and move away, like to college or the penitentiary. And it was perhaps this tendency of hers to ask a question, point-blank, no preamble, that he would be happiest to lose.
“Don’t you want to marry her?” Molly asked.
“Kind of a personal question,” Rhinehart observed.
Rhinehart preferred the conversation of adults, especially of men, especially of farmers, where a wide personal space is granted. Comments are pithy and few. Silence is comfortable. Questions are not so much asked as implied, so that they can be answered or ignored at the discretion of the one asked. This was the great tradition that taught children to be seen and not heard, as Rhinehart himself had been taught. He liked the dignity of this approach.
He also liked not having to think about matters that involved what some might call his emotions. The thing about Molly was that she didn’t make it easy to evade her questions.
“Well, don’t you?“
“It ain’t exactly up to me, is it?” said Rhinehart testily.
“What?? Of course it is. The guy is supposed to ask, and the girl gets to answer.”
Rhinehart cut his eyes in Molly’s direction. “So that’s how it works,” he said.
Molly didn’t understand the reticence of adults. They could be so dense about the simplest things. To Molly, if you’re a cranky old farmer in a pickup truck, and you like somebody, you just make up your mind. You go and tell them. You get married. What’s so hard about that?
Not that she really wanted Rhinehart and Grandma Claire to marry. What Molly wanted was for Rhinehart to put himself out on the limb that she had so recently occupied, herself—the limb that reached out toward true love. The limb that Rhinehart had sawed from under her.
“Who knows if Grandma Claire would even have me,” Rhinehart offered.
Molly shrugged. “She’d have you,” she said. “Oh, she knows you’re not perfect—everyone knows that. But she’s nuts about you. Don’t ask me why.” Molly knew it was important to keep this casual, so that she didn’t trigger Rhinehart’s scam radar.
“Guess I’ll have to take your word on that,” said Rhinehart. He kept his eyes on the road, desperately wishing there were a way to change the subject without looking desperate to change the subject.
“Come on,” said Molly. “I know you guys dated and stuff about a hundred years ago. How come you never married her?”
“Well, let’s see,” said Rhinehart. “I vaguely recall that she had somebody else in mind at the time.” He recalled it quite clearly, in fact. It was not an experience he brought to mind every day, and certainly not one he discussed. Years ago, he had even dedicated some little effort to forgetting it. Yet the memory stayed fresh—much like his first snakebite.
“Sure, but what about later?” Molly asked. She was trying for an interested-but-not-invested tone of voice, like a school counselor. “Or what about now? You know, a person could just go up and say ‘Listen, Claire, now’s our chance. Let’s get hitched.’”
Rhinehart flexed his fingers on the steering wheel. He couldn’t remember if he’d been in a good mood before this conversation started, but now he was getting that taste in his throat that he’d mentioned to the doctor. A taste like an aspirin caught sideways or a bad sardine backing up on him. The memory came back of a tall girl in a flowered dress. A handsome, laughing girl who squeezed his hand in the dark and kissed him quickly. “That’s sweet, Rhinehart,” the laughing girl whispered. “But you’re just too late.” She patted his cheek. “Romeo Rhinehart,” she sighed. “Always a day late and a dollar short.” She giggled. “And no flowers, either.” Then the laughing girl kissed him again and disappeared into the dark. Rhinehart studied his knuckles on the steering wheel.
“So why don’t you ask her?” said Molly.
“Well, I guess because I done that years ago. Got the impression it wasn’t a welcome idea.”
Molly glanced casually at the corn flipping by at twice the speed of glaciers. “Maybe things are different now,” she suggested.
“Well,” said Rhinehart. “I don’t completely see as how it’s your business, but I guess there’s some things what a person just can’t let go.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” said Rhinehart carefully. “I don’t want you to think less of your grandma, but she kinda burned me way back when. A person don’t forget stuff like that too easy.”
You have no idea, thought Molly with a grim smile. She let a moment pass in silence. She congratulated herself on technique here. It would be a big mistake to seem over-eager, or to let on that she knew too much.
“I guess it must have been bad, if it’s still unforgivable,” Molly suggested.
Rhinehart shrugged. In his memory, the laughing girl smiled at him again, and she patted his cheek. She was so full of joy, so tall and fresh and wholesome, and so completely ignorant of how he felt. Smitten was the word that came to mind. Yep, he thought. I sure was smitten. Just like that boy what Molly brought home one time. He grimaced.
“She patted my cheek,” Rhinehart blurted. “Said I shoulda brung flowers.” Women, he thought, had no idea of how condescending they could be, nor how deeply offensive it was—especially to a young man. “That probably don’t seem like much to you.”
“That’s it?” Molly said. “She patted your cheek? That’s the unforgivable sin?”
Rhinehart tasted bad fish again. “Guess you had to be there,” he said. He should never have mentioned it; he could see that now. One little slip, and now this girl had the goods on him, now she would patronize him, too. Women were merciless. He felt petty and yet more convinced than ever that he was right.
“No really,” said Molly. She could sense a delicate moment. “I just want to understand.”
“You ever step on a nail?” Rhinehart asked her, staring at the road again. “Ever get jabbed with a pencil?”
“A puncture don’t look like much on the outside,” Rhinehart said. “A little blue spot. Little red spot. Don’t bleed much.”
“So you can’t see how deep it goes.”
Actually, Molly understood this perfectly, because it was exactly how she felt about the whole Greg episode. Grandma Claire had thought it was silly, just another game between Molly and Rhinehart. But she couldn’t see how deep the nail had gone. Molly searched herself for the pain, and—wait a minute—yes, there it was.
“Well,” she said, watching the corn, “you won’t believe this, but I know just what you mean.”
“Do ya,” said Rhinehart.
“Yes. It’s how I feel about you chasing off my boyfriend.”
Rhinehart chuckled, glad to be off the subject of his own love life.
But Molly was grim. “You never take me seriously . . .”
“Nah, that ain’t it,” said Rhinehart. “The boy just wasn’t right for you. What a geek. I know his granddad—no sense of humor at all.”
“Oh, like you can tell who’s right for me,” Molly snapped. “You can’t even ask your one true love to marry you!” She was finished talking about this. She turned away to watch the stupid corn falling in slow motion.
Rhinehart chuckled again. “You’ll thank me later,” he said.