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.
Jackie Taylor takes the stairs slowly. Even with the glucosamine and the extra calcium pills, her knees aren’t what they used to be. Exercise is good for them, she reminds herself. A lot of people her age have already replaced a knee or two, so she’s not complaining. Her eyes aren’t that great, either. She probably needs new spectacles again; it never stops. Oh well, she thinks, old age ain’t for sissies. She’d have retired from the bank years ago, but she didn’t work this hard just to give it all up.
Beside her, Georgia keeps up a cheerful prattle about the Laketown community light opera. She’s insisting again that she’ll send some show tickets as a thank-you for this house call. Jackie doesn’t care for Broadway shows. Life is silly enough, she thinks.
Jackie doesn’t normally do house calls anymore, but for some of the older people in Henderson Falls, she’ll make an exception. These old farmers and housewives don’t get out much, and they tend to put things off until it’s almost too late. Or they change their minds at the last minute, as Claire has evidently done. Everyone knows she isn’t long for this world, and the talk around town is that her greedy children can’t wait to get rid of her. People are hoping that Claire has cut them out of the will altogether, although that kind of thing almost never happens outside of romance novels.
Jackie pauses for breath beside a small sketch of an old man in a dusty frame. The man looks ragged and intense, like a Hebrew prophet. She can see it’s a lithograph, and the number in the corner is very low. Jackie tips her bifocals toward the signature. Can’t read it.
“I don’t know why Mother frames these old prints,” says Georgia cheerily. “Rhinehart got this one for her at a flea market. Just dreadful.” Georgia laughs her musical laugh. “Oh, well. You know Claire. Sentimental to the last.”
“Looks familiar,” says Jackie. “Who’s the artist?”
“Shaggle, Rheinhart told me.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Oh, he’s from The Cities.”
At the top of the stairs, Georgia hands Jackie over to Rhinehart. “I’ll be downstairs, dear, if you need me. Grace is making a fresh pot of coffee.”
“This won’t take long, Georgia,” says Jackie. “I’ll just chat with Claire for a minute. We’ll sign the papers, and then I have to run along. Hello, Rhinehart.”
“How’s your best girl?”
“Truth to tell, she’s been better.”
“I know, honey,” says Jackie, patting Rhinehart’s arm. “This is going to be hard on all of us.” She looks down the hall. “Where’s Molly today? Still sleeping?”
“She’s around here somewhere,” says Rhinehart.
From the next room comes a small cough and then Grandma Claire’s voice. “Jackie? Is that you, dear?”
The room is small, with a high ceiling and flowered wallpaper. The only light is from the faint winter dawn through the curtains. Against the far wall stands an antique dresser with a large oval mirror, and beside it, a wing-backed chair with tufted cushions sits at the end of the bed. The air smells of lavender and Lysol.
On Grandma Claire’s bed, Molly lies propped against the pillows, wrapped in two of Grandma Claire’s housecoats, with the comforter drawn up to her chin. She has raided Aunt Georgia’s make-up to paint her face, and she has put her hair up in rollers, powdered it gray, and covered it with a loose, paisley-printed scarf. An oxygen mask covers her nose and mouth, and she has a lap desk across her knees. In the dim room, she looks ill and elderly.
“Oh, Jackie, dear, you made it,” Molly says weakly through the oxygen mask. “Sit over there where I can see you.” Jackie gropes her way to the wing-backed chair and eases herself down. Her knees are grateful to take a load off.
“Hello, Claire,” she says warmly. “Shall I turn on a light?”
“I’m sorry, dear,” says Molly, “the light is hard on me. I get such headaches.” She manufactures a shudder, and holds up her hands. “And I’ve been so cold lately, I’ve started wearing my gloves all the time. Can you believe it?”
“Not a problem,” Jackie says. She pulls off her glasses and reaches into her sleeve for something to wipe them. Rhinehart produces a red bandana from his hip pocket.
“Lemme do that for you.”
Without her glasses, Jackie can’t see that Rhinehart has recently used his hankie for sopping a bacon spill or something equally appalling. The world returns from him less dusty but more of a smear.
“Thank you, Rhinehart,” Jackie says. She squints toward Molly in the bed. “You slept on rollers?”
Molly coughs. “I don’t sleep at all anymore, dear,” she says. “Molly set my hair an hour ago. She said Rhinehart wants me to look nice for the funeral.” She gives Jackie a sly wink.
Rhinehart, on a tufted footstool beside the bed, pats the heavy covers. “To me, you’ve always looked just fine for a funeral.”
Jackie laughs out loud. “You two,” she says, “You were impossible fifty years ago, and you haven’t changed a bit.” She retrieves her notary stamp from her handbag.
“Now, Claire, we went through all this before, so you know I’m not an officer of the court or anything. If you just want to show me what you need notarized, you can sign it and I’ll stamp it for you.”
“You’re a peach to do this, Jackie,” answers Molly. She wheezes into the oxygen mask for a moment. “(Ahem) After talking with the kids, I just felt that I missed the boat on some things in my will, dear. Figured I should set it straight right away, since evidently I won’t be around as long as we planned.”
“Now, none of that,” says Jackie. “We want to keep you a good while yet.”
Molly arches an eyebrow. “I’ve gone through it on the laptop, (ahem) and Rhinehart has printed out the new version here.” She opens a manila folder on the lap desk. “Shall I go ahead and sign it now?”
“As long as you’re doing what you want to do,” says Jackie. “And I’ve never known you to do otherwise.”
Rhinehart hands a pen to Molly, as she wheezes into the mask again. “It’s mostly about St. Ignatius,” she tells Jackie. “You know I’ve wanted to leave a little something to them. (Ahem.) After talking with the kids, I’ve decided to adjust that amount and make a few other small changes.” Molly carefully signs two copies of the will. She leans back on the pillows, exhausted. Rhinehart signs both copies as witness, and then he carries the lap desk over to Jackie. Jackie skims the first page blearily, and asks, “So, you’re sure about all this?”
“Oh yes, dear,” answers Molly. “It will save ever so much trouble.”