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Molly and the Geezer
Contents


Molly and the Geezer
and the Death of Grandma Claire

Michael Spooner


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.


Two



Not that she would remember, but Molly first met Rhinehart on the morning she came to live with Grandma Claire. She was about one-and-a-half, and she had toddled over to the low window by the foot of the stairs, where she was feeling the window screen with her damp baby hands when Rhinehart pulled into the lane. He drove a battered white pickup truck gaily decorated with mud and manure, and when he climbed out, Molly could see the scattered wrenches, pencils, tow chains, gloves, fishing rods and dented Styrofoam cups that layered the front seat. Little Molly gurgled something at him through the screen, but Rhinehart didn’t hear it.

“That’s Rhinehart,” said Grandma Claire from the kitchen. “He’s my boyfriend.” She poured coffee into a flowery porcelain cup and set it on the table as Rhinehart came through the kitchen door with a clutch of wildflowers in his hand.

“You’re my boyfriend, aren’t you, Rhinehart?” she said to him.

“May I die and go to blazes if I am,” said Rhinehart with a smile. His voice was like warm gravel.

“That can be arranged,” Grandma Claire answered, giving him a peck on the cheek, and relieving him of the flowers. Grandma Claire was tall and let’s say ample, with a cheerful red face and a halo of close-cropped silver-gray curls. Next to her, Rhinehart looked like a bone in a ball cap. Behind his baggy farmer bibs, he wore a plaid shirt with pocket flaps and sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His hair was tied back in a bushy salt-and-pepper ponytail.

“Wait. Let me see your boots.” Rhinehart stood on the mat and held up one foot, then the other. Grandma Claire giggled and looked down at Molly. “His boots are always fine,” she said. “I just like to make him do that.”

“Who’s this little critter, then?” asked Rhinehart, moving to the table.

Grandma Claire scooped up Molly and stuffed her into the crook of Rhinehart’s elbow.

“This is Molly,” said Grandma Claire with pride. “I told you about her.”

“I ain’t much good with the little ones,” said Rhinehart, jiggling Molly experimentally. In his eyes was the irrational fear of babies that many men harbor.

“Molly says you’re a geezer, but you’ll have to do.”

Rhinehart sized her up. “Hmm,” he said. “Kinda thought she’d be bigger, the way you talked. Tornado girl, and all.” He smelled like coffee and hay and fuel oil, and Molly smeared her runny nose firmly across his shirt.

Grandma Claire threw him a wet cloth. “That’s her. St. Ignatius got her after that tornado up at Twin Lakes.”

“That was a mean one,” said Rhinehart. “Took out my cousin’s machine shed and half the barn. Jersey cows flying six ways from Sunday.”

“Molly’s parents lost their house, garage, car, and their lives, too,” said Grandma Claire. “St. Ignatius says it was a miracle that Molly survived. Poor little tyke.”

Rhinehart squinted at Molly, adjusting her carefully on his lap. “A twister can fling a tree through a house, or it can carry a tea cup half a mile and set it down without a scratch.”

“Is that what happened to you, Molly Tea Cup?” asked Grandma Claire with a smile. “Shall we call you Molly Tea Cup? Shall we?” Molly burbled something indistinct around her knuckle.

“She can’t answer—you know that, dontcha?” said Rhinehart. “How come women talk to babies like they’re real people?”

“You know,” said Grandma Claire, with her hands on her hips. “If you won’t be my boyfriend, at least try not to be as dumb as a bag of hammers.”

Rhinehart was offended. “Well,” he answered. “Let’s don’t underestimate a bag of hammers.” He held out Molly in both hands, as if she were a potted geranium he didn’t want to drop. “You better take her,” he said. “She gettin squirmy.”

Grandma Claire turned her back. “Just hold her a minute, while I get your eggs going.”

Molly’s parents had done what some people do—they had piled into the car and tried to outrun the tornado. This sometimes works, and it would have worked in their case, had it not been for two things.

First, all the neighbors had the same idea. When they saw the twister ambling right into town, people decided to get outside and out of its way. They should have been huddling in the basement with a mattress over their heads, like they’d been taught to do since grade school. Instead, they created the only instance of gridlock in the town of Twin Lakes since 1977, when Butch Arneson lost a porta-potty off the back of his truck in front of the Independence Day parade.

Second, as often happens when extremely strong winds are blowing, some of the local trees, shrubs, and utility poles decided to pull up roots and head for parts unknown. Molly’s parents made it one block in the Subaru before they found themselves up to the headlights in tree trunks and power poles, with a line of neighbors jammed up behind them. As Molly’s parents struggled out of the car, the tornado picked it up. Molly, still strapped into her baby seat, got the ride of her life for thirty seconds, and then the twister set her daintily down in a cornfield nearby. Her parents, along with five neighbors and a goat, were also taken airborne. But the less said about that, the better.

Rhinehart stood the little girl on the floor and hooked a finger around her chubby wrist. “She’s a dark one,” he observed. “What is she—Dakota? Ojibwe?”

“She isn’t Native American at all,” said Grandma Claire. “She’s Indian.”

“What?”

“Indian.”

“Ain’t that what I said?”

“Don’t be obtuse. Her parents were from Bombay. India? Surely you’ve heard of it.”

“No kidding?” said Rhinehart. “So she’s a Dot Indian, eh?”

“What?”

“A Dot Indian.” Rhinehart tapped Molly’s forehead. “She needs a little red dot right there, so’s a person can tell.”

Grandma Claire squeezed her lips together and turned back to the stove. “Now, where did I put the salt and rat poison?”

“So you’re doing St. Ignatius a good turn?” Rhinehart asked. “Keeping her until somebody comes to get her?”

Grandma Claire had her back to him. “That’s one way to put it,” she answered.

“Hmph,” said Rhinehart around a slurp of coffee. “What’s another way?”

“They think nobody’s coming. Her parents were students at Marshall, and the school can’t reach any relatives on either side.”

“What’s that mean, then?” he asked. “You ain’t adopting her, are you?”

“Foster.”

“Same thing, at her age,” Rhinehart said.

“I’m prepared for that,” said Grandma Claire.

Rhinehart sipped his coffee, while Molly made mouth noises into a dead paper cup.

“So, did you just dream this up last time you went to the orphanage?” he asked.

“No, dearie,” said Grandma Claire, laying a plate of eggs and toast on the table. “I have given it a great deal of thought. I’ve been giving it a great deal of thought ever since I read in the papers about the tornado that set this angel down in a cornfield.”

This wasn’t completely true, of course. The impulse came to Grandma Claire fully-formed and irresistible in the very instant that she read the news. Her mind’s eye saw one-year-old Molly dropping from heaven like a cherub in a Subaru, and Grandma Claire said to herself “The gods have sent this child to me.” The rest of her “thinking about it” involved paperwork at St. Ignatius and the state office of child and family services.

But close enough. Rhinehart didn’t need to know everything.

“In all your thinking, did you think about what will happen to her when you’re gone?” Rhinehart wasn’t one to beat around the bush. “You ain’t getting any younger, you know.”

Grandma Claire snorted. “I’m well aware of my age, thank you. And ‘when I’m gone,’ as you so delicately phrase it, Georgia or Sonia or Paul will gladly take care of Molly. Or you will. You may surprise everyone and not end up a complete knothead.” She gathered Molly from the kitchen floor and pressed a wedge of toast into her mouth. “Besides!” she said to Molly. “Grandma Claire is going to last a long long time. Isn’t she, Molly Tea Cup?” She jiggled the baby. “Isn’t she? A long long time.” Molly didn’t answer, but she chewed thoughtfully with her mouth open.

Rhinehart said nothing more. Claire was always doing impulsive things. They both knew this, and they both knew it wasn’t going to stop.

Rhinehart himself never took chances, had never felt an impulse he couldn’t resist. He wore a belt and suspenders. The world, to Rhinehart’s way of thinking, was an unsteady, untrustworthy place, a place full of uninvited pressures and unwelcome surprises. Rhinehart had seen a lot of changes in his fifty-leven years, and he’d been against every single one.

But at the same time, he had never met anyone with such unbelievable good luck as Grandma Claire. Rhinehart didn’t even believe in luck. He believed in consequences—mostly dire ones—and Grandma Claire’s endless run of good fortune was like a daily rebuke to his personal worldview. Even to himself, he was starting to look like a poor sport.

“Well,” Rhinehart declared to his plate of eggs, “guess I just never saw the point of babies.”



Chapter Three