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.
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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,
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 isn’t Native American at all,” said Grandma Claire.
“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?”
“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
“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?”
“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
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.”