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.
It’s just after five in the morning. Grandma Claire has been gone only a few minutes, and Molly hasn’t had time to think about anything—least of all what’s going to happen to her now that she’s an orphan again—and now there’s a kitchen full of foster aunts and uncles in limp pajamas, all talking at once.
Bald Uncle Paul is Grandma Claire’s eldest child; he’s the one with the dirty gray comb-over and the restless, bloodshot, watery blue eyes. His wife, Aunt Grace, has breath that could peel the chrome off a trailer hitch. Yesterday, Uncle Paul and Auntie Grace drove ninety miles an hour all the way from Omaha to Henderson Falls, just to be sure that Molly didn’t steal Grandma Claire’s silver before she died. They don’t like Molly much, for reasons that she doesn’t understand. Uncle Paul—as he keeps reminding everyone—is the executor of Grandma Claire’s will. She promised him.
“I’m the executor here,” Uncle Paul keeps saying. “I’ll make the decision. I’m the decider.”
“You’re not the executor, Paulie,” says Aunt Sonia in a voice like a death threat. “You’re just the same moron you’ve always been. Which part of ‘we can’t find the will’ do you need me to explain??”
Molly isn’t sure what “executor” means, but it has something to do with dividing up Grandma Claire’s stuff, so naturally she doesn’t like it. She wishes they would all go away and let her think. Molly ties back her hair into a long black ponytail and splashes water on her face at the sink. She has never felt more different from her foster family than she does right now. And it’s not that they’re all blond. For once in her life, Molly just wants to be still. She wants to sit quietly and think about all the things she loves about Grandma Claire. She rubs her eyes with a towel.
The aunts and uncles are shouting back and forth about who gets to decide what. Molly glances at Uncle Paul, who is now red in the face and gesturing madly, and then at Aunt Sonia, who sits apart from the rest, alternately taunting and fuming. Molly puts her hands over her ears, and something she’s heard from Rhinehart comes to mind: “if you gotta say you’re in charge, then you ain’t.” She smiles, and flaps her hands open/close, open/close over her ears, which makes all their voices go Waa Waa Waa.
Whoever gets to be executor is fine with Molly, because she doesn’t think there are any decisions to make about her in the will. She’s going to be wrong about that.
Aunt Sonia, the middle child, still lives in Henderson Falls. She is somehow the one who always gets her way. This could be because she’s ruthless and has the mental focus of a cobra, or it could be the coffee. Aunt Sonia always has three cups of coffee and three cigarettes for breakfast; she likes to keep things even. Her need for symmetry in an off-balance world—and the chemicals, of course—give her an edge that can only be called jagged. Aunt Sonia is looking more jagged than usual this morning, with sheet wrinkles zig-zagging across her cheek and her hair standing out in a wild flare on one side of her head. Sonia’s hair used to be platinum blonde. Now it’s more like zinc—with a streak of iron.
Aunt Georgia, the youngest of Grandma Claire’s children, got here yesterday, too. Georgia lives in Laketown, ten miles up Route 59 from Henderson Falls. She has been the star soprano of the Laketown community light opera company for twenty years, and she’s the only person Molly knows who is truly never without makeup. Like Sonia, Aunt Georgia was born a blonde. Unlike Sonia, Aunt Georgia cares a great deal about how she looks. Even now, at five in the morning, with her mother dead in the next room, Georgia has taken the time to freshen her lipstick and powder before coming down to the kitchen. Her hair is the color of sunlight, and it flows up and around in an airy sweep that probably looks stunning on stage. At close quarters, unfortunately, it’s a little stiff, like one of those hollow string balls that you made in kindergarten around a balloon with carpet thread and hairspray.
Georgia’s husband, Uncle Hal, has last night’s cigar clamped between his teeth and a racing form in the pocket of his seersucker bathrobe. He likes to bet on racehorses, and he’s always complaining about money. Hal is a hairy guy, with red freckles and a monobrow. Little wet flakes of cigar fly off his lips once in awhile, like when he’s shouting. And Uncle Hal shouts pretty much all the time.
“I still can’t believe she didn’t make a will!” he moans loudly. “It’s not like she didn’t have time. The whole cancer thing didn’t exactly sneak up on her.”
“Shut up, Hal,” says Aunt Georgia from the breakfast bar. “Show a little respect for the dead. Molly, honey, toast me one of them bagels, would you? With cream cheese? And bring me a glass of juice.”
“Girl,” says Aunt Sonia sharply. “Where’s that coffee?”
Molly fills Grandma Claire’s battered old coffee pot from the tap, and slices a few bagels. She’s been begging Grandma Claire for two years to get a nice new coffee maker—an electric one where you can just push the button and the coffee practically makes itself. But Grandma Claire always said “oh, I think this old percolator has a few more miles left.” Right now, Molly is glad to have the familiar worn handle and the dented pot in her hands, though it feels very strange to be doing this without Grandma Claire chattering away at the counter. She puts that out of her mind.
Grandma Claire’s will is what everyone is excited about, and the aunts and uncles are working themselves into a proper froth because they think she didn’t even make one. Molly knows that she actually did—a point that makes her quietly smug. Last year, Grandma Claire explained how important it was to keep her will a secret until after she died. She didn’t want “the kids” to argue with all her decisions. Molly hadn’t given it a second thought until just now as the aunts and uncles started talking about how to divide the furniture. Now she’s not sure she’ll even tell them. Molly pictures herself as an old woman, rocking on the front porch of this old house long after these so-called aunts and uncles are dead and gone.
“Well,” says Uncle Paul, “all right. Without a will, I guess we can just divide up the house, room by room. Okay by you, Georgia?”
“Paulie. Darling,” says Aunt Georgia, waving her hand through a blue cloud of Sonia’s cigarette smoke. “I don’t think that’s how it’s done.”
Aunt Sonia glares at Paul darkly. “You are unbelievably stupid, you know,” she says. “When a person dies without a will . . . everything goes into probate!!”
“Probate” is another word that Molly isn’t sure of, but she knows that older men like Uncle Paul have trouble with theirs, sometimes. Uncle Paul was in the hospital for a week with his probate last fall.
“Yep,” says Uncle Hal with a sigh. “Straight into the courts. Could be tied up for years.”
“Oh, no,” says Aunt Grace, whispering urgently. “Paul, we need that money now, or we can’t pay back . . .”
Paul’s face goes a lovely scarlet. “Grace, will you shut your trap?”
Georgia snorts, spraying a mouthful of bagel and cream cheese. “Oh, Paulie dear,” she coughs out. “Your loving family knows all about your money troubles.”
“What is it this time?” jokes Uncle Hal in his outsized voice. “Another internet investment? Another pharmaceutical scam? No, it’s junk bonds, I’m betting. Any takers? Anyone?”
Paul rounds on him fiercely, his pink head showing a little sweat under the comb-over. “You can just stick to betting on the ponies, smart boy! Maybe some day you’ll win something.” Uncle Hal grins merrily and jams his cigar back in his teeth.
“Oh, that’s not all that Hal bets on,” says Aunt Sonia quietly. Her face is wrinkled almost into a smile. Georgia’s face, on the other hand, is frozen with her finger in her mouth.
“Horses, cards, football, basketball—and that’s just around here,” says Aunt Sonia.
“Sonia, we don’t talk about you,” says Georgia sharply.
“Oh, but we talk about you, darling. How much does Hal owe his bookie, anyway?”
“His bookie?” says Georgia. “Hal doesn’t have a bookie . . . do you, darling?”
“Of course he does.” Sonia is starting to shake a little from the fun of all this. “He can find a lot more to bet on in Vegas, but for that, a bookie is just way more convenient.”
“Vegas!” says Georgia mockingly. “Hal just plays the slots over at Two Rivers casino. You’ve never even been to Vegas, have you, darling?” Uncle Hal won’t look at her.
“Darling? You don’t have a bookie, do you?” It’s not really a question. Georgia’s voice has an edge now, as if she’s questioning a very naughty boy. She turns to Paul. “They don’t even have bookies in Minnesota.”
“Oh, they surely do,” chuckles Sonia. “Hal’s bookie is Pinky Hanson.” She blows a smoke ring. “Why do they call him Pinky, Hal?”
Uncle Paul wants to answer this one. “Because if you don’t pay him on time, he breaks your little finger.” Paul begins to hoot.
“Shut up, Paul!” says Aunt Georgia.
“Actually,” observes Aunt Sonia with relish, “he takes it off with pruning shears. Isn’t that right, Hal darling? They say he has a hundred pinkies in pickle jars. ” Uncle Hal is looking green under his monobrow. Sonia sniffs. “I call that excessive, myself—a dozen would have made the point.”
Paul is hooting uncontrollably. “Hal,” he says. “I guess we’ll be calling you Lefty from now on, eh?” He thought up this joke all by himself.
“Well,” says Georgia, with finality. “This discussion is over. We’re getting no closer to finding the will.”
The sun won’t be up for hours, but Georgia is ready for a stiff drink. She flashes a look of murder at Uncle Hal, as Sonia settles into a permanent smirk.
Paul’s wife, Aunt Grace, doesn’t get jokes. Besides, she’s thinking about something that Grandma Claire said to her last year. She gasps loudly.
“You don’t think Claire meant it when she said she was leaving her money to St. Ignatius, do you?”
“No, of course she didn’t mean it,” Paul says confidently.
“Of course not,” growls Aunt Sonia. “Mother was always threatening to cut us out of her will. It was just something she said.”
“When did she say that?” asks Uncle Hal, with true alarm.
“Oh, she’s been saying it for years, Hal,” snaps Aunt Georgia. She tears at the bagel with her perfect teeth.
“But she didn’t mean it,” repeats Paul.
“She loved her babies,” says Georgia firmly. “I’m sure she’s taken care of us.”
With that, Georgia goes to the bookshelf and begins moving books. She pulls down a handful of romance novels and feels along the shelf behind them. “If I were Mother,” she asks a novel called Tropic of Rapture, “where would I hide my will?”