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.
Nobody remembered when Rhinehart started seeing Grandma Claire so regularly. Claire had been a widow as long as most people could recall, and Rhinehart was clearly born a geezer. It’s just that one day people noticed the words “Claire and Rhinehart” were always said in the same breath.
Rhinehart would buy boards at the lumber yard, and Daryl Hadfield would ask “So, you gonna fix up Claire’s deck, then?” Or Grandma Claire would add a six-pack to the shopping cart, and Holly Kraus would tsk-tsk, “Is Rhinehart drinking that dark beer again?”
It’s quaint, but this is how things go in small towns. People get all up in your business and they more or less stay right there.
When Molly came to live with Grandma Claire, it wouldn’t have been so bad for Rhinehart, except that people liked the child so much. Nobody aside from Rhinehart seemed to think that fostering a foreign child was a dangerous idea at all.
“Isn’t she precious?” was the comment he heard most often in those early days.
“Isn’t she just the precious one?” said Darla Young, leaning in to tickle one of Molly’s crumb-coated cheeks.
“Not really,” said Rhinehart into the shopping bag he was lifting. “A Picasso is precious. Or a 1943 copper penny. Babies are just about as common as dirt.”
Grandma Claire took Rhinehart on all the errands to buy linens and furniture and what-not for Molly. It was humiliating. In the aisle at Walmart, Grandma Claire picked out a crib. It was yellow, with pink and blue baby things painted on it—bows and teddy bears and little naked angels with rosy bottoms.
“Oh, she’ll love this,” said Grandma Claire. “Look how bright the colors are, Rhinehart.”
“It’s precious,” cooed Sandy Sorenson at the checkout, leaning in to squeeze one of Molly’s sticky brown fists. “Your crib is just precious, isn’t it, Molly Tea Cup?”
“That there is a mass-produced commodity,” observed Rhinehart. “Thousands of em are slapped together in China every day for the global Walmart empire.”
“Rhinehart,” said Grandma Claire.
“Don’t anybody know what precious means anymore? It means rare. Unique.”
“I know it does. Just put it in the truck, dear.”
“Nothing unique at all about this crib.”
“You certainly have a point, Rhinehart.”
The only ones who shared Rhinehart’s skeptical view of the whole Molly adventure were Grandma Claire’s own children—Molly’s new “aunts and uncles.”
“Mother, you can’t be serious!” cried Georgia over the phone. “Tell me this is some horrible nightmare.” She turned away to call for Hal.
“Hal? Hal darling, you’ll never guess what Mother’s done!” Her voice went away for a minute.
“Well, I’d say ‘nightmare’ is a bit strong,” offered Rhinehart.
“Thank you,” said Grandma Claire, covering the phone with her hand. “You could hear her?” she whispered.
“Shoot, if Georgia’s on the phone, the whole township can hear it.”
Grandma Claire smiled, and Rhinehart blew at his steaming coffee.
“Rhinehart,” she said softly. “I’m so glad you don’t think Molly is a horrible nightmare.”
Rhinehart shrugged. “Nah,” he said. “I’d say she’s just a real unwise choice, with some pretty dang dangerous consequences.”
Grandma Claire rolled her eyes and turned back to the phone.
“But when you get a idea in your bonnet,” Rhinehart went on, “there’s just no shifting it.”
“Mother,” said Georgia’s voice again. “Hal can’t believe the state would even allow you to adopt a child, let alone a foreign one. Are you sure this is legal?”
“Molly isn’t foreign, dear. She was born in Minnesota, just like you were. And I’m only fostering her. I’m not adopting.”
“You haven’t stopped taking your medication, have you, Mother? Because you know what Sonia said about that.”
“I’m going to let you go now, Georgia,” said Grandma Claire patiently. “It’s so good to hear your voice, but I need to phone Paul and Sonia, too.”
No one would have expected it to go any better with Uncle Paul or Aunt Sonia, and they would have been right.
“Mother, it’s not too late,” said Uncle Paul breathlessly. “I can be there tomorrow, and drive her back to St. Ignatius this weekend. You don’t have to say a word.”
“Paul, darling, why would I not say a word? Molly is a wonderful child, and I have no intention of letting you or anyone else drive her back to St. Ignatius.”
“Tell him I done offered to do that,” said Rhinehart. He was carefully spooning creamed spinach from a jar into Molly’s wandering pie hole. Her face looked like a spinach-colored finger-painting.
For her part, Aunt Sonia was cool, immediate, and firm.
“I’m coming right over,” she said.
Sonia had always been a bit of a problem to Grandma Claire. She had been a quiet child, the middle child, and Grandma Claire sometimes wondered if she hadn’t neglected her. Sonia often found herself with fewer household jobs to do than her older brother Paul did, and she was often less in the parental eye than her vivacious younger sister Georgia. Sonia never sought the spotlight—which was Georgia’s natural habitat—nor did she continually strive to please her mother, as Paul did. Sonia kept to herself, to her room; she watched her siblings quietly; she wrote things in her diary. Lots of things. A low profile suited Sonia, because it allowed her to gather information. Sonia loved information. She loved it because with information came control, and Sonia loved control.
“Where is she?” In adulthood, Sonia’s favorite mode was command mode, and she found that simply asserting herself in an unpleasant way often persuaded others to do just what she wanted.
“She’s napping,” said Grandma Claire in a whisper. “Come and see.” They stepped into the bedroom, where Molly lay propped between pillows on the quilt, her wet baby fist caught in a tangle of her fine baby hair, and her chubby baby legs pulled up tight.
“What a beautiful child,” Sonia murmured.
“Isn’t she just?” agreed Grandma Claire.
Sonia expelled a sigh of relief. “Well, Mother” she said, “we should have no trouble placing the little darkie with a family. I’ve already called the state office.”