“Is this your granddaughter?”
I heard the aide speaking from across the room, but I could barely make out where she was. It was late evening and she was getting ready to leave. I can only afford to have someone come in a few days a week and then only for a few hours at a time. One day to help me get out of bed and take a shower, fix my breakfast. Another day it might be to help me get dressed for a doctor’s appointment. At times I have someone in just to keep me company. I’ll make up an excuse, like the litter box needs cleaning, or the laundry needs to be done. I can do those things myself. It might take a while, but I get them done. Eventually.
On those days they might protest a bit when I say, “Let’s sit down and have some tea and biscuits.” But once they’ve taken a load off their feet and had a few sips, they start talking about the children they rarely see, the husbands who mishandle them, or the dreams they never had a chance to pursue.
I like it when they talk. It takes my mind off the pain.
I reach and turn on the light next to my chair. She’s standing next to the tall bookcase, crammed with mementos and books and framed photographs. I start to push myself up from the chair, grabbing onto the handle of my walker.
“No, no. Don’t get up,” she says, and picks up the photo and brings it across the room to me. She’s a tall woman. Strong. Like I used to be. Maybe with a little more fat in the places I never had any, but still, her body makes me remember what I once was. What I was capable of. Before the osteoporosis, the scoliosis, the spinal compression fractures, curled me into what I sometimes refer to myself as – a Jumbo Shrimp.
I laugh. Jumbo Shrimp. I often laugh at myself now. Because what else am I to do, cry? And if I started that, I wouldn’t be able to stop. So, I laugh at the absurdity of it all. The absurdity of my body. The absurdity of life. It is funny, you know. If I believed in God, I would think she had a terrible, wicked sense of humor.
The aide hands me the photograph and I see straight away who it is. You see, I haven’t got any granddaughters or grandsons. No sons or daughters, nieces or nephews.
“That’s me,” I say, and hand the photo back to her.
Now it’s her turn to laugh. “Right, Miss Emma.” She looks at the photo again and turns to take it back to the bookshelf. “You rockin’ that cat suit.”
“I worked for the British Secret Service back then.” I reached for the remote, my favorite BBC drama was about to start, the one with the girl detective. I can never remember the name. I hoped the aide didn’t want to talk too long. I hated to miss the beginning. “Marvelous times, they were.”
She shook her head as she placed the photo back in its nook. “You. A spy.”
I could hear the skepticism in her voice. I don’t know why I told anyone anymore. “Yes. My partner, John, and I. We worked all sorts of cases. Industrial espionage, threats against the state, infrastructure sabotage. Our code name was The Avengers.” I turned on the TV and found the BBC channel.
She turned to me. I didn’t need my glasses to see the look on her face. I waited for the remark that always followed. “The Avengers. You and Thor and Iron Man. The Hulk. And you were Black Widow, right?”
“No, no, no.” The show was starting. I turned up the volume and waved her off. “Nevermind.”
“All right, then.” She jangled her keys as she went to the door. “You watch out for that scary ol’ Loki. He might be hidin’ under your bed!” I heard her giggle as she closed the door.
I reached under the cushion of my chair and slid out my Beretta 950B Jetfire. I aimed it in the direction of the door.
“Don’t ever laugh at me.”
I pulled the trigger. I loved that I still had the strength to do that. The weight of it felt good in my hand, the wood grips worn soft and smooth by years of handling and monthly cleaning with tung oil. The clean snap of the firing pin. I pictured the bullet splintering the door just behind her head as she walked away. That would teach her not to underestimate me.
The crack of an automatic handgun caught my attention and I turned back to the TV just in time to see the body of a young woman fall onto a bed of dried, autumn leaves and tumble down an embankment into the still waters of a vast, black lake. The music over the credits started and I picked up my tea and biscuits from the side table and settled in.
# # #
Susan C. Ingram. A former film-industry camera assistant, then news reporter and editor, Susan is now an editorial manager at a well-known wine journal. Stories from her novel, “The Troubled Times,” have been honored as Glimmer Train finalists and a piece from my memoir “Film/Addict,” was a Glimmer Train Top 25. Published in Sick Lit, Jersey Devil Press and Seltzerzine, she holds an MA in Fiction from Johns Hopkins University, and lives in the Baltimore suburbs. Read more here: http://www.newzcook.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Terri Malone