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Grandma Martha

by Kendra Marya 12 days ago in Short Story / Humor / Horror / family
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A Christmas Preserved in Our Hearts Forever

It’s another hectic morning in the Richards household in the old farmhouse down Township Road 480 in rural Connecticut. The kids are getting ready for school, alternating sharing the bathroom between brushing teeth and peeing before the long bus ride into town. Gillian, the wife, finishes blow drying her hair and yells Goodbye! to the kids as they run out the door. She gets dressed and heads into the kitchen, throwing two multigrain slices of bread into the toaster.

Lucas joins Gillian in the kitchen and leans on the counter, “Gillian, we need to talk about Martha.”

Okaaaaay,” she’s already defensive.

Lucas bolsters himself, “She can’t stay anymore. I want to be able to invite my folks over for Christmas this year without them getting freaked out or callin’ the cops on us or somethin’,” Lucas is wringing his hands, watching his wife’s expression as she butters some toast. “We need our guest room back, honey,” he squints, awaiting the fight that’s to ensue.

“Lucas, my mother isn’t leaving. She’s been here for two years and that’s that. Even the kids have gotten used to her presence in the house.”

“Gillian. This isn’t healthy and you know it,” Lucas raises his voice. He’s had enough.

“But they do it in Russia, you know, with Lenin? Yeah, and they had Stalin too, but he was removed after because he was a bad man. But I’m pretty sure Lenin is still there.”

“We are not in Soviet Russia, Gillian,” Lucas yells, motioning with his hands in a precise manner. He’s been holding in his true feelings for a long time. He’s tired.

“Well, what about those people down in South America. They bring out their dead and dress them and clothe them and parade them around the whole town. At least I don’t do that!” Gillian yells back. She takes a bite of her toast, back to a regular volume, “It’s normal. Maybe not totally normal here, in America, but it’s normal to want to see your loved ones, you know, or the one’s you admire.”

Lucas pulls at his hair. “Honey, this is absurd. Martha. She’s rotting in our house! Is that really what you want for your mother? Huh!”

Gillian takes another bite of her toast, her mouth full as she says, “What about snow white? She was put in that glass coffin. What’s the difference? And my mother is not rotting. She’s as pristine as the day she died. I keep her well embalmed. It’s like her new beauty regimen. I’m taking good care of her skin. Looks better than mine if you ask me.”

Lucas holds the bridge of his nose with his finger and thumb, “Jesus, Mary, n’ Joseph, Gillian, I’ve put up with this nonsense for long enough. Snow White isn’t real, it’s a tale.”

“Well, what about Jeremy Bentham? He’s real,” Gillian stuffs the last piece of toast in her mouth.

“Who?”

“British guy, philosopher, I think. They have him on display in England. He’s propped up on a chair and everything, just like mum. You’re half English, aren’t you?” Gillian asks between chews.

“That’s hardly relevant,” he raises his voice an octave louder, “That corpse is goin’ in the ground and it’s goin’ in the ground ta’ night!”

“Oh Lucas, relax, she’s hardly a corpse. She’s Martha. She’s a person. We still have great conversations. Just last week she told me how to darn socks. It’s a lost art you know. No one does it anymore. They just toss ‘em. Toss ‘em away. That’s why the landfills are so full. Everyone’s throwin’ every little thing away instead of fixin’ it.”

“Oh, I’ll fix you,” mumbles Lucas.

“What’s that?”

“What?”

“I heard you. You better watch it, Lucas. That tongue of yours. You’re getting awful mean in your middle age.”

“Oh shut-it, Gillian. You’re getting weird. Just downright macabre,” Lucas throws his coat on and picks up the keys on the counter, signalling the end of the conversation.

“As soon as the kids are in bed, you and me, we’re saying goodbye once and for all to your mother!” Lucas goes to work.

//

That night Martha does not go into the ground as Lucas dictated to his wife Gillian. She has a certain way of persuading him at the end of the day. It’s a very reliable persuasion. Works every time.

//

Christmas time creeps up on the Richards family. It’s December 20th already. No one seemed to want to initiate the decorating process until it was necessary.

“Lucas, come put the star up on the tree, we’re all too short,” Gillian hollers at him from the living room. He’s sipping scotch on ice, tinkering with the stereo that’s playing vintage Christmas classics in the kitchen. The kids, Tammy-Jo and Lucas Jr. are hanging decorations on the lower limbs of the tree. Grandma Martha is observing from her chair in the corner. She’s wearing a Christmas sweater that says, ‘Who needs Santa when you have Grandma’ on it.

“My folks’ll be here soon. Kids, be on your best behaviour. Remember to say thank you after opening your gifts,” Lucas takes another sip of scotch and paces around the room, checking the front bay window every so often for their car.

There’s a healthy knock at the front door. The kids run to open it. Presents, luggage and a ham casserole billow in, along with Cynthia and Henry Richards.

“Come in, come in!” Gillian takes the casserole from Cynthia’s hands and takes it to the kitchen. Lucas and his father Henry exchange a firm handshake and pat on the back. The kids hug their grandparents and then take the bag full of presents to put under the tree, greedily counting to see how many they each got. Lucas guides his parents to the kitchen in a flurry of small talk about the drive down and the weather and pours them each a hefty glass of booze, merlot for his mother, scotch for his father.

“Why don’t we all get comfortable and sit in the living room together?” Gillian pulls a platter of cheese, pickles, cut-up sausage with crackers from out of the fridge and takes it to the living room coffee table that’s adorned with a festive tablecloth. She takes a seat in a dining room chair that’s been pulled from the table to accommodate more people. She’s situated next to her mother, Martha. Lucas’ parents follow Gillian in, settling on the couch across from Martha and Gillian. The kids are on the carpet fantasizing about what’s in their presents. Lucas hangs back in the kitchen, pouring another stiff drink.

“Martha, so nice to see you,” Cynthia smiles and loads up a tiny paper plate with some fixings for her and Henry to pair with their spirits. “Here darling, I got you some sausage,” she offers Henry the plate, but he’s suddenly quiet. “Okay suit yourself,” she stacks a sausage and cheese on a Triscuit and takes a bite.

Lucas appears, drink in hand, taking his seat in the Lazy-Boy chair, although he doesn’t dare relax into the cushions.

Henry gives Cynthia a nudge mumbling something in her ear.

“What! I can’t hear you, dear,” she practically yells.

“I need my pills, let’s go to the bathroom for a minute,” Henry pipes up.

“What? But its only half past-“

“I just feel like I need them!” Henry is urgent and pulls himself with some difficulty up from the couch.

The two disappear into the bathroom and Lucas locks eyes with Gillian and is visibly sweating. He takes another gulp of scotch.

“Daddy, what’s wrong with grandpa?” Tammy-Jo asks Lucas Senior.

“Ask your mother,” he sputters.

“Mommy, what’s wrong with grandpa?” she leans on her mother’s lap.

“Oh, nothing darling, he’s just getting old,” Gillian pets her daughter’s hair.

“Is he going to die?” she looks distraught and climbs onto her mother.

Gillian wrapped her arms around her, “No, darling, he’s going to be just fine. We’ll be opening presents soon, after we eat, now go wash up for dinner. You too, Little Luke.”

//

A Christmas wreath with advent candles is lit in the centre of the dining table. Bowls of mashed potatoes, peas, gravy, carved turkey, and the ham casserole Cynthia prepared, sit amongst the place settings. Martha is at the head of the table in her chair, watching the family sit down. An awkward silence hangs in the air and Lucas generously pours everyone table wine.

“Let’s pray,” Gillian bows her head. “Oh Lord, thank you for this Christmas meal shared with family, please bless this food and our home. We thank you for giving us your only son. In his name we pray, All men.”

Henry and Cynthia look up from their bowed heads, eyes darting around the table, adjusting the napkins on their laps, then taking tiny sips of their wine.

“Don’t be shy, dig in!” Gillian beams.

Everyone grabs the closest dish next to them and takes a polite amount, except for Little Lucas who loads his plate with mashed potatoes, creating a volcano with gravy pouring out like lava. Cynthia absent-mindedly passes Martha the buns and Henry nudges her, clearing his throat. Lucas notices this and swigs an unholy amount of alcohol.

They eat. Mostly in silence.

“May we be excused?” the kids ask. “We want to open presents now.”

“Yes, please clear your plates. We will open presents when everyone is done,” Gillian says. There’s more silence, the only sounds are the grinding of forks and knives, the chewing, and subsequently, the swallowing.

“So, this is pretty fuckin’ crazy, right?” Lucas suddenly blurts out. Cynthia gasps.

“Lucas, language!” Gillian glares at him. She moves the bottle of red to her side of the table, out of his immediate reach.

“Well, actually son,” Henry clears his throat again, “it’s got your mother and me thinking, we don’t have a very solid plan for our golden years, or for when we die, for that matter. The house is getting a bit much for us to keep up. Your mother, she can hardly see. She quit driving last year, did you know that?”

“Oh. No. I didn’t.” Lucas furrows his brow as though he’s trying to work something out.

“And, while Martha here is a bit of a shock at first, it’s evident that she’s very well taken care of.”

Gillian’s posture improves suddenly improves. She shrugs one shoulder in faux modesty and says, “Why, thank you, Henry.”

“I didn’t even know she was dead at first,” Cynthia lets out a throaty laugh then coughs into her hand, “Henry had to tell me. I mean, I knew she had passed. You told me when it happened years ago. But gosh, my memory just isn’t what it used to be. And with my vision, you could all be preserved bodies for all I know!”

“And that’s why we love having her still here, it’s like she never really left us. I still talk to her, you know,” Gillian starts to stack everyone’s empty plates in preparation for clearing the table.

“Woah, woah, wait a minute,” Lucas gets loud again, “You! You love her being here Gillian, and only you! Don’t drag me into this.”

“Yes, that’s right. Lucas here doesn’t like having her around. But don’t worry, I’m sure he is very happy to have you two here. I know I am. It’s been much too long, hasn’t it?” Gillian stands up to clear the plates, leaving Cynthia and Henry to look ruefully at their son.

“Oh, for fucks sake,” Lucas whispers. “I’m happy you’re here, I was the one asking her to get rid of that corpse so that you guys could come up for god’s sake!”

“Lucas, don’t swear, I don’t like it,” Cynthia scolds him.

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” he reaches for the bottle of wine, filling up all the glasses again. It stops short with his glass, and he shakes the bottle, surprised it’s run out.

“It might be unconventional and it's certainly highly unusual, but you know what, we decided we accept it. Everyone has their own way of grieving, don’t they?” Henry says, then wipes his face with a napkin.

“And it’s not hurting anyone, is it?” asks Cynthia, her giant earrings tremoring on her ear lobes as she shakes her head. “I think it’s nice that Gillian loves her mother that much,” Cynthia turns to face the body at the head of the table, ‘Martha, you got a fine daughter. We’re so happy our son married such a loving woman.”

“So, any other skeletons in the closet you want to tell us about, son?” Henry bellows, slapping his skinny thigh. He takes another sip of his wine, taking advantage of the generous flow.

“Unbelievable,” Lucas shakes his head.

“Who wants to open presents?” Gillian emerges from the kitchen holding two gifts for Tammy-Jo and Lucas Jr. that she had hidden away in the top cabinet as a surprise.

“Present time!” the kids squeal and run to the Christmas tree kneeling on the carpet in anticipation.

“Lucas, bring my mother in here please, everyone, gather around,” Gillian brings a chair from the dining room table back into the living room and sits down, crossing her legs, bobbing one foot up and down, anticipating the joy that’s to come to her children’s faces.

“Open up the big ones from us first,” Grandpa Henry says.

The kids rip open the presents like piranhas in a murky Amazon River. They each reveal two large frames with a cheque inside.

“What is it, kids?” Gillian asks.

“I don’t know,” they quickly lose interest and move on to the next gift to rip open.

“Bring it here,” Gillian says, and Tammy-Jo brings her frame to her. It reads, Tammy-Jo Richards, $50,000.00.

“A Gameboy!” Lucas Jr. shrieks. Gillian holds the frame her daughter gave her up for her husband to see, her mouth agape. Lucas Sr. goes to pick up little Luke's frame and it reads, Lucas Richardson, $50,000.00.

“You two better say thank you to your grandma and grandpa for such a gracious gift!” Gillian reminds her kids. Tammy-Jo looks up from a Barbie she unwrapped and sets it down, and the two kids go give their grandparents each a hug and say thank you, although it seems they don’t really understand what for. Paper in a frame is hardly exciting compared to toys.

“It’s for their education. We figured it would be the best thing we could do for them,” Henry and Cynthia smiled, holding each other’s hands on the love seat.

Martha slides to the right slightly in her chair, losing her upright balance. “Yes, that’s right Mom, Lucas’s parents just gave our kids enough money to start off their education on the right foot when they’re older and ready,” Gillian says as she re-straightens her mother’s stiff body back in the chair.

//

“I think we should ask your parents to move in with us,” Gillian says as she takes her sparkling earrings out of her ears in front of the mirror.

“Absolutely not,” Lucas takes off his nice Christmas shirt, button-by-button.

“Why not? They just gave us $100,000 cash and said they can’t handle their house. Your poor mother can’t even see anymore for God's sake. And just think Lucas, we could go to Hawaii, the kids could stay here with them.”

“Oh, there it is. You want a built-in babysitter, is that it?” Lucas says.

“Well, I mean, it would be mutually beneficial, wouldn’t it?” Gillian slips out of her dress without a hint of shyness.

Lucas tries to look away from her undressing. He doesn’t need this now, now when she’s asking such a demanding thing. His house has already been invaded by one parent, but at least that one didn’t talk or have opinions.

“Com’ere darling,” Gillian wraps her arms around his waist and proceeds to persuade Lucas in her very compelling way. The way that works every time.

//

Orange juice is on the table with tiny little glasses and the coffee pot is full of fresh brew. The smell of toast with jam and over-easy eggs fills the air. The family sits with pleasantries of talk about the crisp hoarfrost on the trees and the sparkling bed of snow outside their bay window.

“Henry, Cynthia,” Gillian beams, “Lucas, the kids and I have something we want to ask you.”

“Do you want to move in with us!” the kids burst out, yelling it, barely able to contain the surprise they were supposed to keep until Gillian said the magic words that told them it was time.

Lucas suddenly drops his toast to his plate; the bread feels like dry dust in his mouth.

“Oh, my goodness!” Cynthia claps her hands and smiles, then looks up at Henry next to her. “Well, what do you think dear?”

“Son, is this,” Henry pauses, “are you sure?”

Lucas sees the joy on his parent's faces. He loves them, but to be with them every day for the rest of time, could he deal with that again? He imagines his parents dead and becoming museum wax figurines as Martha has. Would she persuade him to do that too?

For a moment Lucas envisions himself packing a suitcase, cutting up all his credit and debit cards, shaving his head, abandoning his phone, changing his name to Lance McFarlane or Michael Washington and never returning to this house in Connecticut again.

“Of course, he’s sure, aren’t you sweetie?” Gillian mouths ‘Hawaii’ to Lucas and winks.

“Yes, Dad, Mom, we all think it would be best for you to live here with us.”

“Oh son, you and Gillian and the kids are just wonderful,” Cynthia and Henry rise from their chairs to hug Lucas. They each take a shoulder to squeeze. Lucas feels the suffocation of their firm embrace. His mother’s abrasive perfume clouds the air and Henry’s musk pollutes it further. The heat of their ailing old bodies layers on top of his sweater. Lucas, for a moment, doesn’t feel in his body. And that’s when he sees it. The smirk on Martha’s face.

Short StoryHumorHorrorfamily

About the author

Kendra Marya

Campervan living Canadian with a penchant for psychological thrills and cats.

B.A. Communication & Philosophy

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