“Well, here comes Jerry.” Grandma nodded her head in Jerry’s direction. He was smacking his lips as if chewing on something, and Grandma rolled her eyes. “Thomas, come sit in this here rocking chair. We don’t need a repeat of what happened last time.”
Thomas stepped across Grandma’s outstretched legs and sat in the rocking chair just as Jerry entered our circle.
“What’s this? Musical chairs?” Jerry asked.
“What you got in your mouth?” Grandma said.
“My gummies,” Jerry said, which I took to mean his gummy vitamins. They were easier to swallow than those god awful horse pills that could get lodged in your throat and choke you to death . . . like a saxophone mouthpiece?
I chuckled to myself. Grandma’s first husband was growing on me.
Jerry hunched his body over and flopped into the cushioned chair previously occupied by Thomas.
“Now isn’t that better?” Grandma asked.
“Don’t patronize me, woman,” Jerry said. He cleared the phlegm in this throat, his bottom lip bulging out, and it occurred to me that if his stomach were to become upset again and he projectile vomited all over the floor, Tammy and I would be in the direct line of fire. Was it wise for the nurses to give him vitamins that tasted like fruity candies when the last fruity snack he’d eaten was still a pink stain on the linoleum by Marcos’ feet?
I scooted my chair an inch or two back, and Tammy, recognizing her imminent danger, did the same. Grandma gave us both a side smirk, but said nothing. Jerry was too busy complaining about being forced to switch seats to even notice.
“Calm down, honey, you’re still next to me,” Grandma said.
“You two should be married,” Tammy said. “You argue enough.”
“Ha!” Frank’s hoarse voice echoed through the room. His outburst unsettled me, especially after Grandma had said he used to be in the KKK. His rubbery skin sagged. His flabby stomach lay in his thighs. He sat in a wheelchair, but a cane was hooked around the arm of the chair, indicating that he could walk, but didn’t always have the strength. I looked at his arms. Upper body strength usually increased with age, especially when you had to use it to pick yourself up because your legs were too weak to do it by themselves. How good was his swing? Could he possibly use his cane as a weapon? Was Marcos safe sharing a room with him?
He was an old man, and hopefully, that meant he was harmless too. The nursing home wouldn’t bring anyone in who could pose a threat to the other patients—other than the apathetic nurses, of course. His bark was dull now, but how sharp was his bite in his prime? How many families did he terrorize? How many crosses did he set fire to in front yards?
There was an awkward silence amongst the group, but Grandma was unfazed. She crossed one leg over the other and looked Frank right in the eye. “I married a white man before,” she said, then pointed to me. “Look at how light my granddaughter is. We all mixed up in here. How that make you feel?”
“Humph.” Frank turned his wheelchair to the side, giving us his profile once again.
“Don’t pout,” Jerry said. Sensing the tension lifted, he added, “I bet she ran him off like she did Ian.”
“I did not run Ian off!” Grandma said.
“All your nagging pushed that boy right to do a disappearing act.”
“He was a magician!”
“Funny how he didn’t get good til he married you,” Jerry said. This comment seemed to tickle Winifred, and she emerged from her purple cocoon laughing uncontrollably.
“So was Ian your next husband?” I asked.
Grandma nodded. “After Harry died, I packed up and moved the next town over to attend college. It was a nice change for me. Nobody there knew who I was. I could start over.”
“Until you got married again,” Thomas said sarcastically.
“Look, Ian’s disappearance was just an accident,” Grandma defended. She turned to me. “When I met him, he was doing your basic parlor tricks. Pick a card kind of stuff.”
“And after you married him, he got tired of you and—” Jerry egged.
“No, no.” Grandma shook her head vigorously. “He wanted to be the next Harry Houdini. With or without me, he would’ve eventually graduated from the simple stuff.”
“Ian loved me!” Grandma shouted over Jerry. “I was his assistant for four years. He proposed to me after he sawed me in half and put me back together. After graduation, we were gonna travel the country. Be the best show on earth.” She glared at Jerry. “I was supposed to be the one to disappear that night.”
“What went wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” Grandma hunched her shoulders. “After he shut me in the box and spun me around, I waited under the stage for the signal to come back up. The audience was dead silent for a few seconds. Then I heard a few gasps and a loud applause. I thought the trick had gone as planned.”
I surmised what might have happened but couldn’t accepted. This would have to be the most unbelievable of all her stories. Andrew? Maybe. Burt and Carl? Possibly. Deek? It could happen. Elliot? Metal conducted electricity, a silver fork was metal, so probably. Fred? Well, if your mind was that far gone. Gaston? Anyone could break their neck falling down the stairs. Harry? I would even believe that. Who knew, maybe he read one of Gaston’s deathly comics and freaked himself out looking at a shirt hanging on the door. But there was no way, no earthly way, Ian could have physically disappeared into thin air, and the audience watched it happen!
“The signal never came,” Grandma was saying, “so I went up anyway. I guess they expected Ian to come out behind me, but he never did. He was gone.”
“I still think you ran him off,” Jerry said.
“Maybe he was a better magician than you thought,” Thomas suggested, and the hairs down my spine stood on end. Gripping the chair behind him, the ghostly old man was back.
© 2016 Nortina Simmons
A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths
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