Zappy Zachariah

I couldn’t move. My feet felt like they were sinking in solidifying concrete. Just when I thought Grandma had finished with the earth shattering revelations, Kyle dealt a deathly blow to my ribcage, and he didn’t even know it.

“He—Drake’s your father?” Grandma asked.

“Yes,” Kyle said, still oblivious to the blank stares from me, Grandma, and the others at the table. He draped his arm over Drake’s shoulder. “Dad, this is the woman I’ve been telling you about—“

“Jenny,” Drake said.

“Jenny’s niece,” Grandma corrected.

Kyle dropped his arm. “Niece? Mom never had any siblings.”

Mom. If it didn’t hurt enough to hear him call Drake “Dad,” hearing him refer to Jenny, a woman whose blood I shared, as “Mom” was like another punch to my gut.

“Well, he was her older brother,” Grandma said, swallowing hard to keep from choking up. “He died too soon. She was still a teenager.”

“This just keeps getting good,” Jerry said.

“Need some popcorn to keep watching,” Thomas added.

“Yeeeeeaaaah!” Marcos said.

“Wait, I don’t remember . . . who’s Jenny?” Tammy furrowed her brows and turned to Frank who only grunted.

Kyle turned to me, studying my face as he scratched the smooth skin under his chin. “You know what? You actually do look a little—“

“Don’t say it!”

A boy’s first love was his mother, right? Where had I heard that before? Had my resemblance to Jenny initially attracted Kyle to me? Did I remind him of his mother? Maybe not consciously, but was there something about me that was familiar to him, almost nostalgic?

I ran out of there as fast as I could. Not stopping in the lobby to talk to the front desk nurse, I walked right out the door, went straight to my car. The heat that rushed to my face sucked the breath from my mouth, stopped me from getting in, and gave Grandma enough time to catch up to me.

“I’m not leaving, I’m just going to talk to my granddaughter!” she yelled back inside, probably to the nurse inquiring where she thought she was going. She stood on the curb and sighed. “You’re running away?”

“You saw what happened in there. He’s my cousin!” I felt like crying, but the heat evaporated any tears from my eyes. I rubbed my knuckles against them, drying them out even more to the point that they burned.

“No, he’s your mama’s cousin,” Grandma said. “Once removed from you.”

“It’s not fair,” I mumbled. I slammed my car door and leaned back against it, crossing my arms over my chest.

“Meg, you’re not married to the man. You said it yourself. Besides, what does it matter if you were? I married my cousin.”

“Kennedy was a son of a nephew of a grandparent of a whatever!” I shouted in frustration.

“No.” Grandma stepped closer. “I mean again. This time, to my first cousin.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “You’re just trying to make me feel better.”

“No, I’m serious. I’m actually still married to him in fact. He’s not dead.”

I looked at her for the first time. She seemed much shorter outside, hunching over to shield her face from the setting sun burning its brightest before it was time for it to disappear behind the horizon.


Her smooth, cool fingers pried through my folded arms, and she took my hands and held them at my side. “His name’s Zachariah. He’s my cousin on Daddy’s side. Zappy guy. So full of energy, you wouldn’t even know he’s dying. He’s off in Peru, climbing Machu Picchu, crossing another item off his bucket list. I was number seven.”

“To marry his cousin? He actually planned that?”

Grandma nodded. “To marry his cousin, have kids and see if they’re born with pigs’ tails. We’re a bit too old to be having anymore children, so he didn’t get to do that, but he still married his cousin.”

“And everyone was ok with that?”

“Who was gonna stop us? Our parents were dead. He doesn’t have any kids. Your Mama knew this wasn’t out the ordinary for me, and everyone else was just too old to care!” She bent over, knocked her forehead against mine laughing.

I pulled back and grabbed my side. “This has been the weirdest day, Grandma.”

“I know, sweetheart.” Grandma patted my cheek. “That’s partly my fault.”

“I mean, I know I didn’t know Lindell or Jenny, but they were still family . . . which means that Kyle’s still—“

“He might not be your cousin,” Grandma interrupted. “Drake was a rolling stone, and Jenny wasn’t his first wife. Have you looked at that man in there? He’s almost ninety! Jenny was only sixty when she died.”

I hadn’t even realized I was holding my breath. I let out a heavy sigh, my chest falling, my shoulders dropping. “So you’re saying Drake had as many wives as you had husbands?” It was hard to believe that Grandma’s twenty-six marriages wasn’t just an isolated tale, like something you’d read in tabloid magazines while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store.

“Maybe not wives, but definitely children. Before, after, and during Jenny.  Now, I don’t know if Kyle was one of those children Drake had outside of his marriage to Jenny, but me and Jenny talked, even more when she and Linda started to build a relationship to be closer to Lindell in a way, and I only know of Jenny giving birth to one child. A girl. Trina. You probably don’t know her, but she actually helped your Mama get that neurosurgeon job down in New Orleans.”

The glare of light from the glass door opening drew my attention. Kyle walked out to the parking lot, squinting his eyes up at the sun.

Grandma looked over her shoulder then turned back to me. “He might not know,” she whispered, “like you and your Pawpaw.”

Kyle stuffed his hands in his pocket and kicked crumbles of concrete as he stepped down from the curb and looked up at me. “So—” He shrugged. “Does this mean dinner’s off?”

“Nonsense!” Grandma waved her arms. “You two go out, have fun.” She took both our hands and joined them together.

“Is it bad that I still want to go out with you?” Kyle intertwined his fingers with mine. His eyes moved down to my lips then back up to meet my eyes. They were similar to Drake’s, but softer, calmer, a dark brown, almost black. They held that same worried look, afraid I would tell him, no—it was just too weird, let’s stop it before it gets too far, pilots and flight attendants on the same airline shouldn’t date anyway . . .

Grandma twiddled her thumbs, nervous about my anticipated answer too.

Instead, I took a page out of her book. After the way Grandma waved her life, full of twenty-six husbands, all in my face today, warning that if I kept running away from the  “what ifs,” I would miss out on finding true love, as she had, at least six times, in Andrew, Carl, Ian, Lindell, Quinton, and Pawpaw, maybe even more. I couldn’t ask for the life she had, I wasn’t sure I even wanted it, but it wouldn’t kill me to take her advice, just once, would it?

I smiled, squeezed Kyle’s hand. “I’ve heard weirder things.”

© 2016 Nortina Simmons

And with that, the A to Z Challenge is over! Thanks for reading along! I hope you enjoyed Grandma’s 26 husbands!

Read again from the beginning here.

Yuletide Yusef


“You would’ve liked Yusef,” Grandma said as the nurses came to the tables collecting trash and empty plates. She raised her empty glass to the nurse as she reached past her to take Tammy’s plate—nothing but licked-clean chicken legs left on it.

“You were mighty hungry, Ms. Tammy,” she said as she stacked the plate on top of the others. “Would you like something else?”

“Everything was quite delicious,” Tammy slurred as she rolled her tongue across her teeth, sucking at crumbs that had slipped underneath her dentures, “but I think I’m full.”

“Alright,” the nurse said, then nodded toward Grandma. “I’ll be back with some water for you, Ms. Millie.”

“Thanks, sweetheart.” Grandma cleared her throat, sat her glass on the curled up left corner of her place mat, and turned to me. “I thought you would’ve come home that Christmas to meet him, but you never did.”

I had planned to. Brick and I were living in Phoenix that year, and things weren’t working out. We had no money. Nights, we drove around the city looking for empty parking lots where we could park and sleep without drawing attention from the police. I never realized how cold it got in the desert at night until I found myself curled up in the fetal position on the torn leather backseat of Brick’s ’98 Buick in just shorts and a t-shirt, no blanket to keep me worm, and him nowhere in sight because we’d just had a fight, and he’d left to grab and beer and was gone all night.

I decided then I would come home, leave him for good, go back to school. I had just enough money to buy a one way ticket to Atlanta. Mama, Grandma or Uncle Richard would’ve had to drive down to get me, but it was close enough home and far enough away from Brick that it could work.

But on the day of my flight, he disappeared, took the car with him, and because I’d spent my last dime on a ticket, I had no way to get to the airport. I tried to walk, hitchhike, but after only an hour, I was completely lost, and any car that passed me sped up as soon as I stuck out my thumb. I couldn’t blame them. I looked wild—clothes hanging off me because I wasn’t eating, hair looking like a sombrero—I belonged in the wild. It was by a miracle that I found my way back to the Burger King parking lot where we’d been sleeping, that he was in the restaurant ordering a burger when I got there. I was too tired and exhausted to fight. I ate all of his fries and drank his shake, and that night we drove to California. He apologized with a Christmas present to Joshua Tree National Park. One parking permit was good for seven days. We welcomed the New Year camping out in Indian Cove, and I made the mistake of thinking things would actually get better after that.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t come, though,” Grandma said. The nurse returned with a pitcher, ice clinking against the glass as she poured the water. Grandma mouthed thank you before taking a long sip. She licked her lips and continued. “He died Christmas Eve. Craziest thing. He was allergic to mistletoe.”

“Allergic to mistletoe?” Thomas said, “That’s the first I ever heard of that.”

“He went that far just so he wouldn’t have to kiss you.” Jerry shimmied his shoulders laughing in his throat.

“Yusef was like my own personal St. Nick. He was always in the Christmas-y spirit, so when Christmas finally came, it was like an explosion of red and green lights and gingerbread houses. He hung mistletoe on every doorway so we couldn’t go to any room with kissing each other first.

“Throughout the night, I noticed that his lips were getting really swollen. Yusef had big lips anyway, but these were like platypus bills.” Grandma put the back of her hands over her mouth, opened and closed her fingers as if they were extensions of her lips. “He thought if he just put some ice on it, the swelling would eventually go down. We never thought he would be swelling up somewhere else too, like his throat, making it hard to breathe or swallow your mother’s ham. It was tough anyway—she overcooked it.”

“Grandma, that must’ve been tough on you. Especially with it being Christmas.”

Grandma shook her head. “They say Christmas can be the saddest holiday of the year. For me, that year, it was.”

I stood and walked over to Grandma, wrapped her arms around her and placed my chin on her shoulder. I turned and kissed her neck, and when I looked up, Drake was speed walking on the sides of his feet to our table, his arms moving back and forth like he was running. Behind him, a nurse had her hand on a man’s upper arm, leading him in the same direction as Drake. They moved quicker, walk around to meet us on the other side of the table. I recognized that salt and pepper hair anywhere, swooped over his right eyebrow—it was Kyle.

I quickly straightened up and tapped Grandma’s hand. “It’s him!” I smoothed my hands down the front of my blouse, tucked a rogue curl behind my ear, comparing my outfit to his loose black button down, his thin beige slacks.

“Stop it.” Grandma slapped my wrist. “You look fine.”

“Meg!” Kyle’s voice bellowed. He pulled me into a hug and kissed my temple. “You look beautiful as ever!”

Grandma tilted her head to the side, as if to say, I told you so.

I rolled my eyes. “This is my grandma, Millie,” I said gesturing to her.

He took her hand and kissed it just below the wrist. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Grandma curled her back. “Such a gentleman,” she said, fanning herself.

“Careful! Keep your hands to yourself,” Thomas said. He brushed his fingers together, twisted his mouth in disapproval.

“Grandma has a few boyfriends here,” I said when Kyle looked at me confused.

Grandma quickly shooed us toward the door. “Y’all get on before the restaurants get crowded. It is Friday, you know.”

“Wait, where are you going?”

We turned around. Drake was standing behind Frank. He hung his arms out to the side in a half-shrug, a questioning stance.

“Oh! Hey, dad,” Kyle said.

I threw his hand down, and it bounced off his thigh. “Dad?” I squealed.

© 2016 Nortina Simmons

A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “Z” is for Zappy Zachariah.

Xylographed Xander

“Where was I when this supposedly happened?” I demanded. I’d had enough of Grandma’s surprises. She had as many husbands as I had years—her twelfth being my biological grandfather—and now she was telling me that after the man I grew up call Pawpaw passed away, she married three more? Who?

“You were out gallivanting with that fool boyfriend of yours.” The disgust in her voice was like spitting out cold, runny eggs. “Brook.”

“Brick,” I corrected.

“Stupid name. What did his mother call him?”

“I wouldn’t know. I never met her.”

“So you wasted three years of your life with a man whose real name you never knew and whose parents you never met.”

“You’re lecturing me about a relationship that ended years ago.” I had to watch how I raised my voice at her. I wasn’t too old for Grandma to still put me over her knee. For a petite woman, she had large hands, and they were thick; they hollowed out your skull and made your face echo with one smack.

“I’m just showing you how much time you wasted.” Grandma would’ve  convinced a stranger that I was still unmarried in my forties, living in a cluttered house that smelled of litterboxes. Just like her generation, seeing a woman’s value in how young she married. Since sixteen, Grandma spent every year with a man. I couldn’t ask for her life. Twenty-six life partners, but also twenty-six deaths. Moments of bliss combatted with equal measures of pain and heartbreak. That wasn’t a world I coveted, full as it was.

“I don’t see it that way, Grandma.” It was true that I hated Brick, but I would’ve only been deceiving myself if I’d said I regretted ever dating him. He was the reason I become a flight attendant. Between the fights—after he’d slammed the doors of motel rooms and left me alone with no money, no food, for days—I went off on my own and fell in love with the ride, the freedom of being away from home, away from him, nothing restricting me, losing myself in a new environment.

You don’t know true liberation until you drive through the flat desert at ninety miles an hour from dusk, deep into the night, the cool breeze blowing through your hair, nothing but the stars and moon to keep you company. And with only you and road and the middle of nowhere, you marvel at how much light still emits from the sky after the sun sets. So much so that you turn off your headlights, stare into the miles of sand and cacti ahead of you, press your foot down hard on the gas, and anticipate the moment you speed right off the edge of the earth in peaceful ecstasy.

I would forever cherish the desert where I broke away the chains. I came back home with a purpose. I wouldn’t settle. I wouldn’t be bound. I would travel the world. Flight attendant seemed like the perfect job to do that, and dating a pilot just felt natural.

“If it hadn’t been for Brick, I probably wouldn’t have ever met Kyle.”

“That’s stretching it a bit,” Grandma said. I didn’t think she’d ever truly forgiven me for leaving the way I did to be with Brick. I’d left without a word—packed what I needed, told my roommate she could have the rest. When the letters finally came about my flunking out of school and my loans for the second semester being rescinded, Brick and I had been living in West Memphis, Arkansas for almost three months.

I knew Grandma was disappointed in me. Although she’d never said it, I could hear it in her voice every phone call. She hated to talk to me, but her love and anxiety to make sure I was still alive outweighed that hatred. Knowing now how much I’d missed while I was gone—three more “grandfathers”—all I wanted to do was apologize for abandoning her. Pawpaw had just died. I should’ve been there for her in that grief.


“Xander made a mural of him,” Grandma said, interrupting my thoughts. “I don’t know why Walter’s death was such a surprise to me. I knew he had cancer. And even if I didn’t, I had lived this kind of loss all my life. After twenty-five years, I must’ve forgotten he wasn’t invincible.

“Xander helped me move on with his wood engravings. He made portraits of me, you, Linda, Rick, Walter. He even did engravings of the postcards you sent every month. It just seemed right to marry him next. Even though he was much older than me, and his xylograph shop wasn’t making any money. It wasn’t located in the best area— between a shopping mall and a Wal-Mart superstore. His shop was there first, but they came in and stole all his customers. He probably should’ve changed the name. No one knows what xylograph even means.” She chuckled softly.

“So what does it mean?” Jerry asked.

“Have you been listening to anything I’ve said? Wood engravings!”

I was thankful Jerry had asked before I did. Without hesitation, Grandma would’ve chastised me for having a poor vocabulary after going to college, dropping out, and then going again. She would’ve said that after all that time, I still learned nothing, despite everything I had picked up just by serving people on a plane. Flying into international airports, I gained a new understanding about various cultures—like how certain gestures could be offensive to some while they meant nothing to others. With the number of Latinos on our flights west, I became fluent in Spanish. Dammit, I even found a man! I couldn’t get credit for that?

Jerry smacked his lips, sputtering spuds of mashed potatoes back at us. “I’m an old man. Why would I use one of those fancy college words when I can say wood engraving just as easy.”

“Because then it loses its mystery and allure.” Grandma kissed her fingertips and spread them out like a blooming flower.

“Sounds like he already lost that if you were his only customer,” Jerry said.

“Time to start thinking about getting that insurance money,” Thomas added.

“You know, sometimes you just make me sick!” Grandma turned away, shaking her head.

“Why?” Jerry asked, “Did the place actually burn down?”

“With him still inside!”


“Not the time, Marcos!” Grandma said.

Marcos bit his bottom lip. His oval eyes shifted back and forth between me and Grandma, and I could almost hear him whimpering like a puppy who’d just gotten slapped on the nose for a reason he couldn’t understand.

Grandma slumped her shoulders. “I’m sorry. It was rough on me. I was back in my routine of short-lived marriages and quick deaths.”

“When you look at it one way, it was kind of on him.” Jerry started to say more, but hesitated.

“Come on. Spit it out already,” Grandma said, then stiffened, realizing her poor choice in words. We all knew Jerry was capable to spitting out much more that he could chew . . . or swallow.

“Well, his art was making firewood.” He nudged Thomas with his elbow to break the awkward silence coming.

“You’re just a dang ol’ fool,” Grandma finally said. Her frown melted away with the tension, and we all had permission to laugh at Jerry’s inappropriate joke.

© 2016 Nortina Simmons

A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “Y” is for Yuletide Yusef.

Worrisome Walter

There was uncertainty in his voice when he spoke, which made my stomach twist into knots even more. I was all too familiar with being stood up. I thought he was different. He had been doing so well, I almost forgot he was still a man.

“Hey, Meg. It’s, uh, Kyle. Um, about our date tonight . . . Ah, this is kind of embarrassing . . . I don’t know where you live.”

I burst into laughter. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear to say that!”

“Thought I was calling to cancel, huh?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“What man would be so dumb to leave a beautiful woman like you hanging?” he said, but he would be surprised. There was one, just one.

His real name wasn’t Brick. I never knew it. He’d changed it when he turned eighteen. Not even his parents called him by his real name, or so I thought. I never met them. I guess I wasn’t as special of a girlfriend to him as I’d thought.

Brick had already dropped out of college before I started my freshman year, but he still hung around campus—mainly for frat parties and to meet girls. That was how we met. We started dating shortly after, and after only three months, he convinced me to drop out of school too and drive across the country with him, visiting every state on the map. That’s where the real education was, he’d said. Off the grid, beyond the frontier, life experience no degree could ever give you. Grandma called us both fools.

“So why don’t you give me your address, and I’ll put it in the GPS. Pick you up in about 45?”

“Actually—” I looked down at my watch. Quarter to seven. I could get home in fifteen minutes, take a quick shower, maybe throw on some make up, and be standing in front of my closet naked, deciding and then changing my mind about which dress I wanted to wear by the time he knocked on my door. “I’m not at home right now. I’m visiting my grandma, and—” I turned my back to Grandma and cupped my hand over my mouth. “She’s in her stall routine right now, so it might be another hour before I can leave,” I whispered into the phone.

“Say no more. My dad is the same way.”

“Uh-uh. Don’t blame me for holding this man up.” Grandma snatched my phone out of my hand. “Hello?” She brought the phone to her ear, cocked her head to the side. She folded her left hand under her armpit and shifted her weight onto her right leg, poking out her hip like an impatient teenager. “The one and only,” she said. “You can call me Millie. And what’s your name? And how old are you Kyle? Hmm, thirty three.” She tottered her hand in front of her. “Not too old, not too young.” Was she inquiring about a potential suitor for me or measuring out porridge? “You know, Jesus was thirty-three when he died on the cross. Are you going to save my granddaughter from her poor choices in men?”

I slapped my palm against my face. “Give me the phone, Grandma.”

She held up her finger. “I just have one more question,” she said to me, then to Kyle, “What do you do for a living?” Her eyes widened. “So she did find herself a pilot. Oh, Meg, why didn’t you tell me?” With a light force, she tapped the top of my hand with her finger tips, as if chiding me of stealing cookies from the cookie jar before dinner. “Well, Kyle, I would love to meet you. Why don’t you come pick up Meg from here. Cedar Retirement.”

I vehemently shook my head no, but she rolled her eyes and turned to the side, giving me her profile. “Oh, he does? What a coincidence! So I’ll see you when you get here? Ok, thirty minutes. Bye-bye, now.” She hung up the phone and handed it back to me. “He seems nice.”

“Better watch out, Meg,” Jerry said, “she might steal your boyfriend right from under ya!”

“Oh, please.” Grandma put her hands on her hips. “I am too old to be doing something so childish.”

“Grandma, why did you tell him to come here. I wanted to stop by the house first. Take a shower, change, do something with my hair.” I fluffed my ends. The curls were starting to frizz and puff out. Now that I wasn’t sitting directly under the air vent, the room was much more humid that I’d thought. I turned my nose over my shoulder and inhaled a quick sniff. I could use another coat of deodorant too.

“Oh, please!” Grandma fanned her hand in front of my face. “You worry too much. You’re beautiful.  Do you think you were looking all prim and perfect 30,000 feet in the air? No, you were probably sweating. Your bunions were probably killing you  in those heels, and a snot-nosed kid in economy probably threw up all over you. And he still called you beautiful.”

I bowed my head, stretched out my oversize blouse in front of me. Twisted out my ankle to examine my skinny jeans that were torn in spots along the seam. My attire wasn’t too informal, but I always felt the need to dress up around Kyle, look professional, straighten my hair.  I couldn’t separate the buttoned up, erect, shoulders never hunched, business side of him from who he was as a person. Not even when he casually flirted with me during flights, whispered in my ear about taking me out sometime.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Grandma said. I shook my head, but looking into her eyes, those same feelings of doubt and insecurity reflected back to me. “I was the same way with Lindell. Don’t try to whiten yourself up for him, sweetheart. He likes you for you. If he wanted a white woman, he would be with one.”

“How do you know he’s white? I’ve worked with black pilots before.”

Grandma poked out her bottom lip, as if to say, “I’m Grandma. I always know.”

I wiped my eyes and laughed to keep from crying. “I love you, Grandma.”


“I love you too, sweetheart.” She pulled me in for a hug then leaned back to look at me. “My, my, if Walter could see you now. He was worried about you, you know.”


She curled her back and walked around the table stretching out her shaky fist as if holding a cane. “I can’t die before Meg has a man! I can’t die before Meg has a man!” she said with a whistle, mimicking his voice.

“Yea, that sounds like Pawpaw.” He’d been trying to marry me off since I was sixteen. I can’t take care of you all your life; I won’t be around much longer,  I remembered him saying on several occasions. Junior and senior proms. High school graduation. After helping me move into my first college dorm, he’d folded a crisp one hundred dollar bill into my palm and said, “Drop this in front of someone as good-looking as me. Make sure he gets a good look at your butt when you bend over to pick it up.” Pawpaw couldn’t help his age. In his day, women married young, had the babies, and took care of the house. To him, if I waited too long, all the good men would be taken, and I’d have to settle for fools . . . like Brick.

“That was his dying wish for you,” Grandma said. “In the hospital, after you kissed him goodbye and left to sit in the waiting room, he pulled me close and said, ‘Don’t leave this earth until they both married.’ You and your Mama.”

If I didn’t know Pawpaw, I wouldn’t have thought it was true, but if anyone were to make such a dying wish, it definitely would’ve been him. “It’s just a first date, Grandma. Don’t marry me and Kyle just yet. Besides, you’ll have a harder time with Mama. She hasn’t been with anyone since my dad.”

“No, no. I talked to her just a few days ago, and apparently she’s found herself a little man down there in the bayou. You’re the only one left.”

“What! Who?”

Grandma shrugged her shoulders. “You’ll have to ask her.”

It wouldn’t slip my mind. I would ask her tonight, as soon as I returned home from my date with Kyle, assuming our date wouldn’t spill over into the next morning. I shook my head. It wouldn’t. Moving too fast—that’s what got me caught up in that toxic relationship with Brick.

“So what about you?” I folded my arms across my chest. Pawpaw was so worried about leaving us poor, helpless women alone, with no one to take care of us, if Mama and I found husbands and left, who would stay with Grandma? “Did he tell you you could remarry?”

Grandma snaked her head around her neck exaggeratedly. “Meg, I had twenty-two husbands before him, of course he did! I married three more times after Walter died.”

Everything inside me dropped. My legs, my stomach, my ass, my jaw. I fell into my chair and slammed both elbows down on the table. “WHEN?!”

© 2016 Nortina Simmons

A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “X” is for Xylographed Xander.

Veterinarian Val

I lost an hour listening to Uriah. The residents had filled the cafeteria by then, each with a plate in front of them, munching slowly. A few stragglers wandered in from their rooms, including Tammy, refreshed from a three hour nap. She walked straight to our table when she saw us, leaning heavily against her walker—the balance in her legs not fully awake yet. She wrapped her arms around Grandma’s shoulders and gave her a tight squeeze.

“I had a dream about you.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Grandma said between chews.

“Is that all?” Thomas asked, clearly anxious to know if Tammy remembered Grandma’s disturbing confession about Pete that sent her fleeing to her room for a “nap” in the first place.

“It was about you and your husband.”

“Which one?” Jerry carved his knife across his half-empty plate. The silver scraped harshly against the ceramic, making a high-pitched sound that rivaled dog whistles. I rubbed my knuckle against my eardrum and tried to ignore him, staring at Tammy’s wrinkly, age spot covered hand instead.

My mind lingered on the thought of whether Jerry would stab Tammy if she mentioned Pete, to protect Grandma—maybe between her fingers just to scare her into silence. The knife was a dud, barely sharper than a butter knife. Even in this fragile crowd, it couldn’t do any real damage. The chicken meat seemed tender enough, but the knife couldn’t even cut through the thick crust of the skin. Frank had actually peeled the skin away and started picking the meat from between the bones, licking the tips of his greasy fingers as his tongue looped the chicken into his mouth.

“The doctor,” Tammy said, and Jerry dropped his knife, seemingly satisfied with her answer.

“Aw, Tammy, not while we’re eating!” Grandma covered her mouth, spat her food into a napkin, then folded it neatly into a triangle and tucked it under her place mat.


“No, I don’t mean Burt. The animal doctor.”

“Oh. Val.”

“Yes. You always spoke so fondly of him. What happened to him again?”

Grandma pushed herself back from the table. I could hear the echo of the clock ticking in my ear as she twirled her tongue around the molars in the corners of her mouth, preparing to talk about another husband.

“Tammy, would you like to sit?” I said quickly, getting up to offer her my seat.

“No! She can pull up a chair.” Grandma snapped her fingers behind her where two men sat at a table of four.

“Grandma, I really can’t stay.”

Grandma waved for me to sit back down. “Val will be quick. I was only married to him a year.”

“You were married to the last three for a year!”

Ignoring me, Grandma scooted her chair down closer to Frank to allow Tammy to sit between us.

“I feel like it would be wrong of me to talk about Val while I’m eating this chicken,” Grandma said, picking at the crispy skin with her fork. “You see, Val wasn’t just a veterinarian. He was a vegetarian too. It would’ve been hypocritical for him to be a devoted animal lover and still eat meat. So he gave it up a long time ago, and when we got married, he made me give it up too.”

“Must’ve been hard after all that food Uriah was feeding you,” Thomas said.

“Any other time, I would’ve flat out said no. You can’t make me give up my chicken, and my bacon, oooh, and that spicy smoked sausage. No way! But we all needed a diet after Uriah. Linda was getting teased at school, Rick couldn’t walk up the stairs without losing his breath, and I was starting to look pregnant.”

“Maybe you were,” Thomas said.

Grandma rolled her eyes. “I think I would’ve known if I was pregnant, smarty pants.”

“So you only ate vegetables?” Jerry asked. “What a waste!”

“Fruits, vegetables, beans. It’s amazing how great they taste when that’s all you’re eating. All that weight just shed right off. It was the healthiest I’ve ever been. Even though Val’s gone, I still try to stick to that diet, avoid meat a few days out the week. Keeps my brain from turning to mush.”

“That why you ain’t touched your chicken?” Frank said. Brown crumbs and spittle collected around the corners of this mouth.

“You think I got to looking this good eating fried chicken everyday?” Grandma said, twisting her hips.

“Not by a long shot,” Thomas said. He had that look in his eyes that said, don’t lock your door tonight. Grandma read it and immediately shied away, her cheeks turning a bright violet again illuminating tiny brown freckles around her nose and cheekbones.

“Meg, are you hungry?” She asked, directing the attention elsewhere. She looked over Tammy’s head and slid her plate down the table to me. “They’ll feed you here, but it’ll cost more than eating out. You can have my plate. I’m done.”

“I’m actually going out,” I said.

“I’ll take it.” Tammy didn’t wait for my response. She snatched the plate in  front of her, took my fork and knife, and dug in.

“By yourself or with someone?” Grandma asked.

I hesitated to answer. If I said with someone, she would only interrogate me on who he was, how long I knew him, his age, if he was married, if he had kids, if we had a future. I quickly checked my watch and jolted from my seat, knocking my chair into the back of the man behind me. “Sorry,” I mumbled as I scooped up my purse from the floor and slid the chair under the table. Another thirty minutes gone.

“Is it a boy?”

“Grandma, I’m twenty-six.” I sighed. Would I ever stop being a child to her?

“I’m sorry. A man then?”

“Wait!” Tammy shook Grandma’s shoulder. “You didn’t say how Val died.”

“Oh, he was bit by a rabid dog!” Grandma said hurriedly. She slapped away Tammy’s hand and looked up at me expecting an answer.

“You’re ringing.” Frank pointed to my purse. I hadn’t heard my ringtone at all, but now it was loud and clear as a siren. I wondered how long it’d been ringing. I pulled out my phone, and Kyle’s number flashed on the screen. He’d better not be calling to cancel.

© 2016 Nortina Simmons

A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “W” is for Worrisome Walter.

Urgent Uriah

I couldn’t believe it was almost five.  I hadn’t planned on staying to dinner, but already the nurses were collecting chairs, pushing tables together, setting the place mats and lying forks, knives and spoons on either side.

“Anyone ready to eat?” a nurse standing behind Marcos asked.


Jerry rubbed his stomach. “I’m famished.”

“Well, I would guess so. You ain’t ate nothing since you threw up lunch!” Thomas pointed at the pink stain on the floor by his feet.

Jerry smacked his lips.

“Would you all like to sit together?” the nurse asked.

“Yes, dear,” Grandma said.

The nurse grabbed the handles of Marcos’ wheelchair and turned it toward the cafeteria area. “I’ll be back for you,” she said over her shoulder to Frank.

“One of us can push him, dear,” Grandma said as she stood and stretched her back. She snapped her fingers in my direction. “Take him. Follow that nurse.”

“I was actually thinking about leaving.”

Grandma cocked her head to the side. The look in her eyes told me she was preparing her usual stall routine. “It won’t kill you to take the man to the table, will it?” she said.

That was how it always started. “It won’t kill you, will it?” No, it wouldn’t kill me to do one simple task, but that one simple task always turned into one more, then a third and a fourth, and before I’d even realize what time it was, the staff would be setting up a room for me to spend the night.

I pushed Frank to the end of the table across from Marcos. Jerry and Thomas sat on one side of the table, and Grandma sat on the opposite side. I looked around from Drake, but the man had wondered off in our migration, probably to the bathroom. I wouldn’t miss him or his roaming hands. Maybe I could escape before he came back.

“Won’t you come sit?” Grandma patted the empty seat next to her. Her eyes drooped down like slanted almonds. “I haven’t finished telling you about all of my husbands yet. You’ve listened for this long. You can’t stay for six more?”

“It’ll have to wait until my next visit, Grandma.” I glanced down at my wrist watch. I had three hours to get ready for my date with Kyle. The drive home was about twenty minutes with rush hour traffic. If I left now, I would still have plenty of time, but three hours quickly dwindled to three minutes when listening to Grandma. Her stories were endless, and she told them with such emotion, we were always drawn in, reliving every detail with her, losing track of time all the while.

Grandma hung her head, digging her chin into her chest. “It’s not often that I see my only granddaughter,” she said barely moving her lips, the words coming out muffled.

“You sure she’s your only?” Jerry said out the corner of his mouth.

Thomas snickered into his glass as he took a sip of water.

“Grandma, you act like I don’t come to see you every week.”

Grandma raised her finger. “Key word, week. That means I have to wait seven long, excruciating days.” She wobbled her head around her neck dramatically, touching an ear to each shoulder.

“Careful, for you snap your neck,” Frank said in his gurgly voice.


“Oh you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Grandma barked back, then said, “Where are you in such a hurry to get to?” when she noticed me sling my purse over my shoulder and check my watch again. “You’re like Uriah. He rushed himself right to the grave.”

“How? Let’s hear it,” Thomas said.

Grandma crossed her arms over her chest and turned her head. “I’ll tell when Meg has a seat.”



I threw my purse over the back of the chair and flopped down beside her. One more. I would stay for one more, and then I was leaving whether Grandma liked it or not.

“Uriah was a chef. Well, not officially, but he was the line cook at one of my favorite restaurants. Leroy’s Heart and Soul. They had the best fried chicken in town. Skin so crispy, it flaked in your mouth.

“He spoiled me when we first got married. Every night, dinner was fried chicken, mac & cheese, collard greens with smoked ham hocks! Mm, mm, mm!” Grandma licked her lips. “I gained fifteen pounds that first month. Linda was getting chunky too. Rick had started college by then, but you wouldn’t even know it, as often as he was home, eating all our leftovers.”

I tapped my foot under the table. The background information was what made Grandma’s stories so long. She had to set it up, introduce the characters, deliver the stakes. She couldn’t just dive into the climax out the gate, start with their individual deaths, even though their deaths were what initially hooked our interest. Where would the thrill of suspense come from if there was no build up?

“Uriah always wanted more. He eventually got tired of working in a small town soul food restaurant. He wanted to be a head chef, but he didn’t want to go to school to get the proper culinary training.” Grandma pressed her finger to her temple. “He thought he knew everything. One day he tried this new recipe at the restaurant— a secret ingredient to give the chicken a nice kick, but not too much that the kids couldn’t still eat it. Everyone loved it, but the executive chef thought Uriah was trying to undercut him. They fired him the next day. That’s when Uriah decided to open his own restaurant out of our garage instead. It was the dumbest idea if there ever was one!”

“Damn, you couldn’t be the supportive wife?” Thomas said.

“No! He had complete strangers coming in and out of my house all through the night. Linda was on waitress duty when she should’ve been doing her homework. Of course, she didn’t care because she was making tips. A dollar from this and that table was a lot of money to her since she ain’t never have none.”

“You never did allowances in your house?” Thomas asked.

“How, when she’s burying a husband every year?” Jerry cracked.

“Where’d you get the money? All of them couldn’t have had life insurance,” Thomas said.

“Who said I had a funeral for all of them? Andrew’s parents buried him in their backyard.” Grandma didn’t wait for Thomas or Jerry to ask about the others.

“Uriah thought he was saving money putting the restaurant in the garage and making me, Linda, and Rick when he was home, host and wait tables. But cooking for a restaurant and actually running the business are two different things. Our customers where just a few family and friends, and Uriah’s regulars form Leroy’s. Still, that was a lot. It was hard cooking for ten to fifteen people a night with one oven, four burners on the stove, and that’s not including the fact that our family still had to eat.

“I was hostess by the door, making sure nobody wandered off where they had no business. You can never be too careful with strangers in your house. Even people you know. They’d be the main ones to steal from you. Linda and Rick were our wait staff. They ran back and fourth between the kitchen and garage carrying thin paper plates with heaping piles of food on them. One night, Linda dropped a whole table’s meal on the stairs. Uriah liked’ve slapped her. That was the only time I’d ever seen her actually want to do her homework.

“After three weeks of breaking out necks, the oven finally gave out. On top of that, we lost two burners on the stove. Uriah bough a crock pot to ease the load, but nobody wanted to wait two hours for their food. Eventually we lost our customers too.

“Uriah kept going on and on about how we’re losing money, we’re losing money, but we weren’t making any money! Not with that grocery bill from buying all that food and that light bill from cooking it! It was a miracle we still had a house!

“Uriah wasn’t having it though. He was so mad—slicing onions, crying and sniffling, mumbling about what he needed to do to get his business back. He wasn’t paying attention at all. Chopped his middle and index fingers clean off. He was so hysterical, swinging his arms all around, that he slit his wrist too before I could finally get the knife away from him. We didn’t have any insurance for the hospital, so I took him to the urgent care clinic, hoping maybe they could stitch him up, but he bled out before the doctor could see him.”

“Christ Jesus! All of that over some fried chicken?” Jerry said.

Thomas nodded to me. “You better stay. We don’t want you hurting yourself like Uriah.”

“That chicken must’ve been damn good,” Frank grumbled.

“Oh, it is!” A nurse pushed a cart of food up to our table. She took one of the plates from the cart and extended her arm over Frank’s shoulder to lay it on the place mat in front of him.

Dinner was fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, and to add a little tangy sweetness as a dessert, cranberry sauce. After listening to how Uriah had sliced himself open while cooking, the last thing I wanted to see on a plate full of food was anything red.

“Not the healthiest choice for this crowd,” I said looking down my nose at Frank’s plate. It screamed diabetes.

The nurse shrugged. “It’s Friday!”

“We ain’t dead yet,” Frank said with a mouth full of potatoes.

“We will be after this.” Jerry tucked his napkin into the front of his shirt then took his fork and knife in both fists and slammed them down on the table. “Now come on with my food, girly. I’m hangry!”

Grandma sucked her teeth. “Just don’t throw it up this time.”

© 2016 Nortina Simmons

A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “V” is for Veterinarian Val.


Thunderstorm Theo

“I was going to tell you, sweetheart,” Grandma finally said.

“When?” I pressed. “You could’ve said something when you were talking about Kennedy and how all the daughters in our family look like their aunts. Better yet, you could’ve mentioned it when Drake first came over here calling me Jenny!” I was fuming; I was blowing hot air through my nostrils like an enraged bull.

“And, how exactly was I supposed to do that without telling you about Lindell first?” Grandma raised her chest, and in a mocking tone said, “Oh, by the way, this white man’s white wife, Jenny, was your black Pawpaw’s sister.”

I dropped my arms and slumped in my chair. “I guess I would’ve been a little confused.” Hell, this whole day had been confusing. All the mysteries of Grandma’s life unveiled—her twenty-six husbands, Uncle Richard, my grandfather, and now my great aunt. I was afraid to ask if there was more she hadn’t yet shared.

“And I’m gonna ignore how you stormed over hear huffing and puffing like I ain’t your Grandma and I won’t still give you a whopping.”

I threw my head back and laughed. “You’re right, Grandma, I’m sorry.”


“My husband Theo threw a temper tantrum with me just before he died, you know.”

“Damn, Millie, did you beat the man to death?” Thomas said.


“I didn’t lay a finger on him,” Grandma said. “God took care of everything.” She fluffed her curly gray hair behind her ear. “Theo was always accusing me of stepping out on him. I think we got married too fast.”

Jerry tilted his head to the side. “All the men you been with, and he was the only one you think you married too fast.” He pursed his lips.

“Yes,” Grandma said calmly. “We didn’t know each other very well—“

“You didn’t know Andrew either.”

“That’s different. We were soulmates.” Grandma fluttered her long eyelashes as if she were still a teenager. “Theo was immature. He was a little younger than me, and—“


“Shut up, Frank!” Grandma said without looking at him. She continued to stare ahead as she delved back into her past and recounted her short-lived marriage with Theo.

“Theo was immature,” she repeated. “He was always accusing me of stepping out on him. Now, usually, when a man is constantly accusing you of wrong doing, it’s because he’s doing wrong himself.”

Right then, I reevaluated my entire last relationship, which, depressingly, was over four years ago when I was living with my hedonist boyfriend. I recalled the constant bickering, the baseless accusations, how he left me stranded in the middle of nowhere more than once—the last time at a diner in Kansas when he’d sworn I was flirting with our waiter. All that time, had he been sleeping around with other women? I hadn’t seen or heard from him in four years, but the thought reawaken my hatred of him.

“Theo couldn’t let go of the ladies, so naturally, he thought I couldn’t let go of the men—I’ve had so many. But I was never unfaithful in any of my marriages.

“He burst in the house during a thunderstorm one night. I didn’t even hear him. I had already put Linda and Rick to bed, and I was trying to get some sleep myself when he dragged me outside, talking ’bout some ‘Fess up! Fess up!’ I told him I ain’t have nothing to confess, but maybe he did. That made him real mad. He picked me up by my hair, drew his hand back to slap me. Then, what we thought was a loud crack of thunder rattled us both and he let me go. Turned out lightening had struck the tree behind. I rolled out of the way just before it fell over and crushed him underneath.”

Thomas recoiled in the rocking chair with a jolt. “Damn! That’s gotta hurt!”

“My foot got tangled in the outer branches. The kids heard all the noise and came out to help. I twisted my ankle pretty bad, but Theo got the worst of it.”

“Obviously!” I said.

Drake’s soft laugh floated over our heads and intruded into our conversation. “Hee-hee. Jenny. You look like Jenny.”

Jerry flung his arms in the air. “Finally, he gets it! We’ve been trying to tell you that all damn day!”

Drake turned his bobbling head to Jerry. He reminded me of the reflex test doctors gave their patients during checkups. They’d tap the knee with a knocker, and the leg was supposed to immediately kick, but some people reacted slower than others. They had to think about it, give the brain enough time to remember the expected action and send the command back down to the leg.

“We already changed the subject. Come on, catch up,” Thomas said.

“And she’s your niece, so no more touchy-feely business.” Jerry wagged his finger in Drake’s face.

Drake smiled at him absently, a slight twinkle in his eyes. He had no idea what Jerry was talking about.

© 2016 Nortina Simmons

A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “U” is for Urgent Uriah.

Schizophrenic Skeet

“Is there anything else you want to ask me?” Mama said.


I peeked into the community area where Grandma and her circle of friends sat by the door. Grandma’s lips moved in a blur and she threw her arms about her wildly as she spoke. Thomas was leaning so far back in the rocking chair, he was nearly on the floor cackling up a storm. Even Frank had a hint of a smile on his thin lips. Grandma must be on her next husband. Judging from her and Thomas’ animated body language, it was a story I couldn’t miss.

I turned my attention back Mama’s question. She’d settle my unease about Pawpaw—he was my granddaddy, blood relation or not—but I still had concerns about my biological grandfather, Lindell. I knew nothing about him apart from the fact that he was white and was murdered by bigots. Who was the real Lindell? He was Grandma’s soulmate, but did he have any other family, and if so, where were they now? I was only a fourth of him, but I wanted more. I wanted a connection with him. I wasn’t sure if or how Mama could provide any of that for me, but it didn’t hurt to try.

“How did you feel when Grandma told you about your real father?”

Mama breathed heavily into the receiver. “Honestly . . . I didn’t believe her. I’d just listened to her say all these horrible things about white men. They’re the devil. They killed Reynolds. Then all of a sudden she was married to one—I was half of what she hated. I threw it back in her face.”

It made sense, for Grandma to be completely enamored with a man, yet hate everything about him at the same time—his privilege. The world around them accepted him, but they hated her, and they detested the two of them together. When it came to making a choice, they would always choose Lindell over her, no matter the situation, even in murder. His death would be quick, utterly painless, but hers, hers would be brutal. Such was the agitated relationship between the races during that time—in some cases, it still is. Grandma knew all of this, and she married Lindell anyway. I couldn’t ask to be braver.

“We didn’t talk about him again until I was in college,” Mama said, “actually, when I was pregnant with you—after your father had hightailed it out of there and transferred to another school.”

My father. Scarce memories of him still lingered in my mind, but I could barely even picture his face now. He’d been gone for so long. In reality, he was never around. He showed up when it was convenient for him, usually with a thoughtless present of a wrinkled dollar bill, ill-fitting clothing, or beaten up toys he’d bought from a garage sale.

I never had a relationship with my father. Pawpaw and Uncle Richard were enough, and if Lindell were alive, I knew he would love me just as unconditionally as he loved Grandma. But my real father? Mama said he’d wanted her to get an abortion when he found out she was pregnant. I couldn’t love a man who only saw me as a fetus that needed to be expelled. That kind of man wasn’t a father; he was a sperm donor.

“Knowing that yours wouldn’t be around, it reinvigorated the desire to want to know more about Lindell. That’s when Ma introduced me to his sister, and Meg, if there was any doubt in my mind that Lindell was my father, that all stopped the moment I met Aunt Jenny. It was like looking into a mirror.”

I was standing so close to the ficus tree, that when I sucked in all the air around me, one of the leaves went straight into my mouth, and the tip scratched at the back of my throat. I coughed it out and screeched, “Did you say aunt Jenny?”

Mama didn’t hear the utter shock in my voice. She continued on plainly, “Yea. Sweet lady. She died a few years ago. Her husband’s actually at Cedar with Ma.”


“Yea, that’s his name. You’ve met him?”

“He’s been following me around like a lost puppy all afternoon, calling me Jenny!”

Mama laughed her high-pitched hyena-like series of “hee-hees” then said, “He’s a frisky one. He was feeling up on me when I first met him too, and Jenny was still alive then!”

“Let me call you back, Mama.” I marched back to the community area to confront Grandma and Drake. All this time I thought he was calling me Jenny because he was a lonely old man, when in fact, I was actually her distant niece. No wonder he claimed I looked just like her. Grandma did say all the women in our family looked like their aunts.

“Oh, ok, hon. I’ll probably be sleep when you call, so just text me or leave a message.”

We exchanged our “I love yous” and I hung up the phone.

Grandma was still talking about her next husband. She clawed at the air in front of her, as if digging into the ground. “He kept hearing someone knocking. Knocking under the floorboards. But we lived on the first floor. There was nothing there but dirt.”

“He dug his own damn grave,” Thomas snorted.

“He dug himself straight to hell,” Jerry added.



She jumped when she heard her name and looked up at me. “Oh, Meg. I didn’t even see you there. I was just telling everyone about Skeet. Would you like to—“

I shook my head and put both hands on my hips. “So, when were you gonna tell me that Drake’s wife, Jenny, was Lindell’s sister?”

“Damn!” Jerry said.

Grandma’s jaw dropped, and I could scarcely hear her whisper, “Oh,” before she quickly closed her mouth.

© 2016 Nortina Simmons

A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “T” is for Thunderstorm Theo.

Revolutionary Reynolds

“Mama! I’m so glad you called me back!” I returned to my corner in the lobby next to the ficus tree. The nurse at the front desk watched me out the corner of her eye. That noisy woman spent more time eavesdropping on my conversations than she spent doing her own job. Then again, working the front lobby of a nursing home was probably an eventless endeavor. How many residents had regular visitors? Grandma had been there three years, and I could only remember a handful of guests who came as often as I did—most of them volunteers. I was the highlight of her day.

“What did your grandmother tell you?” Mama’s voice sounded dejected.

“Am I interrupting something?” I asked.

“I’ve been up since five in the morning,” she said.

“I won’t take long.” I blew air through my cheeks. Now that I had her on the phone, I didn’t know where to start. Uncle Richard had already answered the questions I would’ve asked her. What more could Mama tell me about Lindell, anyway? She’d never met him, and she was too young to remember her first five stepfathers after him.

I’d spent most of my afternoon seeking proof of Grandma’s unbelievable stories. Now that I had someone to finally settle my befuddled mind, my only inquiry was why had it taken so long for my family to say anything about our history? Why was I the last to learn the truth? Why did Grandma have to be in a nursing home before she told me?

“When did Grandma tell you about your real father?” It wasn’t the question I wanted to ask, but depending on how she answered, maybe it would bring me closer to understanding why I was left in the dark for so long.

Mama’s breathing picked up, and a steady whistle of wind blew into the phone. She was outside, probably walking to her car after another long shift. “I don’t think she ever really told me,” she said exasperated. The door closed, and I could hear the jangling of her keys as she turned the ignition and cranked the engine. “I found out by accident.”

“How? Did you find it on your birth certificate?” Most people never saw their own birth certificates, but there were few times when it was needed to prove one’s identity. I could only remember twice asking Mama for my birth certificate. The first, when I signed up for driver’s ed. at school, and the second time was when I registered for my first passport.

“No. And my birth certificate has Milton Gregory listed as my father.”

Milton, the man who married Grandma after Lindell died so she wouldn’t face the shame of having a baby out of wedlock.


“I found out about Lindell when I was about ten. It was right after Reynolds died.”


“He was Ma’s husband after the preacher.”

“Oh,” I said silently. I chuckled at how neatly everyone’s chapter fit so perfectly together—Grandma, Uncle Richard, Mama, even the nurses who’d only gotten bits and pieces. Many different narrators, but still the same story.

“He was a black rights activist. He actually tried to start a Black Panther chapter in our neighborhood. It scared Ma to death. She kicked him out when she found his stash of guns. I know it was only for self defense, but the people in power don’t see it that way. They don’t like it when their status quo is disrupted. That’s why organizations like the KKK and the Neo Nazis still exist, and the Panthers are dust.”

I knew before Mama even said it; Reynolds would suffer the same death as Lindell, rooted in hate and racism.

“He was protesting with the textile workers in front of Morningside Homes when they got him.”

“He was one of the people killed in the massacre?” It was an event that would mar our city for years to come. Morningside Homes, an apartment still leasing today, but who could visit it without being reminded of how demonstrators were killed like wild game in broad daylight—in front of television cameras, broadcasted on the local news—while the police did nothing. I wasn’t there, but I’d seen the videos, listened to the chants of “Death to the Klan!” as cars with Confederate flags on the bumpers circled the block. I watched the Klan members pull up to the curb, take rifles from their trunks, and gun down anyone in their paths. Despite there being video chronicling the whole massacre, every single Klansman indicted was acquitted of all charges.

“Ma beat herself up about it. She kept saying she sent him to his death. I just wanted to cheer her up. I’d gotten into her makeup, and I was gonna doll myself up to make her smile. That’s when I found the picture of her and Lindell.”

“And she told you everything?” I asked.

There was silence on the other end. I suspected Mama was nodding. She was notorious for making gestures over the phone knowing I couldn’t see her. If she would finally upgrade her barely functional flip phone, maybe we could FaceTime. I didn’t see her enough. I missed my mom. New Orleans was too far away, and the flights I worked on went either North or West, never down South, never into the bayou.

“I think I always knew my real father was dead, though. She’d been married so many times, and none of them stayed around long enough for me to start calling them daddy.”

“Except Pawpaw.”

“Except . . .” I could hear a deep sigh. I knew a speech was coming. “Listen, honey. As far as you’re concerned, Daddy will always be your Pawpaw, ok? Don’t let all this new information confuse you about who your family is. Daddy loved you and me like we were his own blood, and he was crazy about Ma.”

I laughed a little in my throat. “Thanks, Mama,” I said. She always told me exactly what I needed to hear.

© 2016 Nortina Simmons

A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “S” is for Schizophrenic Skeet.

By the way, I’ve been trying to put a little history in my chapters, and the massacre at Morningside Homes was definitely a true event. If you’re curious to learn more, click here.

Quaker Quinton

Thomas and Jerry were still laughing when Grandma, almost trance-like, started to speak. “I know what you’re thinking.” Her eyes stared past us, watching the area where Tammy had gone. “How could I live with myself after that? There are bad people in this world, but does doing the wrong thing for the right reason make us any better?”

I shook my head. “Nobody’s perfect, Grandma.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Millie,” Thomas said. “No one’s blaming you.”

“You married ten more times after Pete. They saw the good in you,” Jerry said.

Our words fell on deaf ears. Grandma sat still. She took on the same distant gaze that Drake had when he wandered around nurses station. My ears began to pop. Muffled sound waves vibrated against my eardrums like I was submerged underwater. I stretched my jaw, pulled on my earlobes to relieve the pressure, but the fuzziness only worsened. A cool draft blew down across my shoulders, but when I looked up at the air vent above me, the ribbons remained motionless.

There was a sudden shift in the atmosphere, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Jerry zipped his sweater up to his chin. Thomas pulled his sleeves down over his hands. Frank folded the newspaper around his torso. Drake sank further between the couch cushions, hiding. Marcos shivered so hard, his wheelchair moved forward an inch.


I asked, “Grandma, do you think Marcos could borrow your blanket?” It was folded neatly in her lab. Grandma didn’t even look at me. She was rapt in the presence of something none of us could see, but we all felt it in the midst of us. I half-expected her to be looking into the face of Pete’s angry spirit, but her jaw dropped into a smile and her moist eyes shimmered, greeting an old friend.

.”I couldn’t always move on,” she said. “I carried a piece of each dead husband with me into the next marriage. Whether it was my fault or not, I still felt guilty. Then when I actually was guilty, the weight was unbearable. I didn’t get away with killing Pete. I was dragging a ball and chain on both legs the whole time.”

“It’s not your fault, Grandma,” I said, but she didn’t hear me. Her attention was focused entirely on whatever stood in the center of our circle.

“I always went to church before, but I don’t think I ever really knew God until I met Quinton.”

“Her next husband,” Thomas mouthed to us. Saying it aloud would interrupt the conversation Grandma was having with our invisible visitor.

“He taught me about forgiveness and salvation. That’s when I realized it didn’t matter how many husbands I had or how many of them died. As long as I had the love of God with me, I would be alright.” She kissed her finger tips and flung her arms out in front of her, embracing us once again. “I like to think Quinton was my guardian angel. He still is. He was there for me for only as long as I needed him, and he disappeared just as suddenly as he came.” Her wrinkled cheeks blushed a deep violet.

The dense air around us dissipated, and my ears finally cleared. Grandma stretched her arms over her head and spread her fingers, fluttering them freely and waving goodbye to her guardian angel as he ascended back into heaven.

Thomas leaned forward and slapped his thighs. “Crazy weather we’re having, huh?” he said. A sarcastic smirk spread across his face.

“Yeeeeeaaaah!” Marcos said.

We sat quietly, waiting for someone to speak first, not sure what to say next. A blast of music from my purse rattled us out of our awkward silence. I scooped my phone into my palm, covering the speaker to squelch the noise. When I looked down, Mama’s face flashed on the screen.

© 2016 Nortina Simmons

A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

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