The pew squeaked under the restless legs swinging back and forth as Sarah twisted her thick locks between her fingers. Grandmother insisted that she comb her loose tresses into two straight ponytails. The yellow ribbons in her hair matched the spring flowers in her dress. She was on the cusp of becoming a beautiful young woman yet, grandmother still dressed Sarah as if she was a porcelain doll. And Sarah loved her but hated her more.
When grandmother was young, she was the most exquisite and rarest beauty in the entire town. In her old age, she wore several gold rings, necklaces and bangles, the remnants of her faded splendour. Sarah looked at the deep, etched wrinkles on her grandmother’s face and hands, each line for a story untold and forgotten. Grandmother was also known for many other things, but above all she was respected and feared for her discernment with the dead.
They faithfully attended the church’s funeral services, for as long as Sarah could remember. The town grew fewer and fewer with each untimely death, till there were few people left. Grandmother didn’t seem to mind, as long as the church looked to her for their salvation. Again Sarah moved around on the hard wooden pews, crafted to keep the bored and tired from slumber. The pew continued to squeak under Sarah’s squirmy boredom. And grandmother was not pleased.
Since the reverend taught against preserving the body after death, there wasn’t any need for fancy caskets. In the midst of lilies and ferns, sat the black gold engraved urn. The first two rows of pews were for the family of the deceased. A wave of grief washed over them, and they were a thick sea of agony and sorrow. Sarah felt their peculiar glances through their thin, black veils.
Sarah often asked questions that grandmother did not see fit to answer, especially about her mysterious mother. After such questions were dared to be asked, the old woman proclaimed, “Children should be seen and not heard”, she chastised further. “That snooping around will get you right in trouble one day, just like your mother!”
Very rarely did she mention her own daughter, and only in a fit of frustration and agitation. She never spoke her name, nor were there any photos of Sarah’s mother visible throughout the house. She did not know this nameless and faceless woman, and she longed for her love and affection. “Did she love me?” “Why did she leave?” “Where did she go?” Sarah was haunted by these matters night and day. It was as if her mother’s life was erased, as if she never existed. But the old woman knew. Grandmother harboured many wicked secrets, and they festered and fermented within her. Causing a sickness no one else could detect or perceive.
Despite grandmother’s mysterious ways, she was a charming woman, and convinced others to bend to her will. Mr. Little wasn’t any different than the rest of the town folk, her trickery had fooled him too, but not for long. We often ate supper at the expense of his family owned diner. According to grandmother, it was the last decent place to eat in town. The waitress announced their arrival to Mr. Little, then she ushered them to their regular booth, which was less shabby than the rest. They sat in front of the fresh-squeezed lemonade and water. Grandmother sipped the ice cold lemonade, and laid a cloth napkin across Sarah’s pleated skirt.
On this particular afternoon, Mr. Little had flat out refused to accommodate grandmother’s demands. “I’m very sorry,” his mouth was set in a fine line, but Sarah could tell that he was not sorry at all. Obviously, grandmother’s charming spell had finally run its course with him. Sarah felt a spring of satisfaction from the public dispute, followed by a small pinch of guilt. “We just can’t afford to provide you with food without payment of some kind! I’ll even accept collateral” he added, “with you being a proud woman and such.”
He gripped his apron nervously around his plump waist and rubbed his already thinning hair. He waited for a response. Grandmother wet her mouth with her lemonade once more, and looked up at Mr. Little coolly. Sarah did not know what to expect next. All the paying customers in the room grew quiet. The glasses stopped clanging and the forks stopped scraping. Grandmother’s sugary sweet voice broke the silence. “Blessed are they which do hunger, Mr. Little, for they shall be filled.” The crowd pretended to dine, but they listened. Quiet and still they were. “What could he possibly say to an old woman quoting the bible?” they murmured. He couldn’t really do anything, and that’s exactly what he did…nothing.
When he was a safe distance away, he complained, “Why should my family go hungry to feed that crazy old hag?” But the old woman heard every word. She meticulously folded her napkin. “I will take my leave”, she said to no one in particular. Grandmother rose haughtily from her chair, her stiff neck as high as it would let her. The little girl glanced back at the plump man with the apron. And that was the last time Sarah or anyone else for that matter saw Mr. Little alive.
That night Sarah slipped into a deep fitful sleep. There was an ancient alter, with unknown writing scratched warily into the stone. A body lay on its rough surface, and then it was consumed with flame. Sarah wore a twisted smile on her face as she listened to the old woman’s shrieks of pain rise and rise. Her evil laughter echoed in the night and grew in the shadows of the amber fire, until nothing was left but ash and gray smoke.
Sarah awoke to the pleasant aroma of sausage, eggs and grits that came from the kitchen. At the table, she sipped her coffee and scanned the town’s local paper for several minutes. The old woman read the article aloud, “Franklin R. Little, age 42, passed away”…. She spoke of the unsettling news with unbridled joy. “I didn’t think he would die so young.” “It really is a shame,” she said with false sympathy. Sarah cringed inwardly from her grandmother’s cruelty. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” She sighed and put the paper down gently.
Soon grandmother’s bones grew tired of the tough wooden chair, and left the kitchen for Sarah to do her chores. Her small hands washed the dishes, dried them and put them away. The gold ink on the paper caught Sarah’s eye and curiosity won her over. Mr. Little’s name was etched in her grandmother’s neat cursive writing.
Lately, Grandmother seemed different. Sarah couldn’t put her finger on it. Was it in her movement perhaps, or was it in her voice? Before Sarah could breathe a word, the old woman spoke first. “I have, what is called the destiny power, the power to wield a soul’s destiny on earth.” Sarah’s eyes grew wider with each word. “You will possess the very same. It is a gift from God that He bestowed upon our family long ago.” Sarah wondered anxiously if the destiny power was the cause of Mr. Little’s death . Grandmother responded verbally to Sarah’s thoughts, “Mr. Little’s services were no longer desired, his destiny was fulfilled.” Sarah fears were confirmed, but she pressed on. “Did mother have the gift?” The old woman’s face hardened. “She took the hard road in life, and eventually led to her own undoing.” Grandmother spat bitterly with little or no remorse. Her face softened and she continued, “My dear Sarah you are strong. When the time comes, you shall receive the gift. You shall remember.” What am I to do with such a powerful gift?” Sarah said sounding mature beyond her years. “You must accept.”
“Come along Sarah. Today, we pay someone a special visit.” Grandmother grabbed her purse and hat. Sarah knew where they were headed. The ride there was shorter than Sarah anticipated, but too long a drive for Grandmother. The old woman had great difficulty, making her way out of the car. Her small frail frame creaked and cracked with resistance to movement, and with a small groan she lifted her weight from the car. The old woman walked gracefully down the crooked walkway toward the Little’s home, a small modest house tucked behind a thicket of pine trees. Grandmother rang the door bell, looking as poised as ever. A thin, dishevelled woman answered the door. Her hair was dirty and untidy, as if it hasn’t been combed for days. Dry mascara was caked around her eyes. Mrs. Little’s appearance was alarming, even to grandmother. The newly crowned widow stared blankly at her visitors without recognition.
“Hmmm” Grandmother cleared her throat. “Hello, you must be Mrs. Little.” She said extending her hand. Mrs. Little barely shook it. “You may not know who I am,” she continued, articulating every syllable. “But I knew your husband Mr. Little.” Mrs. Little snapped out of her fog momentarily from the mention of her late husband’s name. She then gave the old woman her full attention. Grandmother grasped the wicker basket of food with her hands. Her blood red finger nails glinted in the autumn sun. Sarah thought for a moment, they were ugly talons instead.
“Honey, this here is what we folks at the church call, a healing meal, for those who have lost someone dear to them.” Mrs. Little’s response was delayed. “Thank you,” she said meekly. “Did you know that he often provided me and my dear Sarah meals without charge and he did so on many a day, didn’t Mr. Little do so, my dear Sarah?” The little girl stood under the shadow beside her. Grandmother’s shadow cast an unusual shape onto the ground. Sarah forced a reply, but her voice was caught in her throat, and made a croaking sound instead. “What did you say honey? I couldn’t quite hear you.” Grandmother said this in a disgustingly sweet manner. Her granddaughter quickly said, “Nothing Ma’am.” Sarah put on a strained smile. She was too busy observing the curious shadow resting on the red clay ground.