Written by Stephen Schelling
Photographed by Jeremy Wong
It’s Ava!” Grandma Ava practically yelled. “‘A’ as in say, not ‘A’ as in apple. How come you never figured that out?”
“I know, Grandma Ay-va,” Dennis said, stressing the first syllable in her name. “I said your name correctly. You just don’t have your hearing aids in.”
“I don’t like those dang hearing aids. They don’t work!”
Dennis put his head in his hand and sighed, exasperated. He was sitting down in his usual spot and was leaning on the dining room table. Grandma Ava sat to his left in her usual spot – on the end of the cramped, four-person table they had bought from Walmart. When she had first come to live with Dennis, he had sat her across from him so they would have more room, but, like in every other matter over the past four years, she had insisted on doing everything her way. Her presence was wearing on Dennis, and it had been for some time. The whole situation had come to a tipping point six days earlier, when Grandma Ava had made a mess in her bed and had claimed Dennis had come in the middle of night and done the deed himself. He couldn’t believe it. He had taken her in when she couldn’t take care of herself anymore. He had given her a roof. He had fed her. Kept her out of one of those god-forsaken nursing homes. He had saved her. And she hated him for it. He knew he couldn’t take care of her on his own any longer. He had already made the decision –just hadn’t told her yet, until he could work up the nerve.
“Why don’t you have a wife yet?”
Dennis brought his hand down from his head and looked at his grandmother in astonishment.
“Are…are you serious? Why don’t I have a wife?”
“Yes, of course I’m serious,” she replied. “I’m always serious. I speak the brutal, honest truth.”
Dennis shook his head in disbelief.
“How…how do you think my love life is, Grandma? I’m in my late thirties. I work retail in an outlet mall. My grandmother lives with me.” (He tapped his finger on the table on that last one to stress the point.) “It’s not so good when you got a stinky geriatric living with you, Grandma Ava. How’s that for some brutal, honest truth?” He looked away angrily. He felt a little ashamed, but he turned back anyhow. It was good that he was telling her how he felt. She always told him no matter how much it hurt his feelings. Why shouldn’t he do the same with her? Besides, she was going to hate him even more after he told her his decision. He might as well get that train started.
“Why do you smell so bad?” he asked with vindication.
She laughed. “It ain’t my fault! That’s what happens when you leave leftovers out in the heat. They get spoilt.”
“It’s pronounced spoiled, Grandma.” Dennis shook his head again. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“And how comes I have this hole in my neck?” she asked in honest bewilderment, like she was just noticing the wound for the first time.
Dennis’s eyes bulged. He held up both hands in consternation. “You smoked for 74 of your 84 years, Grandma Ava! What did you expect?” He pointed at her neck. “This is your own fault. You did this to yourself. You brought this on yourself.” He crossed his arms. He felt justified, like a judge sentencing a criminal for their crimes.
Grandma Ava appeared unfazed and disinterested. “You know you was a mistake,” she said derisively, grinning wickedly. “It’s good your momma was locked up for her mental problems. It’s good that she kilt herself. She was a mistake, too. It’s just a shame she didn’t do it before you was born.”
Dennis banged his fist on the table. Grandma Ava shifted slightly. Dennis had never done anything violent like that before. He realized this but decided to continue on down the tracks. This train had started rolling, and there was no stopping it now. The blood was rising in his cheeks. He stood up, the anger boiling. He felt dizzy, but just like being motion sick on a train, he knew he had to ride this out. He pointed his finger at her and violently jabbed it in her direction with each word he said.
“You listen here, you old hag! I have sacrificed so much to bring you into my home and take care of you. If you think – no, you shut up! Don’t interrupt me. Let me finish!” He banged his other fist on the table and nearly winced at the pain, being careful to not show it on his face. A mask of anger and fury had overtaken his features. “I’ve had it! I’ve had it with you, Grandma Ava. It’s too much for me to keep living like this.”
Dennis calmed down as his adrenaline peaked and began to ebb. He inhaled deeply and sat back down, regaining his composure.
“I’m sorry, Grandma Ava, but I just can’t do this. You have to go. That’s just how it is. I know you’ll hate me for it, but I have no other options.”
Grandma Ava didn’t react. She couldn’t. Her glassy eyes stared back at Dennis. Her mouth was agape, but she said nothing. Her dead body sat motionless in her dinner chair where Dennis had left her six days before after jamming the kitchen knife into her neck. Dried blood covered her neck and blouse. It was all over her side of the table. It had dripped into a puddle on the floor and had splattered against the wall. Her putrefied stench filled the apartment.
Dennis shook his head again. He knew he would hate himself for it, but Grandma Ava just had to go, and that was the brutal, honest truth.
Stephen Schelling is a writer and teacher, a pickler, and an Eagle Scout from America with a B.A. in journalism from Marshall University.