Next I got taken to an allergy specialist. If the bronchitis wouldn’t go away on its own, surely something else is wrong that’s causing it, the doctors all said. My breathing must have been as bad as that 40-year-old smoker’s lungs I stole when I was born.
The allergy doctor said I was allergic to everything. That I was allergic to milk and trees and grass and pollen and dust and dogs and fireplaces and the world, I reckon, I mean Jesus. Where does one live when they have allergies to it all?
It also meant I couldn’t sit by the fire anymore. They stopped burning the fireplace on account of my health issues. That was the one thing that reminded me of back home, that smell of smoke and burning pine and odd piece of trash that someone always snuck in there.
No food allergies or anything internal. None of those for sure allergies that make your throat swell shut showing that, in fact, you are allergic to some exact thing. Just skin rashes and breathing problems that could possibly be on the account of “allergies.” That’s the kind of talk that got me the prescription for weekly allergy shots.
A stab in the dark.
At first they drove me all the way to the hospital to get the shot. Then Ain’t practiced on an orange. After that, I would stand in the doorway between the kitchen and the den. My left arm stuck through the doorway, my body around in the den where I clutched the wall while she stabbed the upper muscle from the kitchen.
So I couldn’t see it sticking me. I hated it. I couldn’t watch her do it. Then I would be off to rec basketball practice at the gymnasium of a different elementary school than I attended. My left arm with a goose egg sticking out of it from the allergy medicine that Burned.
It didn’t take me long to solve that sticking, swelling, and Burning.
A couple of weeks in, I stole the padded manilla envelope labeled with my name out of the bottom of the refrigerator. I took those small glass jars with allergen serum for my specific strain of allergies. Those tiny glass bottles with a silver metal band around the top and a flat rubbery white surface where the needle went in to retrieve said serum. The expensive medicine bottles and the stash of needles, small but sticky.
I shoved the whole thing in the trash.
When Ain’t found out the only thing she did was tell me I would stay sick then. She did not refill the prescription, and I did not return to that particular doctor.
In the meantime, shorts wearing season had returned and that meant grass cutting weather. Grass cutting was the more savage way of kicking those outdoor allergy issues. An allergy shot gave me a small dose of the allergen I was most allergic to. Mowing four acres a day without a face mask or allergy medication? Savage, yes, but certainly a surefire way to send my allergy symptoms into overdrive and hopefully get my body to do its job better.
I was the go-to grass cutter in our household, in fact. I cut that grass like the badass that I was as a 10-year-old girl operating a gas-powered lawnmower. With multiple speeds.
I drove that thing up and down my street. On the asphalt, with a disengaged blade. Without a helmet, seat belt or absolutely any regard for what was going on around me. Someone could have plowed me down and I would have been none the wiser.
Ten-years-old with an important job to do. I was the one that cut the grass at our house which covered over an acre, along with Granny’s green acres measuring more than a couple. It was on her grand grass that I was taking it too fast on this grizzly day.
That spring we had already had a lot of tornadoes. Eight to be counting, and that was just by spring. We had one tornado that touched down on top of our elementary school. The twister took off the rooftop of the lower level. The level with the library and the art room and the upper grades classrooms.
When we finally did return to school that spring, the lower level classroom had been moved into our school gymnasium. No random rec basketball players from other schools would be in our gym.
The gym became a giant one-room schoolhouse of yesteryear. Here in 1989, our one-room schoolhouse was somewhat modernized. Carpeting cordoned classrooms like cubicles for impossible walls that blocked out zero sound.
Voices traveled loud from a four grade science lesson on igneous rocks to the shouts of mad math teachers from somewhere That Way! to fifth graders taking on the task of Just Say No to Drugs in another corner of the tall steel building.
The carpets waved around when kids walked by, and did a miserable job of being walls with their mud brown hues. No more bright posters and window views and bulletin boards trimmed in wavy ribbed tack that year.
One day right after the tornado happened and we returned to school, our class went on a walking tour of the remains of the lower level. It was before the crews had cleared the debris and started reconstruction. We walked across the tops of the mostly toppled walls where the old art room was now a cracked open coconut shell. Windblown with classrooms of painted paper and chairs tangled like granddaddy long-legs. The walls were half-toppled towers of cream-colored concrete blocks.
We didn’t get to visit the library again until it was new. The library roof was a twisted, ripped metal that opened the wet skies to all the stacks of printed paperbacks and hardcovers and National Geographics and Highlights. All ruined. A sopping mess.
That day out there mowing Granny’s lawn, just after the school was nearly knocked down by the twister, the weather was electric. Tornado tasting weather, you might say. The sky was a light lime and the air had that frazzled feel making you a little too alert. Maybe that’s why it’s so vivid to me. Or maybe it was because the same tornado touched the top of our house, too. While we were in it. That, too. That could be it.
Granny and her giant yard were right next to the ground of a crematorium where they just burned dead bodies. It wasn’t a big establishment, nothing with a big flashing sign Crematorium Here! or anything. Just a small shed-like structure behind a larger funeral home building where they viewed the ashes in urns and held funerals for said ash.
This was directly across the country lane from an apple orchard. Local people just walked over and picked ripe apples all autumn long and ate them. Ashes from the crematory came out of the chimney and went right over there and landed on those apples. We all knew that’s why the orchard had the best apples, the ash was a great fertilizer. Didn’t matter when you tasted them compared to store-bought, but then again it may have been because these were also free apples. That I could steal without risk of getting caught.
When I cut Granny’s grass that day I was in a hurry to get her yard mowed. It was going to storm at some point, and I wanted to get home just in case of another tornado.
Behind her house was more than just grass. You had a great big acre garden that came across and was not cut with the mower. I had to cut around it though, and there was always a mess between the garden and the grass. That area became a root bed, blackberry bramble, and sitting bench in most places around it.
There wasn’t a flat area where I could easily navigate when turning around. Even driving along the edge was a nightmare. I couldn’t cut a straight line. Sometimes empty buckets along with buckets filled with mosquito water would be like bombs in my way. That was in the spring before the garden produced anything.
After that, in the fall post-harvest, the rotten squash vines and oversized produce and destroyed melons would all get tossed over. It would all add to the mowing obstacle course challenge but fortunately, by then, the grass cutting activities slowed to a crawl.
Then there were the apple trees. Granny had eight rows of apple trees, four trees per row. Thirty-two trees of half a dozen varieties and some were cross bred varietals that were Frankenapples, as we liked to call them. You never knew what they would look or taste like year after year, or if they would put out at all.
A whole acre of apple-covered ground. The trees themselves came from the apple orchard and tree farm across the road. They sold trees and gave away saplings to the locals in the neighborhood. It was their way of being kind and not getting yelled at when they wanted to add yet another acre to their sprawling orchard. Not that the neighbors minded, not at all. Orchard land meant no condominiums or Walmarts or those industrial complexes would be coming in. That meant the country stayed country. That they liked, so they liked the orchard. Plus, the free apples and trees.
Granny’s trees were old, far older than she was in her 73 years. The trees produced a lot of apples that year, and there were so many mushy, old, rotting apples that I had to mow over. Instead of SuperSoaker shots I got blasted by fermenting sour applesauce and sprays of random chunks processed haphazardly by my blade. You never picked up an apple off the ground. It was like the five-second rule for nature but instead of germs you got apples all covered in the crematory ashes.
I drove over them and those apples that were crunchy-ripe hit the blades on the mower and made a Chomp Chomp noise. I was never afraid I would tear up the mower, that would be ok. I was doing my job. The mower was doing its.
Sometimes the apples were already past the rotten stage and soft mush. Those ended up stuck to my wheels, their peel skins sticking and making the tires slick. It kept me from getting up the incline out of the orchard.
Up there at the top of the incline was the property line to the crematory. I always waited to come up to the top of the hill until I absolutely had to. That line of grass was the last straw for me and my mower. I would zip across that one strip of grass as fast as sliding on glass without giving it a proper trim-up. Should have taken at least two passes with the mower, most likely three. Not me. One and done.
I was terrified a fried up dead person would come creeping out of the door of the crematory. Not quite ready to give up on life. Sometimes when I drove down the hill I would let it roll wild because I thought, truly thought, I could see the shadow of one of those creatures coming on out of there. Right up behind me. Fast as a shadow flies. After me.
One time I swear I saw the door swing open. When it did there was an arm that grabbed it back quick.
It was all almost scary enough to make you want to go back in the house, but not actually.
Today, there she was.
Granny was standing there right around the corner of the house. Just out of the way of the path of the lawnmower, waving.
The rain had started. She startled me.
Her white, clean, cloth Keds.
She wore a clear plastic rain bonnet trimmed in rubbery white string pulled tight and tied beneath her chin. Another rain bonnet held in her hand.
She held the bonnet out. I reached out.
I also drove my mower in that direction. In her direction.
Her white, clean, cloth Keds.
I yelled back, “AAAAAHHHH!”
The rain was falling faster now. I veered the mower on over her feet not switching gears or disengaging the blade. I just kept moving away.
Parked it. Jumped off. Ran over.
She stood, holding the bonnet, her white, clean, cloth Keds now all rainy red.
Still standing. “Oh, Granny!”
Sweet Granny in her bleached white Keds all red.
Still holding my bonnet.
The rain had stopped. The electricity was sparking in sky.
I cried out loud and run to the house and called Ain’t and then ran all the way down the street. It’s half a mile, I get there in rapid time. I tell her in person. She’s already called the fire department, “It cut her legs clean off, both of them, right at each knee cap!”
She looked at me.
We both knew it.
“Your ass is grass and I’m the lawnmower.”
Jump in the car, race up the street.
There Granny sits on the porch.
Shredded red Keds off sitting next to her on the grass.
Nothing more than a superficial scrape, they said, took off a couple of toe nails and skinned her up but could have been so much worse. Stitches but no amputations.
Did you think I could get rid of the grass cutting job just by mowing down my Granny? Not a chance. Even cutting Granny up wouldn’t keep me from being the go-to grass cutting gal. The problem was those allergies and the apple trees led a bunch of those shadowed creatures from the crematory home with me. I just didn’t know it then. I was a magnet for attracting those evil spirits, thieving them in a way, conning them to come along with me.
Chapter 3 continues the rest of the story
*Note from Author: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of this author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner.
What genre is “No Name,” supposed to be? Well, I mean, horror-fantasy fiction-memoir?
Little girl grows up hooked on opioids and ends up haunted by the demon of her childhood—Lit.Er.A.Lly. Southern Gothic + Growing Up in the Nineties. This is not your mommy’s “Friends” or “Full House,” Not unless you inject those with racists and thieves, religious fanatics and the biggest horror of them all, the US foster care system.
Closest I can tell you I think of this book as something coming from the likes of David Sedaris’s mind inside the soul and body of Karl Ove Knausgård with Flannery O’Connor’s Southern feminist writing spirit guiding the whole muster.
If you like those writers maybe? Maybe you’ll enjoy this. I think so? But it’s also got some serious Stephen King infused in there. The horror, oh! The horror!
Thank you for reading…all the way to THE END!