For October and the haunted holiday it brings, I bring you my own original, creepy tales. Keep coming back for more frights all month long.
My mournful salvage of Grandma’s miniature apartment was difficult, and tedious. Five years ago, after Pop-Pop died, she moved into what everyone knew was her final home. Her belongings had thankfully been whittled down to desert-island necessities. Mom was useless for the task, flip-flopping between throwing it all on a pyre and preserving the apartment as a historical landmark.
It was up to me to manage, and it was hard to know what to do with it all. Every addition to the junk pile felt like a betrayal, an erasure of something important from her existence. It also made me realize how little I knew of Grandma in the end.
Grandma’s friends, the same friends who had made a mockery of her funeral, proved our familial disconnect more than anything else. My late grandmother’s closest friends were also her closest neighbors, and they were strange to say the least.
Every one a widow, just like Grandma, they had settled into a collective hippie lifestyle of ragged clothes, bra abandonment, and an opposition to hygiene. Aside from proximity and severe loneliness, I couldn’t understand how Grandma came to befriend such human oddities. The grandmother I knew cross-stitched ‘Happy Home’ pictorials and baked lemon squares and peanut butter cookies.
The stench of burnt sage and homemade incense wafted through the walls, the same odors the ‘Pig Pen Posse’ waved about at the funeral. At Grandma’s graveside, the gypsy-looking women had unified to enact a bizarre ritual, each pressing an offering into a freshly-formed clay pot and setting it aflame to harden as the preacher gave his hurried sermon.
The more Christian attendees were a congregation of baffled repulsion. The repast was quickly cancelled. Even the promise of blue-ribbon potato salad and finely-tuned casserole specialties was not enough to lure mourners to the gathering, knowing these women may be there performing an encore of absurdities.
Mom was furious. I was closer to awestruck. The neighbor’s religious send-off was no more ludicrous to me than putting Grandma in a box and covering her in dirt. Each to his own. Besides, they were old ladies. Grandma was an old lady. If that’s how they wanted to behave near the end of it all, then I figure time served on Earth inherited them such freedoms. What bothered me was their behavior after, at Grandma’s apartment.
The women came to visit me while I made the tough decisions: meaningless décor or family heirloom, valuable jewelry or dime-store trinket, sentimental keepsake or thrift store fodder. They offered to help, but were really no help at all. They were unsure of the stories behind Grandma’s collectibles, uncertain of any object’s significance. I wondered if they knew Grandma any better than me.
More like vultures than companions, each dropped by to snatch an item of Grandma’s they must of had their eye on while the woman was still living. I would have been angry with them if I wasn’t doing essentially the same thing. The stuff in the ‘Keeps’ box was just stuff I wanted for myself. The only things that straddled the line of memory-honoring and self-serving were Grandma’s cookbooks, and these women had taken them.
My fondest memories were of her baking treats for family and friends. Sometimes she’d let me stir the batter, knowing full well I would stick my finger in the mix. I was hoping to take the cookbooks home and bake with Olivia. I wanted to make memories with her, memories of making Grandma’s cookies together, pretending not to notice Olivia sticking her finger in the batter.
A lemon square or a peanut butter cookie would serve little to keep Grandma’s memory alive, but they were my connection to the Grandma I knew. Making those treats together meant more to me than any crocheted blankets or Campbell’s soup porcelain figurines.
The books were gone. The spice racks had been cleared. The cupboards were stripped, and every tin and Tupperware of baking ingredient had been looted by her not-so-friendly friends. It was only when scrubbing the bare shelves that I discovered one remaining cookbook, hidden away behind a cabinet’s false backing.
The cover was dark leather, scratched and worn. The pages were thick and firm, stained with bleeding ink and cooking spills, each containing recipes of which I had never heard. The names were strange: ‘Elevated Eclairs, Curing Custard, Sponging Cake, Devil’s Eggs, Beauty Brownies.’ Sponging, not Sponge. Devil’s, not Deviled. Maybe Grandma was an odder sort than I knew.
Even weirder was the bundle of ivory containers concealed alongside the book, each the size of a coffee mug. The handwritten labels listed ingredients like: ‘Rabbit Teeth, and Crow Beak, and Infant Tears.’ I looked back at the book, reviewing each recipe and matching their listed ingredients to the ones in the containers. I picked up the one supposedly containing ‘Weasel Eyes’ and shook it. The sound of squishy lumps slapping the sides of the heavy ivory made my stomach turn. It paired well with my woozy head.
I didn’t know my grandmother that well as a person. I only knew her as Grandma the baker, Grandma the two-dollar-check writer, Grandma the snuggler. Now I was forced to consider a new Grandma: “Grandma, the witch.”
To be continued…
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