Her veined and age splotched hands were barely distinguishable from the faded coverlet as she nervously picked at loose threads. Wisps of yellow-grey hair flew about her wrinkled face, her eyes darting from the window to the door as if she expected someone, or something to enter either opening. She gasped and jerked as a tiny sound, like pebbles on the screen, came from the window. The stained light green cotton bed jacket slid off her bony shoulders with the movement. Whatever made the sound was gone now, but she still stared fearfully at the window. It was growing dusky outside, impending storm clouds not helping the gloomy late afternoon light, and she became visibly more anxious as the day faded. She sighed, lips flapping over empty gums while her teeth rested in a glass of murky water on the bedside table. Her surprisingly bright blue eyes closed and she thought, “I’m afraid to sleep, afraid not to sleep.” She shivered.
In the hall outside the room, Alice wondered if Granny would even know her if she went in. Ever since she came to this place, Granny was getting really creepy and now that Alice had her driver’s license her mom sent her every week instead of coming herself. It wasn’t fair. She sighed heavily, pushing slowly on the door, hoping Granny would be asleep.
Afternoon was quickly giving way to dusk as the night crept closer to granny’s window. She stirred restlessly in almost -sleep as she tried to remember what she was afraid of. The door moved slightly inward, fingers with green polish on the tips wrapped around the edge. Granny dragged herself awake and shrank back into the bed, staring at the door as shadowed eyes under blue and orange hair spikes peered from above the fingers. She thought she saw a flash of something: Anger? Defiance? in those eyes, then they were just Alice’s eyes, sad and resentful as she pushed the door wide and strode into the room. “Hi, Granny.”
“Alice, what are you doing here? Where is your mother? I thought your mother was coming. Visiting hours don’t start until later.”
“No. Just me. Mom sent me to see if you needed anything. They let me in for a few minutes because I told them I had to go to the store for you before visiting hours.” Alice said, her lips drawn down in what was becoming a perpetual sulk whenever she was around her grandmother. She stared at the teeth in the glass in disgust.
“I need your mother to tell those…those…prison guards, that I’m being robbed!” Granny almost shouted in a whiny, creaky voice.
“She went to Albany. To some conference for the Methodist women,” Alice explained. “So. Do you need anything?” She would not even make eye contact with Granny.
“There is a man. He comes through that window and he takes my money. My snack money,” Granny pleaded. “He thinks I’m asleep. He comes through that window. And. He. Has. A gun.”
“Yeah. Mom says that I need to go to the store for you.” Alice completely ignored what Granny was saying. “She says you need things like toothpaste and shampoo. I’m supposed to check on those things.” Alice went into the bathroom and rummaged in the medicine cabinet. Her voice sounded hollow as she added, “You need new towels and wash cloths? Mom wants to know.”
“I don’t need anything. I just need someone to believe me,” Granny said forlornly. “Nobody believes old people.”
“So, you only have half a tube of toothpaste. I’ll get some and some soap. You just have that little slimy piece. You want any chips or snacks or anything?” Alice started to write a list on old breakfast menu. “Is this what they feed you?” she asked, reading the menu and squinching up her face, repulsed by the offerings.
“It’s not so bad. Old people like things bland. Keeps us from being windy. But this man is real.” Granny refused to be dissuaded or to have the subject changed.
“If he’s real, what does he look like? Why doesn’t anyone hear him come in? Don’t you have alarms on the windows in this place? Costs enough.” Alice blinked in disbelief and resentment. Her mother and Alice had been doing without to keep Granny here.
“They tested the alarms. All in working order. He looks like Bill. He looks like my grandson,” Granny broke into tears.
“Bill’s been gone for five years. He won’t be back. Once he got out of jail, he went west. I think he went to Alaska to work on the pipeline. Last I heard, he was on the run again. He won’t come back here. They’d be looking for him,” Alice toyed with a little figurine sitting on the nightstand. She hadn’t liked her cousin, Bill. He was mean and rotten to the core, although she did think that he might be right about some people needing to be beaten or even killed. She supposed he could have robbed her granny but he was long gone. And Granny was just plain bats.
“I think it’s him. It looks like him,” Granny said stubbornly. “And he never forgave me for testifying against him when he beat up your Aunt Ellen. He beat her and beat her. I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Someone had to stop him.”
“Well. I don’t think he’s here. Maybe. But I don’t think so. I’m going to the store. You want anything besides the toothpaste and soap? I can get some of those coconut candies you like so well,” Alice offered. Despite being forced to come here every week, she kinda liked the old lady. Even if she was crazier than a Bessie bug.
Granny heaved a sigh, defeated for the moment. “Bring me some of those anti-acids and some baby oil. And some of those red licorice twists. Like those better than the black ones but I’ll take the black ones if there isn’t any thing else. Like to suck on them. I can’t pull em apart with my teeth anymore. Have to suck.”
“They’ve got them in little pieces now. They taste the same. I’ll get you some of those.” Alice said impatiently and wrote it down.
“And some of those coconut bars without the nuts. The dark kind,” Granny added as Alice scribbled on the list.
“Got it. And I’ll bring you some of that coffee drink you like so much.” Alice put the list in her shirt pocket, scowling at her grandmother.
“Not supposed to have coffee but that’s okay,” Granny’s face lit up like a mischievous child.
“Every once in a while won’t hurt,” Alice quoted her granny, remembering when Granny used to say it while giving Alice milk with coffee and sugar as a child. Those were good times. Sometimes Alice longed for the good times, but mostly she resented Granny for getting old and changing everything. She even found herself wishing Granny would just die so she would not have to be reminded of the good times. So she didn’t have to be burdened with a crazy old lady to take care of. “I’ll be back in awhile. I’ll stop at the bookstore and get some of those mysteries you like so much. And a pair of those reading glasses they sell. Yours seem to be broken.” She picked up Granny’s glasses. The lenses were broken. It looked like someone had stepped on them.
“It was him. They were by my bed, on the nightstand. He knocked them off and stepped on them when he took the money out of my wallet. He thought I was asleep. But I wasn’t,” Granny said sounding defensive.
“I’ll get you some more. I’m off. Be back soon.” Alice rolled her eyes about the glasses. Stupid old lady. The she leaned in as if to kiss her, but backed off and left for the store.
The LVNs came in to help her settle for bed, followed by the night nurse who greeted her cheerfully. Granny showed her the broken glasses. The nurse laughed and told her she should be more careful when she got up to go to the bathroom at night. No one listened to old people.
Alice returned just as evening visiting hours started. The sun had set and darkness was building. She had two sacks, one with grocery items and the other with the promised books and two pair of reading glasses. “Just in case,” she said darkly.
“What took you so long?” Granny asked, her voice sleepy and cranky at the same time. “Where’s your mother?”
“Uh, remember? Mom is busy with the church ladies. So I came.” Alice’s eyes skittered around the room, finally lighting on the dark window. She wished Granny wasn’t so forgetful. Alice sighed as walked over and started to pull the yellowed window curtain aside.
“No! Don’t open it!” Granny was pushing herself down into the mattress, trying to get as far from the window as possible.
“What?” Alice turned to her grandmother, dropping the curtain back into place, but not quickly enough. Granny thought she saw something in the window before the curtain dropped. Something that looked shiny-red or slimy-red or maybe just red. Anyhow, whatever she thought she saw was enough to startle a soundless scream from her throat.
Irritated, Alice flipped the curtain open again, watching Granny, her back to the window. “See? Nothing there.” Under her breath, she started to mumble, “Crazy old bat….” The end of her sentence was swallowed up when the window exploded in a shower of silvery glass.
A man climbed in through the broken window. He was wearing a red jacket and black pants with bulging pockets. No alarm sounded. There was no noise marking the shattering of glass. The man grinned.
“Why, Alice. How you’ve grown,” he leered. “I put a blanket on the other side of the window. Masks the sound. Only you and Granny here know I’m back. And here. Been playing a little game with her. I been coming in and out of the window while she was sleeping. Silence the alarm and lift the window. Nothing to it. I make just enough noise to wake her and scare the puddin’ outta her. Tonight is the final act, I broke through the window this time to really scare her. I’ve been waiting for a long time for this.” He started toward the woman cowering in the bed. “I’ll just put my hands around that skinny throat and rip her head off.” He relished the thought.
Alice stepped in front of Bill, her back to Granny. “I’ll be glad to help you, Bill. All I do is fetch and carry. I hate that old biddy,” Alice said bitterly.
Bill looked down at Alice, a satisfied gleam in his eyes. “You used to be such a goody two shoes. Look at you now. The little rebel, spikey headed and green fingered.” Bill obviously approved. “You sure you can do this?”
“You just give me a gun and watch me.” Alice grinned wickedly. She turned around and slapped her granny in the face hard. All the resentment she held for her granny showed on her face.
“Well now.” Bill grinned. He picked up the glass and dumped Granny’s teeth in his hand. He jammed them into her mouth. “Now you can talk plain, old lady. Now you can tell the police everything. If you’re still alive to do it.” He ground a pair of her new glasses under his heel and laughed.
Alice picked up Granny’s frail arm by the wrist. She reached for her medication and popped a pill roughly into Granny’s mouth. She jammed a glass of water against her lips and forced Granny to drink long and hard. Granny coughed and sputtered. “Swallow, you old bitty. You want to live don’t you?” Alice laughed evilly. “At least long enough to feel the bullet.”
“You’ll do,” Bill said seriously. “You want to get out of this one horse town and come with me? I’m headed to the bank to make a little withdrawal without the slip if you know what I mean.”
“I need a pillow and a gun. Gotta take care of Granny here,” Alice said grimly and a little triumphantly.
“Well, I got one for each pocket and one for my ankle. Take this one,” Bill said. “But I got Granny. I owe her, don’t I, Grandma?” he said, passing a gun to Alice and then slowly taking the safety off the one he held now in his right hand.
Granny tried to scream but her heart burned and her jaws hurt. Alice moved her hand across the gun, gently caressing it while she slipped off the safety. Bill raised his arm. Alice pulled the trigger and watched Bill fly backward through the broken window.
The door of the room burst open. Nurses flew in and then doctors. Cops were everywhere. An ambulance arrived. Bill would never bother them again.
The next afternoon, Alice’s mother sat on the edge of Granny’s bed. “I’m okay now,” Granny said. “Alice gave me my pill so my heart settled down. They kept me in the hospital a while. But I’m back.”
“That Bill was always a bad ‘un,” her daughter said.
“Ain’t never coming back again.” Granny nodded soberly. “But my lands, this little one, spikey headed and green fingered, she’s the best.” Granny took Alice’s hand as Alice bent to kiss the top of her granny’s head.
“Love you too, Granny,” she whispered.