Donnie looked from one gray green wall to another. Nothing to break the monotony but outlets, weird machines, some stupid hangers for charts. Also, it smelled bad.
Worse, Donnie was bored. There was nothing interesting in this entire room. Who the hell designed this? Certainly, nothing worth stealing. Well, not necessarily stealing, he thought to himself. Getting someone in trouble though? It didn’t really matter what the thing was worth; what’s most important is to make it bad for the other person but have no possible blame on me. Good Lord, I’m smart. But there’s nobody here to blame except Daddy and if he found out, he’d make me play “good dog/bad dog” for a week. If only Maryanne were here or, better, Fred Junior. He was supposed to come visit too.
Granny was asleep and snoring. Dad, folded up his newspaper; arose and walked out, seeming to forget that his young son was there too. Donnie stood up; took one step; stopped; took another step. “Sir?” He enquired.
Dad turned in surprise. Oh, of course, he thought. The dumb one. “Hey, Donnie, come on. Granny’s asleep. Let’s go grab a bite.”
Soon, they were sitting at a small round table on uncomfortable chairs and eating off a chipped and badly cleaned red formica top — eating hospital hamburgers, cold greasy fries, and sipping ersatz coke. But Donnie didn’t care. This was more fun that sitting quietly in a room with the old lady. Daddy seemed to be in a good mood, so he chanced a question.
“Daddy, why do we come visit Granny? Don’t you — I mean — do you find it boring?”
“Boring? Of Course, she’s boring. She’s a bag of bones. Not much mind there to begin with, but now? Just goes on and on or says nothing at all.”
“So why did we have to come visit?”
“You think just because she’s useless that she doesn’t have value? Don’t be stupid. Don’t you know why we’re here? Can you really be that stupid?”
“Value? What do you mean? She doesn’t have any value that I can see.”
“Donnie, Donnie, Donnie! She’s worth a fortune! As soon as she dies, we’ll be rich. Richer. That’s why we’re here?”
“But Daddy. How much?”
“That’s just it, Donnie. I don’t know. She may be useless, but one thing she can do is change her will. And cut us out. She won’t say what’s in it now. So, we have to pretend to be nice to her. When he gets so senile she cannot remember what’s happening, we’ll have her committed and we’ll take charge. I have the lawyers all lined up. But first, you know, we have to play nice. So don’t complain when you come see her. Wait till her will’s read. That’s when you find out how much she really values you.”
“Okay, Daddy, but can’t we just come see her right before she goes senile?”
“Yes, but no-one can tell. She could have a stroke today. She could even conk off right now in her sleep. We won’t be that lucky though. She could stay ‘competent’, as they call it, for ten more years. Crap! I hope not. Or, she could fall and break her hip. Then, you know, half of ‘em die within a month.”
“Hello, Father. Squirt.” It was Junior.
Donnie hated being called ‘Squirt’ — it wasn’t his fault he’s been born later. But he had learned that saying: “Don’t call me that!” just made Fred more, not less likely to say it again. No, there were other ways. Other ways to get back.
Junior said, “I just saw Granny. She wondered what became of you two.”
Soon all three of them were crowded into her tiny semi-private cubby. Granny looked a them and shook her head. “What a sorry lot. Son, go somewhere else for awhile. I want to talk with my grandsons privately.”
Fred grumbled but arose and headed back toward the cafeteria. It had already occurred to him on multiple occasions that it might be worth being her Angel of Death. But even the idiot cops knew where to look. If he slipped her something in her IV, they’d know he had means, opportunity, and motive. Screw it. He could deal with seeing her once a week. He had his newspaper, an endless source of items that say loud and clear: Hey here’s a possible sucker! This one’s husband just died, left her some dough, and she knows nothing about finance. Or, how about this one — this old lady dies, her husband has no cash, and she has to sell her house fast. That means cheap. Yeah, thank God for the newspaper. Lots of stupid people to screw over.
Granny smiled and spoke in confidential tones to her grandsons. “Your Dad is a pain in my butt. He always was. Even as a kid. You boys seem pretty decent though. As it stands, I must tell you. I’m leaving it to you. And, if it were just a matter of how I feel, I would keep it that way. But your Dad is so thin-skinned. I realize it might actually kill him. I don’t want that. So how about if I do you each a third? How does that sound?”
Junior shrugged. “Anything’s fine, Granny.”
Donnie thought that was a rather pathetic answer. “Granny, we love you and you’re going to be around for a very long many years! Don’t talk about giving stuff away. You are the one who should enjoy it!.”
“Thanks, Donnie. Please don’t tell your dad. I want to keep him guessing for awhile. Now, how about you two help me get in my walker. I’m getting stronger every day. That damned flu about did me in though. Every day, I go a few more times around these halls. We can pass the time. I can tell you stories about when your dad was little.”
Junior shook his head slightly. Donnie thought that might be even more boring than sitting in her bare room and listening to her breathe.
They got her on her feet. As a reward, Granny kept her promise and started droning on about how Fred was when he was only five and stole something or other and was so clever something or other and he got so scared something or ever and peed his pants and then something or other. Donnie felt he would actually die of boredom. Then, something echoed in his head: ‘peed his pants’ — hold on. Hold on! There could be use in that story after all. He could store that away and use it against Daddy if need be.
“Granny! That was a good story! Tell me again!”
Donnie took a new interest in Granny’s stories, now that he realized she knew things that might prove useful later. Round and round they went. Junior hardly said anything, but Donnie asked a few questions here and there. He could see that Granny was getting very tired. In fact, Donnie himself was tired. But if he kept encouraging, and kept asking questions, it just might work. Round and round they went. Round and round. It wasn’t working! Donnie was growing impatient. Why wouldn’t she have a heart attack? Damned old bag of bones. Suddenly, something that Daddy had said echoed in his brain. He glanced over to Junior. He had to bite is lip — hard — to keep from laughing. A nurse and Daddy were talking at the entrance to Granny’s room. They were looking straight at each other and not paying any attention to the threesome down the hall. Now or never. Donnie shout: “No Fred, not so fast! NO! You’re hurting her. Here! Let me… FRED!! NO!!”
Donnie’s heart was pounding. He hated to take this kind of risk, but it seemed to be working perfectly. Granny was tired and losing her balance after the first twist. Now, she only needed the slightest of nudges. Donnie did it with his hip. Over she went. The nurse was already half running in her tight white skirt and clacking workshoes toward the old bag of bones, but she would hit the ground long before anyone could reach her. “GRANNY! Here! I’ll get you! Junior! Junior! I can’t hold her!”
Of course, Donnie wasn’t really trying to hold her. He was adding a push to her fall.
After the medical team came and took care of Granny’s newly broken hip, and she was well-sedated, the trio got into the car and drove back home. Donny plunged ahead with his plan. It was good to strike first.
He’d have to appear genuinely upset. He bit his tongue and stabbed his teeny fingers into his palms, not enough to bleed, but enough to help him into the pain zone. “Daddy, I’m so sorry. I tried to catch her but I wasn’t strong enough. I thought Junior… never mind.”
Dad was hooked and asked, “‘Never mind’ — what?”
Donnie said, “Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t mean to say anything. Tattling is wrong.”
Dad had not only bitten on the hook. He had swallowed it as well. “Donnie. Tell me what the hell is going on. Or, I’ll beat it out of you!”
Donnie put a pained look on his face and glanced at Junior. “I’m sorry brother. So sorry.”
Donnie had developed his skill of laughing at other people’s idiocy while he appeared the whole time to be crying, wracked with pain or guilt. “Daddy, I don’t think Junior meant to have her fall. He was just … playing … right Junior. You didn’t mean to hurt her, right?”
Later that night, after Fred Senior finished beating Junior, he went into the kitchen and poured himself four fingers of Scotch. He liked that first buzz. He poured himself another one and downed that one as well. Suddenly, he recalled his casual comment earlier in the evening. He had mentioned that if his mom broke her hip, she might die. Could his dumb son be smart enough to have broken her hip to speed up his inheritance? Fred chuckled. No, he thought. That’s crazy. There’s no possible way. It was Junior…or was it? He poured himself another four fingers, downed it and staggered up to bed where he fell into a deep stupor. In the morning, the insightful clarity of the previous night had dissolved into the fog of a hangover. There was a remnant of dislike for both his sons; a sour aftertaste. He didn’t know why. Nor, did he care.