>Edna drained a can of crushed pineapple in the sink. Last night she had awakened to see Viola sitting on the edge of her bed. Her sister was wearing the blue pima cotton nightgown the hospice worker had put on her the day she died.
“Ain’t you supposed to be in heaven?” Edna had asked.
Viola turned her head; her eyes were hot. Heat shimmered through Edna’s body. “Now, you go on to heaven, you hear,” she told the apparition. “Don’t you be no ghost. You know I’m gonna take care of everything.”
The next morning, Edna could still feel her sister. Some heavy sensation in the air, like invisible eyes.
Edna dumped the drained pineapple slices in a casserole dish. “I done said I’d take care of it,” she said aloud.
She took out the cheese out of the refrigerator and grated two cups worth over the pineapple. “I’m just going to make this here casserole and I’m going over.”
Edna donned her church clothes and the cross her friend brought back from Israel, then stuck her angel pin on her shoulder. She covered the pineapple cheese casserole with tin foil and placed it inside the insulated carrier with her bible on top.
Merri winced, and then regretted it. Wincing hurt. Who’d have thought that Pabst Blue Ribbon could pack such a punch? Of course she’d had four, in little over an hour. And then something DeWayne concocted out of tequila and canned pineapple juice. Oh boy, that had gone down smooth. How many of those had she had? She didn’t remember. So maybe the PBR wasn’t totally to blame.
She put the groceries on the counter, gently, so that the plastic wouldn’t rustle too loudly. She’d bought only the basics at the Piggly Wiggly, just enough to get her through the weekend – milk, eggs, bread, frozen pizza.
A memory niggled at the back of her brain. The futon. What about the damn futon?
She reached into the bag and pulled out a bag of pork rinds. What the hell?!? She frowned. Had somebody else bought these groceries? Why was her brain not working? She shook her head – slowly, very slowly.
What was it with the futon? And why did her lower lip hurt? What memory was struggling to climb out of the depths of her subconscious? Oh god, she didn’t want to know.
Groceries. Focus on the groceries.
She pulled out a can of coffee. Yes. Good. That was definitely hers.
She peeled the lid off the container and the rich dark smell curled into her nostrils, making her feel like she was in one of those Folger’s commercials. It was a nice fantasy, full of warmth and good will, in a world where all was fuzzy and low-lit and right.
The slamming of the screen door jolted her back into reality.
Who the hell was that? Where’s my gun? she thought. Wait, I don’t have a gun, I don’t believe in guns. Dewayne has a gun. Where’s Dewayne? Not here, that’s for sure, just her and some stranger breaking in the front door in broad daylight, which could not be a good thing.
Knife, she thought. This is a kitchen. There’s gotta be a damn knife somewhere. She rifled frantically through the drawers. Spoons. Lots of spoons. Serving spoons, slotted spoons, sauce spoons. A freaking ladle.
Aha! A meat fork!
She snatched it up just as the intruder entered the kitchen.
Edna said, “Honey? Why you got Viola’s best meat fork pointed at me?”
Merri felt her heart hammering in her chest, her breath catching in little squeaks. She lowered the fork. “Aunt Edna! You surprised me.”
Edna narrowed her eyes. “Where’s Dewayne?”
“At work. Why?”
“Then why is his truck here?”
Oh great, Merri thought. Another one of those Southern things. If this had been someone from a rational part of the country, she could have told the truth – I took him to work this morning and now I have the truck. But no. This was Sweetwater, and to say that would be like saying, oh yeah, I screwed your grandson all night long and then stole his truck, so now I’m going to hell on the change of premarital sex and grant theft auto.
Oh no, she thought. Did I screw DeWayne? Wait a minute. She rubbed her lower lip. Is this why my lip hurts? And the futon, why did she remember his arms and his smell and the firm pressure of . . . what? She couldn’t remember anything. Wouldn’t she remember hot sex? Wouldn’t she?
Is that incest? Is third cousin sex incest? Oh no, I am going to hell, she thought. Redneck hell.
Edna was staring at her. “Well?”
“Hmmm, I decided to stay at Gram’s for a bit to work on this book I’m writing for my work. And Dewayne lent me his truck so I could move things here. So I took him to work.”
Edna’s eye could have skewered her. She could never lie to Aunt Edna, for a moment she thought she might call her mom.
“So what brings you out here, Edna?” Merri tried to sound casual.
Edna looked down at her feet, “I was on the way to church. And I just came by to see about things.” The vein above Edna’s temple pulsed. She was lying!
What would she be lying about? Merri returned the fork to the drawer and put her hands on the counter and took a deep breath.
“I’m not working on a book, Aunt Edna.” She walked around the counter. “I heard you say that Grams was murdered. And . . .” She paused, choosing her words. Talking to Edna was like navigating a mine field. “And I wanted to know for myself.”
Edna still looked at her shoes. Thinking.
“You see, they found a little girl not a quarter of a mile from her,” Merri began.
“I done knowed it,” Edna said.
“So, what do you think?”
Edna raised her eyes. Merri had never seen them like this before. Edna squinted, taking Merri’s measure. “What are you wearin’ around your neck?”
Merri reached for her pentacle; it was hanging out of her shirt. She started to tuck it in.
“Is that one of them devil signs?” Edna asked.
“No, it’s not. Do you really want to know what it is? Will you judge me?”
Edna didn’t answer; she walked over and placed her hand on Merri head, like she was baptizing her. “Jesus done loves you. I can feel it. He is reaching out for you.”
Merri jerked away, like her aunt was one of the self-proclaimed prophets that came to campus to ridicule the students.
“Don’t be afraid, sugar,” Edna said, her voice smooth like a television evangelist. “When the light comes to you, it can be frightening. Like a burning bush.”
And Merri understood this. She knew about fire, she understood how it worked, how it caught and then grew and then took on its own life. And she knew that this woman in front of her – her flesh and blood, for however distant their beliefs, they shared that much – was her strongest ally in her search for answers,
She took a deep breath. “Aunt Edna?” she said. “I don’t understand what you and DeWayne see, but I believe you. And I want to help. Will you let me help?”
Edna rubbed her cross and closed her eyes, like she was praying hard, real hard. The wrinkles at the corners deepened.
“Jesus said, by their fruits, ye shall know them,” she said. She opened her eyes. They were the same color as Gram’s. “So tell me – what did DeWayne see?”