by Tessa Kjeldsdottir
I was giving the Qtip a final twirl when my cousin Jonny hollered up to tell me that Harrison had been released from prison. At first I’d heard “Harry’s song had greased the prism,” which made no sense at all. But then I remembered the Qtip in my one good ear.
I dropped the waxy cotton swab in the trash and hustled to the front door, which I keep locked all night to keep Jonny out of my supply of home-brew. Yep, screen and front doors were locked tight. But there was no one out front.
I turned then, and hustled into the kitchen. There, at the back door — also locked — Jonny was pressing his nose against the screen, his fingers spatulate on the wires, like a fly on lukewarm potato salad.
He looked worried.
I’d told him to always call first and give me a head’s up that he was coming, but he wouldn’t listen most times, and certainly not when he was in a panic, so I decided to unhook the latch straightaway. Jonny surprised me then by stepping back from the door, his nose cross-hatched with pollen and rust. He didn’t want to come in all of a sudden. It was like nothing I’d even seen before.
Jonny’s lip trembled, and for once, his words came out in a whisper, rather than a shout. “Harrison’s been released from prison, Mae. And he says he wants to see you, first thing.” He dug both hands into the front of his overalls, and scratched his bare chest nervously. “He says you’re holding onto the treasure and he wants his share.”
I pulled the screen door open and stepped out onto the porch. I noted the scree of crickets warming to the rising sun, in the long grass just past Maisie’s tire swing. Jonny’s story seemed like it made about as much sense as what I’d heard with that Qtip in my ear.
I cupped a hand around my good ear and leaned in. “What are you talking about? What treasure?” I must’ve hissed at him, because his eyes went wide and he stepped back.
Against my better judgment, I moved toward him and grabbed his bony shoulders. “Jonny, he swore to me he didn’t do the crime!” I shook him some, and his teeth—the few he still had—chattered in his head.
“I don’t know,” Jonny started to blubber, tears, snot and spit gathering on his chin. “But it can’t be good coming from Harrison.”
“Merciful hemlock, Jonny!” I never could understand why Jonny was so frightened of Harrison, but there you have it. Jonny comes from a long line of men who tend to marry their first cousins. I guess I was lucky I’d met Harrison before cousin Jonny had hit full puberty.
“Where is Harrison now?” I let go his shoulders and pushed him away from me.
Jonny ran a hand over his close-shaven scalp and bit his lip, and peered up at me sidewise, his eyes slit and mean. “He’s on his way. Just you wait and see. You shoulda married me, Mae. I don’t give anybody any trouble. And I woulda been here for you…and for Maisie!”
“If I’d married you, Jonny, Maisie wouldn’t even exist,” I softened my voice and offered up a smile. Sometimes I forget that there’s basic goodness amidst all his foolishness. “And wouldn’t that be a crying shame? You love Maisie just like she was your own.”
“If she’d married you, Jonny, she’d have had an idiot child from an idiot husband.”
I turned around. Harrison stood in the shade of the kitchen, no smile on his handsome face. No lock could keep him out when he wanted in. Why did it surprise me that he jimmied our front door open without making a racket?
“Go home Jonny,” I pushed open the back screen door and stepped inside. “And thanks for the warning.”
Jonny fled across the grass, arms now pulled out of his overalls and reaching toward the sunrise, his bare heels flashing in the growing light.
“Where’s my treasure?” Harrison growled.
“Maisie? She’s not up yet,” I eased the door closed behind me, “Can I fix you some breakfast? Or would you like something else?”
His eyes twinkled as he reached for me and pulled me into his arms.
Tessa Kjeldsdottir is a Midwest dabbler in fiction, folk and fairy tales, and poetry. Her work can be found in the occasional chapbook/anthology, but mostly on her flash blog and sketchbook, Valley of The Trolls.blog under the pseudonym Liz Husebye Hartmann.