Short Story: The CureThis piece has not been edited by the ShortbreadStories team.
Gru was of the sort to never forget birthdays or what we liked to eat or whose underwear was whose. But she slipped off the treadmill one day. Now Gru’s all fucked up in the head, says Stewart.
I’m going to save her regardless what the doctor says. I’d be a better doctor than these shitbirds and I can’t even stay up late!
I have this plan and I have no doubt it will work. I’ve written it down and labeled it The Cure in my journal.
Gru, bless her, dribbles about the house now. And her cooking has gone to crap. Fried is black, grilled is black, and baked is black or sometimes pink. Black black black. Yuck!
Gru stands in front of the oven, finger hovering in the air, biting her tongue, ready to poke the oven in the eye again tonight.
“Mother! You’re trying to cook a thing for ten hours? Dammit! Move, let me do it.” My older brother Stewart is yelling again. He huffs and steams while Gru goes back to the refrigerator. She stops and drinks some of her juice first. She smells like juice all the time now. Then she studies the refrigerator’s insides like an eager doctor and comes from its belly with the mustard.
She turns and squirts the mustard over the pan of frozen pigs-in-a-blanket, smoothing it over with a steak knife.
“Mother! What are you doing?” Stewart yells.
“You must butter the rolls before they cook. Stop it you!” She yells back at him, shielding her pan of baby rolls like the lioness. I smile shaking my head at Stewart.
“Are we picking up again brother?” I ask. I don’t like Gru’s food anymore.
But Gru is still in there and I will coax her out. The Cure is the cheese and it will be irresistible to the old her. Father is away with the traveling circus. Gru saw her ring one night and tried to gnaw it off. That’s when I knew she was still in there regardless what Doctor Fuckface told them in the meetings. Stewart told me this was her name. I don’t like Doctor. Fuckface one bit.
Right at first, after Gru spilt her marbles on that treadmill, Stewart and I had our weird Aunt June come down. At night sometimes Mother called her Aunt June too. She smoked and smoked and smoked.
I tell her, I say, “Hey Aunt June! You know it would be better to shove that cigarette up your ass, yes?” She rumbled like a bullfrog about this and that and I never stood directly in front of her, or her stench would knock the shit out of me. Like literally smell her breath and I’d have to take a shit. Sometimes I would go in my pants on accident. This would get Stewart mad. It was bad and strange. But she was blood and Stewart said we didn’t have much blood left, so I complained as little as possible and avoided smelling her.
Luckily all the old fogies from church brought casseroles to the front door for those first few months and Aunt June got a boy toy or something and ran off. With the boy toy having fun somewhere. “We don’t need her. Right brother?” I’d said.
“That’s right Penn,” Stewart had said, “me and you can run this show now.”
Now on nights like tonight Stewart runs the show. Because we take Mother in public on her good days when she doesn’t smell or act as crazy. She gets around and everyone at church sees her and thinks she’s good. She’s grand. No more casseroles for those three. Them three are doing just fine.
“Dude this sucks,” says Stewart. He’s sad like he gets sometimes. I look up from my plate of green chile enchiladas.
“What sucks brother?” My mouth is full. I have to remember to chew slowly when I’m this hungry or else I’ll choke and that makes Gru mad, to hear me choke.
“Everything. The rice, these shitty ass turd beans. Dude look at my taco shell,” he says waving the flimsy corn in the air with his fork, “oh Senor, do I have a treat for you. The finest taco in all the land. Ole!” He puppets these words with the shell, spilling the meat and cheese and lettuce back onto the aluminum pan. I laugh and laugh and laugh. A talking taco mouth. Stewart always gets me.
“You always were special Penn,” Gru says from her place on the couch, spilling some beans held in front of her mouth. She’s holding her glass in the other hand, the big one that always finds its way to her at night though I never know how it gets there. She is watching Austin Powers. “One of you boys let that darn cat inside. I haven’t seen him all day.”
I smile and walk to open the door but there’s never anything there. No Mr. Bigglesworth, nothing but dried leaves and webs from spiders. Mother doesn’t hear the door close shut; she’s back to her beans and her movie and her drinking her drink.
That night after Stewart fought Mother to bed (no Stewart I have to wait up for the Pope to come on you fool), Stewart starts his routine. I don’t bother him when he does this because he gets quiet. Then he gets loud. But I’m usually asleep. On Thursdays we dress Gru nice and take Gru to the Lenny’s Liquor. Stewart didn’t have a driver’s license yet but he had a beard, so he’d drive if Gru couldn’t. Most Thursdays, since the accident, she couldn’t drive us.
But this Cure I’ve been working on, it’s going to come through and be the ticket. It’s the cheese even though I’m not sure what the trap is. And the old Gru is going to come crawling out of the hole in the wall of her head to eat.
Gru always, every time, came out of the store with the two boxes and put them in the trunk. She would gripe on and on the whole way home about the state of the store or the old guy behind the counter. She was usually shaking on those trips and I don’t know why. She would never let either of us touch the boxes when we got home. Where Stewart found them is a mystery because I’ve looked and they’re in a good place.
That night, after Gru was in her room, Stewart had the open bottle sitting next to his chair with the legs kicked out. To me he looked like the captain of a ship flying through space on autopilot. Tired of all those boring stars. He loved his drink nearly as much as Gru but would never let me have any.
Other nights, sometimes I would get out of bed to go get water without Stewart knowing and I’d see Gru’s light still on. She would be asleep and snoring with plates of food around her bed. It always smelled bad and heavy in her room at night.
But sometimes she would be standing up, swaying back and forth, and it was confusing. She never fell but I was scared she was going to again. The look on her face at those times was long and blank like maybe she really wasn’t in there anymore. Like she was a robot and just spazzing out and shaking. The old Gru never looked like this.
I’d shut her door back quietly and, with my water, I’d get back in bed and add more to the plans for The Cure. I had exercises and tests and diets and everything in my journal. I hadn’t shown Stewart yet because it wasn’t ready, but I knew he was going to like it.
I was too young to remember much before the accident but Stewart told me. Mother was a good mother and didn’t act weird and we were happy. Father was still home before he got recruited. I’d dream about him doing flips as a clown and landing in pools of grape juice that were on fire. He looked like Stewart in my dreams even though in his pictures he looked more like me, everybody said.
Gross Aunt June would cuss and cuss and cuss whenever I’d talk about him when she was there with us. “You’re just jealous because they’d only let you be the fat lady with a beard. They’d call you the Extraordinary Fat Frog lady and kids would be scared of you.” This made Stewart pat me on the shoulder. I’d say it often, before she left with her boy toy, to get Stewart to do that.
On Thursday the next week, I would ride with them to their session with Doctor Fuckface. I always had to be outside in the waiting room while Gru and Stewart were in there. I would hear them talking but it didn’t make much sense. I wouldn’t really listen. Just play with the kiddy blocks.
“Gru, Stewart, I’ve been pleased with Penn's progress the past year,” the doctor would say, “he’s come a long way since your husband left, and I guess I just got used to seeing him take small steps forward each month. But setbacks were bound to happen.”
“What setbacks?” Stewart would ask her. Gru would be shaking next to him on the couch. It was early in the day and these office visits made her nerves go wild, she’d told us in the car before.
“Well, Penn’s art journal has taken a move in the past few months. He’s no longer occupied with the circus drawings he used to love. He’s moved to repeating pictures of rats and traps. This repetitive motif he has titled 'The Cure'. He has written down lists of odd and end foods and exercises and such,” Stewart would grunt, "it's hard to make sense of, to find meaning in it. But it is dark and bothersome. In my opinion, Penn may be feeling trapped in his routine at home. Something new at home has him unsettled and it is coming through in his artwork. Does anything like this jump out at either of you?”
Stewart would say: “Yea. Things have changed of late. She’s shut down and off in crazy land most of the time past lunch. She’s here with us now but most times at home she’s gone. Tanked.”
Gru would start to sob. “Oh so it’s my fault is it? Show me the book on how to do this and I’ll read it front to back! I’m doing the best I can to handle all of this shit.” She’d sob harder and it would get quiet.
“Sure you are Mother.”
They’d open the door after it was over and walk into the waiting room. Gru would have wet cheeks and Stewart wouldn’t touch her. The doctor, she’d still be sitting there, writing fast as she could on her yellow pad. She'd look worried but all the doctors looked that way.
“What did Doctor Fuckface say brother? Is she getting better?” I’d ask hoping. Stewart would shake his head at me.
“Don’t say that in here Penn. Wait until we’re outside.”
“Ok…Are we going to get more juice before we go back home?”
“Yes,” both Gru and Stewart would say together as I followed them through the office door to leave.
I’d have to work harder on The Cure so I can set the bait soon. It’s going to work wonders for Gru, for all of us. I know it I know it I know it.
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