March 1, 2023

Can You Spare a Hand

9

“Well,” she says as I walk in the front door.
“Well what,” I say.
“Did you get it back?”
I shake my head. Molly doesn’t cry. She never cries. In all the years we’ve been married, she has never shown an ounce of fear or a drop of sadness. She looks at me without saying a word. Waiting for me to go on.
I say, “bastard said it all went at auction last week. Said we were too late.”
Her face betrays no emotion.
“Did he say who bought it?”
“He tried to tell me that it was all anonymous and private,” I say. “But when I run into Johnny on my way out, he says he done heard it was that sonuvabitch Cole.”
Her eyes narrow. Her jaw clenches.
“Cole,” she says. “Why’d that sonuvabitch buy our things?”
“I dunno,” I say with a shrug. “Don’t much matter now, it’s all done and gone ain’t it.”
“Like hell it is,” she says.
I can see her eyes flash and hear the fire burning in her voice. When Molly gets angry, there’s bound to be trouble.
“Leave it Molly,” I say. “Cole gone and bought it. Ain’t nothing for it now.”
“Like hell,” she says again.
“Molly,” I say. “Leave it alone.”
She says nothing. But I know sure as shit she ain’t going to leave it alone.
“Molly,” I say again.
But it ain’t no good. She’s gone and decided. She moves past me out the door.
“Where’d ya think you’re going,” I say.
“Where’d ya think,” she says. “I’m going to go get our things back. Ain’t no way that sonuvabitch is keeping our things.”
“Molly,” I say, following behind her. “Now, just hold on there a second. Don’t ya go stirring it up. He gone and bought it. It’s all legal like. Ain’t nothing we can do.”
She opens the driver’s side door of the truck. Looks at me, the fire burning hot now.
“You comin’ or not,” she says.
“Molly,” I say, but she don’t listen.
She jumps in the cab, slams the door, and starts the truck. I have to run to make the passenger door before she tears out of her momma’s driveway.
Cole lives in a large Victorian up the hill. It don’t take long to get there. We don’t talk on the way. Ain’t no point. She’s going to do what she’s going to do. I ain’t never been able to stop her. She’s driving fast and takes the corner sharp into Cole’s laneway. There’s a man riding a lawnmower and cutting the grass as we go by. The yard is as big as a football field. As we round the corner to the house, we’re blocked by three gleaming white cars in the roundabout. We have to park a distance and walk to get to the front door. Molly is fuming by the time we get there. She’s like an overheated radiator waiting to explode. She rings the bell, and we stand there listening to the chimes sing a song and echo forever. After a while, a young woman in a black dress opens the door.
“Yes,” she says. “Can I help you?”
“We’re here to speak with Cole,” Molly says.
The woman eyes her and me suspiciously, but with Molly and her full head of steam, ain’t nothing but God himself going to keep her from talking to the old sonuvabitch. The woman can sense it. She don’t want no part of Molly.
She shrugs and says, “Wait here.”
She closes the door, and we listen to the sound of her shoes click-clacking across the stone floor and disappearing. More time passes, but Molly hasn’t cooled. The door finally opens, and the old sonuvabitch himself appears.
He’s been eating dinner. His face is greasy with red stains, he’s still licking his lips and holding a white cloth napkin in his hand. His eyes flash with annoyance when he looks at me, but his expression changes when he looks at Molly. I can’t say that it registers as fear, but I done see that kind of look before. The man is cautious. On his guard. He can sense danger.
“Yes,” he says, ignoring Molly and looking at me.
I say nothing.
“You got our things at auction last week,” Molly says. “We’re here to pick ‘em up. Take ‘em home.”
“Things?”
“Ya things,” she says, her voice hot with anger. “You bought ‘em…our things…we’re here—“
“I heard ya, little lady,” he says. “But if I bought your things at auction, they aren’t your things anymore now are they?”
He looks over at me as if I have a say in any of this. I don’t. I just stand there and pray it don’t turn ugly.
“Now you listen here,” she says, clenching her fists. “They shouldn’t never have put our things up for auction. Those are our things. Our private things. They belong to us. We want ‘em back.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” he says. “But if I bought your things at auction last week those things don’t belong to you any more. Those are my things now?”
He looks at the two of us standing there, not an ounce of compassion in him. There’s just some people who love causing misery to others. Cole is one of them men who don’t much care about others. He has what he wants. He’s a mean sonuvabitch who shoulda been put down but ain’t no one ever had the courage to do it. He looks at me and smiles.
“Say,” he says. “I know you. You used to work for me over at the factory. Billy or Tommy or…”
“Charlie,” I say. “Name’s Charlie, Mr Henry. I worked for you for nearly 28 years. I—“
“Right,” he says. “Right. I remember you now. Lost your hand a few years back working the machine. Got it cut clean off the bone…”
He looks down at my right hand, but ain’t nothing to see but the hook. He smiles again like he just heard a funny joke.
“Never did reattach it, huh?” he says. He looks at Molly with that look men get. A leer filled with dirty thoughts. “Shame about that,” he says to her. “Must make it awfully interesting, huh?” He laughs and gives a snort like a horse.
“Now you listen here Cole Henry,” Molly says. “You may be a big fat cat here in town but that don’t hold much water with me. We want our things and we ain’t leaving until we have ‘em.”
“That right,” he says. His eyes flash. I can see his neck bulge. He’s agitated.
“And why on God’s green earth would I part with my things,” he says. “I bought them. They belong to me. If you had wanted them, you should have paid the storage fee. You should—“
“It’s my hand,” I say quietly. “You can keep everything else but…”
Molly turns slightly and shoots me a look. She doesn’t want me talking about it. But if I don’t, things are going to turn ugly. I give her a shrug. She knows I don’t much care about the rest. We gone and lived this long without it. We can go on living without it.
“Your hand,” he says. “You kept your hand in the locker? My word.” He shakes his head in disgust. “That is foul,” he says.
Molly takes a step toward him. I’m worried she’ll do him violence. I put my hand on her shoulder to stop her. I don’t want to lose her. He’s a sonuvabitch, but there ain’t nothing to be done about it now.
“We had it preserved,” I say. I close my eyes. Not sure even how to explain somethin’ like this. “We thought…well…we thought maybe one day we might afford…”
“Yes,” he says. His eyes light up with curiosity. “Afford?”
“Well…” I say again. “We thought one day maybe…maybe we might afford to have it put back. We didn’t have the money then but…”
“And you have the money now,” he says. “How much are you willing to pay to have it back?”
“Why you sonuvabitch,” Molly says.
She takes another step forward and spits on him. It catches him on his cheek. He uses his napkin to wipe it clean.
“I’m a reasonable man,” he says. “You say you put your hand in the locker and I bought the locker. I’m a reasonable man. But this isn’t a charity. I didn’t get to the top of the hill by giving my things away for free. You can’t say you drove all the way here and didn’t turn your attention to the question of compensation. Surely you understand I need to be made whole in this endeavour.”
I can feel Molly tense. I’ve been out of work for near six months now. Most days, there’s barely enough money to feed everyone. We can’t afford nothing to buy back my hand. He turns to look at me.
“You say I have your hand and that you want it back. And I said how much are you willing to pay for it. So,” he says. “How much?”
I don’t have a chance to answer.
“Nothin’ you sonuvabitch. That’s how much we’re offerin’,” she says.
“Well,” he says and shakes his head. “I’m afraid that won’t do. No, that won’t do at all. Come back when you have an offer. I’ll be here.”
He starts to turn and walk away.
“How’s about,” says Molly, “we come back with our rifle and I blow your goddamn shit for brains all over you pretty house? How’d that be for an offer, you sonuvabitch?”
He turns back to face us both. I can see a hint of fear now. He isn’t sure how to negotiate with someone like Molly. No one does. That’s why I married her.
“Now see, here,” he says. “I don’t like being threatened. You two think you are the first pieces of trash to darken my door and threaten me with violence. I didn’t get to the top of the hill by being afraid. Now I suggest you get off my property before I have you both arrested and thrown in jail for trespass.”
“But my hand,” I say desperately. “Can’t you just—“
He smiles again. All friendly and warm, only he ain’t friendly at all.
“No I can’t,” he says. “Like I said, I own your hand now. You want it back, make me an offer. But,” and he looks over at Molly and back at me, “don’t be too long about it. I think I have plans for the newest item in my collection.”
He laughs. It’s not a kind laugh.
“Plans,” I say. “I—“
“Look,” he says. “You’re a nice guy. But I remember you were always a bit slow. So I’m going to dumb it down for you. I’m throwing a little soiree tomorrow night. A celebration if you will. I’m having some friends over for a barbecue. A little food, a little wine, a little dancing. You know how it is. But I figure maybe the party needs a little something to spice it up. It’s a celebration, after all. So why not try something new, maybe something a bit more exotic. Lucky me, I bought myself a spare hand last week. Why not throw it on the barbie and grill it up. I’m sure your fat fingers will make a tasty amuse-bouche. Probably an acquired taste but that’s fine dining, am I right?”
He does his horse laugh again. He’s a mean sonuvabitch.
“Now,” he says. “I suggest that rather than dawdling on my front lawn, you get back in your shitty truck and drive back to your shitty trailer and think about how much you want your hand back. Either you have the five thousand dollars or I am having a fucking barbecue.”
“You can’t do that,” I say. “You—“
“Sure, I can,” he says. “I bought your hand fair and legal. You can talk to a lawyer if you want but they’ll tell you the same thing. I bought the locker and everything in it. That includes your hand. Now you best run along before you say anything more and I change my mind about selling it back to you.”
He turns and walks inside his house and slams the door behind him.
“I don’t—“ I say, but I got no more words.
This ain’t right but ain’t nothing I can do.
“Lawyer,” she says with a snarl. “Ain’t no lawyer gonna help us.”
She turns on her heel and heads back to the truck.
“We did what we could, Moll,” I say. “Ain’t nothing else we can do.”
She looks over at me and says nothing.
“Ain’t nothing else we can do,” I say again. “Not with a man like that.”
Molly gives me the silent treatment the rest of the night. She’s still asleep when I leave to look for work in the morning. I call a few of the local lawyers, but none of them is willing to help. One guy seemed interested until I mentioned Cole Henry, and then he couldn’t get off the phone fast enough. Ain’t nothing anyone can do about a man like that. When I get home, Molly is in the kitchen. Her ma don’t cook, and I can smell the smoke from the barbecue from the front door.
“Moll,” I say as I make my way to the kitchen. “What’s going on?”
She’s tending the grill out on the back deck. I can hear the sizzle as grease drips and hits the flame. She turns and smiles.
“I didn’t hear ya come in,” she says.
I look at the grill and back at her.
“Steak,” she says. “Fresh.”
“Molly,” I say. “We can’t afford—“
“Shsh,” she says. “Never you mind about that. Ma has gone out for the night. There’s a cold beer in the fridge, steak is on. Let’s—“
“Moll,” I say again. “What’s gotten into you, now? You know we can’t afford no steak and beer? Where’d you get all this?”
“Don’t you worry nothin’ about that,” she says. “This ain’t no other day,” she says. “We’re celebratin’”
“Celebratin’,” I say. “Celebratin’ what?”
“Look here,” she says, and she pulls out a package, wrapped in newsprint. I eye it skeptically.
“Go on now,” she says. “Open it up.”
I take the package and tear off the paper. I don’t know what’s gotten into her. As I get the paper undone, I see a wooden box with a large C carved into the lid.
“My hand,” I say. “My hand…but how?”
Molly smiles.
“Never you mind about that,” she says and walks back to the grill.
She starts working the meat with the tongs. The drips and sizzles and pops get louder with each jab of her large fork. It smells delicious. I open the lid and look down at my hand. I don’t even know what to say. It’s always been so strange to see my hand in a box like this. But not as strange as Molly is acting tonight.
“Molly,” I say. “How’d you…”
She turns to look at me. Smiles again.
“After you left to look for work this morning, she says. “I went back up the hill to talk to that sonuvabitch about our things.”
“Molly,” I say, but she holds her hand up to shush me.
“Ain’t no one answered the door. I figured maybe no one was home. So I went round back, took a rock from his garden, and smashed open the window on the door.”
“Molly you didn’t,” I say, but I know from the look in her eyes she did. “So you stole it?”
“I didn’t steal nothin’,” she says.
“You broke into the man’s house and stole his property,” I say.
“Our property,” she says. “I didn’t steal nothing cause it was ours?”
“You figure,” I say, “to tell that to the cops when they arrest you?”
“Cops ain’t going to arrest me,” she says.
“How you figure that,” I say. “Once old man Cole gets home he’s going to know that someone broke in. He’s going to know it was us since we gone and took back my hand.”
She frowns and then smiles.
“Cole, ain’t gonna tell no one nothing,” she says.
“You’re crazy, Molly,” I say. “How you figure the sonuvabitch isn’t going to tell the cops we broke into his house and stole my hand back.”
“Cause,” Molly says, her eyes burning hot again.
“Cause why, Molly? I say. “That sonuvabitch isn’t going to stay quiet about this?”
She smiles. When she smiles like that, I know somethin’ ain’t right.
“What,” I say. “What’re you smiling about?”
“Cole ain’t gonna talk to the cops cause Cole ain’t gonna do no talking never again.”
I look at her. She’s still smiling
“Molly,” I say. “What’d you do?”
“What I had to?” she says. “I done take care of it.”
“Take care of what,” I say.
“I went up there just like I said. I threw the rock and went inside. There wasn’t no alarm or bells or nothin’. So I looked around. Only the house wasn’t empty. I got to the top of the stairs and that sonuvabitch come out of the bathroom. I didn’t know he was there. So I did what needed doing?”
I stare at her. She’s cool as can be.
“What’d ya mean you did what needed doing?”
“I done take care of that sonuvabitch.”
“Molly,” I say. “What’d you do?”
She still smiling. She’s pleased with herself.
“He started yelling and hollerin’ and going on. So I done give him a whack in the head. Well, the sonuvabitch was all slippery from his bath and he done slipped all the way down the stairs and cracked his damn neck.”
“He’s dead,” I say in confusion. “You done kill him?”
“He’s dead just as sure as it’s Tuesday,” she says. “If he ain’t he’s real good playing at it.”
“You done killed him,” I say.
I shake my head. We’re in serious trouble. But Molly just turns back to the grill and starts prodding the meat again.
“The cops,” I say. “They’re going to find him…they are going to come knocking. We were there last night. They…”
Molly forks the steak off the grill and slides them onto a plate. She loads some mash and some veggies and passes it to me.
“Go on,” she says. “Let’s eat.”
“Molly,” I say, taking the plate and moving to sit down. “What’re we gonna do?”
“Nothin’,” she says.
“What you mean, nothin’,” I say.
“Cops aren’t going to find nothin’ cause I left nothin’ to find,” she says. “Now eat. Your steak is getting cold.”
She saws off a piece and slides it into her mouth. She’s so calm. Like she don’t care that she just killed the sonuvabitch. She chews a bit and smiles. “Delicious.”
The smell of the steak is making my mouth water. I can’t help myself. I cut off a piece and start chewing. It really is delicious. I take another piece. I don’t know what to say. She doesn’t seem worried. She knows best. No sense letting the food go cold. So we sit there cutting and chewing. It’s delicious.
After we’re done, I start to feel nervous again. Molly’s smart I’ll give her that. And if anyone could kill a man and get away clear, it’s her. Still.
“What’d ya mean you left nothin’ to find,” I say as we are washing up the dishes.
“I told ya, I left nothin’. No body, no crime,” she says with a laugh. “I saw that once on one of them shows we used to watch.”
“No body,” I say. “But you said he was dead?”
“Sure was,” she says. “As a doornail. But I didn’t leave no body for anyone to find.”
“But,” I say. “What? What’d you do with it?”
She turns and smiles and kisses me on the lips. She’s feeling happy. Frisky even. Like how she was when we first married.
“Molly,” I say again. “What’d ya do with old man Cole?”
“Never you mind about that,” she says. “He’s gone.”
“Molly,” I say and look at her. She has a twinkle in her eye.
“Let’s just say, he got to enjoy that barbecue after all. And now he’s gone. Ain’t nothing to find. Ain’t nothing to worry about. It’s done,” she says. “Now you hurry and finish up. And don’t be too long about it.”
She smiles, pats my bottom, and walks away.
I dry the dishes and think. The sun is setting, but the birds are still out. One of them lands on the grill and grabs a bit of meat. It falls to the deck. The bird chases it down, grabs it, and flies away. I’m staring after it when a thought occurs to me. Did she maybe….nah, I think. Ain’t no way. I shake my head, finish up, turn off the lights and head upstairs to join her.