Friday, September 13, 2013

Less Than a Pair of Shoes by Kelly Haas Shackelford

An eccentric old lady returns to the site of her granddaughter's suicide; by Kelly Haas Shackelford.

My gnarled fingers gripped the steering wheel of my departed husband's battered Ford truck. Its shocks offered little buffer to the neglected potholes on that God-forsaken Georgia back road. Shooting pain jolted down to the very marrow of my old bones, but it was not as excruciating as my broken heart. Every night for the last year, I had made the journey to the washed-out Etowah bridge. Praying, I would peer over its crumbling side and wonder where that cruel river had squirreled away my twenty-five-year-old granddaughter's body.

Nearing my destination, a faded "Danger Bridge Out" sign mocked me. Shaking my fist at the damned sign, I swore to fight on and have the access to the road closed off. Three suicides in three years and yet the county commissioners saw no practical need in spending the money to block the road.

Sighing, I pressed the brake, stopping a few feet short of the edge of the washed out section of the bridge. Some days, I wondered what would happen if my brakes failed and I just kept rolling. Would that be a bad thing?

"Heaven help me," I cried, staring at the concrete side railing. Pushing hard against the rusty door, I slung it open. I grabbed up my wooden cane and stepped outside. Standing on the precarious railing, a young woman looked back at me. Her deep brown eyes dull as if they were already dead. Her thin worn sundress clung tightly to her very pregnant belly.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I stared at the dirty pair of sneakers she had tucked away to the side out of harm's way. "Dear God," I whispered. My heart fell, wondering what had happened to this child that she would value a pair of sneakers over her life. What could possibly drive a person to believe they were less than a pair of shoes?

"Have you seen my granddaughter?" I shouted, hobbling as fast as I could to her, cursing my brittle bones. Leaning hard on my cane, I forced myself faster despite the pain screaming up my leg in protest.

"No ma'am," she said, casting her eyes down.

"Well, dear, don't keep a half-dead old woman waiting. I ain't got many seconds left to live. Have you seen her?" My knees screamed in agony with each arthritic step. "She drove her car into the river last Summer."

"No ma'am," she replied again.

Stopping, I pointed my cane at her and shook it. "Where's your manners? Get off that damn thing and help me look." Holding my breath, my blood raced through me as I watched her climb down.

She looked at me with wide eyes and whispered, "Ma'am, are you crazy?"

"Very," I bellowed back out of breath. "And old and ornery. What's your name?"

"Carla BaLittle." 

"Where's your parents?" I shook my head, walking back towards her.

"They kicked me out. I'm from two counties over, just passing through," she said, looking down at her belly.

Frowning I cursed under my breath and then replied back. "My granddaughter called me Granny Lou."

Shuffling to the edge, I swept the flashlight's beam up and down the river bank, recalling my dear Ann's smile. After her mom died of cancer, I took Ann in and raised her.

After Ann's third miscarriage and her husband leaving, she drove onto this cursed road and kept on going until the river swallowed her pain. They found her beaten car a few days later, but no sign of my beloved granddaughter.

Dropping my head, I fought back tears, many times I had wished Ann had picked me up that day for her ride over the edge.

"Can you drive?" I asked the soon-to-be mother.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Thank Heavens. My heart is faint. I'm a feeble woman, and I need to get home," I barked at her and turned around to shuffle back to my truck.

Climbing into the cab I watched as the young girl walked over to the edge and stared at the water. My heart froze. Reaching over, I beat the horn with my fist and then stuck my head out the window and shouted. "I'm going to have a blessed heart attack if you don't hurry."

She turned around and looked at me, then wobbled to her shoes and grabbed them. 

"Thank you, Jesus," I whispered.



Six weeks later, I drove my Buick to Etowah Hospital. Grinning, I pulled up to the pick-up zone.

Carla sat in a wheelchair cuddling her baby. Putting the car in park, I opened the door and limped as fast as I could around to the passenger side.

"Granny Lou, your heart," Carla admonished as she climbed into the back and strapped Baby Hope into her car seat.

Puzzled, the discharge nurse said, "Lou Ann, your heart's strong as a horse's. You've never had any heart trouble."   "Shhh," I hissed and started for the driver's seat.   I sighed and climbed in. I had no idea what hell Carla was running from, but I knew if it came looking for her, it would find my 12-gauge.  I snatched up a pink bag and handed it to her. Carla looked down into it and smiled, pulling out a pair of pink baby booties.  "Every princess needs slippers," I proclaimed and started the engine. "They're beautiful. Thank you so much. Are we going to the bridge to look for Ann before we go home?"   "I've been pondering that. I believe it's time to stop haunting my Granddaughter's grave." I wiped a tear away, glad for the first time Ann had not picked me up for that fateful ride over the bridge. Carla reached over the seat and squeezed my shoulder. I smiled back as I turned down the road to take Hope home.

8 comments:

  1. Loved this story. Great pace, and Granny Lou was a quirky, lovable character. This was storytelling at its best. Would love to see more by Ms. Shackelford.

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  2. Nice little turn with the story and development of granny. I always like an upbeat ending

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  3. Great story Kelly! Wasn't sure where it was going, but I liked the hopeful ending. I loved how Granny Lou used her elderliness and her wits to save Carla!
    Keep up the good work!

    Ray J Robbio

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  4. very good indeed! I agree with Jim, there´s nothing wrong with a happy ending. Great characters.

    Michael McCarthy

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  5. Thank you everyone. Your kind words mean a lot to me!
    Kelly Shackelford

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  6. Sweet. Tender. A heartfelt read.

    Arthur Davis

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  7. Granny's character grabbed me. Well done.

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  8. Life and death moves in mysterious ways: the human ability to survive is celebrated cannily in this well drawn tale. Thank you

    Ceinwen Haydon

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