Grinder by Sabrina Westmoreland
The silence is obese and I begin to fidget. I pull on my hair, yanking a few strands, just enough to detect, but not so hard that I wince. This isn’t adequate, so I begin to attack my hangnails. Rhythmically, unconsciously picking. My index finger begins to bleed a little from its jagged nail bed and I shove it in my mouth, sucking to stop the trickle. I taste my own blood, warm and salty, and it reminds me of home. It is my blood that is killing me right now.
The woman who brought me into this isn’t about to stand by me now that she has heard my truth. I don’t really blame her. Or maybe I do a little. If you love someone, you are supposed to love them all the way, not just the pleasant bits. My daddy’s instructions were to “love people for all their parts, boy, cuz if the Lord made ‘em they got to be good.” My daddy was an open force, he never felt the low down, the no good, that people are.
The night he died, we all became doomed to hell. I saw it in my uncle’s eyes when he wouldn’t help my daddy out of Jacob’s Ladder. He thought I was too little and dumb to appreciate his malice. Daddy didn’t say a word, didn’t call out, just let the current sweep him off, over the falls, because I think he realized in that moment we were done for. I knew enough not to cry on the outside, but my insides were ruined. The poison wound its way through my circulation. I became rotten and evil right through.
My daddy’s brother and his new wife raised me as their own. He insisted on being called daddy and I did what I was told to avoid his swinging belt. Down in my pasty, shriveled heart, I understood his sin, and I never forgot, nor did I forgive. I kept it in and waited. I knew the just right day would come.
I grew, I watched, and I ground glass. Mostly my uncle’s beer bottles, yeasty and brown, but sometimes his wife’s Bubble Up pop bottles, green as a tree frog. I did this behind the tractor’s shed to avoid any inquisitions. I used great-grandmama’s mortar and pestle, just like she showed me. I was careful and quiet. The glass dust pile grew a little each week, sparkling with a deep ache.
When I had more than enough to finish the task, I began to fill the shakers with it. First the pepper, then the oregano, next the thyme. Soon most every spice bottle in my uncle’s wife’s rack was infected. The irony in her seasoning collection was that she had never cooked a meal that I remembered. From the time I could grip a spatula, it fell to me to feed us. This helped my mind stumble across the plan. I had access to everything I would need to rid myself of them. No one would be the wiser and I could finally loose my justice.
The first morning I added some to their eggs, my hands shook like a drunk’s after an all-nighter. I grew more confident as they hollered orders and shoveled it in. The blackness was filling my veins; easing into the stream with my white and red, darkening the platelets as it rolled past like a thundercloud. Months passed and they were still here, still barking commands, still scooping the taint in their gaping holes.
I was beginning to frustrate, when my release came unassumingly on an April morning. My uncle shoved back from the kitchen table announcing his plans to head into town for some “more goddamn chicken feed, they eat more than they’re worth, I swear to samhell.” The truck tires showered gravel as he gunned the V8 down the driveway that led to the main road. A whisper later there was a loud crash, as if a pipe bomb had been dropped right there in the pastures among the head of cattle. My uncle’s wife shouted at me to “haul ass out there and see what’s wrong.” I wiggled through the front door to discover a plume of dense smoke rising from the old walnut tree halfway down the bend.
The rocks crunched like fresh snow under my work boots as I headed for the tree. My vision tightened as I recognized the pickup lodged in the arms of the walnut, strange lovers brought together. My uncle’s battered face rose to the heavens, framed by the steering wheel he embraced. I was radiant, a light shining in the mineshaft of my existence. The canary was trilling, no, that was his wife shrieking. It was slight, muffled, as if she were underwater. I began walking towards Rural Route 4, lightness in my step, and found myself whistling and smiling to my new self.
A crystal brown roach scurries across the doorjamb in a race for its freedom. I nod to it, acknowledging our fortune. My momma wasn’t hard to find. She is hard to figure. She isn’t about to save me. Her now bony fingers dial my sentence with a slow purpose. 9. Beat. 1. Beat. 1. Beat. I recognize I am about to be granted a wish. I glance down at my still bleeding hangnail and resign.
Sabrina Westmoreland is a Los Angeles girl through and through who somehow wound up under a warlock’s spell and landed in Brooklyn. A smoker by habit, a friend by choice and a writer by blood, she has never shared any of her insides with the outside world due to a debilitating fear of rejection. She hopes the dancing monkey will distract the audience enough and maybe no one will notice.