A short story by Alex Natalian
Grandmother was a full-busted, Latin woman with red hair and a scowl that could scare a scarecrow. She wore pink and orange. She chuckled noisily during mass. She smoked a pipe, had an evil eye at poker, and was caught cheating on more than one occasion.
One day Grandmother presented a large carrot to her neighbor’s wife. It was the largest carrot Grandmother had ever grown in her garden, quite a prize, and Conchinina was amazed at its grandiosity. “Ooh, this will taste good in a stew. What a shame my husband is out of town.”
“Ay, Conchinina,” said Grandmother. “How long will Pedro be gone this time?”
“I’m not sure.”
“How can you not be sure?”
Conchinina looked away. She was a graceful slip of a woman, far younger than her husband. “I think Pedro has left me. He’s been gone two weeks already.”
“My poor Conchinina,” said Grandmother, clicking her tongue and studying the carrot closely. It was a plump orange thing. Somehow she found that pleasing. “Yes, but don’t you worry, my dear. I’ll bring you some turkey and more carrots. Why don’t we have a game of poker tonight? Everything will be alright.”
“What will I do without him?”
“To hell with that man!”
Conchinina shifted her weight slightly. “Yes, maybe you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right. Besides, now that you have that huge carrot in your hands, you won’t need a husband anymore!”
When Pedro came back five days later, he was locked out of the house. Pedro was an impractical old man with yellow eyes and a long, sloping torso. He carried with him the scent of whiskey, and by now Conchinina didn’t need him. The carrot was a magnificent find. It tasted good in stew.
When it became clear his wife wouldn’t unlock the door, Pedro became tearful and sobbed loudly, his voice echoing across the street, oh-so-achingly tragic, causing pandemonium in the neighborhood.
“Pedro has really screwed up this time,” said the Garcias, who lived across the road. “His wife’s kicked him out again, this time for good!” said the Vargas, who lived just behind the Garcias. “Where will he go? What will he do?”
Pedro sat in the town plaza for three days, drinking whisky, peeing behind the kiosk, and cuddling an injured pigeon. (Despite her injury, the pigeon was an exquisite bird, with iridescent pink and purple feathers across her grayish back.)
After Pedro had spent his three days in the plaza, Grandmother stopped at Conchinina’s door: “The man is repentant. Why don’t you open up and let him in?”
Conchinina refused, crossing her arms. “Pedro can live in the plaza for the rest of his life, for all I care.”
Grandmother sniffed passively. “Are you sure?”
“Yes I’m sure.”
She studied Conchinina. Her eyes were expressionless, dark as dirty dishwater, gray and without bottom. “Then he’s coming home with me.”
Cochinina jumped a slight jump, mouth open and incredulous. “What?”
“I’ve got a big house,” said Grandmother. Although she patted her neighbor on the shoulder with kind affect, her voice was severe. “And I could use the company.”
“That’s not what I…”
“Adios, my dear.” Grandmother stomped off in search of her Pedro. She found him sleeping on the park bench. She prodded him with her walking stick. “Come.” And that’s how the old lady came to take her neighbor’s husband home with her. (She took his pigeon too, as well as the cardboard box he’d found in the alley that he’d lined with his own handkerchief. The pigeon nestled into the box without pause.)
Oh, but what gossip, what scandal! “Stealing Conchonina’s husband!” cried the Garcias. “What immorality!” cried the Vargas. “What is she doing? What will she do?” Even Conchonina was catastrophic by then. “I won’t have my husband living with that woman.”
But Grandmother did what Grandmother wanted, and she’d chosen Pedro. That first night she fed him carrot soup and handed him a broom. “Your job is to pick carrots and sweep the barn once a week.”
The sun set and rose the next morning. It set and rose a few more times. Pedro and his little pigeon became part of the old lady’s household. He sat about the house quietly, disappearing into the walls for his shyness, and eventually remembered to sweep the barn. He did an awful job at it. Grandmother caught him sweeping turkey feathers under the stairs four times before she took the broom away from him. He did alright with the carrots, though, and Grandmother liked him anyway.
“You’re a good boy, Pedrito,” she said.
He’d nod meekly and pick more carrots. He was in love. (As for his pigeon, who was now called Birdy-brain, she settled in as house mascot. She followed Pedro around and cooed lovingly whenever he petted her. She particularly liked mashed carrots.)
Conchinina didn’t have time to get her husband back.
Two weeks after Pedro came to live with Grandmother, the old lady gathered her family around to say goodbye. She wrote her own obituary. “I will die in style,” she established, “with incense, a drag of marijuana, and a turkey dinner served with oversized carrots. Everyone will say I was happiest when drunk and chasing turkeys…and that, yes, I made love to Pedro daily.” Her language was a little more coarse than that, and no one knew whether it was true, but the Garcias, Vargas, and Conchina swooned at the scandal. “What is she saying? What is she doing?”
It didn’t matter. The next day Pedro got out of bed and hurried into his clothing before looking for Grandmother. He’d missed breakfast, but she always had carrot soup at the ready.
The old lady wasn’t in the kitchen (although Birdy-brain was there, dozing on the upper rung of a rocking chair). Grandmother wasn’t in the barn either.
“Hello!” he cried at the door of her room, scratching his scalp and straightening his collar. He leaned forward and peered into the darkness. “Hello? Hello?”
The room was quiet as a chapel on a weekday morning. Pedro slipped inside only to find the old lady had slept late, very late.
Pedro’s smile was awkward. With a bump, his knee hit the frame of the bed. He watched, lost but devoted, his body shivering as he understood. His eyes darted across the room looking for something he couldn’t find until he lowered himself to the bed and kissed the dead woman’s cheek.
(From the kitchen came a sad coo. Birdy-brain also understood.)
Pedro wouldn’t let anyone bury her body. The neighbors said he was grieving too hard, that he should have seen it coming, she was so old. (Even Birdy-brain wasn’t herself. She refused to eat and lost a feather or two.)
Grandmother lay in the house a full week before the stench took over. The neighbors complained, especially Conchinina, who still wanted Pedro back. The town hall stepped in. Grandmother was buried two days later.
With the old lady’s death, the household fell silent. The floors were left unswept. The carrots disappeared. The turkeys ran away. The scandal, the clothes that never matched, the uproar at poker games, and her endless disruption in church, it all came to an end—and, poor Pedro, he couldn’t live without her. He died a week later.
The rumor was he died of natural causes. Others say he died of a broken heart. But it was sad enough, and even Conchinina went to his funeral.
(And Birdy-brain? Conchinina adopted the pigeon, but that didn’t go too well. Birdy-brain picked sharply at anything that moved and for some reasons would only eat mashed carrots. Eventually she took off. Probably after the cat who broke her wing. Go figure.)
Alex Natalian is a pseudonym for someone who doesn’t want to be discovered. The Grandmother in the story is a fictional character. Any similarity to a real person is purely coincidental. He promises.