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Matt Phillips
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Art by Steve Cartwright 2018

The Knife She Done It With

by Matt Phillips


When I was a kid, my grandma told me all about religion. She loved her some church. I’ll be honest with you…Grandma loved her a bottle of cheap gin, too. She got to be pals with all them bartenders down at Kirby’s.

My grandma loved her some Kirby’s.

Loved her some bartenders, too.

You have seven babies in a nine-year run and see you don’t make the bottle your lone and supreme solace, savior, and spirit. It’s a wonder the woman made it to eighty. Wonder she made it at all. She died by her own hand on Valentine’s Day, 2012. The year of our Lord. Though all these years belong to the Lord, you don’t mind my saying so. Oh, I got me some religion myself. Just enough to live and get loved by. No more and no less. I like me a bottle of gin, too.

Hell, two.

A man can’t lie about that.

I’m livin’ in grandma’s house these days. Got it off the lawyer what drew up my grandma’s will, may her ever living soul rest in peace. I never did clean the place out. Most days I sit around and watch her old tee-vee. Talk shows and baseball and the local news report. College boys down there got themselves a helicopter now. You believe that? They fly around takin’ pictures of traffic accidents, fallin’ all over themselves to get a look at flooded streets during the winter storms. Just a wastin’ time.

Pitiful, you ask me.

I never did get married. I don’t like me a woman hustlin’ about and doing me wrong. I’m just as good all by myself. Except for grandma. For a long time it was me and her.

Like I said…she day-ed.

Now, I swear it to the Lord I been hearin’ grandma’s voice.

It’s far away now, but I hear it just the same. Comes on when it’s dark. After the coyotes quit their howlin’ and run off into the hills. I’m up here in grandma’s bed, it wasn’t but yesterday, and I hear her moanin’ off down the hall, like when she had them worms in her tummy and—

Well, hell. I hear it now.

There she goes with them moans:

Unnnh. Unnnh. UmmUnnh.

Shut it, grandma!”

Unnh. UmmUnnh. Unnh.

I sure wish that wind would quit. It rattles these old windows and spits through the rafters, makes me shiver like a billy goat. I been carryin’ my gin around just to keep warm. Like grandma used to do it. I take a few sips and listen. Grandma don’t say nothin’ else and I start to fall asleep. But I guess the Lord don’t give a good man his rest. Sure enough, I hear grandma spittin’ up them worms. I know they look like earth worms dipped in red tar. That’s what they looked like when I first saw ’em. Earth worms dipped in red tar. All wrigglin’ and shinin’ like good fish bait. And grandma had the death smell on her. That old fruit and meat smell. She had blood on her lips and hot mean eyes. Them eyes like she used to get when I didn’t eat my beans.

Eck. Eck. Ack. Unnh.

Grandma, you gon’ have to shut it up so I can sleep!”

Eck. Unnh. UmmUnnh.

Now I’ll be gosh-damned—forgive a God-fearin’ man his French-German—if I’m gonna stand a dead woman keepin’ me up. A gin-drunk bum and his sleep will not soon be parted. May the Lord be upon him. I get up and walk down the hall, them old boards squeaking under my feet. I go on and knock, but then I think: To hell with it. She’s moaning good now—Unnh-Unnh-Unnh-UmmUnnh—and I figure it’s gon’ be a big bad scene. But when I swing the door open, grandma ain’t there. It’s just them black stains from her puke and that smell of wet earth and blood. Them moans are downstairs now. In the kitchen.

That’s where grandma did herself in.

I know there’s preachers will tell you a woman like grandma—who done herself in—don’t go on up to paradise. But they’re wrong as six-legged dogs. See, the God I know don’t give a damn you do it to yourself or get it done by a deputy making his bones for the county sheriff. You done and gone and God he takes you up. It’s paradise for all them that believes.

Anyways. I walk on down the stairs while grandma’s moans get worse. She’s belching up a storm now—even the wind outside don’t compare. I bet she chased all the coyotes up into the hills. The stairs creak a bit, but they hold like they always do. I expect to see a whole lot of blood when I get into the kitchen. It’s where grandma done it to herself, for God’s sake. Can you imagine that? Finding your own grandma drenched in blood and—

She’s really moaning, okay?

Unnh. Eck. Ack. UmmUnnh.

It’s dark in the kitchen and I reach over and turn on the light.

But wouldn’t you know it: Grandma ain’t nowhere in here.

There’s dishes piled in the sink and an old hamburger turned green on the counter. There’s red delicious apples curled into brown dumplings and there’s gray bananas sunken into puddles.

But no grandma.

That there is the knife she done it with.

A butcher’s knife. I’m the one cleaned it up and—

Look how shiny it is. Sharpened her myself. I keep a sharp knife so I don’t cut myself. You know it’s a dull knife that gets you cut? Now, grandma done it to herself like this…She put it right here, up under her chin and she—

Well, she sliced like so and—Unnh. Unnh.

UmmUnnh. Eck.

Eck. Ack.

Matt Phillips lives in San Diego. His books include Accidental Outlaws, Three Kinds of Fool, Redbone, and Bad Luck City.

In Association with Fossil Publications