Black Petals Issue #104, Summer 2023

Editor's Page
BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Question of Money: Fiction by Eric Burbridge
Behold, a White Horse; Fiction by Spencer Jepma
Crawling Flesh: Fiction by Michael Stoll
Elm Weaver: N. G. Leonetti
Hunger: Fiction by Mark Jabaut
Mr. Fuzzypants: Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Stop the World: Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Road Less Taken: Fiction by Albert N. Katz
The Washer Woman: Fiction by Sophia Wiseman-Rose
Underneath the Sheet: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Shining Up Grandma: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
The Children of 666 Middle School: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Bleed: Flash Fiction by Liam Spinage
Good Times: Flash Fiction by Ronin Fox
Time Lost: Flash Fiction by Bruce Costello
Unhappy Shadow: Flash Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Cemetery Road: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Chasing Desolation: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Detroit Jurassic: Poem by Joseph V. Donaski
Colonia Somnia: Poem by Bianca Alu-Marr
The Precipice: Poem by Bianca Alu-Marr
Dread: Poem by LindaAnn LoSchiavo
Home Movies: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Peppermint Twist: Poem by Christopher Hivner
There's Always Tomorrow Night: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Joke: Poem by DJ Tyrer
Ceramic Duck: Poem by Pete Mladinic
Choice: Poem by Pete Mladinic
To Stop the Killing: Poem by Pete Mladinic
Reaper: Poem by David Barber

Kenneth James Crist: Shining Up Grandma

Art by Hillary Lyon 2023

Shining Up Grandma


Kenneth James Crist


The following is based on a true story. The names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent. . . .

Laura Sue Billings stepped out onto the porch and lit yet another cigarette. It was her twenty-first of the day, but then it had been a long fucking day. At twenty-five, Linda was a small, thin woman, twice married and once divorced, her first husband having been killed in a car crash.

When she was young, she was a heller. She’d always been a tomboy, more interested in working on cars with her dad and playing softball than wearing girlie clothes and dancing. When she was seventeen and seven months pregnant, she hitchhiked all the way to Big Sur, just because she’d always wanted to go there, and to prove to herself she was up to the task and could survive.

She huffed smoke out into the eastern Colorado wind and thought, Fuck, it’s cold out here! Manzinola was a small town on the flat, dry plains of the eastern end of the state and there was little to break the wind coming out of Canada, except the occasional single-strand barbed wire fence.

In a way it was damned inconvenient for Grandma Billings to die in the winter, but as soon as she had that thought, Laura hated herself for it. Grandma was down in Ordway, about ten miles south, lying in her casket in the funeral home, and she and her younger sister Terri Ann were supposed to go down for the viewing, but as always, Terri Ann was late. Always late. Most irresponsible woman God ever put upon the earth, Linda thought, she’ll most likely be late to her own goddamn funeral, how could I expect her to be on time for this one?

 Fifteen minutes later, Terri Ann had arrived and they were headed down to Ordway, gabbing away in the car, with the heater turned up, catching up with the goings-on of their extended families. Terri Ann summed up her lateness with two words. “Black Ice,” she said, and Laura remembered how long it had taken her and Jerry to make it up from Dodge City. As always, Laura forgave Terri her trespasses and they were buds again.

Jonachs’ funeral home was nothing fancy, a chalet-style brick building with a steep roof and an ornate door that led directly into a foyer, where there was a podium set up with a remembrance book, so everyone could sign in. As Laura picked up the pen, Terri said, in a thin whisper, “Will the real Laura Sue Billings please . . . sign in?” It was a takeoff on some old celebrity game show and Laura didn’t think it was funny. She wondered if Terri was using drugs again. Or still. She handed the pen to Terri, who stuck her tongue out and scribbled her name across two lines.

They walked in to the cloying smell of too many flowers and something else, probably embalming fluid.

There was a center aisle in the chapel, with pews on either side and family seating at the right front with a privacy screen of sorts. They were greeted by one of the proprietors, a lady named Linda Lentz who showed them back to where Grandma Billings lay in her silver coffin, a single spotlight shining down on her. The rest of the room was lighted by about six or seven candles, placed on tables and shelves. That was part of the smell, too. Linda said, “I’m gonna run on home. You gals be sure and pull the door shut tight when y’all leave. G’night.”

And they were alone with Grandma.

“Her hair don’t look right,” Terri Ann said, “she never parted it like that.”

“I know, and look at all that makeup! Grandma never would have painted herself up like that.”

“You gotta comb?”

“Lemme see.” Laura dug around in her purse and came up with a hairbrush. It would have to do. They set to work getting Grandma’s hair done right. She’d always worn it combed straight back and in a little while, with a bit of work, it looked better. It looked more like Grandma Billings.

“Gotta do something about that makeup. Gawd, look at the fucking rouge!”

It wasn’t unusual for either of them to drop the “F” bomb and they both giggled. Laura said, “We need Kleenex, and I don’t have any.”

“Here!” Terri Ann was looking back in the rows of pews and she came back with several boxes of tissues, the cheap kind you always find in funeral homes and hospitals, the kind that shred apart in nothing flat and never hold enough tears.

They set to work, scrubbing Grandma’s face, using up tissues like crazy, having to wet them with spit and then change frequently because neither of them relished the thought of licking a tissue that had just been on a dead person’s face, even if it was Grandma.

“Grandma always liked me better than anyone else,” Laura said, as they scrubbed away.

“Did not.”

“Did so.”

“She tell you that?” Terri was changing tissues and eyeing her with a mixture of curiosity and scorn.

“She didn’t have to. I was the only grandkid she ever spanked.”

“Yeah, that’s love, right there.”

“Fuckin’ right. At least in our family. If they don’t love ya enough ta smack ya once in a while . . .”

At last, most of the garish undertaker makeup was gone, leaving just a hint of blush on the old lady’s cheeks and a bit of lipstick. Grandma looked a lot better and they both knew she would have been pleased with what they’d done.

Terri Ann walked over to a casket spray of roses and carnations and pulled out two carnations. She stuck one through the lapel buttonhole of her shirt and put the other through Laura’s. “Grandma always shared with us,” she said.

Then she punched Laura a good one right in the shoulder. It was something they’d done to each other since they were kids. Trading punches was not abuse. Not in their family. Trading punches was being tough and spitting in the eye of the world. Trading punches was love. Terri took all the nasty used tissues and wandered off to find a trash can or the restrooms. She came back in a few minutes and then they were ready to leave, their respects paid, their duty done.

When they got to the door, they turned for a last look and Laura whispered, “G’bye, Grandma. . . .”

And every last one of those candles suddenly went out. . . .


“Shining Up Grandma” was first published in Yellow Mama ezine, Issue #51, August, 2015

Kenneth James Crist is Editor Emeritus of Black Petals Magazine and is on staff at Yellow Mama ezine. He has been a published writer since 1998, having had almost two hundred short stories and poems in venues ranging from Skin and Bones and The Edge-Tales of Suspense to Kudzu Monthly. He is particularly fond of supernatural biker stories. He reads everything he can get his hands on, not just in horror or sci-fi, but in mystery, hardboiled, biographies, westerns and adventure tales. He retired from the Wichita, Kansas police department in 1992 and from the security department at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 75, he is an avid motorcyclist and handgun shooter. He is active in the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard, helping to honor and look after our military. He is also a volunteer driver for the American Red Cross, Midway Kansas Chapter. He is the owner of Fossil Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of making any money at all. His zombie book, Groaning for Burial, has been released by Hekate Publishing in Kindle format and paperback late this year. On June the ninth, 2018, he did his first (and last) parachute jump and crossed that shit off his bucket list.

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