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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Cindy Rosmus: Grandfathered

92_ym_grandfathered_cfawcett.jpg
Art by Cynthia Fawcett 2022

GRANDFATHERED

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

          “Samantha?”

          Kate, the crossing guard. Her saying my name like that, from behind me, made me nervous.

          I checked if the bus was coming before facing her.

          This look she had, like she knew something. Or wanted to. Nosiest bitch on the block, Bingo Joe always said.

          “Georgie’s selling the building?”

          “What?” I said. “No!”

          She smirked.

          Georgie, our landlord, was Bingo Joe’s boss. Mine, too, since I wasn’t working. That bus I was waiting on was for a temp agency’s skills test.

          “Where’d you hear . . .”

          “There goes your bus!” Kate said, as it flew past me.

          Against the light, I hurried across the street. “Hey!” she yelled.

          “Nah.” At the kitchen table, Bingo Joe smoked a joint with his Fruit Loops. “Georgie ain’t selling.” He passed me the joint. “Thought you had some test.”

          “You sure?”

          “Would’ve said something last night, on the phone. And, so what if he sells? Been down Florida two years now. I’m doing the shitwork.”

          “What if the new owner doesn’t want you?”

          A shrug, and deep toke, in response. Like “’The Dude’ Lebowski,” ‘cept Puerto Rican. Nothing fazed him.

But that rumor sent my brain spinning.

“We’ll be . . .” I choked on the word. “Homeless!”

 Outside the abandoned A & P, we’d be camped out, our five cats the “new kids” in the feral colony. Eating out of dumpsters. Sharing wine out of paper bags.

“Those big, red Salvy boxes?” he said, grinning. “Where people shove clothes?”

Itchy the gray tabby clawed his ankles, and he bent to rub his ears.

“Knew a guy lived in one. Didn’t like shit they threw in, he’d throw it back out.”

          Almost crying, I ran out.

Upstairs, like some psycho, I touched the lobby walls so I’d remember what they felt like. We should’ve watered those dying plants more. Packages, mostly from Pet Place, were piled up beneath the mailboxes. Two huge ones for old Miss Roberts in 1C.

Kitty litter for Sunshine, her huge gold Persian.

“NO PETS,” the current lease said. We’d all ignored it. The building was crawling with cats, rabbits, even a snake. Laying on the beach in Florida, Georgie wouldn’t know.

But the new landlord . . .

“Stop crying!” Back downstairs, I flew into Bingo Joe’s arms. “Aww, baby. It’ll be OK.” I squeezed him so tight, I probably hurt him.

“You promise?”

He grabbed the water pitcher before Noodles shoved it off the table.

“The plants!” Bingo Joe said. “I was just gonna . . .”

Sighing, I trudged upstairs with the pitcher.

Everything had to be done “just right” now. Hallway floors should be spotless and shiny. No waiting to mop till after the drunks puked. And buff, I thought, wearily.

No leaving the trash till the last minute. Take the cans out at 5 PM sharp. And no mixing beer cans with cardboard recyclables.

Or with real garbage, I thought, cringing. Like eggshells. And used condoms.

Like Bobby-G, in 2-B.

I was watering a brown plant when the back of my neck felt strange. Like someone was watching me.

I looked around, but no one was there.

Bobby G., I thought. Lurking around, with those creepy eyes. And two tenants dead, right after . . .

“You guys leaving?”

I screamed, and the pitcher went flying.

Out of nowhere, he’d appeared. Bobby G. picked up the pitcher and handed it to me. Both the floor and his jeans were soaked.

He was smiling. “So, Georgie sold the building?”  

“No!” I backed away. “Says who?”

“La Roche!” The door to 1-D flew open. “That’s who’s buying it.” Mrs. Dietz kicked her laundry basket into the hall.

“Who?” I asked.

“La Roche.” Bobby G. jammed an unlit cigarette in his mouth. “The ‘Roach King!’”

 “Roaches?” Cradling Sunshine, Miss Roberts came out of 1-C. “Who’s got roaches?”

“Us!” Mrs. Dietz said, “If that slumlord buys this place.”

“He’s buying up buildings all over,” Bobby G. said, through the cigarette.

“Not ours,” I said.

“Wanna bet?”

“How do you know?” Miss Roberts asked.

Smirking, Bobby G. jerked his head toward the front door.

My heart sunk. “Kate?” I asked. “The crossing guard?”

“Take a shit on Mars, that bitch can smell it.”

I felt like puking. Would serve Georgie right, if I left it there. How could he sell to the “Roach King”? And not even tell us!

Footsteps, we heard, shuffling up the stairs. Still in his slippers and pj’s, Bingo Joe clutched his phone. “Georgie just called.”

“Tol’ja,” Bobby G. said.

Miss Roberts asked, “When does the ‘Roach Prince’ take over?”

“‘Roach King.’”

Bingo Joe sat on the bench, next to the packages. “La Roche don’t want it.”

We looked around, relieved, but not meeting each other’s eyes. How shitty was this building, that even that scumlord didn’t want it?

Miss Roberts shifted Sunshine to her shoulder. “Well, that’s . . . good.”

“But someone else does.”

Except for the plants dripping water, it was dead quiet.

“Name’s Cowell. Georgie’s flying up to meet him.”

I sunk to the floor. For Georgie to leave “Margaritaville” . . .

“I hope Mr. Cowell likes cats,” Miss Roberts said.

“You kidding?” I wanted to kick Bobby G. “They’ll be the first to go.” When Miss Roberts squealed, he added, “After these two.” Meaning Bingo Joe and me. 

“Think your pets are grandfathered,” Mrs. Dietz said. “If you’ve been here a while.”

“Not them.” Again Bobby G. meant us. “And if I read the lease correctly . . .”

My head on my knees, I thought back to those two crazy nights. In February, right around Valentine’s Day, Looney Toons in 1-E hung herself. Then, in August, Kissy-Face in 2-D drowned in the tub.

But maybe Kissy-Face had help.

Maybe they both did.

Six months apart, but both times Bobby G. had been right there. Knew more than the cops, it seemed.

If you shit on Mars, I thought, he would smell it.

Both were blondes. Maybe that was his type.

If death came in threes . . .

Who would be Blonde #3?

Suddenly, Bingo Joe got up. “Gotta mop these halls,” he said, “before they get here.”

 

*   *   *

 

Four o’clock, they would be there, both Georgie, and Cowell, the new owner.

“‘Wannabe’ owner.” Bingo Joe cracked our last beer.

At the kitchen table, we’d sat, glumly, all afternoon. In his cereal bowl from this morning, two sad Fruit Loops floated in milk. One pink, one blue.

“Georgie flying up,” I said, “that’s not good.” He nodded.

Itchy jumped up on the table, nudged my face. I buried mine in his.

Why couldn’t we be “grandfathered”?

When Bingo Joe’s phone rang, we jumped.

“Georgie’s flight’s delayed,” he said. “Says can we hang out with Cowell till he gets here.”

Disgusted, I got up. “I’ll go get a six-pack.”

Upstairs, the lobby floor shone so, I saw my face in it: a nasty mug, with too much eye makeup. Those damn plants had perked up. I wanted to spit in them.

Since the packages were gone, I stretched out on the bench and shut my eyes.

Old Miss Roberts, I thought. When Cowell took over, how much longer could she keep Sunshine? That fat cat was her whole life.

And our cats . . . Itchy, Noodles, and the other three . . .

And Bingo Joe . . .

They were my life. They were all that I had.

Tears burned my eyes, and I felt my mascara run. But I couldn’t stop crying.

Why us? I thought. We weren’t the worst supers. At the building I grew up in, those supers robbed all the tenants. This young husband and wife, said the landlord wanted the rent in cash, as of now. My Pop lost his whole paycheck to them.

We’d never screw anybody. Neighbors were neighbors.

When the front door opened, I wiped my eyes and got up.

Behind the glass lobby door was a lady, in a Fruit Loop-blue suit. Blonde hair, like a golden waterfall. Rich-looking, like she’d come here by mistake.

Not the way she strutted in.

“Who,” asked a voice from behind me, “is that?”

For once, he didn’t catch me off guard.

Before she could ring the bell, I opened the lobby door, smiling. “May I help you?” I asked, in my grandest temp-agency voice.

“I’m Melody Cowell.”

As he came around, I realized I’d never seen Bobby G. look so good. Almost handsome, in business casual: nice jeans and a shirt that was the same blue as this lady’s suit.

He admired her long, blonde hair. “I’m so happy to meet you,” he told her.

“Pleased to meet you, too,” she said, smiling. “George.”

When he glanced over at me, I looked away.

Looney Tunes had been a bottle blond. When the EMTs cut her down, I bet her dark roots were visible.

And in that vanilla bath, Kissy-Face’s locks would’ve trailed like a washed-out mermaid’s.

But Melody Cowell was the real deal.

As she and “Georgie” went up the stairs, I remembered I had a six-pack to get. Maybe I’d hit every liquor store in town till I found the cheapest.

Or let everyone think I did.

 

 

THE END





Cindy is a Jersey girl who looks like a Mob Wife and talks like Anybodys from West Side Story. Her noir/horror/bizarro stories have been published in the coolest places, such as Shotgun Honey; Megazine; Dark Dossier; Horror, Sleaze, Trash; and Rock and a Hard Place. She is the editor/art director of Yellow Mama and the art director of Black Petals. Her seventh collection of short stories, Backwards: Growing Up Catholic, and Weird, in the 60s (Hekate Publishing), is out, now! Cindy is a Gemini, a Christian, and an animal rights advocate. 



Cynthia Fawcett has been writing for fun or money since she was able to hold a pen. A Jersey Girl at heart, she got her journalism degree at Marquette University in Milwaukee and now writes mostly technical articles about hydraulics and an occasional short story or poem on any other subject.




In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022