A Sunday Recipe: A Grandma's Secret

Submitted into Contest #228 in response to: Include in your story a scene about a family's last meal before a significant change.... view prompt

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Horror Drama Suspense

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The house smelt like pinecones, just how Micah always remembered it. Memories flooded her mind as she traced her fingers along all the picture frames edges, remembering as many faces as she could before heading back into the dining room. 

She stopped at a picture of a woman with frizzy blond hair.

“Aunt Moony,” she laughed to herself, her favorite aunt and clearly her grandmothers favorite daughter. Everyone knew it but never mentioned it out loud. Micah’s mother knew very well to which ends of the earth grandma Whitney would go for her other children, and to which ends of the universe she would go for aunt Moony. 

Micah and her grandmother Whitney shared a special connection, however. They both loved Elvis, hated onions, and swooned any time a Patrick Swayze movie was on TV. The way they would laugh and whisper about Micah’s cousins made grandma Whitney feel more like a best friend than a grandma. She always said Micah was an old soul, cursed to roam the modern world when she really belonged in the sixties with a younger grandma Whitney. 

“Micah!” Her mother called from the kitchen. “Will you please get in here and stir these noodles? I don’t want them to boil over!” 

Micah brushed the dust left on her fingers against her blue jeans and ran into the kitchen. She could tell by the look on her mothers face that her mother would rather be at the courthouse or the DMV than here at grandma Whitney’s house cooking Sunday dinner. Micah took over the wooden spoon and began to stir the noodles around. 

“I have to go to the store, my luck, I managed to forget butter and minced garlic. Drain those noodles once their soft and then just leave them back in the pot until I get back.” 

She snatched her jacket from around a dining room chair, whisked it around her shoulder and slammed the door behind her. Micah couldn’t help but giggle at the car keys that had escaped her mother coat pocket, she must have whipped them out when she pulled her jacket on. 

Just then her mother burst back through the front door. Her boots clobbered down the hallway back into the kitchen. Without catching her breath she asked: “Have you seen my car keys?” 

Micah pointed to the floor. With a grunt her mother snatched the keys from the floor and headed back for the door. After another slam she could hear the car start and the tires screeching away as she pulled out of the driveway. 

Then she heard tiny footsteps along with the clicking of a cane from around the corner. 

“If she slams my door again I’ll hit her with my cane.” It was grandmother Whitney. She slowly nestled into the corner spot of the dining room table, and rested her head on her hands at the top of her cane. 

Her and Micah both laughed at the thought of a good sized lump on top of her mother’s forehead. Her mother was always in a crabby mood on Sundays. 

“Micah.” She turned to face her grandmother, still holding the wooden spoon over the pot. 

“Take those noodles off the stove and drain em’. I don’t know why your mother insists on my food being turned to mush, I can eat them just fine. Drain that water into the sink and come sit with me.” 

Micah smiled and did as she was told. She poured the hot water into the sink, careful not to let any spaghetti noodles slip over or around the wooden spoon. She set the pot back on top of the stove and went and sat next to grandma Whitney. 

She patted the top of Micah’s hand and sighed. “Do you remember grandpa Hank?”

Micah thought for a moment, her memories of her grandpa were foggy but her mother talked about him from time to time. 

She shrugged. “Mom talks about him sometimes and I can sort of remember what he looks like.” 

Grandma Whitney smiled, “you were very little when he passed away. He swore up and down that he would outlive me; he always saw silly things as a competition.” She shook her head and stroked the top of Micah’s thumb. “I guess you could say I won that race.” 

Micah felt a little embarrassed not having remembered much about grandpa Hank. Grandma didn’t speak of him very often and when she did it was brief but positive. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it but for some reason this time it almost felt morbid. 

Grandma Whitney continued: “He was such a stubborn bull, the bastard thought he was the king of the castle, but I think deep down he knew I was always the one keeping everything afloat.” 

Micah started to feel queasy, she never heard anyone talk about grandpa Hank this way, especially grandmother Whitney. In her mind she pleaded for grandma Whitney to change the subject, but she carried on some more. 

“I cooked, I cleaned, I bore all the children and wiped their butts, and you know what? Grandpa Hank never gave a damn about any of it! He walked all around this house without a care in the world, the ungrateful ass.” 

There it was again!

Another curse word.

Micah wondered if her grandmother was going senile. She’d never heard her talk this way before. It was like she was sitting at the table with an impostor, a fake grandma Whitney who appeared to despise her late husband and the father of her children. 

“There was one day where he dragged his fingers over the fireplace mantle, and a tiny dust cloud stirred up in the air, and I knew I had it coming.” 

‘What coming?’ Thought Micah. ‘Was she trying to say that Grandpa Hank hit her?’

“I ran to the master bathroom and locked myself inside before he could get to me. I stayed there for three hours until I knew he was nice and loaded, too drunk to care to hit me. He would sink deep into his recliner chair and doze off before the Red Sox game was over.” 

Micah suddenly remembered seeing hundreds maybe thousands of old baseball cards in her grandmother's basement one Sunday, after her and her cousins went to help their uncle Tom organize boxes. They must have belonged to her grandfather. 

Grandma Whitney's eyes seemed to be lost in the woodgrain of the dining room table, her mind somewhere back in time. When she finally looked at Micah she just smiled and patted the top of her hand again. 

Micah hoped the bad memory was over. She was still in shock that her grandmother would use such foul language, and about grandpa Hank none the less. She gave grandma Whitney a fake smile and was about to stand up from the table until grandmother Whitney asked her: 

“Would you be a dear and go and grab the newspaper off my nightstand? I saw today’s crossword theme was Old Hollywood and I’m eager to find out what they consider old.” She chuckled and went back to resting her hands on the top of her cane. 

Micah retreated down the hall and into grandma Whitneys bedroom, thankful that the bizarre conversation was finally over. She never wanted to hear that story again. Grandmother Whitney had never spouted a foul word or engaged in any gossip in all of Micah’s life, and now all of a sudden she was cursing like a sailor. 

Micah searched the top and around her grandmothers nightstand for the newspaper but she couldn’t find it. She didn’t want to come back empty handed, maybe her grandmother misplaced it somewhere. She went to her grandmother’s dresser and checked behind her grandmother’s rocking chair but found no trace of the newspaper. 

She opened her nightstand drawer and all she found was old hard candies that must have been at least 30 years old, and a pair of reading glasses. 

“Shoot.” She whispered. Just when she was about to give up and admit defeat, she thought of one more place to check. 

She knelt down beside the bed and checked underneath but couldn’t make out what was under there. She reached up and pulled the chain that hung from the bedside lamp and a warm glow covered most of the room with just enough light to help Micah find the hidden newspaper. With her ear to the floor she peaked under the bed again, but there was no sign of her grandmother’s newspaper anywhere. 

Before she stood up from the bed, something caught Micah’s eye. It was an old looking chest with a black leather casing and golden latches, just small enough to slide underneath but bigger than a typical briefcase. Micah reached under and hooked her finger through one of the latches. Trying not to make it obvious, she slowly slid the black chest out from under the bed. It wasn’t much bigger than a shoebox.

Micah debated whether or not to open it. She didn’t want to be a snoop by going through her grandmother’s private things, but something was compelling her to look inside. She peaked her head up over the side of the bed and checked the doorway. Her mother would be back from the store soon, and if her grandmother came to check on her she would be able to hear the tapping of her cane against the hardwood floors in the hallway. 

She bent back down behind the side of the bed and gently clicked open the latches. She slowly raised the lid of the chest until it couldn’t open anymore. 

Inside there were pictures, old ones from long before her and her cousins were even thought of. There was one of Aunt Moony and a tall, slim boy with shaggy blond hair. They stood in front of a sequin backdrop wearing old 70’s formal attire with the words ‘Junior Prom’ printed in white cursive letters at the bottom. 

Another was of her mother. She must have been the same age as Micah in this picture based on the stunning resemblance. She was standing in front of a wooden plaque that read “Willamette National Forrest” with a bottle of Coca-Cola in one hand, and what looked to be a brochure in the other. 

Micah smiled and thought of what life might’ve been like then, how different the atmosphere must have felt for her aunts and uncles before they became working adults with spouses and kids. Then her mind wondered back to the conversation she’d just shared with grandmother Whitney. A pit formed in her stomach as she questioned whether or not grandpa Hank was capable of being so awful; if he was just as awful to her mother or her aunts and uncles. She shook away the idea and was about to shut the chest closed when something beneath the photos caught her attention. 

It was an old newspaper cut out of grandpa Hank’s obituary. She sat back and began to read about his life and his death. She saw the names of all her aunts and uncles that he left behind, as well as a small portion of cousins while the other half had not been born yet. She scrolled down and found her name, then her cousin Jamie, and lastly her cousin Ben. 

When she was finished reading she gently lifted the old photos to slide the cut out back underneath them, but stopped when she found a thick sheet of paper with a coffee stained corner. She flipped it over and read the top: 

‘CERTIFICATE OF DEATH’ 

This must have been for her grandfather. She skimmed over it until her eyes stopped at the ‘cause of death’ section of the paper. 

“Asphyxiation?” She read allowed, then quickly covered her mouth and listened to see if she could hear her grandmothers cane. Her ears were ringing like a dull dial tone. Her throat suddenly felt dry. 

She’d always thought her grandfather died of a heart attack, at least that’s how her family described it. She never once heard them mention asphyxiation or choking. She remembered one Sunday dinner, her grandmother discussing grandfather Hank with aunt Moony. Her grandmother sniffled and whimpered as she replayed the story to aunt Moony; the story of how she’d found grandpa Hank dead on the kitchen floor from a massive heart attack. 

Not choking’ Micah thought to herself. 

“Micah?” 

Suddenly Micah could hear the tapping of grandmother Whitney’s cane getting closer and closer. She quickly slid the certificate back underneath the photos, closed the lid shut, and slid it back underneath the bed. She stood up and smoothened out the winkles in her shirt as she walked back out into the hallway before her grandmother had reached the door. She admitted defeat, claiming she couldn’t seem to find the newspaper her grandmother wanted but was told not to worry, her mother was back and had retrieved a new one from the store. 

It was normal for Sunday dinners to get a little chaotic. Micah and her six cousins always retreated to the basement living room afterwards while the adults remained at the dining table upstairs. They seemed to always talk about the same things: how the kids were doing, how work was going, and who was getting what when grandmother Whitney passed away. Micah hated when they talked about things like that.

Micah couldn’t seem to get passed what she’d found in that chest. She was confused and a little hurt that she’d been lied to all these years. She wondered if her mother knew the truth—if anyone knew. Would Micah be in trouble if they found out she had been snooping?

The hours slipped by as her cousins and their families left one after the other. Her mother offered to stay back and help with the dishes and fixing up the kitchen before her and Micah would head home. After all the families left Micah headed back up the stairs and saw grandmother Whitney asleep in her grandfathers old recliner. She heard the banging and clanging of dishes from around the corner and thought this was a better time than any. 

She tiptoed down the hall and back into her grandmothers bedroom. She bent down and slid the back leather chest back out from under the bed. She’d completely forgotten to re-latch the golden locks on the front of the chest and made a mental note to not forget this time once she was done. 

She couldn’t get it out of her mind. She had to find out more about her grandfather, and why all of a sudden his death had been such a secret. She pulled out the old photos and placed them on the floor next to the chest. There was a decent sized stack of papers beneath her grandfather’s certificate. She began to pull each one out of the chest one by one. 

They were letters to and from a woman named Margaret Price. She remembered her mother talking about an aunt Margaret from her mothers childhood. These must be letters to and from grandmother Whitneys sister.

She skimmed through the letters, finding nothing of importance until she approached the date of her grandfathers death. Grandmother Whitney had written a letter to her sister Margaret just a week before grandpa Hanks passing. All it had was the date at the top of the page and the words “I’m going to do it” in neat cursive writing.

Nothing else.

Micah’s heart leaped into her throat, her head reeling with the possibility of the unthinkable. Was grandma Whitney talking about killing her husband? 

Micah rested the letter on top of the others she’d pulled from the chest and picked up the next one. 

This letter was from Margaret and the format of the page was the same. In the top corner of the page was the date, just four days after grandmother Whitneys last letter, and all that was written in the body of the page was:

“May God have mercy on your soul.” 

Micahs head was spinning as she reread the tiny cursive words over and over again. 

‘This can’t be true,’ she thought. Not her sweet, gentle grandmother.

Her hands trembled as she gently placed that letter with the others and pulled the next one out. It was to Margaret from her grandmother. The date at the top of the page was two days after grandpa Hanks passing. Her heart was pounding inside her chest as she read the date of grandpa Hanks funeral, and instructions on how to get to the church. 

Micah swallowed hard. She couldn’t believe it. She didn’t know whether to cry or scream. Who could she tell? 

Suddenly she heard the creaking of floor boards. Her head jumped up over the side of the bed and she couldn’t believe what she saw. 

There, in the doorway, was her grandmother Whitney without her cane. She stood there, staring at Micah as she tried to shove the chest, photos, and letters back under the bed before she could see them.

Something was wrong. There was no light in grandmother Whitneys eyes, just two dark holes that seemed to boar into Micahs’ soul. 

Then she spoke.

“Oh Micah.” There was so much sadness in her voice, and Micah froze at the sound of her words. She slowly began to crookedly walk towards Micah. 

Micah tried to push herself backwards on her hands and feet until her back hit the drawers of her grandmother’s dresser and she could go no further.

Then she spoke again. 

“May God have mercy on your soul.”

December 09, 2023 03:25

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3 comments

Mike Whitman
11:11 Dec 21, 2023

This story is engaging, creating a mysterious atmosphere that I really enjoyed. The twist at the end adds a chilling element. To enhance the impact, consider delving deeper into Micah's emotions during the shocking revelations. Adding more foreshadowing earlier in the narrative and vivid descriptions of settings could further immerse readers in the story. Overall, it's well-crafted with potential for greater depth through nuanced character development and subtle foreshadowing. The unexpected twist leaves a lasting impression.

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Kristi Gott
08:50 Dec 17, 2023

Finding out shocking truths about people when we thought we knew them is portrayed so well in this story. We are reminded that appearances can be illusions or tricks and people can have dark sides that we did nit suspect. Well written!

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Deb Williams
01:15 Dec 17, 2023

Loved this. Can you continue with the next chapter?

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