Deidra looked at the long line in her checkout lane and sighed. If she had the chance, and a reasonable expectation of avoiding detection, she would kill at least fifteen of them. Especially the old lady she was checking out; the old bat had twenty-five tinned fruitcakes with twenty-five coupons. This one should die horribly, she thought. Slowly as well.
“That’s one, dearie. Two…three…no, four. They stuck together, lordy lordy!”
The old lady slowly peeled the coupons apart and kept on counting. The holiday crowd behind her was becoming a little unruly; holiday cheer had definitely flown out the window. Oddly enough, the old lady was the only one not reacting to the loud comments.
Deidra waited patiently for the old lady to count out all twenty-five coupons, gritting her teeth and plastering a fake smile on her face. Yeah, a slow, painful death. Burning her alive is an option. Deidra pleasantly ruminated on this scene as she waited.
“Twenty-five. There you go, dearie,” the old lady said, smiling beatifically in the general direction of Deidra. The old bat can’t even see. Why is she still alive?
Meanwhile, the crowd behind the old lady had turned to more colorful language and supplemented their words with dire stares and shaking heads. Deidra might have felt sorry for the old lady if she had been in someone else’s line.
“Done saved me twenty-five dollars, dearie,” the old lady said. She tapped her head and smiled that smile that was fast becoming one of Deidra’s least-liked things about the woman.
Amazingly, the old lady was paying in cash. This just isn’t done! And she has coins! What the fuck! What the actual fuck! Deidra was stunned and a little discombobulated. She didn’t like counting coins; the math was tedious.
And now she was having trouble counting out $124.25. Deidra sighed; she had better help out the ancient woman or she’d be here all damn night. Deidra gently took the money from the old woman and started counting. Yes, tedious. She hated this, but she was good at it. The bills were mentally tallied and all she needed to do was to count out $3.25 from the old lady’s coin stash.
Thirteen quarters later, the transaction was mercifully finished. The old lady pushed her cart laden with her questionable holiday gifts and trundled slowly towards the door. Deidra didn’t notice; she was busy checking out the others in her line. Cheap toys and expensive games made their way across her scanner in smooth, meticulous fashion. Fuck Christmas, she thought. God had a lot to answer for, despite His claims of loving us and wanting the best for us. And fuck Santa, too. Another man making promises he never kept.
It was after 1:25 A.M. when Deidra had checked the registers and locked the doors. Everyone else had left a full thirty minutes earlier, but Deidra was the general manager, and it fell on her to take care of administrative tasks before leaving. Sure, she was paid well, but sometimes the pay felt like it was too little for the time she gave up. Not that she had a sterling life to go to; a bottle of wine and a quick doobie would usher her to her lonely bed.
The cold air and the wind took Deidra’s breath away as she exited the employee door to the parking lot. Pistol shots of expelled air were illuminated by the glowing overhead lights and Deidra wrapped herself tightly against the frigid elements. As she walked to her vehicle, she saw a lone figure near her car. It was the old lady from the store.
“What the…” Deidra muttered. The old bat was just staring at her with that stupid smile and that dazed look that so many old people had. I hope to God she isn’t having some sort of attack. I’ll have to take her to a fucking hospital while my wine ages another hour.
“There you are, dearie. I wanted to give you this.” The old lady held out a tin of fruitcake.
Deidra took it tentatively, staring at the old lady. Is she crazy? I swear to fucking God I’ll beat her over the head with this thing if she tries to give me a peppermint and pat my head. Well, she must be crazy, out here in the fucking cold just to give me something that I’m gonna toss out on the way home.
“Merry Christmas, dearie,” the old lady said. She still had that batshit-crazy look in her eyes and that goofy smile on her face as she shuffled away towards the intersection, pushing her walker ahead and then stepping. She moved at a speed that made glaciers look fast, Deidra thought, then she shook her head.
Deidra climbed into her car and turned on the defroster, waiting impatiently for it to turn warm and melt the icy pebbles from her windshield. She flipped through Sirius channels, finding nothing interesting. She smoked a cigarette and tried not to shiver as she blew the smoke out of the window. The sleet had started again, so she quickly finished her cigarette and rolled up her window. The defroster did its job; Deidra crept out of the parking lot and towards the stoplight that was by the bus stop. It was one of three exits she could have taken, but she chose this one because of what she saw. Rather, who she saw.
The old lady was just standing there, bent over on her walker and staring straight ahead, the wind whipping her thinning, cotton-candy hair around. Her expression was placid, almost like she was happy to be here, freezing to death on a street corner at 1:47 in the morning. Deidra rolled down her window and yelled at the old lady.
“Hey!” Irritation gilded her words, but the old lady just smiled and inched her way towards Deidra’s car. Deidra wondered if the old lady would make it to her car before the end times; her pace was, if anything, even slower than before.
“Just waiting for the bus, dearie. It’ll be along sooner or later, I suppose.” The old lady beamed at Deidra, infuriating her further. Deidra was about to do something nice for someone, and this went against everything she stood for and believed in.
The old lady was cold; her shivering body and runny nose told Deidra that. The old bat’s coat was thin. It didn’t even have a hood, Deidra noted. Her shoes were shabby and cheap, as were her polyester pants and yellow-tinged socks.
Deidra jumped out of car, feeling anew the bitter bite of the cold wind racing through the area. Without a word, she helped the old lady into the car and tossed her walker into the back seat. The old lady murmured in protest but Deidra either didn’t hear her or chose to ignore her.
“I’m taking you home…uh…what’s your name?” Deidra turned to the old lady.
“Ina May Winthrop, dearie. And you are…” Ina peered at Deidra’s name tag. “Dee-eye-druh?”
“Deidra. Dee-druh,” Deidra replied in clipped syllables.
“Give me your address and let’s get you home. Probably past your bedtime, Ina.”
Ina tittered. This pleasant sound did nothing to make Deidra happy.
“123 Winston Avenue. The Carlton Apartments.”
Deidra put the address in Google Maps and sped off. It wasn’t far away; perhaps she could get to her wine and weed before she had another attack of do-good-ism.
The unlikely couple pulled up to the ramshackle and disreputable-looking structure that passed for housing. The monstrosity rose to a height of four floors, the dull red brick on the exterior poorly illuminated by substandard lighting. Deidra prayed to a God she didn’t believe in that Ina lived on the first floor.
“I’m on the fourth floor, dear…Deidra.”
Deidra sat stock-still and somewhat deflated. Her anger had left her, which made her feel uncomfortable and defenseless. The old lady deserved her anger, begged for her wrath. The cheek of it all, standing out there by the bus stop and looking serene! Well, she had done her good deed for the decade by taking Ina home.
“Ok, let’s get you out,” Deidra snatched the walker from the back seat and set it up for Ina. Ina smiled beatifically  at Deidra and thanked her to the point that Deidra could feel her anger returning. Ina moved slowly towards the entrance as Deidra, in a fit of compassion, watched her get to the door safely; unfortunately, Ina struggled to open the door. Deidra turned off her ignition, got out and slammed her car door shut, striding towards the door.
“Let’s get you upstairs, Ina. Nice and comfy in your bed,” Deidra took Ina by the arms and practically dragged her up the stairs. How the hell the old bat was going to make it upstairs with her walker was anybody’s guess, but she must have come down the stairs with it.
Deidra was gasping for air by the time they reached the fourth floor, but Ina looked amazingly fresh and lively. She even had a little color in her cheeks. Deidra found this to be another source of irritation. She unlocked the door for Ina and followed her in, setting the walker in front of her. Deidra immediately gasped when she looked around the apartment.
The apartment was small. Deidra was pretty sure she had a walk-in closet bigger than this place. The furnishings were not only sparse in the extreme, but cheap and worn. The whole place looked like it was exhausted just by being in existence. It was, though, scrupulously clean.
Deidra made a decision at this moment, and she hated herself for it. Now she was mentally back on familiar ground. Anger and self-loathing felt comfortable.
“C’mon, Ina. You’re going home with me,” Deidra said. She strode into Ina’s bedroom and grabbed her clothes, shepherding a demurring Ina back outside, down the stairs, and into her car.
Deidra thought about her recent actions on the drive home. She was puzzled as to why she would help this old lady since the old lady aroused her ire in almost every way. Deidra shifted uncomfortably in her seat at the thought; she suspected that her feelings highlighted her shortcomings. Deidra, in an introspective and melancholy mood, pulled into her apartment garage and unloaded the smiling woman.
Deidra got Ina settled into bed, though Ina protested during the entire process. All Deidra could think about was wine and weed. She resisted thinking about herself.
“You’re too kind. My place is good enough, dearie. Thank you. Oh yes, very warm. Good-night, dearie, and Merry Christmas.”
The bottle of wine winked at Deidra seductively. Deidra let herself be seduced to the point of drinking the entire bottle before falling into a dreamless sleep. Before drifting off, Deidra wondered why she did what she did, and how she was going to deal with her good deed. She had no answer for that. She was buzzed from the wine and weed, though, and that was good enough for the night. Ina could be dealt with tomorrow.
And so thinking, Deidra snored her way through the morning hours of December 23.
Christmas came and went, as did the unusually cold winter. Spring arrived with chilly mornings but warm, soft afternoons. Flora sprang from the earth, unbidden but welcome after such a cold winter. And then summer opened her arms and blew her hot, sultry breath over the area. Bees invaded the gardens and trashcans, as did the mosquitos and other assorted insects.
Deidra had solved the Ina problem by doing nothing. That is, she explained to Ina that she would pay her $X a month to take care of her apartment (a euphemism for hanging around and not fucking things up) and, in return, Ina would pay her $X in rent. Ina didn’t understand.
“I don’t see…” Ina started. She blinked her eyes and smiled.
“You stay here and eat here, for free, but you take care of my apartment,” Deidra snapped at Ina. Ina took no notice of Deidra’s sharp response as she was lost in thought, trying to work it all out. After what seemed like a geological era to Deidra, Ina smiled and nodded her head. Just as suddenly, her face clouded.
“My furniture,” she wailed softly.
Deidra was of the opinion that the best thing to do with her furniture would be to use it as firewood, but she couldn’t tell Ina that.
“I sold it.” She didn’t. Deidra lied to Ina about going back to her apartment to close out her residency and sell her unneeded items. What Deidra did do was nothing. The last time she was at Ina’s apartment was the first time.
“And,” she continued, “I got $500 for it.” Deidra handed Ina $500 in cash and was irritatingly satisfied to see Ina with grateful tears in her eyes. Ina hugged Deidra and wiped her eyes on Deidra’s work shirt. Deidra wanted this to irritate her, but it just took too much effort to work up any anger nowadays.
Deidra was surprised at her actions. She didn’t know what to think of herself and this didn’t sit well with her. She felt like she needed to protect Ina from a universe that never seemed to have cared for the old lady at all. Through it all, Ina just smiled and carried on. The fruitcake incident was Ina in a nutshell (or a tin).
The crazy old bat saved and scrimped all year, living in straitened circumstances, and then she goes and buys all these horrible fruitcakes and gives them away to the employees at the store. Her way of celebrating Christmas, she says. Pah! Deidra was sure that those fruitcakes were eaten as punishment, or as some sort of penance. But damned if Ina didn’t enjoy the fruitcake.
“Time to get home, don’t you think?” Deidra stood up and got Ina to her feet. Ina didn’t need the walker any longer. You keep feeding me all that good meat, she told Deidra. Ina also kept the spacious and tasteful apartment clean. Immaculate, really. She was worth all the meat she could eat. It wasn’t much, Deidra thought. The woman ate less than anyone she knew.
Deidra showed Ina how to use the dishwasher, and Ina listened respectfully, that vague and sincere smile plastered across her lined face. Ina then proceeded to never use it, which Deidra found endearing. Another weird feeling for her.
She also showed Ina how to use the remote for the television. It turned out to be a process, though; Ina would forget how to use it and Deidra would patiently explain it all again the next evening. This went on for three months. Deidra felt like she had accomplished something worthwhile when she saw Ina finally show some expertise with the remote.
Deidra took Ina’s hand, lost in thought on the way back home. She was still feeling her way through the jungle that Ina’s presence put her in. She was happier, and that took some getting used to.
“Ina, why did you buy all those fruitcakes and give them away? I still can’t figure that one out.”
Ina paused and squinted at Deidra through her thick glasses and smiling her vague smile.
“I reckon I was a feelin’ a mite low, so I bought all those wonderful fruitcakes you sell and gave ‘em away. I love me some fruitcake, dearie. And you know what? It worked a treat. I felt lots better,” Ina said. She stepped slowly into the apartment and went to the kitchen to start dinner. Deidra found Ina a competent if unimaginative cook. Better than what she was used to. Fast food and wine didn’t make for a healthy diet.
Deidra followed her into the kitchen and helped herself to a small glass of wine. Her wine intake had reduced drastically since Ina had moved in with her. Strange, though. She didn’t even miss it.
“I suppose you still believe in God,” Deidra said. She sipped her wine and sat down to watch Ina cook.
“Oh yes, dearie! The good Lord put me with you so’s I know that He’s still thinkin’ of me. Give me a few good years before they throw dirt in my face,” Ina said. She started humming after her little soliloquy.
Deidra nodded, unconvinced that there was a God, and wondered if there was a God then why didn’t He give this woman a better life? Still, Deidra had to admit that she was actually enjoying her life now. She had lived so long living within the confines of a reasonable facsimile of life that she had dismissed any hope of happiness or fulfillment. This crazy old woman was making her reevaluate herself. She didn’t always like it but she was learning to appreciate it.
“What say we go shopping tomorrow, Ina? Maybe we can find some decent clothes for your bony ass,” Deidra said, smiling at Ina.
Ina smiled at Deidra as she set the table. That smile contained everything and nothing, Deidra thought. She used to hate it.
“And maybe a fruitcake? I love me…”
“Yes! Okay. A fruitcake.” Deidra said. She hated fruitcake.
Come tomorrow, they would get back to the apartment and they would share a piece of fruitcake. Deidra would cut an extra-large slice for them and she would dutifully eat part of it. She would note Ina’s beaming face as she ate the majority of the slice, and she would feel her heart crack just a little as she witnessed Ina trying to eat small bites so that the experience would last longer.
Deidra would make it a point to keep her kitchen stocked with fruitcake for the foreseeable future.