“You want to do what?”
“Rob this grocery store,” she said.
“Why? Are you hungry?”
“Nope, not at all,” she said and then lit a cigarette.
“Then why do you want to hold up a damn grocery store?”
She exhaled to her right, out the window, away from me. She knew the smoke bothered me. Just another little way she showed me that she loved me. “No one robs grocery stores, that’s why I want to do it. They won't see it coming.”
“Maybe there’s a reason no one holds up grocery stores.” Every day it was something new with her. She was looking ahead, through the windshield. Sally was a spritely 50 year-old woman with long, dirty-blonde hair and horrible teeth. She was rough. I often wondered what her liver looked like and imagine it had surrendered years ago. She had once been a coke-head and looked it. The woman had more lives than an alley cat.
Since Sally was paroled this last time, just six months ago, she’d started reliving her youth as a stick-up queen, only now, I, her son, was her partner and not some asshole that she’d met in a tavern who’d beat her daily. I’d never called her mom because she wasn’t my mom. Sally’s mother, Edith, was my mother, the woman who raised me while Sally was running across the midwest high on, “God knows what,” and doing, “the Lord only knows,” as grandma Edith would say all the time.
Grandma Edith was all I had as a boy. She was a big, hard woman and spoke more German than English. Sally was her only child and Edith’s husband, my grandpa, had died young from a heart attack. I never knew him. Grandma would say, “She’s Satan’s baby, that girl is.”
I remember the day I learned that Sally was my mother and not grandma Edith. “Scotty, come here, baby,” grandma said, “sit on my lap, I want to introduce you to someone.” In through the door came this strange woman, who even way back then looked like hell. “This is your momma,” I was told. The strange woman just stared at me. I sat on grandma Edith’s lap shaking my head from side-to-side, “That’s not my mommy,” then I grabbed onto and hugged my grandma, “you’re my mommy.” I was six-years-old.
My grandmother was no liar as I found out. This Sally woman was my mother and I hated her immediately. I wouldn’t talk to her. Didn’t want to see her. Wouldn’t let her touch me, in fact, I once bit her hard on her wrist only to be slapped across the back of the head, “You little motherfucker! Mom, that damn boy made me bleed, look it,” Sally said, holding up her arm for grandma to see. It was some years before I saw Sally again.
Every time Sally popped back into my life as I was growing up, it was always the same old thing. “Mommy is doing really good right now Scotty and I think it’s time that we start getting to know each other. Would you like that, sweetie?”
“I guess so,” I would say after being nudged by grandma Edith. “You need to know your mother, Scotty. She ain’t all bad. She’ll grow out of it sooner or later.” I believe my grandmother believed what she said, but she wrong.
Now, so many years later, I’m thirty-two and a gun moll to my own mother. Grandma Edith passed on 15 years ago. Since then, Sally has been locked up four times, the last time a five year stretch for stealing a car from a minister whose wife is a cripple and has to be in a wheelchair.
Sally stole that car while the minister and his wife were in church one spring Sunday morning. The minister’s wife’s chair was in the back of the car when Sally took it because they couldn’t get the wheelchair into the church on account of the steps that went into it and the door also wasn’t wide enough. The crippled wife was a skinny little thing, so the minister just carried her in and out of the church.
She didn’t drive far before stopping at a biker bar at the end of town. That’s where she was, drinking a bottle of beer, when the sheriff's boys put the cuffs on her. That car was only missing an hour and two old ladies saw her take it. That was Sally. She spent five years in prison for taking a car to drive less than a mile so she could drink beer in a filthy bar. “That girl ain’t right in the head,” grandma Edith said all the time. She was right about that.
Sally finished her smoke and tossed the butt out the pick-up’s passenger window. Then she opened the metal glove box and pulled out her shiny long-barreled .357 revolver. “This is how we’re gonna do it,” she said, popping out the gun’s cylinder and looking to see if it was loaded, “I’m gonna walk to the store office and ask to see the manager. He’ll know how to open the safe. They’ll be thousands in there. We’ll get a new car and drive somewhere nice, like Florida.”
“Are we really going to do this?”
“You’re goddamned right we are, don’t be such a chicken-shit, boy.” Sally stuffed the big gun into her cheap purse and got out of the truck. She looked at me through the windshield and her blood-shot eyes screamed, “Come on!” Reluctantly, I got out and stuffed my .45 semi-auto into my waist on my left side. “Keep the handle where you can grab it,” Sally always said. “And when you pull it out, you best be ready to use it, or you’d be better off holding your wiener.” The things parents teach their children, I often thought. But then realized one day that a parent can only teach a child what it knows.
Sally walked in front of me and I followed a few steps behind, looking at her twiggy body in cut-offs, tank and flip-flops. We went in the store and headed towards the office.