By Millard Johnson
Anna sat knitting in her tufted wingback recliner. The afternoon sun gave a warm glow to the farmhouse living room. Anna’s granddaughter, Glenda, was expecting, and Anna was knitting a receiving blanket for the baby. The warm sunshine, the pleasant room, and the task of making a delicate receiving blanket should have made for an ideal afternoon. But the knitting was not going well. In October, she had her cataracts removed and was not adjusting well to her new glasses. All too frequently, she dropped a stitch, only to discover the error several rows later. The blanket was dainty, knitted with fine wool and small needles. It had to be her finest work, so discovering an error meant tearing out all rows after the mistake and starting again. It was frustrating.
Fortunately, the commentary of Rush Limbaugh, her radio companion, eased her frustration. Anna idolized Rush Limbaugh. He had the unerring ability to go right to the heart of a problem and propose its solution. So uncanny, she thought, how Rush saw solutions while others seemed forever entangled in problems. Rush Limbaugh was a master of the simple answer.
Still, some of the things Rush said tended to upset Anna. For example, Rush Limbaugh didn’t like Hillary Clinton. Anna thought Hillary Clinton was a wonderful person, almost saintly, for rescuing her marriage to that Godless liar and philanderer – Bill. But, at the moment, Rush was not talking about Hillary or Bill. Today, he was railing against Obamacare and the government for taking HER tax dollars to care for people who weren’t prudent enough to buy health insurance for themselves. This was, Anna agreed, reprehensible and unconscionable. The United States needed more decisive problem-solvers like Rush Limbaugh.
Rush had once again put his finger squarely on the problem with American health care. As she thought this, Anna noticed she had dropped another stitch five rows back. Damn! She plopped her hands into her lap and, in her exasperation, failed to hear the solution Rush had just proposed.
Anna sat silent for a moment. She didn’t feel ready to tear out five rows and start again. She was not quite prepared for yet another iteration of this Sisyphean chore. She let out a long sigh of the exasperation she had been incubating all morning. Then she got up from her chair, noticing anew how much her bunions hurt. Picking up her teacup, she waddled painfully to the microwave, put the cup in, and zapped her cold tea. While waiting the required forty seconds, she looked out the kitchen window over the pond to the dam.
She and Edgar built their retirement home in the woods, fifteen miles from town. The small house was situated so the dam was visible from both the kitchen sink and the living room windows. The pond with its dam was one of the consolations of living away from town in the woods.
Anna wanted water lilies on the pond. She loved those yellow and purple water lilies and the white ones, too. The white ones were beautiful, but Edgar refused to have lilies on the pond. He said water lilies and bass were incompatible.
Sometimes there would be deer on the dam or at the pond’s edge, but not today. Today there were turkey vultures. Four of them stood on the dam’s crest, flanked by mature poplar trees. The trees looked like sentinels guarding the gates of an ancient city. They were not yet in leaf, so it was easy to see other buzzards sitting in the poplars. There were – let’s see: one – two – three – four – six. Six! No, seven. Seven buzzards decorated the tulip poplars like macabre Christmas ornaments.
Edgar was rather proud of the turkey vultures. He called them his crew. Not infrequently, an animal would die on the farm. Edgar had long ago quit burying every chicken, raccoon, barn cat, and snake he found dead on the property. Instead, he simply put them on the dam and let the buzzards clear them out. Oddly, Anna noticed, the buzzards seemed the only animals that did not squabble over their food. They would sit patiently while one vulture ate, then when that bird finished, he would fly off, letting the next in line take his turn. They were like people in a supermarket who had taken tickets at the meat counter. The vultures were at least as civilized as most people Anna knew.
“We have Rob on the line from Kenosha.”
“Go ahead, Rob,” said Rush.
“Hey Rush, love your show.”
“Thank you, Rob. What’s on your mind?”
“I read in the Milwaukee Daily Mail today that there’s a woman in Madison who’s trying to get female teachers the same salary as male engineers. She says that educating children is as important as laying sewer lines.”
“Well, my friend,” said Rush with confidence, “if this lady wants teachers to make engineers pay, the answer is simple: The lady teachers from Madison need to get engineering degrees and go to work for the utility company.”
Exactly! thought Anna. She picked up her tea and headed back to her BARCO lounger when she stumbled over Pepé, the family Schnauzer.
“Damn,” mumbled Anna under her breath. The dog was always underfoot in the kitchen. She gave Pepé a sharp kick. The satisfaction of his yelp was worth the added pain to her bunions.
Back at her chair, she tore out the five good rows to remove the offending missed stitch and started in again: knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two… and so on.
She had knitted four rows and started on the fifth when she became aware of a rhythmic rumbling growl, growing louder and louder. At first, she thought it was the heating system again. At this time of year, with the change of seasons, the heating system made strange noises – pinging, rumbling, and odd grunts. Then she realized it was not the heating system at all but the dog in the living room. He was hunched over on the rug, barfing. “Grunt, Grumble, Groan.” In successive waves, each retch grew deeper and louder.
Anna did not try to stop the dog. She knew from bitter experience that when he started to vomit, he would vomit! Pepé could not be dissuaded from barfing once he began. Then, with a final retch, the dog gushed out a slimy, green foam puddle and walked off the rug and into the kitchen.
Anna did not immediately resume her knitting, nor did she get up to clean the vomit.
Rush Limbaugh moved onto another topic and another caller, but Anna no longer listened. She was thinking about how life should be more predictable. Simpler. We ought not to have to put up with these constant, ugly intrusions.
Finally, she sat her knitting in its basket, got up, and lumbered into the kitchen. She opened the knife drawer and drew out the meat clever, the largest and heaviest knife in the drawer, the knife she used for splitting chickens in two by slicing through their breastbone and the ribs along their spine.
“Come,” she called to Pepé, heading for the garage door. The dog perked up, his ears high, tail wagging, tongue out. He followed her out into the garage. Anna put the meat cleaver in the middle of the bench seat and helped the dog into the passenger spot of Edgar’s John Deer Gator. She backed out of the garage, turned, and slipped the Gator into low.
She drove in first gear – it wasn’t far. As she approached the dam, the four buzzards lept into the poplars. She stopped, put on the parking brake, and helped the dog out. Taking the cleaver, she walked out onto the dam, the dog, tail wagging gleefully, followed. Halfway, Anna stopped, turned, and faced Pepé. “Sit!” she said. The dog sat. Anna bent down to the dog and grasped a fold of skin at the back of his head. Then, without anger, really, but a deep sense of satisfaction in simplifying her life, she whacked off the dog’s head. As she had anticipated, the decapitation required more strength than bisecting a rooster, but not a great deal more.
Anna felt a certain sadness that the dog was now gone but also a compensatory sense of relief. She would never again have to clean dog vomit from the rug. Being free from the obligations of dog ownership was quite wonderful. She let her gaze wander out over the still water behind the dam, then up into the poplar trees where the vultures sat patiently. Then she set the dog’s head down beside his body. He appeared rather serene – peaceful – lying there beside Edgar.
She gazed again out over the pond. She smiled, imagining the pond edged with purple, yellow, and white waterlilies.
Millard Johnson is a native of Washington State. After a hitch in the Air Force playing saxophone in the band, he graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s in Library Science. During his career as a computer programmer, systems designer, and library network administrator, he took university courses in writing and wrote short stories in his spare time.
Millard has published three books:
- Country Songs, a short story
- Blazing Star, a horse-themed novel, features a fascinating anti-hero Lindy McCoo who, with a sassy American Indian teenage girl, Star, hunt the murderer of Star’s grandfather.
- Kera Dupont called Johnson’s second novel, The Heart Doctor, “the greatest romance novel in the English language.”
- Johnson and six villagers jointly authored Murder of a Beer Buddy.