Word Count 468
By Anne Nassar
It was the wrong place for a meal of mercy. You had to walk through the bar to get to the private banquet room, and the bar was jam packed with drunken rednecks. As Ella made her way through the crowd, someone pinched her ass. Ordinarily, she’d have an emasculating comment for the offender, but it wasn’t an ordinary time, so she held her tongue. She had the idea that a mourner ought to be stoic and unconcerned with the trivialities of the world.
She made it to the room where her mother’s friends and relatives were gathered. She stood with her hand on the doorknob, took several deep breaths, and tried to work up the courage to enter. At least half of the people were strangers. Panic-stricken, Ella scanned the room for her sister, and to her relief, caught sight of her sitting at a table, presiding over a heaping platter of chicken bones.
Sophie got up and waved.
There was a loud thump, followed by gasps and shrieks. A tiny, skeletal old woman was lying on the floor with her knees drawn up. She was clutching at her throat with both hands and making a retching sound. Everyone stood back, staring.
Ella grabbed the woman up by her sweater. She hardly weighed anything at all, and she offered no resistance, floppy as a rag doll. Ella flipped her over, slid her arms under the woman’s ribcage, laced her fingers together, and squeezed. A chicken bone came flying out of the woman’s mouth in a neat arc and landed on the carpet.
The crowd of people cheered and applauded. Ella let the woman free.
The woman didn’t thank or even acknowledge Ella. She staggered back to her seat and sat down and picked up another chicken wing.
Helen, you imbecile, her tablemate said, put down that chicken wing.
Sophie was suddenly there at Ella’s side. She put her arms around Ella’s waist. Ella could smell alcohol on her breath.
You’re a hero! Sophie said.
Like Lassie! Ella said.
Just like Lassie! Way to make an entrance! You know who that lady is?
The lady I saved?
Yeah. That’s our grandmother.
Ella looked at the old woman. She bore very little resemblance to her daughter. She was chewing with her mouth open, hunched over her plate, licking her fingers between bites. It seemed impossible. The old woman felt Ella looking at her. She turned her gaze onto Ella and the contempt and malice in it sent a chill up Ella’s spine. Helen looked her up and down, and then dismissed her, wrote her off completely, by looking away.
Ella whispered into Sophie’s ear, That was the filthiest look ever given!
What is her problem? Sophie said.
Who cares? Ella said, I’ve got an appointment with a floating worm.