From the Blood of Conifers – Chapter 2: Gram

by nielskunze on March 8, 2016

From the Blood of Conifers
De-Solving the Matrix; Dissolving the Veil

Previous Chapters:

Chapter 1: The Fog of War



Chapter 2: Gram

Patrick checked his blood sugar in the car, and insisted that they stop at the drive-through on the way. “If we don’t, I’ll drop dead for sure,” he added to pre-empt any threat of argument.

He had met Jeffrey at the clinic, years ago. Both had been recently diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. Patrick had been just fresh out of a minor coma when the slightly-more-seasoned Jeffrey had agreed to take him under his wing, teaching him about blood sugar levels and injecting yourself with insulin… and such. Jeffrey had been more of a regular guy back then, not quite so damned cheery… as he’d now become.

They had been carpooling for at least the last couple of years. Let’s see.. the station was in its third year of operation, and they were both there from damn near the beginning, so yeah, they’d been doing the environmentally-friendly thing for a little more than two years. You couldn’t claim an environmental conscience– hell, you couldn’t work for the station at all if you weren’t willing to at least carpool.

Patrick had only met Gram once before, years ago. It had been only a month or two after he’d met Jeffrey. It was strange, really; they had visited with Jeffrey’s grandma for a good few hours, but Patrick’s recollection of the ordeal was mostly sketchy. He knew that he’d spoken with the old lady at length, but all he could really remember was that she’d convinced him to start drinking distilled water.

Patrick had been well aware of the controversy with distilled water.

“Whadya think the darn squirrels is drinkin’!” Gram had so eloquently explained. “You think they giddup and haul ass to the river every time they gets thirsty… and then walks two miles back home… until they gets thirsty again? And what you s’posin’ the elk and the deer be havin’ all winter long? They eatin’ snow, that’s what. Now that shit’s distilled. The squirrels be lickin’ the dew off the leaves before the sun properly rise. Distilled water: it don’t dissolve the livin’, but it’ll wash away your dead. Just ask damn near any plant how much they loves the rain! Distilled water is the one pure solvent.” She had nodded her hundred-year-old head emphatically, as though there was no space for argument. And dammit, Patrick had found it compelling. He’d been drinking mostly distilled water ever since. He’d accepted it on the basis of its solvent properties, but honestly, on its own, it hadn’t really solved anything. Still, he could easily imagine that his life might be irrevocably worse if not for these last few years of cleansing and purging. The old woman had convinced him. And other than that brief recollection, Patrick had hardly ever thought about Gram at all.

“The one pure solvent,” he said aloud, as the car turned down the fog-encrusted lane toward Gram’s remote hideaway.

“Yes!” beamed Jeffrey. “And do you remember too what she said after that?”

Patrick was used to having Jeffrey seemingly listen in to his thoughts. Every time Patrick would blurt something out related solely to his own internal dialogue, Jeffrey somehow always knew the context, and responded appropriately– which was so inappropriate in Patrick’s initial assessment; but now that he was used to it, he didn’t really care so much anymore.

As for Jeffrey’s question… No, he hadn’t remembered a single thing more right up until the moment Jeffrey had asked the question. And then it came blurting out in typical Patrick fashion… just as he now recalled it.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Yeah, there was something about… about… the other one…”

If Jeffrey’s smile had been one whit wider, his cheeks would have exploded. He was all teeth, and the glitter of exuberance… and rainbows, lots of rainbows.

Conversely, Gram’s place was a ramshackle thing… even more than any worn-out cliche. Patrick supposed that at a hundred-and-six Gram wasn’t climbing too many ladders or swinging any hammers. It looked like it had been many years since anyone might’ve attempted any such maintenance. There seemed to be a real threat of collapse as they carelessly slammed the car doors getting out. And still, they ventured inside…

As soon as Patrick crossed the threshold, he remembered something else. Before he’d met Gram, that one time, years ago… he had been quite sure that there were only two black people in the whole valley. And Gram, then, was the third. You remember a thing like that. Patrick usually forgot altogether that Jeffrey was black; it just wasn’t something he regularly noticed. But when you’re suddenly outnumbered two to one– and it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with racism– you notice that kinda shit. Like… oh yeah… these people are black.

Was ‘black’ even right? Well, ‘African-Canadians’ just sounded stupid. ‘Negro’ might make a comeback… but the other ‘n-word’… that was forever taboo. Patrick thought that the whole politically-correct circus was fucking retarded. Such was the gist of Patrick’s thoughts as he was introduced– again– to Gram.

“Political correctness is for fags!”

That was one hell of an opening line for a hundred-and-six-year-old black woman to dish up… not to mention that, she too, could similarly read his mind. Patrick wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he just laughed… and that seemed to go over well enough. When the general laughter died down, he said “Um, excuse me, but could I use your washroom?” The second poop was still determined to have its morning lap in the pool.

Gram pointed the way, and Patrick hurried to follow the crook of that merciful finger.

As he found the light switch, he was surprised on two accounts. First, he was astonished that Gram had electricity at all. But that was absurd! Everyone has friggin’ electricity– even folks in ramshackle heritage shanties. Secondly, he was surprised by the general condition of Gram’s bathroom.

Sure enough, it was perfectly neat and tidy, everything put away and such, but there was a thin layer of dust on everything… and a couple of cobwebs here and there. Gram’s bathroom looked abandoned, deserted… like it hadn’t been used in months or maybe even years. Patrick thought perhaps this was just the guest bathroom… but then the thought of there being a second bathroom in such a tiny hovel seemed more absurd than any of the other possibilities– so that couldn’t be it.

A few minutes later, he returned to the kitchen where Jeffrey was seated with Gram at the table. His intent was to ask about the apparent disuse of the bathroom, as he scooted around the table to politely take the seat being offered, but the items on the table between Gram and Jeffrey lured his attention instead. Just beyond Jeffrey’s clasped hands there rested a small glass bottle– maybe four ounces or so– with a clear green liquid inside. Gram had a similar bottle in front of her, except that the liquid was perfectly clear. There was a handwritten label on it… which Patrick was attempting to discern. Additionally, Gram was pouring sugar from a carton onto a tablespoon set on the table immediately before her. When she picked up the glass bottle with the clear liquid inside… to measure a capful, Patrick was able to finally read the label. It said turpentine.

Turpentine! Patrick could even smell it now, unmistakeable… turpentine. Gram poured the measured capful of turpentine over the mound of sugar on the spoon. With one hand she replaced the cap to the bottle and with the other she scooped up the spoon and plunged it into her one-hundred-and-six-year-old mouth… all before Patrick could heroically lunge across the table to prevent the obvious tragedy… which is to say, that he made the attempt, but was fractionally too late.

Gram took the time to dissolve the full concoction in her mouth, seemingly deriving pleasure from it, before she swallowed with emphatic satisfaction, all the while holding Patrick’s agonized gaze with a right steady stare. Then she wasted no time interrogating Patrick for his absurd behaviour. “What in blazes has got into you! Are you meaning to murder me?”

Her breath smelled of turpentine, and Patrick couldn’t help but notice that it actually was rather pleasant– unlike the breath of old people in general, as had been his prior experience. “You can’t drink turpentine,” he said weakly, stating the obvious lie, as he retreated again to his own chair across the table.

“I agree,” said Gram with robust good cheer– it must run in the damn family! “That’s why I always pours it over sugar. Chugging it like whisky might actually be about as dangerous as chugging whisky.” She laughed at that.

Patrick didn’t understand. He just said very quietly “But it’s turpentine.”

“Yup. Distilled it myself,” said Gram with an obvious measure of pride, “from the blood of pines.”

Patrick found himself awash in a conversation that, frankly, civilized people just don’t have– ever. He was at a bit of a loss, and so looked to smiling Jeffrey for help. Jeffrey pointed at the labelled bottle and said “THAT’S the other one.”

“The other what?” asked Patrick perplexed.

“The other perfect solvent.” Patrick still wasn’t quite getting it. “Remember?” prodded Jeffrey, “distilled water was the one perfect solvent… and this is the other. Gram told you there was another one.”

“Welcome to Phase 2,” said Gram cordially. “You’re gonna like Phase 2.”

There was no time to talk about Phase 2; Patrick and Jeffrey had to get to the station. It was nearly the beginning of another broadcast day.

On the way out the door, Jeffrey asked Gram why they’d had to come now, before work. Gram smiled and said “Because there was an opening.”

The two men were equally perplexed by that. Obviously, Gram didn’t have a super busy schedule, so they asked “An opening in what?”

Gram stared at Patrick, still smiling, and answered. “In him.”

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