Betty's World

Contributor: Jim Clinch

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Betty lived alone. It was how she liked it, and one of the few positive contributions she made to the world.

She watched the soap opera network at high volume because her hearing was going. She chain smoked long, filtered lady cigarettes and had a cat named Bob until one night he didn’t come back in large part because he was sick of the loud TV, her secondhand smoke and the crummy table scraps.

Leon broke in to the old single-wide because he thought no one was home. The blaring TV might have suggested otherwise, but he’d heard somewhere that old people sometimes leave the TV on while they are away to make burglars think someone’s home. Leon thought he was pretty smart not to fall for that trick. Leon had an IQ that bordered on the mentally disabled range.

When he saw Betty in her dirty recliner he gasped, not because he was shocked to find someone home but because he thought she was dead. Her pail, bony frame clad in a worn housecoat looked like a withered corpse, the big chair like her coffin. She wasn’t dead, though. Her head turned quickly in his direction and her eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed to squinty slits as she regarded the young man in her tiny living room. The flickering lights from the TV were the only illumination and they made the shadows dance around the edges of the dim tableau.

“Waddaya want!” she barked, her voice a low and husky pre-cancerous rasp. A cigarette burned among a dozen dead compadres in a fifty-year-old ashtray that said “Stolen From Ernie’s BBQ, Racine, WS” somewhere beneath the soot and stubs.

“Ahh . . . Ahh . . . I got a gun! Leon yelled, louder than he needed to.

“The fuck you do!” Betty growled. “'I got a gun.’ Bullshit! Show me!”

Leon appreciated the suggestion and wished he’d thought of it himself. He pulled the small pistol from the back of his waistband and held it sideways like the gangstas he’d seen in music videos. Betty laughed at him. It was not only humiliating, it was one of the weirdest sounds Leon had ever heard. Her laugh soon devolved into a spasm of coughing. When she finished she picked up the cigarette and took a long drag.

“Gimme your shit, lady,” Leon demanded. He thought he sounded tough.

“Fuck you!” Betty said.

Leon was taken aback. Old ladies were not supposed to talk like that. Leon’s grandmother would never do that and had, in fact, once made Leon eat a tablespoon of hot sauce for using the “F” word. It made his eyes water just thinking about it.

“I got a gun!” he said again.

“Me, too,” Betty said. “Right here in my chair. Now get outa here ‘fore I shoot you!”

Leon thought for a moment. He kept his weapon on the old woman while looking around the room. Man, what was he thinking breaking into a place like this? He should be robbing rich folks. This old bitch had nothing to steal. He would be seriously laughed at by his friends. Again.

Leon lowered the gun and looked at Betty, frowning. “You got pills?” he demanded. “Per-scriptions?”

“Healthy as an ox,” she replied. “So, smart guy, what-cha gonna take? Soup? Saltine crackers? My smokes? Oh, wait, how ‘bout that cat clock on the wall? See? The tail goes back an’ forth and the eyes move. Really spruce up your ‘crib.’”

Leon put the gun back in the waist of his sweatpants. He felt embarrassed. He thought about his grandmother again. He felt ashamed.

“So, you want some cocoa?” Betty asked in her raspy, croaking voice.

“Um . . . no . . .”

“Some tea maybe?”

“Um . . . no . . .”

“Good!” Betty barked. “I got none ‘a that shit anyway. So, make yourself useful and get me a beer before you go.”

Leon looked down at the skinny, wrinkled old woman in the big chair. He didn’t know what to do. This had not gone at all like he had imagined. Stuff just never did for Leon.

He sighed and, without a word, walked a few paces to the refrigerator in the tiny kitchen area. He opened the door and heard a pop, then two more. He fell to the yellowed linoleum, on his back, looking up at an old woman, her face hard and creased and utterly remorseless in the light from the open refrigerator door. She reached down toward his face, a tiny wisp of smoke curling from the barrel of the five-shot .38 and put a final round in his head.

Betty lived alone. She liked it that way.

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I am a Florida author living in a small town on the Gulf coast. I am also a singer/songwriter, and I enjoy writing humorous songs poking fun at the bellicose and pompous. It is a target rich environment.
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