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Volume 13 • Number 1 • Spring-Summer 2021

Scott Gardner

Grammy Mooney and the Cisco Kid

Grammy Mooney lived by herself with her twin grandsons just a few miles south of Titusville, Pennsylvania, high atop the hill on Route 8 and just a few miles back in the woods. It was convenient because it was close to town but still tucked back behind the tall Scotch pines and red oak forest where she wouldn’t be bothered by city folk, neighbors, and other such annoyances. It took no time to pop into town to stock up on provisions that she couldn’t supply herself from her garden or her livestock. She canned most of her fruit and vegetables and even had another room in the cellar where she stored cold pack pickled ham hocks, beef backstrap, and such. All that she needed from the Giant Eagle in Titusville were the few items that she couldn’t supply herself, and she was not about to run out of Dr. Pepper or Doritos.

To say that she lived with her grandsons is overstatement. She rarely saw them. They would drop by now and again to help consume some of her supplies and store bought Doritos, but always left venison, rabbit, or grouse that had encountered an unfortunate demise upon meeting them in the woods. Grammy didn’t mind that they were seldom home. She didn’t mind much when they were there, either. Truth is, the boys didn’t talk much and seemed to communicate with each other with head nods and eye movement. Erroll was certainly the brighter bulb, making up for his lack of physical strength and stamina. He was a small, skinny boy with a bad complexion and a droopy nose that never much got him noticed by the fairer sex. Floyd was a large, clumsy fellow with a constant smile and eyes always half closed, always ready to laugh at nothing at all.

Grammy’s only constant companion was the Cisco Kid, her one-eyed tomcat that had adopted her home as his own. He was an old, scraggly cat with black and orange stripes like a tiger and one eye permanently closed. He had arrived on her doorstep one early morning just before winter and it was apparent to Grammy that he needed to ride out foul weather somewhere safer than the surrounding forest. He never entered the house, not because he wasn’t allowed, but because he chose not to. The day he showed up, Grammy immediately named him the Cisco Kid. She didn’t know why. She had heard it somewhere and just liked the sound of it.

Every morning, no matter how early she opened the front door, there was always a present from the Cisco Kid. Sometimes a mouse, sometimes a squirrel. One time he even left one of her geese on the front doorstep. She wasn’t angry, he was just a cat, after all, but after that she let the geese run free during the day and made sure that they were locked in the barn at night.

Grammy drove a 1991 Chevy Lumina that she had picked up second hand from an advertisement that she had heard on a radio program from Titusville on WTIV. The show was called Trading Post and people weren’t allowed to sell firewood or other such items, and she wasn’t sure if they were allowed to sell second hand cars, but she was able to get a phone number before the call was cut off, talked the man into driving out to her farmhouse, and paid him seven hundred dollars cash money to acquire the vehicle. The young man tried to explain that she needed to register the car and get insurance, but he so irritated her that she soon shooed him off and advised him to forget where she lived. Besides, the Cisco Kid could have shown up at any time and the old tomcat rarely tolerated visitors. There was a handful of Jehovah’s Witnesses who could testify.

There was another car on the property, an old whoopee that sat by the cornfield and bothered her so much that she constantly badgered the boys about moving it somewhere out of sight. It was an old Gremlin, an ugly old AMC car from the seventies that had a creepy green fluorescent lit dashboard and an image of an even creepier gremlin displayed near the speedometer. Grammy couldn’t understand why the boys valued it so much, but half the time that they spent at her farmhouse was occupied by tinkering with the ugly old machine.

One day Erroll took her out of the house and showed a new development in the rebuild process; he and Floyd had added a nitrous oxide canister to the interior. They had to remove the passenger seat, which did not improve the appearance or functionality of the car, to her mind, but they were proud nonetheless. Said it would increase horsepower exponentially, whatever the hell that meant. She stated that if it helped remove the ugly thing from her yard that she was all for it. They had painted it candy apple red. She mentioned something about putting lipstick on a pig but the boys just ignored her and began discussion of additional alterations to the hideous vehicle.

One day Floyd got a terrible toothache, long overdue, to Grammy’s mind. She couldn’t remember the last time that either of them had been to a doctor or dentist, if ever. She had no problem with such ailments since she had lost her teeth years ago. Her long dead husband had gotten her drunk on apple pie moonshine and had waited until she passed out before he’d pulled the last few teeth out of her mouth with vise grips. She mashed up all of her food now, even the Doritos, and had encountered no dental issues since.

Poor Floyd was in some fearsome pain. He had always been able to laugh his way out of physical ailments, like the time he was fishing for musky and had lodged a #1 size hook through his hand when a big wind had come up on Canadohta Lake and rocked the boat while he was baiting his hook. He made jokes as she cut off the barb and twisted the hook out from between the meaty part of his hand between the index finger and thumb. He hadn’t needed even a shot of moonshine.

But this was different. Maybe an infection, maybe an abscess. Who knows how long it had bothered him. He risked blood infection and a bad ending if he didn’t seek out professional care. Grammy offered to help out with money but the boys declined, saying that they had plenty enough. She wasn’t sure where it had come from but it wasn’t her place to ask.

All that they asked was to borrow the old Lumina and take a trip to a doctor that they knew and trusted. Couldn’t have been too many of them in the area, but again she declined to ask questions. All she wanted to know was that how was she going to get to town today to get provisions? She was seriously low on Dr. Pepper and thanked the boys to let alert her when they were dipping into her supplies.

They said that she could borrow the old Gremlin by the cornfield if need be, but for Christ’s sake keep your hands off of the nitrous oxide cylinder. They didn’t want to take it to see the doctor because it sat so low to the ground that they feared the oil pan would get ripped off on a rocky road. The whoopee would do just fine, they said. So she gave them her car keys and shooed them off, then prepared to go to town.

She put on her go-to-town dress, the scratchy calico that fell off her shoulders like a canvas pup tent. It had nice little blue and white flower designs. Grammy didn’t know much about flowers since they just took up space in the garden where useful crops could grow. She put on the big straw sun hat that she used while weeding the garden, grabbed her old leather purse, and headed out the door.

The Gremlin still had keys in the ignition, which made sense, because who the hell was going to steal this thing? It was reluctant to start, coughing and spitting every time she turned the key, but finally came to life, shaking and rattling as it warmed up. She kept her foot stomped hard on the brake, put the car in drive, and, without thinking, reached over to the nitrous oxide tank and opened the valve. The Gremlin hissed like a snake. She took her foot off the brake and tapped the accelerator: the car gasped, lurched, then launched her full speed ahead, straight-aways into the cornfield. She screamed and tried to straighten out the steering, but every move she made just rocketed her into a different direction. Corn stalks flew and pheasant erupted from between the rows. She quickly exited the cornfield and saw the old dead willow tree at the edge of her property. Grammy smartly stomped on the brake and slowed the whoopee enough so that, when she hit the tree, she wasn’t launched through the windshield. The willow had been dead and rotted for some time. This fact saved her life as the tree fell backwards and the car ended atop the broad stump, gasped one last time, and died.

When Erroll and Floyd returned to the farm, they found Grammy crawling from the edge of the cornfield towards the house. They saw the zigzag destruction through the cornfield, the candy apple red Gremlin atop a stump, and surmised what had happened. They were able to pick her up, Erroll grabbing her shoulders and Floyd’s huge arms wrapped tightly around her ankles, and carried her to her house as she kicked and screamed obscenities at them.

When they got her to the living room and laid her down on the sofa, they realized that she was more scared than hurt. Nobody could cuss like that if they were in grave condition. They heard words that they had never heard before and had no notion of the meanings, but they could guess. They put six stitches into her forehead where it had slammed into the steering wheel and checked her out as best they could for broken bones, and even put up with a few punches and scratches as they examined her. Having decided that she would be fine, they quietly exited the house and let her rant and rage until she wore herself into a deep slumber.

The next morning when she awoke, she heard a sound like a baby crying at her front door. She opened it to find the Cisco Kid calling out to her, lying on his belly, his good eye missing. During the night the one-eyed old tomcat must have encountered something bigger and meaner than he was. She picked him up and carried him into the house, laying him on the sofa, and tried to feed him milk from an eye dropper, but the old cat would have none of it. He had come home to die, finally allowing himself to enter the house. He lasted two more days before he finally passed. Grammy cried like she hadn’t cried since her sweet granddaughter Sarah had been murdered by that villainous drug dealing boyfriend of hers who had met his own end. The Cisco Kid was just an old cat, was to die soon, she told herself, but she cried hard nonetheless.

Later that night, she put on the black dress she had worn to Sarah’s funeral, along with a veil and matching black sneakers, and headed out to the family burial plot at the Tryonville Cemetery. There she dug a three foot grave between Sarah and Grammy’s husband, laid the Cisco Kid to rest, then filled it back in. She placed a few wildflowers on top of it and thought to say some words but she couldn’t think of any. You were a good boy and a good friend, she finally said, and the Lord loves all his creations. May you find peace in heaven and be sure to take care of Sarah. She is so sweet and innocent and was always the best of us. She always loved cats and she will always love you, too. You be sure to watch out for her. Amen.

Scott Gardner was raised in Titusville, PA, the home of the first productive oil well in the world and the beginning of the petroleum industry. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1978 with a BA in English Writing and has been scribbling stories intermittently ever since. The old man moved to Florida in 2017. His world became unsettled with the advent of covid-19 and he returned to his fiction. His characters enthusiastically welcomed him back. Together they are working on a collection of short stories set in the Oil Creek valley, the valley that changed the world.