Nut Clusters

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic


Tony Ireland took a  hesitant step out of the vehicle as if he were afraid to soil his polished loafers on the windswept street. Fall had arrived and with it came the coating of dead leaves on every lawn in the neighborhood. Woodsmoke smoke assailed his nostrils.  This part of the city hadn't caught up with the regulations for home safety. Still,  the smell of burning wood was embedded in comforting memories. a time when he fell asleep under duvet covers. A lost time when daddy carried him lovingly upstairs to bed.  

He watched the wind play with the dying leaves, driving the leaves into the gutters tp float down in rivulets to storm drains. He watched as they piled themselves up, each leaf reluctant to part with its soaked neighbor. Then the damn broke from the force of the water behind them. The pile dissolved into the storm sewers.  

Yet he couldn't feel depressed.  Those dead leaves reminded him too much of his own life, a life that was filled with the hope and promise of boyhood dreams. Now he was like them, awaiting his time to exit the world he inhabited. It was a world of cruelty. A world that had been turned upside down for a boy who couldn't understand what the fighting was all about. His peaceful home filled with anger and harsh words. The endless arguments between his parents forced him to find solace in the comfort of his room.  

Tony glared at the house that was familiar, yet foreign. There was not likely to be a  homecoming.  If there was a Hell, it had existed here many years ago.  But he had a duty to perform. The lonely resident of this house, his mother, Susie required the occasional visit.  It had been over twenty years ago when he felt the tears, pleading mom and dad to cease their constant bickering.  What was so important that it required constant jousting. He had never expected life to turn out this way.   

Drops spattered down from an overcast sky. As if the sky had opened up to pour out more venom than he already possessed. The street was slick, reflecting the houses in the dismal neighborhood. He heard the patter of drops on his fedora and watched as water cascaded down from the brim. It promised neither curse, nor relief.  

 Tony took a long breath as studied the house he was parked in front of.  He had grown up in it, yet it seemed so strange, unreal. He found no love here. Yet something inside his psyche told him that this place might yet offer forgetfulness and salvation.  

You must suffer, Tony, so others may find freedom from injustice.  

While his parents argued at the dinner table, he found solace in Bugs Bunny reruns. It made no difference if he'd seen Bugs race Cecil Turtle to the finish line a hundred times over. He wanted to find some peace.  

Only his brother, Billy, seemed immune the fighting. Unfortunately, Billy's future was spared when he fell under the fender of a speeding truck while riding his bicycle. The drunk had done Billy a favor from a life of misery.   

Tony sniffed the air. There seemed to be a virus afoot. A hint of ether mixed with wood smoke lay across the neighborhood. His nose wrinkled involuntarily.  

Once his masculinity asserted himself, he lost himself in the pleasures of women. As soon as a fight was in the offing,  he set off to find solace in whatever woman would have him in their arms. With the girls came nights of drinking and cocaine. He spent many a day in the sanctuary of their apartments, even if there were no cartoons to watch. 

He didn't care who it was he associated with, just as long as found comfort and a friendly dialog. It was a matter of time before he was introduced to a local gang ring. They provided an opportunity to raise his standard of living. He spent more time in the freedom of open roads.  He melted away from family life during the depths of winter. Out of duty he paid them a visit, but never stayed longer than a few short hours. He found little reconciliation. Papa George had gone on to drinking his life away. Mama Susie found solace in cocaine, He could have provided her with all the coke she could ever want, but he would have had to reveal the true nature of his employment.  He stayed with the Jazz, did what was expected and they welcomed him like a brother. They were forgiving, even if he did make a few mistakes.   

So he pushed dope. Smooth income. He didn't relish the need to waste any group that decided to muscle into Jazz territory.  He did what was expected to prove his loyalty. When he had the chance, he could excuse himself by visiting the old folks. That often proved to be just as bad as any gunfight. It was on one such occasion that he found a stash of coke in one of Susie's stocking hidden in her closet. Mama had the dope. Papa had whiskey, beer and tequila.  

Susie never knew what he was up to. He convinced her that he was working in a retail store at the next town, the one reason why he couldn't visit as often as he claimed. She accepted his excuse. Papa George was of a different opinion, but he kept his mouth shut.  

Nightlife and weekends offered the best time to conduct business. Monday th Wednesday were traditionally slow periods. He occupied that time to Jazz conferences  and learning how to handle guns and poison. Wednesday gave the opportunity for carousing, drinking and robbing convenience stores for extra profit.  

When pop suffered a stroke that laced him in permanent retirement,  One half of family discussions disappeared. Mama was happy to find a quiet house for a change. however, there wasn't  enough cash to keep up her drug habit, as George left nothing for an inheritance except empty bottles. She took to isolating herself. Without a vehicle, she had to rely on welfare to fill the necessities of life. She found an alternative to dope in syrupy sweet chocolate. It was her new addiction and it  showed in an increasing waistline. Cheaper by far, but the fat and sugary confection helped bring about diabetes. Tony took to supporting her new habit.  

With every visit he paid her, she inflated more. Her addiction, Tony surmised, would have the effect of getting close to George in the hereafter, there to take care of unfinished business while St. Peter looked on. But the years passed and Susie showed no sign of keeling over from heart disease. She had become resourcefully obese.  

What would she be now, Tony frowned as he scanned the old house. The lawn was in need of a good shave. Since it was late fall, the leaves from the old oak did their best to hide the fact. He scanned the other homes along Woodward Avenue to find the same unkept lawns.   

But his old home required a paint job to hide the peeling paint and the rust spots beneath the flimsy curtained windows. The wooden stair leading to the porch threatened to collapse under the weight of a feather. The porch was empty except for a worn rocking chair and a rickety porch swing. The windows had a blank dead look about them. Inside a few flimsy curtains seemed to waft like wraiths over old electric baseboard heaters. Perhaps, Tony thought, he might offer to pay for some needed renovations. Susie had obviously run out of money, assuming she yet needed to pay for a mortgage.  

The last time he had visited, some of the family's cherished furniture had been sold off.  Antiques could fetch a handsome price.  

With the car door still open, Tony reached into the passenger seat and withdrew a wrapped parcel. Susie  would be pleased with his gift.  

The windswept street was empty, devoid of life except for a few parked Oldsmobile and a stray dog that sniffed for the same solace Tony hoped to find himself. A dreary place. Then again, the homes on this street had seen better days before industry moved out to greener pastures. There were too many abandoned homes to make it worthwhile for taxes to renovate.  

With the package safe under his arm, he marched around his Lexus toward the old place he once called home. With a sigh of regret, he took his first step toward the gate hanging loosely on the picket fence posts. He pushed his way through. The fence creaked audibly but provided little resistance. He scanned the parlor window for any sign of an investigation, but Susie was likely engrossed in The Days of Our Lives.  

Anything sweet was likely to find approval. If by chance, chocolate was too pricey, there was always lemon meringue pie, coconut cream, and cheesecake to satisfy her palette. Once hubby moved on, Susie celebrated with a chocolate fudge layer cake.  

The stairs creaked as he took each one with caution. But they held his weight.  A small shower of rain leaked through an  that had come apart at the joints. Thankfully, the water leaked over the lawn instead of the doorway. Though there was a wind, the rocking chair sat fixed in position, seemingly nailed to the scuffed boards of the porch.  

He pressed the doorbell, expecting no sound of chimes within.  His ears picked up the faint sounds of the chimes.  

 "Coming!" A shrill but muffled voice from within called. That one word sounded emotionless, pregnant with strain. 

The curtains behind the front door separated as a chubby face looked out. "Tony?" She appeared surprised as she parted the front door. Tony helped by opening the screen door. 

"Hi, mom!" He force himself to sound cheerful.  His greeting  produced no facial of glee. "Ain't that a surprise!" There was an acid undertone to her words. “Come in.”  

A quick scan told him she had grown a size since last he saw her. a year before.  

"What brings you to visit your old  mother?" She threw the words casually behind her as she marched toward the parlor.  back.  

"I'm sorry. Been awhile, mom. I've been so busy. Lucky to get time off.  Thought I'd pay a visit.” 

"That's sweet,” she replied. She sounded unconvincing. “Must be doing well. Good grooming." 

Tony chuckled dryly. "I've been promoted a manager.” 

She stopped, turned heavily and gave him a look of doubt. "Better than I could hope. You're a fucking liar! Word on the street has it you've been dealing dope. Am I right?" 

He paused at this revelation. She turned and headed under the archway to the parlor. o "Pushing coke?"She persisted.  

Tony shrugged. He had no reason to deny it. “You're right, ma." 

"No one buys the kind of car you got and a silver lined pinstripe on minimum wage. This has been goin' on for some time.”You've been dealing more than a year, I suspect." 

I had to keep  it secret. Didn't want to alarm you.  You object?" 

“After all I've been through? It matters nothin'.” Her heavy shoulders shrugged as she stopped at her recliner. 'I'm too old to care." 

"You're only...66?" 

"Yea." She plopped her bulk down in the LazyBoy. "Pension helps. Least I got me a disability coming in every month." 

Tony eased himself into a paisley loveliest. He removed the package and set it down on a coffee table that had seen too many cigarette burn marks on its edges. "Didn't have much of a choice the way you and dad were carrying on." 

Deep black eyes studied him a moment. "You're not to blame." Her eyes fell on the gaily wrapped package. "A gift?" 

"Yea." He watched her ponderous arms reach out and remove the wrapping carelessly.  "Chocolate! My favorite!" She squealed as she reached for a conveniently placed penknife on the magazine stand.  

"Groundskeeper Joey doing any household duties'  round here?” 

"Like everyone else, he wants to get paid. I get a few kids to do some work, but they got concerned parents. Worried I might have them for stewing beef.”   

“The house is in need of repair.” 

“I'm too old to care,” she replied studying the chocolate chart. 

“Half the neighborhood don't seem to much care, either.”  

“George used to worked in automotive Then they moved out. Guess they got wind of his drinking and decided to get as far away from him as possible.” She cackled at that remark.  

“Prosperity,” Tony nodded.  

“Now that I'm old, the city don't care squat for me, just like your old man.”  

“Would have been best you never married the old codger.” 

She eyed him carefully. “Sure everything would have been better without him! But then I wouldn't have had you. Leastways you're still young. Find yourself a girl and live sensibly without dealin' dope.”  

Her smile was crooked. “I understand. It's a crap shook. You think you know 'em, then you find they're the biggest motherfucker on the planet.” She leaned over the box and selected an orange cream. “Take you years to find the right one. By that time they're married to some other sucker.”  

“I'm in no hurry.” 

She chewed the confection thoughtfully. "Sorry. Should mind my manners. Would you like a cup of tea?"   

"No thanks, ma,” he said.  

The pause was a long one. `You don`t look none too healthy,” Tony broke the silence.  

"Arthritis in the knees, the hips. Walking's difficult. Mostly stay home and watch the tube. I'd enjoy more visits. but the JWs aren't much for socializing. Still,' she shrugged, “I get desperate for conversation, so I argue with them. After two meetings with me, they never came back." 

A milk chocolate praline disappeared. "Want to stay the night, son?" 

Tony shrugged. "Sure. Why not!" 

"First time ever," she said.  

"Still paying off the mortgage?" 

“Thought I'd never see the day I'd be free of it. I got some help from the community. Collected enough for the final three payments.” 

“ I figured you still owed. Was planing on helping you,” Tony nodded.   

"Nice of you. Thirty years was tough on me. The old dog was busy paying off his debt to the bottle High taxes and plenty unemployment. Should have thought of dealin' dope myself.” 

Tony smiled. "Cutthroat bushiness." 

“Would have helped me leave the old bastard. Now I'm too old to care."  

Tony stroked his chin. Guess I'll fix tea after all.” 

Susie made a move to rise. “Stay put, ma. I can do the job.”  He picked up the Dutch china teapot and strode to the kitchen. 

The kitchen was a shambles, as he expected. Only a single empty spot on the cluttered kitchen table lay bare Dishes lay piled up in the sink.  He set water to a boil and popped in two lemon teabags into the teapot.  

"Great favor, son. Arthritis bugging me all day.” She replied, her mouth chewing on a candy. He poured the tea for her. He detected the scent of mint. 

"Find yourself a good job, Tony. You can't go on like this, You'll get hard  You won't give a fuck.” 

“I don't give a fuck now, mom. In my kind of business, I'm a dead man if I did.” 

“Heard the Jazz got into a lot of trouble with the law. Now there's just two of them and doing hard time.” 

“I went solo before they got caught,” Tony replied. “I watch my back. Never in the same place twice. That's how a guy can get whacked.” 

“A good job and decent pay. That's for you, Tony. You're a smart boy That kind of life's not for you.” 

“Not as easy as you think.” He took a sip of his tea. “Once you're in that life, you're hooked. You haven't got a chance to get out.” 

She leaned back in the recliner with a contemplative look. “We're both trapped, Tony. The trouble with me was that I was so trusting. Kept making excuses. My fault, so I took his abuse.” She shook her head. “Maybe I believed my vows...death do you part, that crap.” 

“Just a trap. You get into a situation and you get burned. Like you say. You don't know what you're getting into until it's too late. But you think chocolates make you better?” 

“A vice. Everyone needs one. First it was coke and LSD.” She picked out a butterscotch cream. "I can't remember how old you are anymore.”  

"Thirty two.” 

“Thanks.” She shook her ponderous head. “Can't remember a lot of things anymore.” A dribble of chocolate course from the side of her mouth.  She wiped it off her sleeve and selected a peanut butter cup.  "Get tired so quick.”  

“How long's its been since George wen under?” 

"Lost count. Six years, I think.” She smirked taking a strawberry cream.  

“Gods, ma! Wish you wouldn't eat so much chocolate.”  That sugar's gonna kill you.” 

She shrugged. "Does it matter? Fucking deal!" she slurred her words. "I'm diabetic. Gettin' harder just to breathe. Chocolate does something for me. I can forget.”  

"You've given up. Dad's gone. Start a new life.” 

“With your help?” She mocked. Her body shook with emotion "Don't blame you, son. You're right. We're both cursed. What's the real reason you come here for, Tony? Hell, I can read your face. I can feel what the poison's doing to me.” 

“Ma!” Tony gasped.  

“You think I don't know?” She shifted her body to find a comfortable position. “You did the right thing, Tony. End my suffering with chocolate. I can taste it on my tongue. George tried to do the same thing once, but I caught on to his game. Only he tried to spike up the LSD. I crashed. Ended in the hospital with my stomach pumped out. Your old man denied any involvement. I know the taste of poison, son and it's there in these chocolates.” 

“I'm sorry, ma! I didn't know.” 

“Lot's of things you didn't know, son.” Her words came slow, slurred. “I'm just as guilty. I tried to have him killed.”  

Tony found no words. The revelation struck him hard.  

"I know," she said, a fat arm waving in front of her rheumy eyes. "It's the right thing, Tony. See? I done blame you. Go your way. Live your life. We're all heartless killers.” Her body sank gently back into the cushions of the Lazy Boy. Her body spasmed.  

He hated the realization as it dawned. The implication hit him hard. He looked. Susie's eyes were vacant. She merely stared back at him.  

"I'm sorry! What have I done?” He cupped his face in his hands and cried.  There was no redemption. The tables had turned.  

A long hour has passed and still he could not console with his guilt. He had killed for the sake of the Jazz. Now he felt drained of resolve.   

Susie loved soft centers. Nut clusters were not her favorite. He didn't like them much either. But now he felt the need to work his jaw.  

The lifeless body seemed to approve as he reached for the nut cluster that occupied dead center of the box. He forced it into his mouth and began to chew it aggressively.  

“Go your way. Live your life,” she said.  

But how could he now? He leaned back against the armrest of the loveliest. He chewed, his tongue searching for the acid he knew was there. Eventually he broke the little capsule and crushed it. The liquid coursed down his throat, burned as it made its way down.  

Despite the sorrow he felt a strange sense of elation.  

He was home, where he belonged.  



Submitted: February 04, 2019

© Copyright 2022 Mario. All rights reserved.

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