Short story by Michael Botur
Frankie kneels, adjusting her creaking body to support her huge pillowy tummy, and talks to her garden. Her cherry tomatoes tell her where they need trimming, watering. She can’t dig or twist the nozzle of a hose, but Frankie can push thin bamboo stakes into the ground to hold her tomatoes up. The arthritis hasn’t taken that from her.
‘Least I’ve got the weight to push a little harder these days,’ she says to her garden, resting her belly on the lip of the planter box. Her neighbours all talk to themselves, so why can’t she? There are two mental health outpatients to the left in council flat number one, two to the right in council flat three. Meat and Romeo on the right, the older ones, and Gareth and Ivan on the left, the youngsters. She saw each of these men in Sunnyside Hospital at some point when she worked there as a nurse. The men have had mental distress for years, partly organic mental illness and partly fried brain lobes from sucking pipes packed with oven cleaner or whatever it is the youngsters are partying on these days. She always wanted to sit a police officer down and tell them their ban on cannabis pushed people to depend on that manufactured synthetic ganja mumbo jumbo. Ho hum. She’s lived 60 years, seen every drug craze, seen the cops reverse into Sunnyside in a beeping truck and dump clients like landfill. They shift human refuse around the city but never clean it up.
She listens to her fingers and wrists to see if the pain is worsening today or just stable. There hasn’t been a decline in pain for two years. Worse and Not Worse are the only levels of pain she feels, never Better. Even walking across the parking lot to buy the tomato stakes was hard. Her daughter Leanne screamed with outrage the one time Frankie parked in a convenient yellow disabled spot. Her tiny granddaughter Ocean put her face between her knees to cover her ears while Mummy yelled at Granny Frankie. The health department said Frankie’s form of arthritis is not a disability, Leanne reminded her. She isn’t entitled to a mobility parking permit, nor an invalid’s benefit. Frankie has five years to go until she’s 65 and can claim a pension. She doubts she’ll last.
Frankie gets off the steps, clenching her teeth, sweating and wincing as her femurs grind against the sockets of her hips. She promises herself she’ll get ready to go to bed soon as she’s gathered a few tomatoes. It’s only 3.30 in the afternoon, so bright out here, but sleep is the only escape from the torturous iron maiden her body has become. She really ought to flip her mattress again. She wants to ask the men next door to flip the thing for her, but they seem unpredictable. Meat has a rat’s tail. Romeo shaves his skull. Best not disturb people like that unless you have to. Then again: look how many cherry tomatoes she has, and lettuces, and cucumbers. Leanne will pay $28 a kilogram for this stuff at the grower’s market but she won’t touch her own mother’s produce. Same with that husband of hers, Mr Perfect with his hard black judgemental eyes and uniform of dark skin. Finally she decides the ruffians in the flats beside her could use some Vitamin C to help their serotonin levels. Just something she used to tell her boys at Sunnyside when she’d bring them their meals. She plucks 30 tomatoes, plops them in an ice-cream container, walks through to Meat and Romeo’s flat. He came inside her house one time when her new couch collapsed under her and she couldn’t get up. He diagnosed the damn thing as being made of particleboard, explained that the only reason the door-to-door shysters were selling a $199 couch was because it was made of compressed sawdust. No wonder it had collapsed. He and Romeo had carried it outside, strong and organised as soldiers, glad to have a task to define their day, and told her to wait a couple hours. They returned with a new couch. Frankie reckoned it would take about 1000 loads of cherry tomatoes to finish saying thanks.
‘Suuup, Granny Frank.’ Meat appears on his porch in cut-off denim shorts and no shirt, rolling a smoke, scratching a Looney Tunes tattoo near his armpit. ‘Want some shoes? What’s in the container? Hokey pokey?’ Meat trudges down the steps in bare feet, steps over a pile of wet shoe boxes rotted with rain and pops a tomato in his mouth and says, ‘Choiiiice.’
Meat lights his smoke and cups a hand over his mouth to direct the smoke away from Frankie, more politely than she imagined he was capable of. ‘I love me some tomatoes.’
‘Just needed to get rid of ’em. So…’ Granny half-turns away. They’ve swapped about three words and already she’s frightened. ‘What are you doing with yourself today?’
Meat kicks a shoebox across the lawn. ‘Hustling, maybe. Oi, Granny: you look like shit. What’s actually up with you? Is it your arfritis again?’
‘Oh, don’t worry about me. I’ll survive.’
‘Bullshit. You look about halfway dead. Hold up, I got some meds’ll sort you out.’ Meat goes back inside his flat. The movement of his body stirs a ghost of blue smoke that hovers in his lounge. Granny moves too slowly to scamper away. He comes back out onto the steps with a glass object and a lighter. He lights a small metal cone on the glass thing, some sort of pipe, nudges it into her mouth. ‘Jus’ a little medicine.’
He’ll probably hurt her if she doesn’t oblige. She politely inhales and waits for the crusty, burning marijuana cough she remembers from when she was 14, at that concert with all the flower children.
Meat raises his eyebrows in expectation.
‘Thank you, kind sir,’ she says, giving a nervous laugh. She shouldn’t have said that. He might think she’s mocking him.
‘I got a spare pipe,’ Meat says, pushing a small, heavy object into her hand plus a cigarette lighter. ‘Have this to keep.’
‘Well, see ya,’ Frankie says. She hauls her blubber up the handrail, makes it inside her own place, locks the door behind her and plops down on her new couch with actual real wood and structural support. She picks up a TV remote control which seems made of liquid, puts on Dragon’s Den. She’s never stopped to think about how brilliant the concept of the show is. She’s hypnotised for 10 minutes before she realises she’s thirsty. She rolls off the couch, lumbers across the room to the fridge, pulls out a bottle of ginger beer – no, screw it: one of the real beers that she bought for Leanne’s ungrateful husband who told her he wasn’t allowed to break his training regimen by drinking beverages that aren’t low carb. You need to consider these things, he instructed her.
Doofus. Prick. A bugger, that man, Frankie mutters to herself, smirking. The naughty unspeakable words are like a hot bubble bath, a once-a-month thing. She sips the warm, spicy beer, enjoys the adverts, enjoys the next show, Midsomer Murders, and finds herself fantasising about Senior Constable George Weerasinghe being murdered on the moors of Britain. She tries not to think of him as her daughter’s husband. He’s just an arrogant cop. She has to cross herself. It’s a sinful thought, shocking. Why is she thrilled by thoughts of revenge against the man? Why did her beer open without her rubber opener glove?
Frankie has to open up a dusty trunk full of ancient vocabulary before she finds the word for what’s going on: She’s stoned. Frankie is ess tee oh en E dee stoned on weeed. Frankie is baked. She thinks of steam rising out of BAKED bread in an oven of GLOWING SPARKS. Frankie is the steam. She sucks a dribble of tangy beer from her chin and thinks about Meat’s Magical Medicine and about the $2500 overdraft she’s always wanted to spend. But how much does she owe him for the pipe and the lighter? And how much would a dump truck full of Meat’s Magical Medicine actually cost – and can they fit a dump truck in here?
Leanne is banging on the door, jiggling the handle. Frankie sits up with a plate of salad dressing on her belly, startled. She must have had the deepest sleep in her life. It’s a new day, apparently. What’s all the banging about? Oh, yes – today Frankie has to look after her daughter’s daughter while Leanne goes to another Big Meeting.
Granny Frankie opens her door, lets Ocean fall inside and squeeze Granny’s fat legs in a hug. Ocean is all pigtails and white teeth and pink gumboots. Her little gorgeous granddaughter is three years and eight months and 12 days (Granny keeps count.) Granny Frankie puts the back of her hand against her lips and whispers in Ocean’s ear, ‘Steps are hard for me too, honeybunch.’
Frankie hauls the girl up and cuddles her on the couch.
‘Why is she so clingy on you?’ Leanne asks, holding a mirror in front of her face and repairing her makeup. ‘And are you aware there’s a mountain of shoes in the bushes beside your flat? What do you do, play quoits with friggin shoes or something? Jesus Christ, mum.’
‘Mostly we play with my aids,’ Frankie says softly. ‘She loves my key turners, and my lamp adapter where you just have to touch the lamp to make it come on. $200 wasted if you ask me but Ocean seems to like it.’
‘Good luck with that,’ Leanne says, ‘Oh, and don’t let these creeps near my daughter, by the way. The ones next door.’ She turns, walks out and slams her mum’s door.
Granny Frankie bends over, rests her weight on her knees more easily than usual, and winks. ‘Let’s party.’
They make cupcakes, build a tower out of books, pour water from one Tupperware container into the next. Finally Granny Frank lies on her back and Ocean tries to balance on her belly and for a brief three minutes out of the month, Granny Frank is grateful she has a barrel for a body. Eventually Granny Frankie has to get up and pee. It’s hard and she feels burning in her joints as she hauls herself up. Is there broken glass inside her socks?
By the time she makes it to the toilet, Frankie is desperate for a little bit more miracle smoke. She lights the pipe her neighbour gave her, exhales gently and flicks on the extractor fan. She coughs once but the droning noise of the fan buries the sound. When she realises she’s been studying a painting on the toilet wall for 10 minutes without having flushed, she comes out, carries Ocean over to Meat’s flat and hands him another lot of cherry tomatoes with a rolled up $50 note stuck in the middle like a birthday candle. He gives her back a purple packet with a cartoon alien on it, plus change, too much change, really.
Meat guides Granny and the little girl back to the flat, stands respectfully in the doorway, tapping a bare foot impatiently. The Clozapine usually glues his limbs to his body and stops him moving much, except Meat has traded his Clozapine for a kilo of Comet Dust this month. He starts telling her this and as he’s talking, he fidgets less. The street prices are all over the show, Meat says. Best to import it directly so you play the market instead of the market playing you.
Granny checks out the little packet Meat has sold her. It’s called Comet Dust. Inside the packet is a tiny M&M-sized cake of compressed powder.
Granny Frank scribbles in her bank book and hands Meat a cheque for $10.
‘What the heavens is this?’ he says.
‘A cheque for… some more? Next week? I thought perhaps paying in advance would… Oh.’
He whistles and laughs. ‘Miss, I haven’t touched a cheque in… fuck knows. Can I tell you a couple things?’ Meat finds a seat on Granny Frank’s two-seater couch. Granny pulls her little girl close and safe. Ocean eyeballs the strange man. ‘Buying it all before the price goes up is actually not a bad idea. They’re tryna eradicate it, the cops are. Buy 10 for the year now and you’ll be sorted.’
‘I… already spent $10? I don’t understand.’
‘Ten large. Ten thousand, miss.’ Meat smooths his shorts and adjusts his posture without breaking eye contact. She’s never seen the guy blink. Then he looks away, tucks his singlet into his shorts nervously. She enjoys the little courtesy. No other male in the universe treats her this nicely. Mr Perfect Police – George Weerasinghe is his name –is an impatient man who never takes a seat when he comes to pick up his daughter. George and Leanne have flat stomachs and go on charity runs wearing D.A.R.E. t-shirts. They don’t drink spirits, don’t pig out on Christmas day. They don’t like to lose control. George even shaves his head so baldness can’t sneak up on him. They will live forever, especially with Granny Frank to offload their daughter on when she gets in the way of their careers and –
‘Miss, ya listening?’ Meat rubs her shoulder. ‘Wakey wakey, Granny.’
‘She’s smoked,’ Romeo chuckles, appearing behind Meat in the faded school uniform he’s worn every day for a decade. He and Meat wear identical white sneakers. Frankie feels a pang of worry. There’s something about those sneakers, some sort of gangster, crime-y thuggish thing. Are they disappointed enough to murder her? She pulls Ocean against her, looks around for the phone.
‘Miss – this here’s important, and I’m not trying to, y’know… axe-ploit ya.’
‘I’m listening intently,’ Frankie says, pushing her specs up her nose with a fingertip. Frankie pushes her cellphone into Ocean’s hands. ‘Play your games, honeybunch. The grown-ups are talking.’
‘Won’t take long,’ Romeo says.
Meat’s palms slap his knees. ‘Here’s what’s up: I usually pay five bucks a pack to import; the shit retails –
‘ –sorry, the stuff retails for 20 a pack, ordinarily. The price point is two packets for 30 bucks. That’s where the market is, miss. Ten and twenty notes is all anyone deals in. My problem is I can’t get the capital to import more than about a hundy at a time. Just need more capital’s the thing, miss.’
Granny checks to be sure Ocean is ignoring them. Ocean is grinning as she plays a ten-pin-bowling video game on her phone. ‘So… if I wanted to buy more of this malarkey…?’
‘I’d say we can move it in a week, 10 days at the outmost,’ Meat says, clapping and getting up, preparing to leave.
‘Get a cash advance on your overdraft if you got one,’ Romeo tells her. ‘Help us import. Double ya money.’
‘You’ll earn it back quick-as, we promise,’ Meat says. ‘You sort the scrilla, we’ll place the order today.’ He winks at Ocean. ‘Ain’t that right, precious? Nana’s about to get rich.’
‘This is all so…’ Granny takes her palms off Ocean’s ears, reaches for the remote control, feels a brick pulverise her finger bones. Arthritis is worse than any pain these druggies could ever do to her. She uses her reach extender to grab her chequebook. Feeling bliss for the rest of the year? That’s worth paying for, and if it doesn’t work out, Granny Frank can leave any debt behind as a parting gift to Leanne.
Frankie writes the men a cheque and guides them to the door.
It’s 20 days before Meat and Romeo return. She’s still got some roast chicken in the fridge, it’s only a day old, it’ll just be 30 minutes before it’s ready, she tells the boys, and she can whip up a fresh salad no trouble.
They say they don’t have time. Too much business. Meat plonks on her top step a shoebox with a pair of white sneakers in it. One of the sneakers is crammed with hundreds of tiny purple packets covered in Chinese writing. The only words she recognises reads Comet Dust.
Frankie doesn’t need to go anywhere when she’s stoned. She can travel within her head. She lies on her back and watches TV, eating whatever’s perched on her tummy, not feeling burstingly happy, just feeling something the lost boys next door would call ‘chilled.’ Content. Unruffled. Frankie sees these reports on the six o’clock news about larger and larger amounts of marijuana you can buy in certain states, whole jars crammed with buds. ‘IT’S ABOUT TIME!’ she squawks, and throws a cushion at the screen. She wishes progress were taking place here, but no. Senior Constable George Weerasinghe and his goons keep making bust after bust, driving the price of the harmless herb up and up, leaving the addicts to feel the pinch. No wonder people depend on Comet Dust to smooth the sharp edges of reality. If it makes teenagers go crazy and put babies in microwaves, well, that’s the fault of mean-spirited policemen, isn’t it now. Gosh darn killjoys. She throws her cushion at the screen and goes and fetches another refreshing lite beer. It’s so easy to get up off the couch these days she wants to sing. She puts on lipstick. She smiles at the Frankie in the mirror.
Moving fluidly, feeling muscular, Frankie scrapes the scum out of the u-pipe beneath her kitchen sink, fixes those broken curtain hooks, massages baking soda into a stain on the couch, bakes three pies, clears all of her emails, and cleans the lint trap on her washing machine. Then she stands on her porch and hollers.
‘MEAT. C’mere. Granny wants you.’
She takes a while to sit in the right position and prepare the right words. She tinkers with the pie on its plate and positions the knife and fork until they look dignified. Romeo is lost without Meat. He trails in, sits inches from his mate.
‘Is this a business meeting or…? We don’t really got time to eat, Granny.’
‘If you can’t make time to eat, then I can’t make room for you to store the merchandise here.’ Granny’s smile spreads like spilled water.
‘People’s safer comin to your place than mine, c-cops ain’t gonna search your p-pad,’ Meat sputters.
‘Boys: stay and eat. You need a decent feed.’
‘Jeez, mama.’ The men look at each other, scratch the backs of their necks. She tells them there shall be no discussion of business until they’ve got something nutritious in them. After they’ve wiped their lips on their napkins, Granny’s boys must sit silently and politely at her table until the kettle has boiled and the water has been poured on the teabags.
Finally tea is served and the boys cram sticky apple pie into their mouths, suck their fingers and say ‘Mmm.’
‘This is better than coke,’ Romeo says.
‘Better than ecstasy,’ Meat agrees. ‘We oughta get a little distribution – no. Never mind that shit. Granny, seriously: we need to send a few texts off your phone. You’re not being monitored. You’re sweet.’
‘I see. We’re ready to – what was the term you used?’
‘Retail. Not from my door though. You got no idea how many watch lists I’m on.’
‘Granny’s pad open for business,’ Romeo adds. ‘That cool?’
Granny takes a toke from the $300 vaporiser she depends on these days. It’s smooth and odourless and the elegant mouthpiece makes her feel like a Parisian model. She exhales towards them. ‘Rinse your plates, boys.’
A male with black hair and stubble, wearing a black Iron Maiden shirt and black jandals, comes to the door. He asks if he can borrow 10 cents to use a payphone. Frankie says no, sorry, she saves all her coins for parking meters, and when she closes the door on him and almost waddles away, she sees through the cloudy glass a dark spectre fiddling with its cellphone, texting frantically. Frankie slides the chain across the door and makes it to the safety of her bedroom before she remembers Meat said Ten Cents is code for 10 packets. He gave her a whole morning of training. She scampers back to the door, puffing, blubber shaking, expecting the spectre to have departed, or at least to be drawing a shotgun in anger, but the spectre is simply standing on her bottom step. He looks more grateful than ever when she hands him 10 packets of Comet Dust, tied together with a pink bow which dangles from her forefinger. She hopes to neatly bundle and bow 90 packets by the end of the evening. It’s been years since she was able to tie a bow without her finger bones feeling broken.
Meat told her to expect code words, expect funny-looking characters, but he didn’t tell her to expect people to sit on her top step, throw her beautiful hand-tied ribbons into her petunias, open not one but three packets of Comet Dust, press the three heavy doses into a brass cone and suck as if they’ve been rescued from drowning.
She doesn’t expect schoolgirls with tight white shirts and neckties and ponytails and no piercings, nor does she expect four Arab-ish-Indian-ish men who ask, in heavy accents, to borrow One Hundred Cents for the payphone. She doesn’t like multiple people coming to her door at once. She doesn’t like picking up their rubbish. She doesn’t undo the safety chain.
Frankie does not expect the male in the black garb to come back after three hours with shaking hands and purple eyes. She does not expect him to buy most of what she has left, and to pay her with 115 $20 notes. She does not expect to dread counting money on a dinner tray in front of the TV for hours each evening. Frankie doesn’t expect to hear Meat bellowing the word RESPEEEECT and glass shattering. She doesn’t expect to feel a little bit of warmth from all the visitors, all the vehicles outside, doesn’t expect flashbacks from her days keeping sick people comforted. She does not expect her heart to glow when shivering strangers look her in the eyes with sincere appreciation.
‘Sorry ’bout that,’ Meat says as he returns from smashing the windscreen of a skinny Swiss fitness instructor he’s convinced is a nark. Meat uses the shoulder of his hoodie to dab the bloody scratches on his cheek and eye. ‘Some customers is not worth the trouble, eh. It’s the hunger, y’know? The thirst. People’s starving out there.’
‘And I’m, what, Mother Teresa? My bones hurt, boys. I need medicine.’
Her boys pour green tea into her bong to soften the smoke, just the way she likes it, and they help Frankie sit up on the couch.
A Frankenstein film has come on TV, the one with that nice bearded British man and that Taxi Driver rascal in it. They all smoke Comet Dust without a word while the film plays, passing granny’s bong wordlessly. Meat nods along as the film develops. He seems inspired. ‘These two brainless jokers, Granny? They’ve destroyed their brains, they have. Pair of Frankensteins.’
‘Fuck up,’ Ivan mutters, packing his pipe and sucking on it, then flipping through the pages of Granny’s calendar of Scottish scenery, so hunched that his nose presses against the paper.
‘We’re all Frankenstein, the lot of us,’ says the tired woman with cash under her dress. ‘Some days I’m halfway sure my body was cobbled together from broken bits. My brain’s the only bit of me that works.’
Her boys sit on the mat, arms and legs folded like kindergarten children. When the movie ends, Frankie pushes hard against the couch trying to get up; her fat sloshing, she lumbers toward the breakfast bar to rest her weight while the kettle boils.
‘My daughter, she doesn’t love me, I don’t think. Her husband certainly doesn’t.’
‘Is that that copper that comes round here?’
‘Senior Constable Weerasinghe, that’s him. Hmph.’ She’s silent for minutes. She pours boiling water on five tea bags. They know they have to wait around while the tea brews, then sip their drinks properly, pinky fingers up.
Romeo says ‘Hang on – WeeraSINGa? Weerasingie? I seen that cunt on the news. He fuckin put me in the cells, one time. He’s parta the task force that made it a Class A drug so you can’t import it any more. They said retailers’ve gotta surrender their stash up at the cop shop. Just last Wednesday they said that shit.’
‘Meaning demand’s about to go sky-high.’
Ocean’s mum and dad work on her fourth birthday, but it’s okay. Granny’s glad to have her. An anonymous donor sends a mobile petting zoo to Granny’s flat. The mobile zoo is in the back of a truck packed with expensive helium balloons. Ocean is so excited she can barely compose her words. Granny’s boys sing her Happy Birthday like a barbershop quartet, with Ivan and Gareth on their knees in front. A grinning little girl makes everyone feel warmer than any cone of weed. Granny trusts her boys to play leapfrog with Ocean for an hour.
Leanne marches in at pick-up time and says ‘Where’s her bag at?’ and grabs the bag and bottle and blanket. Frankie guards the couch, worried there are stray $20 notes visible, worried there are scales or powder residue or that the place stinks of smoke. Leanne doesn’t say thanks for the babysitting. She doesn’t take Ocean’s used nappy bag either.
I know people who would break your neck for disrespecting, Frankie thinks as she blows a Special Granny Kiss toward her granddaughter.
Frankie files the disrespect in a special drawer she’ll only open if forced to. Frankie would never kill her granddaughter’s mama. The cop, though? Perhaps. When she hears reports on the radio that an armed man thought to be under the influence of synthetic cannabis has been shooting at police, Frankie laughs, Serves ’em right for hassling people just trying to enjoy a wee smoke. Frankie feels dirty and prays a quick apology to God, but she doesn’t take back the wish that Perfect George would experience something imperfect in his life. Frankie used to march against apartheid, and cops were awful to her then and they remain awful. Frankie remembers two police marching into Sunnyside while she was spoon-feeding Stanley in his wheelchair. They had a warrant for his arrest. They pushed Frankie’s shoulders against a wall and wheeled Stanley away.
Now that her girl’s not with her and she’s had a smoke, Frankie’s thoughts get dark. Revenge movies come on TV. Frankie can’t help but be inspired.
The boys pile inside Granny’s hatchback car and drive 30 minutes past cows and siloes and huge hedges before they turn down an unsealed road, deep inside a quarry, and reveal the container beside a hurricane-fenced yard full of diggers.
The men stand on the top of a mountain of gravel, check the horizon to ensure they’re not being watched then go inside the container and shut the door. They emerge 20 minutes later, carrying just two shoeboxes each. The shoeboxes are packed with Comet Dust. The rest of the thousand or so boxes stacked inside the container contain only sneakers.
The first cheque Granny invested has bloomed into $23,000 which in turn has bought $33,000 worth of Comet Dust, which they have sold for $60,000, which has paid for 44,000 tiny purple one-gram packets of Comet Dust. They make about $18 pure profit for every $30 two-for-one combo they sell. The packets fill Granny’s new double-door fridge and freezer. She keeps her ginger beer and salads in a minibar instead.
Customers don’t have a clue where the wholesale stash is stored. All they know is Flat Number Two, Silk Tree Apartments is the place to buy your stuff retail. Any people who linger longer than they should are told to move 500 metres away before they catch a crowbar upside the head. Half a kilometre down the road, trucks and vans and boy racer cars cluster. A lot of people buy some smoke, wait a couple hours sitting stoned in the driver seat watching videos on their phones then buy some more. Police slow down and turn their heads when they pass the clustered vehicles. They’re positive there’s a dealer around here somewhere.
Some customers have ankle-monitoring bracelets and cannot leave their house, so Ivan and Gareth courier packages across town, a minimum 100 at a time, with a $200 courier fee. Some customers take the elevator down from the twentieth floor of a skyscraper penthouse and quickly shake hands with the couriers then scurry back inside the elevator, glancing over their shoulders.
It’s the customers Granny thinks are most kind who can be the most rude. The pleasant Arab-or-Indian men get upset that they’re not allowed to buy wholesale and threaten to open their own operation. They leave Granny’s place politely then later in the day send Meat text messages saying they are coming over with Bandidos bikers, announcing their intention to take a large amount of merchandise without paying. Ivan and Gareth borrow Granny’s little hatchback car, promise not to scratch it, and pack the car with granny’s gardening tools and drive to the homes of the impolite customers and talk to them directly. They wash the blood off the tools and dry them before they put them back in granny’s garden shed. These little clean-ups are just part of running a small business. It’s no different to cleaning the meatloaf pan or getting baked-on cheese out of the oven. Granny is happy to outsource the messy bits. The boys bring cellphone photos of men with burst eyeballs or collapsed knees, so excited their mouths foam, but Granny doesn’t want to see that icky stuff. Granny shows them how cold water can get the blood off their shoes without affecting the fabric. She shows them the quickest ways to peel garlic or chop boiled eggs for the potato salad. Granny promises her boys she’ll get some goodness into them, by golly.
Senior Constable George Weerasinghe is trying to drop Ocean at Granny’s before he works a shift but he’s mad about his parking spot, crowded by dusty trucks and haggard-looking drivers. Customers ignoring the 500 metre rule have boxed in the un-uniformed George Weerasinghe, in Reebok shirt and tight, fashionable jeans, and he’s going to deal with the person responsible.
‘SOMEONE WANT TO TELL ME WHY ALL THESE CARS ARE HERE?’ he says in a loud, crisp voice which carries well. No one can accuse him of shouting. ‘YOU, THERE, WITH THE TATTOOS – YOU WANNA ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO MOVE? FRANCINE: THERE A SWAP MEET GOING ON THAT I SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?’
Granny’s boys are hiding behind curtains and bushes, watching Granny Frankie, waiting for orders. Meat looks like he’s taken one of the good hardwood stakes which is why her rosemary bush isn’t upright.
Senior Constable Weerasinghe stares down six customers one at a time and he walks up to granny’s front door, carrying his daughter. ‘Someone’s growing herbs in one of these flats,’ he growls. ‘You’ll wanna find another place to reside pretty quick-smart. No place for my daughter.’
‘Well, herbs are what I’m all about, ha ha,’ Frankie laughs. ‘I have a modest business selling echinacea, sandalwood and valerian. I thought Leanne had told you?’
‘Think you’re Walter White or something?’ Senior Constable George Weerasinghe says, shoving Ocean into her grandmother’s arms. ‘You’re not even Walter Mitty. You couldn’t run an operation if you tried. Leanne’ll pick her up. I have to go – we got that, what’s it called, that Comic Dust. Traced the exporter all the way back to Tianjin province. Customs busted his arse.’ He thumps his chest. ‘No more of that crap on my streets.’
Ocean squeezes her Granny, sensing something. ‘Some people find these things medicinal,’ Granny begins, and swallows hard. ‘So I’ve read.’
He turns on her doorstep, looks around, spots Meat hiding in the bushes, sucks in a breath and grits his teeth like Robocop. ‘Do me a favour: tell your druggie neighbours to MOVE OUT OF MY WAY.’
‘Ocean doesn’t like it when you yell,’ Frankie whispers, cradling the tiny girl’s head as her angry daddy struts away.
Frankie is able to play hide-and-seek today for the first time in years, running – actually running – on supple knees! Granny pretends she’s a big gruff bear and chases the squealing, scampering Ocean. The tiny giggling girl hides in a difficult spot behind the couch and when Frankie reaches in to grab her, her elbow drops away, smashing on her knee. She is made of glass. Her medicine melted the glass for a few months, now it’s hard and brittle again. She will never be active unless she puts aside a supply of –
‘BOYS. GET IN HERE.’
Granny’s boys come running and assemble on the mat.
‘What happens when this shipment’s all sold?’
‘We get another shipment. If you’re up for the risk. Otherwise, you cook your own. Stakes are pretty high right now, though.’
‘Cook us up some chicken,’ Ivan mutters, chuckling dementedly, ‘Crunchy crispy.’
Granny exhales, wipes her brow, pulls little Ocean into her arms and rocks her. ‘My boys. Tell me: do the stakes have to be high?’
Meat guides her onto the couch, positions the SpineMaster cushion behind her back. ‘It’s not as if we need to advertise to get the customers comin. Take the cops outta the equation and that’s all our problems gone in one. Vfft. Outta here. Gone.’
The caller with the muffled phony old ladyish voice tells Senior Constable Weerasinghe the only place she will meet him is at the quarry 40 kays north of the zoo, just west of that urea plant, but not as far as the army base. There’s a gravel pit with a shipping container beside it. That’s the spot. Weerasinghe is most definitely interested in obtaining the last few packets of Comet Dust on the planet, he tells the caller. Where you getting your intel? What’d you say your name was again? Hello? I SUGGEST YOU RESPOND.
Meat and Romes and Ivan and Gareth had a brief conversation in the car on the way here, then fell silent. They know the operation will end as soon as the cops swoop on them. They’ve tried to get Granny to go legit, to import white Chinese sneakers and actually sell them as sneakers, but doing that won’t keep Granny warm with anger. Granny’s discovered the strongest drug of all: revenge.
Granny sits in the passenger seat while her boys get into position. She told Robocop she’d be in a silver Audi hatchback, an old lady’s car, she said with a laugh, and that’s all she told him. He won’t be expecting a car that’s had its licence plate taken off. He won’t expect a person to rise out of the gravel mound with a sawn-off shotgun. He won’t expect to be frozen with fear, useless behind his driver wheel, fumbling his door handle. He won’t expect Gareth to approach in a front-end loader. He won’t expect Gareth to drive the huge rumbling vehicle expertly. He won’t expect his unmarked police car to have its roof cave in under three tonnes of tiny stones while he holds his pepper spray in a melting, crippled futile wrist, terrified, and watch the windscreen burst and fill with an ocean of stones. He won’t expect it to be five years before his buried car is found.
He’ll never expect Granny to return home while Leanne is going frantic. Leanne’ll want someone to watch little Ocean while police mount a search and rescue operation. Has he disappeared while tramping? Has he gone on a 200km cycle ride without telling anyone? Leanne’s fretting too much to ask why Granny’s dinner table is full of men in singlets clutching their cutlery while Granny cuts up a steaming roast chicken with a knife with a huge red rubber handle for people with bad joints. She doesn’t give a shit why Granny’s happy to take Ocean for the whole week, and the next, perhaps, if Ocean’s dad doesn’t show up. Leanne won’t ask how Granny and her weird neighbours knew to make a bed up and to set a place for their special girl with scraggly hair and precisely 18 freckles, each freckle deserving of its own Special Granny Kiss.