The Old Lady Screamedby
L. Lynn Young
Look, I’m not sorry it happened. I mean, why regret something that was beyond my control? I’m not God. I’m not some superhuman being who can reverse events with one blink of my overtly rendered, racially questionable eyes. It was just something that happened. Christ, wasn’t like I planned it, you know? I’m not a mean person. I like things that nice people like, things that are soft, things that have cute velvety noses, oblong things that are colorful, things made of cheese. I like that stuff, all of it and more. How about slippers? Slippers are good. And brown M&Ms, those are good, too. Well, not good exactly, but I’m the sort of person who will eat the remaining brown ones without complaining, which, I believe, makes me a nice person. And I swear to God, every time I see Regis Philbin’s impish face, I get all gooey inside. I don’t watch his show, but still.
See? Nice things, all. I highly doubt a mean and antagonistic person would like Michael Landon—I like Michael Landon, watched “Little House” faithfully, even followed him on to his other show, you know, that angel one, that one with Mister Edwards as his sidekick. Weird though it was to see Mister Edwards as his sidekick. Mister Edwards should’ve stayed on the prairie because it was kind of confusing—nay, creepy—to see him portrayed as a modern, belt-wearing curmudgeon as opposed to an olden-times curmudgeon. Mister Edwards should always wear suspenders. I cried a little when Michael died. But, anyway. I’m not going to feel guilty about what happened with the old lady, or ashamed, remorseful, shillymangered.
Well, look at that, would you?—I’m so not sorry that I made up a word to express how not sorry I am.
Oh, but she haunts me still, regardless. I’m willing to bet that if the old woman’s still alive, I haunt her as well.
Ever think back to the days of yore, even though you don’t understand the meaning of “yore”? I often do that. And honestly, when I think back to those yorey days, I admit that I sometimes blush. Like the time when I was visiting a friend after school—Mary was her name. Or Rachael. Something like that. And we were sitting at her dining room table, coloring, eating pie that tasted like dish soap, when her great-grandfather decided to make an appearance. Land sakes, he was old. Very, very old, with old shaky hands and old yellow eyes, old pants that I suspected smelled of Romano. I’m talking old here, not elderly or senior—old, man. He was the most frightening thing I’d ever seen in all my eight years on earth. He slowly walked around to my side of the table, and it was horrible, the way he walked. So slithery and dangerous with his three-pronged cane, inching his way toward me, speaking to himself in turkey-gobble spurts, saying truly heinous things like “I don’t like the roast, Ma. Ma, I don’t like the roast.”
I still shudder when I think about it.
And then, he was there, behind me, his nose whistling, his gums clacking and everything. I knew he was going to touch me, I just knew it, could feel his intent surely as I felt the sweat down my back. I sensed his wobbling fingers approaching, close, closer, closest of all. . .
That’s when I screamed. The universe stopped expanding, the air became thick, dense like pumpkin-pie filling, the Flintstone coloring book in front of me seemed to warp, move on its own accord, twisting Fred’s purple and orange face into a cruel, empathetic grimace. Shame, for shame. I screamed.
Rachael burst out laughing, of course, and it was the most violent, hideous sound ever to be uttered by a human being under the age of one hundred and seventeen. “What is wrong with you?” Mary finally managed to squeak. There were tears running down the sides of her porcine nose.
I froze. I wanted to lie and say I’d just had a flashback of when I was in ‘Nam, saw a tarantula skitter across the floor, witnessed the second coming of Christ, anything to avoid the humiliation of admitting that I was afraid of. . . old people! Rachael would not have understood. So I hurriedly went to the sink for a glass of water, something to give me time, a reason to put distance between me and her “Paw-Paw” without appearing obvious about it. And that old bastard, that old pill, why he didn’t so much as blink. Just stood there with his arm raised like a mummified Hitler, a Mengela ice sculpture, muttering the same heinous, soul-scarring things. Ma, I don’t like the roast. I don’t like the roast, Ma.
Which brings me to this: There is always a connection when it comes to past experience and present actions. We are at the mercy, forever and beyond, of first impressions, first experiences, and it’s a bitch to try and overcome them. Paw-Paw taught me that, and I feel that Paw-Paw is to blame for what happened between me and the old lady that Hallowe’en night. Indirectly, to be sure, but the traumatizing incident with that old fucker had branded itself onto my being, my essence, a sizzling, hot object of indignity that will never cool. Thus the old lady and me.
Hallowe’en night. Me with my foot-high Mohawk, neon pink, reaching to the heavens with its proud, rock-hard spikes. Me, pale-faced as the dead, black-eyed and jack-booted and so hungry for a Snickers bar. Me, jonesing for Snickers, minding my own business, ignoring the usual stares and whispers, Boy or girl? Religious freak? Gotta be one of them religious freaks, don’t you think?, purchased my nutty bar of goodness, departed the drug store, and found myself face to face with her, the old woman. She had been entering as I was pushing open the glass door, so I held the door open for her, expecting her to nod her head in thanks, perhaps smile. But no. What does the old lady do? She stood frozen in place, refusing to enter the florescent haven of CVS, that bright, wonderful place that smells of perfumes and ointments and new shiny bags filled with chips and candies and doodads and things.
“After you,” I said as politely as possible, because I am polite by nature, even though I was beginning to feel a certain...heat, a familiar and entirely unpleasant searing within my being as she stared at me in apparent shock. “Please, go ahead,” I said, and reached for her gnarly, blue hand, thinking that she might need a bit of assistance. She was old, after all. Very, very old. And that’s when she screamed. The old woman screamed as if in the midst of being tortured by Satan’s minions, screamed like a rabbit caught in a trap (cliché, but that’s how she sounded), a terrifying, otherworldly scream that lasted and lasted, her eyes, no longer rheumy, but aware, as if she’d peered into my soul and seen my shame, my Paw-Paw-induced shame, my fear, my anger and self-hatred. She saw it all, I’m convinced.
I tried to calm her, patted her hand and said, “Oh, dear. Shhhh. Oh, dear, oh, dear.” She slapped my hand away. Slapped my hand. And the sensation was not unlike that of being snapped with a net bag full of chicken bones.
So I slapped her hand back. I did. I slapped her hand as a two-year-old would, an eight year-old who’d once experienced a traumatizing event involving old people would, a “Nyah! So there!” kind of slap. Not hard, mind you, just a tap with my fingertips. She screamed again, again and again, thereby causing a crowd to form. I decided that I should leave, quickly. The old woman pointed at me, accused me, began babbling in old-speak about how I assaulted her.
Yeah, I left then, but before doing so, I made sure to look that old woman in the eye and say, “The hellfires await you, sister. Soon. . . soon you will be mine.” And I laughed the laugh of the insane, laughed in her kitchen-witch face, laughed at her wrinkled terror until I could laugh no more. I disappeared into the night, my trenchcoat flying up around my shoulders, Snickers bar clenched in my fist.
I am not sorry, not one bit. What I do feel, however, is trepidation. I am dreading the day when I look in the mirror and see myself for the first time, see the face that will be with me for the rest of my life. A face jowly, lined, withered beyond recognition. Old, very, very old. I am afraid that when that day comes, I will look at that face, that unrecognizable face, and scream.
L. Lynn Young has rolled between the sheets with Stephen King, arm-wrestled with famous rock stars, and is basically an all-around creepy person. Go buy From the Borderlands (twenty-five quanterious tales of terror and madness by twenty-four beautiful people and Whitley Strieber). Warner Books paperback, September, 2004.