Indoor Thunder + Gargoyle on the Toilet, two stories by Julienne Grey

There’s a yellow grocery bag in the branch of my grandmother’s tree, hanging above the ash that was once her home. She’s not there to see it. As soon as she’d felt fire, she sped west with a watermelon strapped to her passenger seat. She let the flames eat it all: the photos and the sheet music, the kitsch and the nude watercolor of Grandpa that she’d pinned in the doorway.

We’d warned her she had too many papers, too many piles. But she made it into a nickname; she called her house The Tinderbox. Before the fire, I asked her to bring over my mom’s old bowl: blue with the rocking horse emblem on the bottom. Momma wants it for her broth, I said. But G-ma wouldn’t come. She mailed it, unprotected, in a box—relaying it to the post office and back, just so it could travel one whole block. When it arrived, the bowl was in pieces.

G-ma liked to say she was raised by rifles and jigsaw puzzles. Her Auntie would storm through their house, smashing all the delicates, and G-ma would run behind, repairing it all before her mother got home. When G-ma was seventeen, her Auntie came over and a shot a hole straight through their one prized painting. “Fix that,” her Auntie bellowed. And G-ma did, carrying it to Moishe’s Antiques, where she met Grandpa.

Grandpa worked in his father’s shop and offered to fix it for free, as long as she’d go with him to the movies. She did, and he kept his word as best he could, using his minimal reconstructive skills. The painting remained permanently busted, but they still hung it over their piano a year later, when they were married. That’s where he’d sing her the songs he wrote like there are so many empty houses, but I found my home in her. Songs like that went up in flames.

Now she’s on a new fixing spree in her new town. She sent a letter after Momma’s funeral saying that after she drove west with that watermelon, she didn’t stop till she reached Sterling Bed & Breakfast: run by a man named Willard, famed for his preserves. Willard likes her. An earthquake had hit the town, tumbling the town’s treasure—a porcelain gallery—so when Willard heard of G-ma’s talents, he gave her a place for free. She was made director of the renamed Museum of Broken Plates and she got to work, patching their displays. Then she used her watermelon seeds to breed a new kind of melon, helping Willard make it into jam to give the town some income. She said they erected a statue of carved rind in her honor.

Last week the sheriff came by; he said they found a lighter in her piano while investigating the house. He said I need to get her or he’ll track her down himself.

G-ma’s told me not to visit, says she’s too busy teaching the children to weave toys with the leftover watermelon vines. But I’ll go.

When I reach G-ma’s place, it’s a motel, not anyone’s Bed & Breakfast. I carry an extra tote bag with me; its contents clink back and forth as I walk. I knock and she lets me in.

Her TV’s still running on the shopping network, something about a teapot that looks like a house. The room smells like rot. In the corner is a deflated green-brown sphere with little black dots running over it.

She’s sitting in a wicker chair. “Tea?” she asks.

I look into the kitchenette. All the cups are shattered. “What happened?” I ask.

She shrugs. “Thunder.”

I find one mug that’s mostly whole and put in some water with a teabag.

She says, “Milk!” so I open the fridge: it’s warm and it stinks. I close it and hand her the mug. She holds it like a present.

I hug my bag in my lap: The pieces of the old blue bowl are sharp and jab my thighs like cat claws. I brought it to dump at her feet, but there’s already a mound of tissues by her toes. “The piano?” I ask. “Why?”

She blinks into her mug. “The piano used to shake the house.”

I peer into my bag. I see the head of a rocking horse: it looks sad.

“You have no tea,” she says, offering her mug.

I wave it away. “Keep it,” I say.

She nods and smiles.

I put down my bag by the sunken watermelon, leave it there, and reach out my hand. “Grandma,” I say. “You’re going to have to come with me.”

“Where are we going?” she asks.

And I say, “Home.”

Gargoyle on the Toilet

When she saw him, her breath went out a trapdoor, like the wind through wet leaves. There was a gargoyle on her toilet. He said, “Give me all your toilet paper.” So she did. He said, “Give me all your wet wipes.” She had none. “Then dress me in your toilet paper,” he said. She mummied him. He nodded solemnly and pooped.

Julienne Grey was recently awarded the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference Scholarship and has done feature interviews for Slice Magazine. Her work has appeared in Pindeldyboz, Quail Bell Magazine, and theNewerYork. She has stories forthcoming in Joyland, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Ink and Code, and Slice issue 16.

Photograph by Nina Subin.