by Steven Julson
Melissa did not know what awful things Daddy had to do as a police officer until a thief broke into their home. Melissa was at the sink washing dishes when the thief came boldly through the backdoor, immediately going to work wrestling Melissa for her bracelet.
The thief picked the wrong house, he soon found out. As he tangled through the soap spuds making her bracelet slippery, Daddy rounded the corner and tore the thief down into the basement, dragging him with an arm bar across the neck.
“Call Lloyd and the boys, sweetheart,” he shouted up the basement steps.
Melissa called Lloyd at the station and soon sirens and tires came screeching onto her street. Officers ran inside and down into the basement, some in uniform and some in plains clothes, and one came to check on her bruised wrist.
Melissa heard awful, forceful sounds down in the basement. Her grandmother, looking like a stick in a billowing dress, went about baking cookies for her. Grandmother’s sight was so poor that she placed five meatballs onto the baking pan and put them into the oven.
“I’ll fill you up with sweets, love, that’ll do a mind some good,” her grandmother said.
Melissa listened by the door to the basement. The thief pleaded “Stop! Stop!” and then she heard a thunk and a cry of pain.
“Good delicious cookies, that’s what you need. Fatten you up and ship you off to the dance,” her grandmother said, as if there was such an event.
Footsteps came up the stairs and the door flung open. Standing there was Daddy holding a black trash bag. “Put this out with the trash, will you, sweetie?”
Melissa walked outside with the bag in hand. She moved quickly, wanting to be back inside to listen in. The weight of the bag’s contents had her guessing at what could be inside: necklaces the thief had stolen, some articles of clothing he had worn, or worse–a dangerous weapon. Before tossing out the bag she untied the drawstring. With the help of a street lamp’s light she angled the opening to catch a glimpse inside. A sight of paleness and then of red poked out from the bag’s black folds. She peered closer in, her nose nearly in the bag. Bravely she pushed up on the object from underneath and screamed; it was custom, after all, to sever the thief’s hand if he was caught, and therein the bag it lay.
She tossed the bag into the trash and left down the street, heaving into a neighbor’s planter. Her neighbor came out, startled by the girl’s sickness and stayed with her until Melissa felt ready to return home. On her way into the driveway she saw a police car pulling out, carrying the thief in the backseat. She noticed that the lid of the trash was open and wondered if her father gave the bag to the officer. Thinking about the severed hand in the same bags she stuffed outgrown clothes into made her sick, but the thought of an officer driving around with it on his front seat made her want to vomit all over again.
Just as Melissa walked in her house her grandmother shrieked that a rat had come inside. Her grandmother whipped a wooden cooking spoon at a corner where the couch pressed against the wall.
“That’s a big one I tell you,” her grandmother cackled.
Her grandmother’s vision deteriorated daily but Melissa did hear scratching between the couch and the wall.
“I’ll cook it good for you, love” Grandmother said. “Soon as I can catch it.”
Her father came up from the basement with a mop and a roll of paper towels. He was sweating.
“Time for bed,” he said to her.
Melissa went upstairs and brushed her teeth. She thought about what was in the bag and it frightened her. She almost gagged on her toothbrush. Then she walked into her room and heard her grandmother downstairs yelling at the rat, banging across the floor with a broom.
Melissa shut her eyes but couldn’t sleep. Her grandmother pounded about the bottom floor. Her father kept going in and out of the basement. There was a scratching sound near the foot of the stairs. Then the lights went off in the house. The noise stopped. Slowly, she fell asleep.
She awoke to the scratching sound coming up the stairs. She turned over, meaning to listen, but fell back asleep.
She awoke to the voice of her father outside speaking to a man in a police cruiser. He told the man that the thief was taken to the hospital. He’d be fine, Daddy said, and he should be thrown in prison the second he healed.
Then she heard the scratching in her hallway. Now she worried the rat might come into her room. She walked to her door and closed it. She got back in bed and fell asleep.
The sun knocked on her eye lids and she slipped out of her dream. She yawned and saw her bedroom door had been opened. Then she felt movement on her wrist coming from underneath the blankets. She tossed them away with a mirroring leap from her heart.
The thief’s severed hand groped and scratched at her bracelet’s lock, it’s blood forming clots in her white sheets. She yanked away from it and crawled backwards up her head board, screaming loud enough to peel the paint from the house. Startled, the persistent hand’s fingers tangled like a surprised spider and then, with a second’s recovery, jumped madly towards her, resolute in wresting her bracelet from her tender wrist.
Bounding up the stairs came heavy feet, and it was ‘Daddy’ whose name she screamed. Yet in came her milky-eyed grandmother, her dentures askew and hair amiss, and with spryness not commonly found in the elderly, she leapt onto the thief’s hand and snatched it up in her dress.
The hand fought within but grandmother paid it no mind. “Good thing you called for me, dear. I was wondering where the little plump went to.”
Melissa rubbed her wrist, fighting the urge to heave onto her bed sheets. She could still feel the hand’s fingers working over her wrist like dismembered tentacles.
“Grandmother, give that to Daddy!” Melissa said.
“Oh no, love,” Grandmother said heading for the stairs. “The rat’s got a meeting with the cooking pot. I said I’d cook him up good for you.”
Melissa brought a hand to her mouth to hold back the vomit.
“Give me five minutes, love, he’ll cook up quick. Then come on down for breakfast.”