My wife is back to visit the Hound
By Jeff Salter
It was about three years ago that my wife was a Guest Fox on Hound Day — and that time she was talking about chili recipes. Today, however, is the debut of a short story she wrote a couple of months ago. We’d been talking about fairy tales and discussing a twist I wrote on a famous one. The more we talked, the more I realized she had several terrific ideas for her own twist on the same original tale. Denise has been telling stories for most of her life, but (other than a series she wrote in high school) I think this is among the first she’s taken the time to write down. I really enjoyed it and hope you will, too.
Into the Woods for Grandmother
By Denise W. Salter [with editing by Jeff Salter]
Suggested by re-reading the tale, “Red Riding Hood”
(popularized by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm)
Cherry Hunter re-positioned her heavy backpack’s straps and again shifted the bulky box to her other hand as she trudged along the heavily wooded riverside pathway. Her stepmother’s harsh voicemails still rankled. “Cherry, it is your duty to visit your grandmother each week,” said Susi’s first message. “I ordered some treats from Old Towne Market for you to take her.” Then, a second message abruptly changed her orders: “Never mind, Cherry. Come straight home instead. I need you to run errands for me.” Shrill voice.
“This control freak has been pretended to raise me since I was a toddler,” thought Cherry. “I surely wish my real mom had not died when I was so young.”
Those stepmother errands could wait. Truthfully, visiting her grandmother Willow Hunter, whom she’d always known as Gilly, was never the unpleasant duty Stepmother Susi imagined. Cherry and Gilly enjoyed their time together. Since the car accident which had caused Gilly’s concussion and broken hip, Cherry would smuggle Gilly in her wheelchair out of the nursing home into the fresh air. After Gilly’s mobility had improved, the outing became a leisurely walk through the dark, full trees along the river’s edge. The two of them would sing, laugh, and re-tell old stories that brought smiles to her grandmother’s face. As they shared the treats, her grandmother would listen with interest to Cherry’s recent activities. Gilly’s questions showed interest and confidence in Cherry’s decisions rather than the demeaning interrogations from Susi.
Cherry paused at the narrow entrance to the lush oak-lined driveway of The Woodlands. Her final university class that day was cancelled so she had an extra hour. Not expecting Cherry this early, Gilly would not yet be watching at the window. Should be a fun surprise.
Current director of The Woodlands Long-term Rehab Center was the creepy Mr. Wolfe, who often prowled the entrance lobby, seemingly intent on spotting Cherry’s arrivals. She avoided him as much as possible. Wolfe never tired of interfering, questioning, and reporting everything to the stepmother. Cherry often wondered if the reason Susi dated Wolfe was for him to be her wide eyes and large ears around Gilly and Cherry.
Stealthily, Cherry entered the building through the upscale foyer and approached the elevator hall. Hearing voices, including Wolfe’s, from the administration office, she slipped into the stairwell and climbed to Gilly’s floor. Just inside that door, Cherry caught the eye of Birdie, the friendly new aide who’d been assigned to Gilly’s unit about two weeks before. Birdie gave Cherry a big grin as she passed the aide’s spot behind the high counter across from Gilly’s room.
As Cherry quietly approached Gilly’s room, she reflected that on recent visits, in a reversal of her earlier progress, Gilly had been slurring her words and seemed content to be wheeled around instead of walking. All Cherry could learn from Birdie was that Gilly’s medicine had been changed and Wolfe was monitoring the dosages personally. It was worrisome to see her grandmother’s condition decline.
Finding Gilly’s door closed – rare, unless she was feeling especially bad – Cherry was apprehensive as she slowly opened the door. A strange man inside! His strong arms had Gilly pinned against his chest! Gilly must have been too weak to even struggle against this assault.
Cherry shrugged off her backpack, dropped the box of pastry treats, and raced across the room. She grabbed at the arms of the male intruder and cried out, “Gilly!”
Gilly’s eyes popped open. “Oh, my! Cherry, no!”
Cherry clubbed the man’s broad back with her balled up fists. “Let her go!”
The startled man released Gilly but then turned to grab Cherry’s flailing arms. Gilly hobbled to the door and closed it! “Cherry, stop!”
“Gilly, call for help!” Trying not to cry as she struggled in the stranger’s firm grasp, Cherry was shocked at her grandmother’s behavior. Why was she smiling? And why weren’t her words slurred today?
Finally, the white-haired man released Cherry’s arms.
Gilly stood close beside him with her hand on his arm. “Hush, child.”
Stunned by disbelief, Cherry stood still.
“Red, this is my granddaughter, Cherry Hunter.”
Introducing me to your attacker?
“Cherry, this is my dear friend, Red Ryden. An old acquaintance from my days before your grandfather.”
Red bowed slightly and apologized, “Pardon me for startling you…and for restraining your arms. I was afraid you’d accidently hit my lovely lady.”
Cherry was struck silent as she studied Gilly’s adoring gaze toward Red. His expression appeared to reflect the same affection.
As though unaware of Cherry’s presence, Red embraced Gilly again. With a contented sigh, Gilly nestled into his chest as Red’s lips brushed the top of Gilly’s head.
They seemed a whole lot more than old acquaintances. Questions hammered Cherry’s thoughts like lightning bolts: When and how did they meet? How long has this been going on? Is he only after Gilly’s money, or are they really in love? Will they want to get married? Does Wolfe know about them?
Panic! “Gilly!” demanded Cherry, “does Susi know about Red?” If that control freak did know, surely Red would not be allowed here.
Gilly studied Cherry’s face and read acceptance in her eyes. Softly, Gilly answered, “No, cher. We were not going to tell your stepmother until later.” Gilly glanced at Red, who nodded. “But we planned to tell you our secret today. Please sit down.”
Holding hands, Gilly and Red sat side by side on the love seat in the tiny guest space of Gilly’s room. Cherry perched on the edge of the matching chair.
Red nervously cleared his throat. “I love your grandmother.” He looked at Gilly as he added, “always have.”
If they keep gazing at each other, I’ll never get any information, thought Cherry. “Gilly? Red?” she softly asked. “What exactly are your intentions?”
Red answered, “We plan to release your grandmother from this prison and get married.” Facing Gilly he stated, “And this time, no mis-communications.”
Turning to her granddaughter, Gilly smiled. “Cherry, I’m sorry we surprised you with something this important, and I hope you understand. When Red and I were much younger, we loved each other, but my father disapproved. Red’s former girlfriend also did everything she could to separate us.” They held each other’s hands as though they were teens again. “Between Red’s overseas deployment and horrid lies told to each of us, we were separated. Three months after he went overseas, I was told Red had died. His letters had stopped coming, so I believed the lie.” She faced Red as she continued, “I needed to marry Clive because I thought you were gone forever.”
Red nodded his understanding. “I was told you married Clive Hunter as soon as I left. But I never stopped writing you the whole time I was overseas.”
“I don’t understand,” said Cherry. “You said the letters stopped.”
“My father must have intercepted all of Red’s letters,” replied Gilly.
It was obvious there was much more to explain, but it seemed the two lovebirds were in a hurry.
“Cherry,” said Red, “I’m asking for your blessing to marry your grandmother. She was and is the light of my life and we want to live the rest of our years together.” He cleared his throat softly. “I understand your stepmother’s in the process of declaring your grandmother incompetent, using the car accident’s injuries as her basis.”
“What?” Cherry interrupted. “I know Susi has no affection for either of us, but I had no idea she’d go that far. Are you certain? How do you know?”
Red seemed unsure where to begin. “While I was eating dinner at the Woodsmen’s Lodge, I first overheard the name Willow and then Eudicot lands were mentioned by a couple at the next table. Intrigued, I shamelessly listened to their conversation. They were discussing how to declare a woman incompetent so they could use her land and money for a real estate development. After some research, I discovered the Willow they’d been discussing was my own, Willow Eudicot Hunter. After searching the area, I found her here in the Woodlands. I hadn’t realized that both her husband and son had died in a plane crash years ago.”
Cherry closed her eyes as she reflected over the alarming information about Susi’s actions and intentions. Opening her eyes and standing, she spoke urgently, “Does anyone know you’re here, Red?”
Slowly, he shook his head, no.
“Good. We need Gilly out of here immediately and you two married as soon as possible. My stepmother has complete control of all of my trust funds for only one more year. That must be why she’s trying to get total access to your money now, Gilly.” Cherry checked her cell phone for the time. Still 15 minutes before Susi’s usual arrival, dutifully monitored by nosy Mr. Wolfe. “I’ll help you pack, Gilly.”
Cherry removed all the books from her backpack and hurriedly stacked them on Gilly’s bookshelves. Then she zipped to her grandmother’s dresser and opened the top drawer.
“All I need are my medicines, but they keep those locked up at the unit station. Oh, and my cape and walking cane.”
“We can buy anything else she needs,” said Red as he reached into the closet and then draped Gilly’s red hooded cape around her shoulders.
“Let me talk to Birdie about getting your meds,” said Cherry. “I’ll meet you at The Chapel in the Woods over on Cobble Street.” She stuffed her sizeable backpack with everything she’d pulled from the dresser. “Red, take Gilly down the back elevator and out through the kitchen. It’s the route we’ve used to sneak in and out.”
There was so much more to do and say, but they had to hurry. Cherry hugged Gilly and told Red, “Take good care of her.” She picked up the pastry treat box, slung her heavy, full backpack over one shoulder, and opened the door.
Shocked, she was face to face with her stepmother clutching a briefcase and Wolfe holding a paper cup filled with pills.
“What are you doing here?” asked Wolfe, shoving at Cherry’s shoulder so he could better see inside the room.
Straining to keep them in the hallway, Cherry loudly answered, “I came to visit my grandmother, Mr. Wolfe. Hello, Susi,” she added sourly.
From inside, Gilly spoke up, “Go ahead, let them in.”
When Cherry stepped away from the door, Susi and Wolfe entered defiantly. Gilly was seated on the comfy chair, but Red was nowhere in sight.
“Have a seat, Susi.” Gilly indicated the love seat. “Sit beside your companion, Mr. Wolfe. I have something to tell both of you.” Gilly’s voice suddenly sounded feeble and old — so different from a few moments before.
Though Wolfe sat as instructed, Susi remained standing and responded with artificial civility. “I’ll be happy to hear what you have to say, Mother Hunter, but only after you take your medicine. Director Wolfe has taken time from his busy duties to personally deliver your prescriptions. Cherry, bring your grandmother a glass of water.” Susi took the paper medicine cup from Wolfe’s hand and held it toward her mother-in-law.
Gilly looked inside the cup but did not accept it. “That’s a lot of pills. You want me to take them all?” Gilly asked with a blank expression on her face.
“The better to help you walk,” replied Susi.
“But so big, and so many more than I used to take.”
“The better to help you remember, Mother Hunter. All these medicines are important.” It was the same sing-song voice Susi had used to coerce Cherry as a child.
“Are these the same pills the director has been bringing me every afternoon lately?” Gilly asked in her feeblest voice. “Does he have more papers for me to practice writing on?”
“Why, yes, Mother Hunter,” Susi answered, pointing toward her briefcase. “Cherry, where is that water?”
“Here, Cherry.” Gilly picked up an empty glass from the chair side table and nodded. Cherry put down her heavy backpack, placed the pastry box on the bed, and took Gilly’s glass into the bathroom. There in the shadows stood Red, with a forefinger over his lips. Cherry, puzzled, filled the glass and took it back to Gilly.
Again Susi extended the medicine to her mother-in-law.
For the third time Gilly asked, “You understand what all these pills are for and you definitely want me to take them?”
Exasperation in her voice, Susi replied, “Yes, Mother Hunter, take them all…the better to help you feel stronger.” She forced Gilly’s frail fingers around the paper cup.
Suddenly, Red emerged from the bathroom and plucked the cup out of Gilly’s hand. He opened a plastic bag, dropped in the cup and contents, and then sealed the bag. “I will take care of these.”
“What?” Susi recoiled in horror.
“Sit down as you were told,” he said.
Clearly stunned, Susi obeyed.
“Wolfe,” Red continued, as the director started to rise, “stay seated and open that briefcase.”
“You can’t tell us what to do.” Susi jumped back up. “Who are you?”
Cherry pushed her stepmother back onto the couch. “He said sit down!”
The door burst open and everybody jumped.
Birdie and two uniformed policemen lurched in and stood behind Red. Cherry reached for her grandmother’s hand. What was going on?
Red displayed a badge revealing his name, Ted ‘Red’ Ryden, Special Investigator. Then, Birdie stepped forward and held up her own badge. After stating her name and title, she began reciting the Miranda warning as the uniformed officers handcuffed loudly protesting Susi and Wolfe.
An astonished Cherry and an unsurprised Gilly watched as Detective Birdie and her officers began removing the cuffed suspects from the room. Though neither Red, Cherry, nor Gilly would later reveal exactly how it happened — Wolfe tripped and fell across the bed, his face somehow landing in the box of cream puff pastry. Nobody would swear whose foot tripped Wolfe and whose hip bump propelled him onto the bed. One of the officers, careful not to get pastry on his uniform, hauled Wolfe away.
Susi, being hustled out by the other officer, was last heard screeching hatefully, “You ungrateful brat!”
“Finally showed her true colors,” said Cherry sadly.
Glancing over the paperwork in the briefcase, Detective Birdie explained, “Wolfe has done this before, but we’ve never been able to catch him. He usually works with a disgruntled relative who’s in a position to get control of a patient’s resources.”
* * * *
A week later, as Cherry was examining photos of Red and Gilly taken when both were much younger, she recognized the red hooded cape her grandmother always wore. Then, she noticed the bright color Red’s youthful hair — the identical shade as Cherry’s and her late father’s. When a smiling Gilly stood beside her, Cherry pinched her grandmother’s wrist. “You’re a sly one, Gilly.”
[ JLS # 250 ]