A Name by Mark Slade

A Name by Mark Slade

Dana Grossman of 52 Fork Rd., raised a crooked finger to the phone book and touched a name with her long, jagged black fingernail. She smiled, her crooked teeth extended over her discolored bottom lip. 

“Peterson, Alva… 32 Lorre Street…” Mrs. Grossman paused, sniffed the putrid air that circulated in her dim apartment. Very little sun crept in through the molded blinds. From the far wall of her kitchen to her desk, where she always sat, were old dusty books piled nearly to the ceiling. “I think Mr. Peterson should have very bad bowel movements for next year and a half.”

She stood, her bones creaking with every movement and carried herself slowly to her black cauldron that sat upon her kitchen counter. The hump on her back moved up and down under her black tattered dress. She looked inside her cauldron and grunted. She reached inside her cupboard and took a tiny gray mouse from its trap. It squirmed in her gnarly hands until she sliced open its throat with a long, skinny razor blade.

The blood from the mouse dribbled in the cauldron into a white murky liquid, causing a slight flash and smoke rose and fell as she spoke in very bad Latin. 

“Ah,” She said to herself. “That should take care of him.” She slowly walked back to her desk to pick out another name.

The doorbell rang. Mrs. Grossman cursed under her breath. “It better not be those horrible Calladi children,” Her heavy black boots pounded the floorboards hard, still not reaching the door any faster. “I’ll cook and eat every one of their fat little bodies and pick my teeth with their bones.”

She looked through the peephole. She saw a tall dark haired woman dressed in a business suit, her hair pulled tightly back and very white clear skin. It was her daughter Clarissa. The door opened quickly. A hand grabbed Clarissa and pulled her inside the apartment. She winced as she whirled inside, knocking a few books over, losing a high heel in the process. 

“Get in!” Mrs. Grossman screamed in a hoarse voice.

“Mother!” Clarissa cried out. “What are you doing?!”

Mrs. Grossman was looking through the peephole, mumbling to herself.

“Mother!” Clarissa found her left heel and sat in a chair filled with musty books. She carefully placed her foot in and stamped against the floorboards.

“Oh. Hello, Clarissa. I don’t want those horrible children near my door.”

“God, are you still terrorizing those poor innocent children,” Clarissa crossed her legs. “You could get into terrible trouble.

“Those are not good, kindly children who help the elderly across the road,” Mrs. Grossman ran her black fingernails through her stringy white hair. “I’m telling you, Clarissa. Those are little demon-spawns.”

“Then they should be right at home with you,” Clarissa picked up a book entitled Ferrah’s Daemonology: How To Entice And Enslave The Modern Demon. “Still dabbling in the a-cult there, Mother?” 

“Occult!” Mrs. Grossman snapped. “And yes… and yes it’s just as real as that accounting job you have.”

“Hey, I didn’t say giving people curses wasn’t. And I like my job. It took me a long time to be head accountant.”

Mrs. Grossman took a few steps past her daughter. “You meant it was silly. Would like some tea?”

“Well, it is that. Wait….do you still keep mice in your cupboard?” Clarissa raised an eyebrow.

“Of course I do!”  Mrs. Grossman dragged her boots across the floorboards, causing an unpleasant sound inside Clarissa’s already aching head.

“No thank you, Mother.” She made a face at the thought of mice and different bugs crawling over her Mother’s food in the kitchen.

“I’m having some anyway. What brings you here today, Clarissa?” Mrs. Grossman called from the kitchen. “It’s not Saturday. You never visit on a weekday.”

 Clarissa shrugged. “I’ve come to bring your glasses,” She took out a pair of silver coke-bottle frames from her purse.

Mrs. Grossman returned to the living room knocking over a stack of books. In her hands was a cup of black, murky tea as thick as mud. “There’s nothing wrong with my eyes,” She sulked. Her upper lip curled up. “My eyes—”

“Are terrible, Mother, and you know it. Last month Dr. Sheridan told you your eyesight was one of the reasons for your fall. That’s why I bought you these.” Clarissa stood and bounced toward her Mother’s desk, placed them on the phone book. Clarissa’s face fell.

“Oh no!” She quickly turned to Mrs. Grossman. “You’re using Aunt Della’s phone book again, are you?”

“Look, Clarissa, don’t give me any speeches.” Mrs. Grossman looked troubled, more wrinkles crossed her brow.

“Mother… I found you hovering in a dark corner without your clothes on last year blubbering about that book trying to kill you. I thought I burned it.”

“You can’t destroy it,” Mrs. Grossman giggled, slightly off a note.

“I know, I know,” Clarissa threw her arms up. “Once you use the book, you have to keep doing it’s bidding.”

“I guess I never should have taken it at her wake thirty-five years ago… but I was so eaten up with getting revenge on your Father. He ruined us. Took all the money he made with the Syrup Company. Left us for that woman—”

“Yes, Mother. It happened. And we made it out okay. You raised me perfectly. With the exception of mistrust of men… Mother?” Clarissa lowered her perfectly drawn eyebrows, puzzled.

“Yes?” Mrs. Grossman barely took herself from the thoughts of yesteryear.

“You copied this name from the phone book?”  Clarissa picked a yellow notepad. She showed it to her Mother.

“Yeah, so what?”

“The name you wrote down is not Alva Peterson, but Alan Patterson of 42 Shore Street. God, Mother! Use the damn glasses if your gonna do this stupid curse thing!” Clarissa slammed the notepad back on the desk and picked up her purse.

“Where are you going?” Mrs. Grossman whined. 

“I’m late getting back work. I only came on my lunch.” She rushed to the door, opened it.

“I love you, Clarissa,” Mrs. Grossman said.

“I know you do, Mother,” Clarissa turned to her, thought a moment, smiled. “I love you, too. I’ll try to come over Saturday.”

Mrs. Grossman smiled back, her rotting teeth were like barbwire on fence posts. “Be careful out there, darling.”

“Bye, Mother.” Clarissa closed the door, and she was gone.

Mrs. Grossman had to quickly get her mind back on her work. She went to her desk, sat down. She picked up her glasses, mulled over what Clarissa had said. She threw them in her trash can. “Nothing wrong with my eyes,” She scoffed. 

She took a crooked finger and flipped through several pages of the phone book. She heard a voice moan. “All right, all right,” She said to the phone book. “A name is coming up… Daniele Gestling… 25 Fredrick’s Rd… hmm…let’s stop her heart.”

She checked off the name by underlining it with black marker. Then copied it on her notepad.

She went to cauldron on her kitchen counter. From her cupboard, Mrs. Grossman removed a jar of crushed wasps and poured half them into the white, murky liquid. The cauldron sizzled, then bubbled up. 

Mrs. Grossman dropped the jar of crushed wasps. It shattered into a thousand pieces under her feet. She clutched her chest with her gnarly and stopped breathing just as she fell to the tiled floor of her kitchen.

In the phone book, a name underlined with black marker, was Dana Grossman of 52 Fork Rd.

A Bubbling Pot on a Stove