Seven Toes to Paradise
Age Rating: 13 +
Salma Elmore yawned, sighed and scratched. Surveyed her neat but tired living room, took one last eye-rolling look at the cable news program she was only half listening to, and decided to turn in. "I ain't studying these fools. Nothing but blood and Godless politicking," she said to no one. The television and satellite dish had been her oldest son Dory's idea. He figured since she wasn't running things out at the produce stand anymore, she might like to have something to look at, something to occupy her mind besides her pet dogs. "Not much to look at no way," was Salma's ready opinion. But she secretly liked to flip fast through the channels, settling at random on smiley infomercial hawkers or slow-motion shark bites. She liked having the Weather Channel too. The weather on the island was so fickle.
She stood haltingly up from her rocker, still scratching. The phone rang, sending a cold jolt of adrenaline out through the small of her back, and she lurched to grab the handset. The cord was kinked back in on itself so many times that it had formed a hard, ugly knot the size of a melon. Salma had tried with much whispered cursing to pick it apart, but her fingers were too stiff and her patience was short.
"Hi Mama how you doing." It was Anthony, her third son, calling from his new home in Cabo San Lucas. Anthony was in showbusiness, as he liked to tell people. He played the drums in the house band at a fancy resort hotel. He had sent Salma postcards and brochures, imploring her almost daily to come down there and stay awhile. "You'll love it, Mama. It's so pretty here you'll never want to go back to Morris Island," he would rhapsodize. Anthony didn't like her living by herself in the old house, and he wouldn't rest until she was safe down there in tourist paradise with him. She always demurred. She liked home, with her dogs and her grandbabies nearby.
"I'm doing all right baby. Just fine. Dory and Charles told me to tell you hello," Salma said. Same thing she always said. They chatted for a minute, perfunctorily, since she fretted about the long distance charges. Anthony had tried to assure her it didn't matter, but nobody could ever convince her of anything. Salma's obstinate nature was her sons' favorite thing about her, after her cooking. "Good night, Mama," Anthony crooned. "Lord bless and keep you." "You too baby."
The old woman shuffled and creaked out to the back yard to check on her other babies, her six Rottweilers, one last time before locking up for the night. They were draped sleepily over one another in their wood-fenced run. "Night sleepy heads," she called to them. Twelve molasses-colored eyes twitched toward the sound of her voice, and satisfied, she locked the door and went to bed.
What woke her was the stink. It was a wretched, foreign stink and she opened her eyes to it, befuddled. A skinny, long haired white boy looked passively back at her from the foot of her bed. "Well good morning," he snarled at her. Salma stared. A crash echoed from the living room, then a hoarse shout. "I know you've got some money in here you dried up old nigger. Tell us where it is and we gone leave," came the rawboned honk from the next room. Hillbillies, she concluded. Drug addicts, looking to steal from her. "No," she croaked. "Get out of my house, I got no money." She drew up the covers and restively returned the one boy's sneer.
"She say something?" The crude shout bounced again from the living room. "Yeah, she said we should get out," laughed the bed-sitter. "Nasty old bitch ain't very friendly." His gristly, needle-marked arm shot out and pinned Salma's shoulder to the bed. "I think you need to learn how to treat a guest proper, cunt." He wheezed with laughter and blew his stench all over the place. Salma's eyes burned. Her free hand darted under her pillow and pawed for what she knew was there - cool, smooth metal, reassuring her with its solid presence. She raised it, quick as a snake striking, put it to her lips, and blew air with all the force her old lungs could put behind it.
Before either man was aware that Salma had even reacted, the Rottweilers were baying, piling into the rickety house through the same extra-large dog door that the intruders themselves had used. Three dogs set upon each, as if they had run drills for such an occasion. Perhaps they had. Salma remained upright in her bed, serene as a duchess, watching her babies do their work.
When it was over, the dogs sat smartly in a row at the foot of the bed, awaiting their mistress's assessment. She rose from the bed carefully, patting herself for injuries and allowing for her rusty joints, and craned sidelong at the floor. The bed-sitter was splayed by the chest of drawers with his throat in pieces next to him. One of his hands had been torn off at the wrist, and his clothes looked like a pile of quilting scraps. His sneer was intact. Tiptoeing into the living room, she found the one who had called her a nigger. She had not seen his face before, so she didn't know if his expression had been the same before she blew the dog whistle. He had been disemboweled. His insides strung out every which way. Apparently he had turned to run from the dogs, because one had taken him down at the ankles, ripping shoes and flesh from the feet. She was startled to note seven toes on one of the pitiful exposed feet. "My Lord," she said out loud. She shook her head and clucked, disapproving, like a temperamental hen at the roost. "My Lord, my Lord, my Lord." She shuffled into the kitchen for the can of dog treats, crooning wordlessly for her babies. They followed, lined up in precise single file to receive their rewards.
Perhaps Cabo San Lucas wasn't so bad, Salma realized. The tropical weather might cure her stiffness, and her sons Dory and Charles would be good foster parents for the Rottweilers. She returned to the bedroom, taking care not to track through the remains of her visitors, and began to gather up her things. There would be a long, dusty trip ahead, and she didn't want to forget anything.