An essay by Mrs Sheila Merrill, as provided by Maureen Bowden
Art by Amanda Jones
It was New Year’s Day. The doorbell rang; I wrapped a towel around my wet hair and opened the door to Louise, my great-granddaughter.
“Hello, dear.” I said. “I’m shampooed, rinsed, and ready to be beautified.”
“Okay, GG,” she said. “I’m gonna turn you into Judge Judy. She must be about your age and her hair looks awesome.”
I sat at my dining room table. “That’s nice, dear, but I don’t think she’s reached eighty-five yet.”
“Whatever.” Louise delved into her Primark bag, decorated with a picture of Harry Styles. She dumped scissors, a hairdryer, styling brush, and a can of hairspray onto the table, alongside my flatulent cat, Falstaff, who is possibly older than Judge Judy. He opened one yellow eye, hissed, and sank back into oblivion.
“Have you made a New Year’s resolution, GG?” Louise said, as she removed the towel and began snipping my sparse, grey, locks.
“Yes, dear. I’m going to assassinate Dean Hobbley. Go easy with the scissors. You need to leave me some length, so you can give me a bit of Judge Judy’s height on top.”
“Don’t worry. All you need is a touch of backcombing and hairspray. I know what I’m doing. Why do you want to kill Dean Hobbley?”
“Because every time I turn on the TV, I see his smarmy face smirking at me. If he’s not hosting quiz shows for celebrities with the IQ of earthworms, he’s flashing his dental implants on adverts for eye-pads. I thought the doctor would give you one of those for free if you had a sore eye.”
“You mean iPads, GG.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Don’t you like him on ‘Strictly Got Talent’ either?”
“Can’t stand him. He doesn’t have to be so nasty to all those idiots just because they can’t sing. He has to die.”
“How are you doing to do it?”
“I’ve still got your great-granddad’s gun. Sixty years ago he taught me how to shoot, in case the Russians invaded. I never found any Reds under the bed, but it often comes in handy.”
Louise giggled, “GG, you’re legend. That’s so funny I could almost believe you. My friends call you Granny Death.”
“Really, dear? Why is that?”
“Do you remember the time when I was seven, and you chased that kiddie-fiddler who was hanging around the playground in Sefton Park?”
“I remember it very well. Nasty piece of work, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, but the last we ever saw of him was when he disappeared behind the Wendy House with you clobbering him with your handbag.”
“Are you saying I bumped him off? Nobody found a body, did they?”
“No, but they all think you did it, and there was a funny smell behind the Wendy House all day.”
“They’re right. It was me, but don’t worry, I only shoot the baddies.”
“Glad to hear it. Good luck with Dean Hobbley. I’ve made a New Year’s resolution too.”
“I thought you were leading up to something. What is it?”
“I’m going to get pregnant this year.”
“That’s nice, dear. Who’s going to be the daddy?”
“Dunno yet, but I’ve got a few possibilities lined up.”
“Well, it’s good to have a choice, I suppose. Does this mean you’ve changed your mind about going to university?”
“Yeah, Dad says it would be too expensive, and a waste of time because I probably wouldn’t get a job, anyway. I’d start a family and be saddled with a student loan for nothing.”
“So you’re just going straight for the family?”
“Thought I might as well get it over with, and when they go to school I’ll get a degree from the Open University.”
“Isn’t that expensive too, dear?”
“That’s the good bit. I’ll be living on benefits so I’ll qualify for a grant.”
“That’s nice, dear.”
“Or I might take up hairdressing.”
“People will always need haircuts, dear.”
“Of course, if you could make the problem with Dad go away, I could go to university, get some qualifications and not be a burden on the State.”
“Do you want me to shoot him, dear?”
“No. Too messy.”
“Actually, it wouldn’t be. It’s no ordinary gun. Your great-granddad was a scientist, as you know, but I made most of his discoveries. The scientific big-jobs wouldn’t listen to women in those days so he took all the credit. I didn’t mind. It was easier that way.”
“So you made the gun?”
“It was a joint effort, and it doesn’t look like a gun.”
“This is a great story. What does it look like?”
“That’s my secret. It doesn’t resemble any kind of weapon but it’s a lethal liquefier and vaporiser.”
“It shoots a beam, like the laser, that nice Captain Picard uses in Star Trek.”
“I didn’t know you were a Trekkie, GG.”
“I’m not, but I have a fondness for good looking men in tight trousers. Now, stop interrupting. Where was I?”
“The liquefier and vaporiser.”
“Ah, yes. When the beam hits the baddies they melt. It’s a bit smelly, but in a few seconds the liquid turns to vapour and floats away in the air. Passers-by will think someone’s had an attack of flatulence, but there are no bodies and no forensic evidence. That’s what they call it these days, isn’t it?”
Louise giggled, “I don’t know how you think them up, GG. You should be a writer.”
She put her scissors away. All conversation stopped while the hairdryer buzzed and blow-dried, and I was transformed.
We viewed the finished result in the mirror over the mantelshelf. “There you are, GG. You look just like JJ, apart from the face.”
Louise hugged me. “You have a very nice face, for your age.” She packed away her implements of transformation behind Harry Styles’ handsome head. “You won’t tell Dad about my getting pregnant, will you? He’d go off on one, and probably ground me.”
“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for getting you grounded. Are you going on a sperm hunt now?”
“Yeah, might as well.”
“Good luck, then. I don’t suppose you’ll be bothering to take your exams this year.”
“Oh, I’ll take them anyway, in case I can’t get pregnant and Dad changes his mind. Not that I think he will.”
“Good to have a back-up plan, though.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Bye, GG.”
After Louise left, I said to the cat, “Well, Falstaff, I’d better make a phone call to save the future hairdresser-going public from being turned into a Judge Judy tribute band.” Falstaff farted with the nonchalance of advanced age.
I rang my grandson, Louise’s father, as she knew I would. “Hello, Philip. Happy New Year, dear. Are you all well?
“Yes, thanks, Gran. Are you?
“Fighting fit dear. Louise was here today. You must be so proud of her. The family finally managed to produce a university candidate. Well done.”
“Er, actually, Gran, I think she’s gone off the idea.”
“Well, with the right encouragement from you I’m sure she’ll go back on it again.”
“The trouble is, you know what young girls are like these days. If she gets pregnant, it will have been a waste of time and money.”
“Fat chance. You and I both know she’s far too clever to do that, and the little legacy I promised you after I pop my clogs rather depends on it.”
I could almost hear the gears of his less than adequate brain cells stirring into sluggish action. “You’re right. I’m sure I can talk her into it.”
“I’m so glad, dear. I don’t want to have to tell Messrs Fleecem and Bankit that I want to change my will.”
“It won’t come to that, Gran. She’ll definitely be going to uni.”
“Good. Now, you can help me with another matter. Speak to that Freemason friend of yours who gets tickets for TV programmes. I want two for ‘Strictly Got Talent.’ I’ll take old Gordon from the Sheltered Accommodation. He’s ninety-two next birthday, and daft as a brush, but he could do with a night out.”
“No problem, Gran. I’ll sort that out.”
“Tell him we want the front row so we have a good view of that nice Mr Hobbley, and we need the end seats on account of our waterworks. We don’t want to have to make everyone stand up to let us out when we have to go.” As I ended the call, I added, to myself, and I don’t want anyone bobbing around in front of me, getting a vaporised head. Now, where did I put that gun?
I rummaged through my jewellery box, found the liquefier and vaporiser disguised as a ruby ring, and slipped it onto my right middle finger. A press of my arthritic left index finger, on the ruby, would rid the world of the obnoxious Dean Hobbley. I’d dispatch him just as I had the kiddie-fiddler behind the Wendy House, and my late husband, Freddie.
I cast my mind back forty years, to the eminent scientist, Frederick Merrill’s demise. “Don’t point that ring at me, Sheila,” he said. “You’re worrying me.”
“And you’re annoying me, Freddie,” I said. “I’m tired of you telling people how clever you are, and not bothering to tell them that you’re not as clever as I am.”
“You’re being ridiculous. Nobody would believe me. Let’s just leave things as they are. You can’t beat the establishment.”
“Watch me.” I pressed the ruby, and the invisible beam reduced him to slush that evaporated into a malodorous mist. I fetched the air freshener from the cupboard under the sink, and sprayed it around the living room.
It helped, but a lingering pong was still present when my dear friend, Gordon, called round that evening to share his new album, Abba’s Greatest Hits, with me. He wrinkled his nose. “What’s that smell, Sheila?” I blamed the cat, Darcy, Falstaff’s predecessor.
I reported Freddie’s disappearance to the police. They probably believed he’d run away with a dolly bird. I didn’t care what they believed. Gordon was still in his prime back then, and much better company than Freddie. He looked good in tight trousers, too.
After seven years, I had Freddie legally declared dead, and I had no inclination to remarry. Gordon offered, but I declined. I’m glad I did. When old age loomed, sheltered accommodation was the best place for him. I don’t mind taking him out once in a while, but if he’d been living with me I would probably have shot him.
I dragged my thoughts back to the present, and the delightful prospect of vaporising Dean Hobbley.
The big night arrived. Philip’s Masonic friend had done us proud. We had excellent seats. Gordon snoozed through most of the show. He didn’t miss much. I waited for the moment that would have the most dramatic impact. The contestants had strutted and swaggered their way through unmemorable performances and the votes had been counted. The horrible Hobley pranced about the stage with a piece of paper in his hand, as the audience whooped and hollered with inappropriate joy.
He came to a standstill sometime after the whooping became tedious, and announced, “And tonight’s winner is …”
I waited out the theatrical pause, and when he took a breath, I pressed the ruby.
Dean disappeared, and silence fell. A mysterious wet patch evaporated and an evil smell drifted across the auditorium. The curtain came down and a bewildered audience assessed its options. Some clapped, assuming it was a stunt. Some shouted abuse, no doubt as a default response, and some covered their noses against the smell, and went home.
A scantily dressed woman with lips that appeared to have turned inside out fumbled her way through the curtains, announced the winner, and explained that Mr Hobbley was indisposed. She fled from the stage and the house lights came on.
Gordon woke up. “Has the film finished? Did we have popcorn?”
Philip rang me next morning. “What the hell happened on ‘Strictly’ last night, Gran? It’s all over the news that Dean Hobbley did some kind of disappearing act.”
“I don’t really know, dear. It was right at the end. It had been a long show and I was dozing.”
“What about your friend, Gordon? What did he see?”
“Who knows? He thought he was at the cinema and he kept asking for popcorn. I expect Mr Hobbley’s on the run from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.”
“That’s what the headline in The Sun suggests: ‘Tax Dodger Causes a Stink’.”
“There you are then, dear. If it’s in The Sun it must be true.” Philip has never grasped the concept of irony.
“There’s another thing, Gran. I don’t know what’s up with Louise. She can’t stop laughing, and muttering something about Granny Death.”
“That’s teenagers for you, Philip. The sooner she’s at university the better. She needs to channel her energy into a worthwhile activity.”
When my grandson hung up, I made myself a coffee and rang my solicitor. “Mr Bankit? Sheila Merrill here. I want to make a slight alteration to my will. I’ll give you the details and call in later this week to sign the amendment.”
“Of course, Mrs Merrill. Fire away.”
I considered that comment to be tempting fate, but I pushed the thought to the back of my mind. “I’ve had a change of heart about being buried wearing my ruby ring. I’d like to bequeath it to my granddaughter, Louise Merrill.”
He oozed sycophancy. “A good decision, if I may say so.”
“One other thing: I’m going to place it in a sealed letter that is only to be opened and read by her, and nobody else is to be present.”
“Very good. I’ll have an amended will ready for your signature on Wednesday.”
“Thank you, goodbye.”
I sipped my coffee, and smiled. Louise is a clever girl. She’ll use the gun wisely, and I’m almost sure she’ll only shoot the baddies.
Sheila Merrill’s late husband was the eminent biologist, Dr. Frederick Merrill. After his death, she took over his research and contributed several highly acclaimed theses on osmosis and diffusion in molecular structures. These led to a suspicion in scientific circles that she is responsible for much of the work officially credited to her late husband. She has now retired from academic life and there are no details of her present activities.
Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has had ninety-two stories and poems accepted for publication by paying markets. Silver Pen publishers nominated one of her stories for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize. She also writes song lyrics, mostly comic political satire, set to traditional melodies. Her husband has performed these in Folk clubs throughout England and Wales. She loves her family and friends, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Shakespeare, and cats.
Amanda Jones is an illustrator based in Seattle. She likes reading horror stories, binge watching seasons of her favourite sci-fi/fantasy shows, and everything Legend of Zelda. She focuses on digital portrait painting and co-creates the webcomic The Kinsey House. You can find more of her work on Tumblr under ‘thehauntedboy‘.
“Sheila Get Your Gun” is © 2017 Maureen Bowden
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Amanda Jones