SUBDIVISIONS. THOSE magnificent bone-white homes duplicated row after row on grids that seem to grow like crystal with the sharpness and precision of God’s artisanship, with softly sloping sidewalks and square patches of overgrown lawn and garage doors like gleaming toothy grins. She likes them, the way the homes fit together like interlocking blocks. When she hears the word community, this is the image that comes to mind: families nested in equally spaced cubes and united by a common color of stucco. If she was living in a different time, she would like to live here, where everything is the same for everybody, even the mailboxes.
Here among these pretty homes, on a four-lane road with a wide grassy island in the middle where banyan trees are planted at equal intervals, she finds an accumulation of meatskins, a trail of maybe twenty, all loping awkwardly in the same direction. She pulls the car up past them to the front of the line where there is a large man trying to outpace the congregation behind. In his arms is the body of an ancient woman no larger than a child.
She slows the car beside him and rolls down the window.
Hey mister, she says, you’re collectin quite a crowd. You’re gonna be in a bind if you get tired of walking before they do.
The man looks at her with flat gray eyes, empty of comprehension, and keeps walking.
Come on now, she says, that’s one grim parade you got behind you. Whyn’t you and your grandma come around to the other side and get in the car. The least I can do is get you a head start if you like derbyin so much.
The man looks at her again. He is big, with unwashed hay-colored hair that hangs in strings and a dishpan face with slow, heavy-lidded eyes that seem too small for the breadth of his flat cheekbones. There is something on his forehead that looks like soot, and he breathes through his mouth, his lower lip jutting out. He begins to trip and stumble over his own feet, and she gets the impression he has been walking for a long time already. The old woman in his arms is dead, but it doesn’t look like she’s been dead for long.
You’re a dummy, ain’t you? A little slow in the head like? Well all right, dummy, we’ll do it your way.
She pulls the car on up ahead and shuts it off, then reaches into the duffel bag for the AR-15 scoped rifle and slaps a cartridge into it and gets out of the car.
The man keeps walking past her, and she gets down on one knee and leans against the side of the car to steady herself and then starts firing. The sound isn’t a crack like some of the older rifles she’s used. This one is military issue, and it gives a muffled pop with each shot like the crank of an engine.
The first two she hits in the head with one shot, which she can tell by the spray of blood and bone and the way they drop already motionless and dead before they hit the ground.
The third, a woman in a nightdress, she hits in the shoulder, which spins her around, and it takes two more shots to get her in the back of the head.
The next shot hits the neck of an obese slug, and he puts his hands up, birdlike, to stop the flow of blood. Then she hits him in the forehead.
She fires until the clip is empty and then reaches into the car for her gurkha knife to finish off the rest and make sure they stay down. Then she rises up out of the slop and fans herself with her panama hat and feels the breeze on her face and breathes in the pure air sweeping down through the palm trees lining the street.
By the car the man has set the ancient woman delicately down on the sidewalk. He crouches beside her, gazing at Temple with a look of abject irresolution.
I shoulda let you die, dummy, she says. What you thinkin pulling a train of slugs behind you like that? You ain’t destined to survive this world. Most likely I just went against God’s plan for you, fool that I am.
He looks up at her and back toward the carnage behind her.
Do you talk? she asks. Or are you the kind of dummy that don’t say anything?
He reaches down to the corpse of the old woman and uses his knuckles to move her hair out of her face. A low moan escapes his mouth, inarticulate, like a mewling baby.
How long your granny been dead? Not too long I guess. But you best leave her go before she starts creepin around again. Cause when she does, she ain’t gonna be thinking about feedin you soup no more.
She goes to the car and opens the door and gets in. The day is bright and the road ahead is wide open and the breeze is cool and feels nice on her skin and her hand is feeling fine. But she knows she’s not going to get that picture out of her head—the picture of that man kneeling by his dead granny and fixing her hair for her. So she climbs back out of the car.
Doggone it, she says. Come on, dummy, let’s put your grams in the ground.
In a nearby garage, she finds a shovel and two small fence pickets and a ball of string and she loads them into the man’s arms and leads him out into one of the small garden plots where the soil is loose. Then she hands him the shovel.
Go ahead, dummy, start digging. She ain’t none of my grandma.
She points and the man digs. He stands a full two heads taller than she, and his shoulders slope downward as though it is difficult to bear the dense, lumbering weight of his body. She has to show him how to use the shovel, how to hold it—but when he drives it into the earth it sinks deep and true. Meanwhile, she takes the two fence pickets and puts them crosswise and uses the string to tie them together tight.
Now you gotta put her in it, she says when the hole is deep enough. She points to the ancient bony body and then to the hole.
He lifts her and gently sets her down on the raw clayey earth and then looks to Temple for further instruction.
Okay, um, now you gotta get some flowers. A whole bunch.
She picks a tiny wildflower from beneath her feet.
Like this, but bigger. There’s a bunch round the front of the house. That way. Go on.
He goes, and she takes the pistol she brought from the car and gets down into the grave. She examines the woman closely, touching her fingers and her wrists. Then she pulls up the eyelids and sees the eyes. They are rolled back in the head, but they are already beginning to rotate ever so slightly.
Temple tries to pry open the mouth, but the teeth are clenched shut. She puts her fingers under the old woman’s nose.
Get a whiff of this, granny, she says. Come on, now, open up.
The old woman’s head tilts slightly upward and her jaw opens to try to get her teeth around Temple’s fingers. Temple puts the barrel of the pistol in the mouth and points it upward and fires. Then she quickly pulls some handfuls of loose dirt into the grave and puts them under the old woman’s head to hide the mess and climbs out of the hole.