Gertrude really had been forgetful lately. At first it was little things like forgetting to turn off the lights, but as the months wore on, she found herself forgetting faces and what month it was. Today she found herself in her rocking chair with a hunger pain in her stomach, without the faintest clue how she got there. Nevertheless, she trotted into the kitchen and browsed her cabinets, considering a can of green beans, or maybe some boiled cabbage, but decided on home-canned squash instead. She reached up on her tiptoes in her rip-toed knee highs, stretching for the plates, and grasping a chipped, peony-printed porcelain plate that she placed on the countertop with a bit of a tremble due to the arthritis in her wrists. She popped open the jar, pulling out a chunk of squash with a spotted fork.
But what came out of that jar was not only summer squash.
Right in the middle of her plate fell a frostbite-blue ring finger, caked with dried black blood, the nub of the bone sticking out from the end where it had previously been attached to a hand.
At first, Gertrude didn’t know what she saw. But as she realized what lay in front of her, she backed away, and then jumped across the room, screaming as loud as her wheezy lungs would allow.
Gertrude sat in her chair in the living room, out of the kitchen where the finger taunted her. She rocked back and forth in an attempt to calm down.
When the neighbor she called arrived, Gertrude, shaking, escorted him into the kitchen. He gargled a bit, holding back vomit, as he spotted the rotting finger lying in a plate of squash.
The neighbor stepped slowly out of the kitchen and asked, as calmly as possible, “Ms. Gertrude, where did you find that?”
Gertrude didn’t respond but stared at the plate.
Still no answer.
She looked up at him then, her eyes distant and said, “What are you talking about, Baby? I’m just eating some fresh squash.” Gertrude reached for the plate, stabbed the finger with the fork, and bit the end of it clean off.
He turned and ran, stumbling over himself on his way out of the door.
Calling to him, Gertrude said, “What? You don’t like my Henry?”
Then she swallowed.
If he and the other neighbors on Clover Lane had been up early the next morning, they would have seen a little old lady tiptoe out of her house in her nightgown and slippers, creep into her gardening shed, and shine the light of her flashlight through the crack in the door. But what they couldn’t have seen and wouldn’t have known is that along with canning her vegetables, Gertrude had taken to canning her dead husband as well, piece by piece as he decomposed. In truth, not even Gertrude would have known it, because old widows tend to be very forgetful.
Ashley Lamb-Sinclair spends her time writing fiction and stealing ideas from the talented young writers she teaches in her high school English class. She currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her bearded husband, two feisty daughters, an angry Chihuahua and a sad Bassett Hound.