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Giving Them Back to God

If at first you don't succeed. . .

In The Gutter, second chances come punishingly late.

Giving Them Back to God by Kenneth Jobe

Gladys’s arms quivered under the weight of the shovel, heavy with dirt. She threw the last scoop on the freshly dug hole and patted the top to pack it. Sweat dripped down the side of her face. She wiped at her forehead with one scrawny, wrinkled arm, catching her breath while she leaned on the shovel to rest. 

As Mikey bounded down the stairs to the kitchen, he noticed the steps didn’t squeak or squeal anymore. Gramma always said it sounded like they lived in a haunted house. Not finding Gramma in the kitchen, he looked out the window and saw her in the backyard.

Mikey sat on the porch steps, watching as his grandmother leaned the shovel against the house and brushed off the floral house dress that hung billowy and loose off her withered, bony frame. He stood and walked down to the mound of fresh dirt. It looked just like the one that covered his former pet, only bigger. Mikey still looked at Scamper's grave sometimes, as if the dog might come pawing his way back up through the dirt, tongue flapping and tail wagging, ready for Mikey to throw a stick for another game of fetch.

Scamper was cute, but as bad as they came: gnawing on Gramma’s slippers, chewing on her cookbooks, peeing on the rug. Gramma told him they had been left with no choice—giving Scamper back to God was the only option. God would use the second chance to correct all the mistakes He’d made with the dog the first time.

“How long before God sends Scamper back to us, Gramma?”

Gladys didn’t hear him, climbing the steps and going back into the house.

Mikey hurried behind her before she closed the back door on him.

Gladys walked into the kitchen and filled a glass with water, then dampened a paper towel, dabbing at her hot face as she drank. She finished her water and took a seat at the kitchen table, where a legal pad and a pen were placed in front of the chair, waiting for her. She grabbed the pen and looked pensively at the blank page for a moment before beginning to write.

“Gramma, can I have a peanut butter’n jelly sandwich?” Mikey asked. He stood in the doorway waiting for her reply.

When she didn’t answer, he decided to make the sandwich himself. She was busy, and after all, he was a big boy, he could do it. 

He walked to the counter and struggled with the loaf of bread, his tiny fingers fumbling with the skinny twist tie on the end. “Gramma, I need help.”

Gladys stood from the table and walked into the living room.

Mikey watched from the doorway as she grabbed a photo from the antique desk against the wall and brought it back into the kitchen. She put the photo on the table and walked to the black phone on the wall. With the receiver in her hand and a crooked finger poised to dial, she hesitated, opting instead to replace the receiver. As she walked back to her chair, she saw the loaf of bread by the edge of the counter and slid it back thoughtlessly. Gladys scooted her chair in and resumed writing, her pen scurrying across the page.

“Gramma, I still want a peanut butter’n jelly.” Mikey jumped to try and grab the bread but couldn’t reach. He looked at Gramma to ask her for help again, but could see she was preoccupied. “Are you writing a letter, Gramma? Who’s it to?”

Mikey stood at his grandmother’s side, watching her write. She stopped every couple of lines to stare at the picture she’d brought in from the other room. 

Even though he never met him in real life, Mikey recognized the man in the picture—it was Harold, his grampa. Gramma talked about him a lot, saying how much she missed him and how she’d helped give him back to God, hoping God would send him back next time without the cancer in his tummy.

After a few minutes of writing, Gladys put the pen down and started to cry.

Mikey leaned over and looked at the paper in front of his grandmother—he was still learning to read, but knew some words. “Sor—Sorry? Does that say sorry?”

Gladys didn’t answer, only cried harder, which brought Mikey to the verge of tears himself. “Don’t cry, Gramma, it’s okay. You said you’re sorry.”

Gladys dabbed her eyes and took a deep breath, composing herself. She stood and walked back to the old black phone on the wall.

Mikey watched as she dialed 9-1-1, which he knew was the number to call if you needed help. He heard a muffled voice through the receiver.

"Hello, dear," Gladys said. "We need police and an ambulance at fifty-four-eleven Oak Bluff. That's right, dear, off of highway twenty-two.” The voice on the other end said something Mikey couldn't understand, and Gladys choked back a sob. "I've already given the dog back. Mikey, too. Hopefully next time God gets it right with him. But by the time you get here I'll be with them." 

The voice in the receiver got louder. "Ma'am? Ma'am, with who?"

Gladys hung up the receiver, slowly shuffling toward the staircase, grabbing the handrail and taking a step, then another. The stairs creaked and moaned under her feet.

Kenneth Jobe's work has been seen in The Rusty Nail, Jitter Magazine, and the horror anthology Robbed of Sleep, Volume 2. He is a Native Californian currently living in the Midwest and working on his debut novel.