He climbed the tree to see if she was there and saw her planting bulbs in her flower garden.
Hey Miss Mae, he called.
She turned around.
You need help?
No not really, but come on over.
He climbed down the tree and over the fence then ran to her. She looked at him as he knelt beside her then motioned toward the bulbs.
Could you hand me one of those, hun?
He handed one to her. She took it and dropped it in a hole then covered it up. On the next one she let him drop it in the hole. Pretty soon she had him digging and covering too while she made sure the holes were evenly spaced and deep enough.
Good, she said. Now go inside and wash up, and if you don’t mind, bring me my arthritis medicine.
When he came back onto the porch she had some lemonade for him. He handed her the medicine and they sat down. After she lit one she handed it to him. She only ever let him take a couple puffs because she was afraid his mother would stop bringing her homemade cinnamon rolls. In a few months she’d get in huge trouble when doctors, for his pre-K physical, would find traces of marijuana in his urine sample. But for now his mother was proud of how he helped the old widow and loved how much better he behaved after visiting her.
Lemme see that, she said. He’d been shooting empty coffee cans with her BB gun when she held her arm out toward him. He handed it to her then—pthew—a squirrel fell off the bird feeder.
He ran to where the squirrel lay then bent down to look at it. She walked up behind him holding the gun.
Her arthritis hurt too bad to shoot real guns anymore, but one time, she had her son come over who took them a few miles outside the city limits. He and the boy shot some of his real guns while she watched from the truck. She, of course, told the boy’s mother she needed his help grocery shopping.
The boy liked it when Miss Mae shot squirrels. When they were alive they never let him look at them up close. Sometimes he wished she would shoot birds too but she said birds didn’t try to eat what wasn’t theirs.
Now don’t touch it, hun, she said. I’ll be right back. She returned with the shovel she used to clean up after the neighbor’s dog then scooped it up and flung it into the neighbor’s bushes.
They sat down and he went back to shooting coffee cans while she continued her arthritis medicine.
A little while later they heard a woman’s voice calling the boy’s name.
The boy hid the BB gun under his chair while she hid her medicine.
He’s over here, said Miss Mae.
The woman’s head appeared over the fence.
Oh, there you are, she said to the boy. What’ve you been doing? Then she added, Hi, Mae.
Miss Mae said hi and that he’d been helping her plant bulbs.
Well, that’s a good boy, the woman said and told him what a great helper he is. Miss Mae agreed, and they all smiled. His mother then told him to stay with Miss Mae because pretty soon he’d need to come home before his sister’s recital to have a bath. He said OK and she said, Come give me a kiss.
He ran to the fence and climbed it so he could reach her lips.
Well, that’s a funny smell, she said speaking about his breath.
I gave him some molasses candy for helping with the bulbs.
Oh, the woman said. Well, I guess it’s just been too long since I’ve had molasses. Anyway, you mind Miss Mae. He said he would and she pulled his head to her kneck. When she let go she said, Thanks for looking after him Mae, then turned around and went inside.
When they were sure she was gone Miss Mae nodded and he un-hid the BB gun.
Not too long after that, the neighbor’s bushes began to rustle. Pretty soon a dog began to shimmy under the fence with the squirrel its mouth.
Miss Mae again took the gun from the boy.
The boy saw the BB fly through the air, pelting the dog in the forehead. Instantly, it dropped the squirrel as it yelped and shimmied back under the fence.
Miss Mae gave the boy the gun back and told him to wait there. She returned carrying the same shovel, but this time when she flung the squirrel over the fence she made sure it landed in the middle of the neighbor’s yard.
What the hell!? yelled a man’s voice.
The man’s head appeared over the fence.
What the hell is this!? he said holding up the squirrel.
Miss Mae leaned on the shovel. Her voice cool, she said, Your bastard of a dog tried to drag it into my yard.
Well, I don’t want it! he said, and dropped it onto Miss Mae’s lawn.
The boy brought the gun to his shoulder and fired.
Owe, fuck! the man said, grabbing his forehead. He disappeared from their view for a moment, letting out a string of profanity.
When he reappeared he was still holding his forehead.
You little bastard! he said looking at the boy.
The man grabbed the top of the fence and vaulted over it. As soon as he hit the ground, Miss Mae swung the shovel, its handle connecting with the man’s shins in a loud, painful crack. Instantly, he went down.
Miss Mae watched coolly as he writhed, holding his shins.
I’m calling the cops, he said through gritted teeth.
Miss Mae leaned toward him holding the shovel for support.
Now, I know you’re not too bright, she said, so I’m going to explain this real slow. I’m sure the cops wouldn’t be as concerned about a five year old boy shooting someone with a BB gun as they would about a grown man attacking a five year old boy.
The man stopped. Miss Mae’s eyes bore into his as understanding filled them.
Besides, she said, You wouldn’t want everyone to know you got your ass kicked by an old lady, would you?
Miss Mae stood up.
Now, why don’t you haul yourself back to the other side of that fence before I call my son so he can throw your ass over it?
The man looked at her moment longer, wide-eyed, then got up and struggled over the fence. When he was gone, the boy looked at Miss Mae.
Her face twisted into a painful grimace and she dropped the shovel. He ran to her.
He took her hands and rubbed them as they curled in an arthritic twist. He guided her into the house.
When he sat her down in the kitchen he took the hand towel from the oven handle and filled it with ice. He then wrapped her hands around the bundle, and she again grimaced as her twisted fingers wrested around it.
The boy held her hands around the ice pack. He looked at her as she looked at her hands.
I shouldn’t have shot him, the boy said.
Miss Mae’s faced softened. No, you shouldn’t have, she agreed.
He held her hands a while longer then asked if she wanted him to get her medicine. She shook her head.
No, you better run home now, she said. You’re mom’s probably ready to give you that bath.
The boy nodded but didn’t let go.