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by Nicholas Rixon

Cold is the heart that hurts someone, and does it again. Grandpa Mick used to say that every time my grandmother hid his bottle of country liquor. In her defence, he did go berserk if he had too much of the hooch. Till I was ten, the drunkenness was amusing. Then it started getting ugly. One day, he punched the postman in the face. “He wasn’t giving me a stamp, Martha.” On another, he stored his shit in a brown paper bag and flung it at the priest on Easter Sunday. While sober, he would line up all the kids from the block and buy them ice cream. In the afternoons, he would pay the bigger ones to beat up the weaklings. It did not matter that I fell into the latter.

I remember summer holidays, creeping around the back of my house. Worried I might run into one from Grandpa Mick’s club. He called it The Hard Knocks. Not a very original name, but they took it seriously. It went on for two years before Little Alan got his teeth caved in by Bushman. A young ruffian with arms bigger than the thickest salami sticks in our refrigerator. Alan’s folks came over and threatened to sue. Granny handled the situation perfectly. That was the day she prepared chicken stew.

It was the only time, I remember, we had guests. Alan’s parents on one side of the table, Granny and me on the other. Grandpa Mick at the head, saying grace. He made us all hold hands and I knew Mrs Crowaway was nervous. She wiped her forehead with the blue napkin after he let go of her fingertips. The Crowaways had come in fuming — how Alan could not talk anymore. “We’re so lucky it was only his milk teeth.” Bushman had punched him so hard; a piece of tooth was lodged deep in his gum. The doctors said it would take a few days before they got to it.

Granny served the chicken stew in deep china bowls. All of them were chipped, some better than the others. I saved the carrots and beans for the end. Quickly scooping up the chicken and the thick broth, while biting into freshly baked bread. “This is lovely, Martha.” Mick was nearly done with his bowl. He rested back in his chair, staring at the Crowaways. The couple were looking dreamy as they took measured sips directly from their bowls. They hadn’t noticed the spoons at the centre of the table.

When they got up to leave, Granny asked if they would like some of the stew packed for Alan. They looked at each other in the doorway and back at my grandmother. Mr Crowaway asked if they could have all of it.

Nicholas Rixon is a writer and musician from Calcutta, India. His days are spent writing under an arch in his living room, taking long walks and sipping on roadside tea. Besides trying to convince people that Nine Stories is a must-read, he also has interesting conversations at parties. Inside his head. Nicholas’ daily flash fiction can be read here: http://sett.com/nicholasrixon.