M.M. Designs by Jen Lowry

My grandfather was a traveling salesman and pictures of him always showcased his pride and joy, a crystal blue Aston Martin, the shade matching Granny’s eyes. He always claimed that’s why he bought it but it was his vice, and we knew otherwise. He leaned on it like a mob hitman sporting a tommy gun in his hand instead of a suitcase. Joe and I made up all kinds of stories about Grandpa. We said he peddled neon lights to bars and underground establishments. Sears advertised swimming pools in a case, and I knew that had to be locked inside that brown beauty. I wanted it for my dolls to splash in, but Granny said hands-off and we’d definitely be seeing a light if we needed what was in that case, and there were no pools we’d want to swim inside because they’d be too hot to handle.

Grandpa’s suitcase was scratched and weather-worn from years of roadside rallying. When he’d come in from trips down the East Coast and tell us about places called Hell Hole Swamp and Kill Devil Hills, we’d see his ink-stained hands but imagine it was the blood of his helpless victims from the organized crime hit instead not purple receipts. The cold and greasy gas station chicken spotting the brown bag he brought in to Granny was his down payment for his services. We imagined Granny being the boss’ boss getting the overall cut, because she sure had that way about her. The rest of the payment would come in checks in the mail addressed to Joseph P. Tightwater, M.M. Designs. 

Granny would roll her eyes at our storytelling and say that whatever was in that suitcase sold more in places called Boogertown and Seven Devils because they believed in the afterlife for sure. If you had to see your town name like that on a sign every time you reached the city limits or licked a bill, then death knocking might be too hard to ignore. 

No one can escape the rapping on the soul’s window, and when my grandfather’s clock ticked the last at exactly three-o-two we heard the shrill, piercing scream of Granny. She placed his hat across his face as to not scare us children from vacancy. In her mind, eyes without life could scar us, I guess, but she didn’t think about covering the rest of him up. I see him still there to this very day, with his gray Derby Fedora resting over his face, and his suitcase propped beside his recliner, like he couldn’t leave it for long or it would get lonesome. 

That night they asked Granny about the arrangements. She placed his suitcase in the middle of the kitchen table with a throp and clicked each fastener. A sweet and pungent smell slapped me, like Werther’s Original candy mixed with high-smelling glue. It was a special sealant used to keep the grass molded and shaped around tiny tombstones of marble. 

Granny pointed with a shaky hand. “He’ll take that one.” 

Mausoleums, monuments, and dead-end hotels were Grandpa’s big-ticket. We still think he shot em’ up on the road and had a perfect alibi. Sell the place where they would lay, and no one would be the wiser. 

Jen Lowry is a Literacy Coach and English teacher with Wake County Schools in North Carolina. She is a published author of eleven books, a podcaster, and helps other authors to go after their publishing goals. Jenloves her blended family of seven, UFC, and pajamas. She writes every chance she gets, and when she isn’t writing, she’s dreaming of it. 

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