Gummies by Jackie Flaum, Tennessee, USA is second place winner of the Short Story Land 6-Month Short Story Competition.
Director Mary Blackburn watched the elderly woman’s face as the little tour stopped outside a large, airy room with polished wood floors.
“Here are some residents in Zumba—one of many activities available here at Oak Hill Manor,” she said.
“I love dancing,” offered the timid woman. Her children wanted her in an assisted living apartment and out of their hair.
“Your hip bothers you too much to dance,” said the daughter.
“You’d be surprised how regular exercise can reduce joint pain.” Mary looked over the class of gyrating grannies and grandpas. Her pride faded into bewilderment. Three of those happy dancers usually needed strong pain killers for their knees. On the front row, a woman who suffered severe back spasms was shaking a tail feather.
“They’re having fun.” The prospective resident lifted her chin for the first time.
“Yes indeed.” Mary made a mental note to check the medications of the Zumba class. “Let’s visit our library.”
Agnes Murray, age eighty-two, collapsed in a chair overlooking the patio and rubbed a few of the wrinkles and bruises on her hands and arms. Outside the window a Tennessee summer day invited her out, but the high she felt after Zumba and a shower had faded. Maybe she could take a turn around the gardens later.
Suddenly, she adjusted her wire-rimmed glasses, peered into the parking lot, and smoothed her hands over her jeans with glee.
Her nineteen-year-old granddaughter Bonnie’s blue Honda pulled into a visitor’s space. She watched as a brunette in a UCLA athletic shirt climbed out of the driver’s seat. When her only granddaughter picked a college in California, Agnes had hated her going so far from home. Where had Bonnie come by such adventurous nature? Her father, no doubt. Neither Agnes nor her daughter Frances had it.
Bonnie’s ponytail bounced as she strode toward the manor’s front door. Agnes pictured the way Frances looked when she was young. In those shorts Bonnie’s legs were longer than her mother’s. They were track star legs, and Bonnie won the scholarship to prove it. Bonnie had Agnes’s high cheekbones and hair color—or the color she dyed it once her natural brown turned grey.
Agnes fussed with her thinning hair, tugged at the UCLA shirt pulled tight across her ample chest, and struggled to her feet. By the time she hobbled to the sunroom door and reached the pink, red, and green-colored reception area, she had loosened up enough to stand straight and walk without a grimace.
“Nana!” Bonnie McCray hugged her grandmother. She pulled back to look at their matching shirts. “I like your school spirit, girlfriend!”
“I knew you were coming so I dressed cool.” Agnes announced.
“Uh, not so cool,” Bonnie teased, plucking at Agnes’s pants pocket. “Those are mom jeans.”
“I am a mom.”
“Hello, Bonnie,” Agnes’s best friend, Betsy Bloom, pushed her walker by and winked. “We appreciate what you did for us.”
“How lovely to see you, Bonnie! You are such a favorite here,” called a woman whose cane clacked an odd rhythm as she moved from carpets to wood floors. Bonnie watched after her, then swung around to Agnes.
“What did you do, Nana?”
Agnes took Bonnie’s arm and drew her into a corner of the sunroom with a good view of the flowers blooming in the garden.
“Didn’t you think there would be questions when I tossed my walker, ditched the cane, and started sleeping through the night? My friends asked my secret.”
Bonnie rolled her blue eyes. Agnes used to explode when Frances did that. The sass had driven her crazy. Somehow though, it looked cute on her granddaughter.
“OMG, Nana, you were supposed to say it was the physical therapy or-or a new medicine or something.”
“New medicine all right.” Agnes smiled at a bald man in sharply creased blue pants. His plaid shirt showed off his big frame.
“See you have your pretty granddaughter visitin’, Aggie.” The man tucked a book under his arm and took a seat across the room. His eyebrows wiggled. “That’s nice. Real nice.”
Bonnie grabbed her grandmother’s arm. “Him too!”
“Carl’s arthritis is painful. He could hardly move. Now Carl and I take ballroom dancing together.” Agnes’s eyelashes fluttered. “He’s so smooth.”
“Ew, I don’t want to hear about it.” Bonnie clapped her hands over her ears.
“Listen, Bonnie, when you fly home for fall break, I’m gonna need a lot more gummies. Grape if you can find them,” Agnes said.
Bonnie’s eyes widened. “You’re dealing!”
“I am not,” Agnes huffed. “I’m sharing with friends. When they saw how much relief I got, well, I couldn’t say no.”
“Are you afraid someone will have a bad reaction?” Agnes said. “I tell them to experiment, start with half a gummy. Elizabeth Bradshaw didn’t listen, of course. She never does. She ate all my potato chips and corn chips in one sitting and got sick. Served her right.”
“Nana! You gotta stop.”
Agnes fanned a hand in the air. “Oh, it’s fine, I never get the munchies.”
“I mean, save those gummies for yourself. Once I leave for school next month I’m not coming home until Christmas. I’m going snorkeling with friends on fall break. Your stash has to last! And besides. . .” she paused. “Dad’s shootin’ me the evil eye.”
Bonnie’s father John McCray, police chief in the Memphis suburb of Germantown, would never approve of his daughter furnishing gummies to her grandmother.
“He can’t prove anything.”
“He doesn’t have to . . .” Bonnie’s voice grew so loud Agnes’s friend Carl glanced from his book, so she finished in a whisper. “. . . prove anything. He’s my father.”
Agnes smiled. “Why would he suspect—oh! You imported more than my gummies from Los Angeles.”
“Wouldn’t be a problem if Tennessee was an enlightened state like California and legalized marijuana,” Agnes fumed.
“Got that right. In California they deliver grass to your door.”
“Around here they deliver all kinds of things to you—groceries, tools, books —not just pizza.” Agnes clapped her hands. “I picked a great time to be old.”
Agnes waited until Carl Gleason finished sneezing, then put the gummy problem to the group gathered in her apartment after lunch.
“What’ll we do? We only use gummies before bed or a big day as it is. We’ll run out before Halloween,” wailed eighty-two-year-old Betsy. Wiry black and white hair twirled in sprocket curls around a round face. She clutched at her “Any Adult for President” campaign button. She’d lost the “Save the Whales” lapel pin.
“Let’s ask for an excursion to someplace like Las Vegas or Denver,” Agnes suggested.
Eighty-five-year-old Carl snorted. “Oak Hill is not gonna pony up the bucks to take a busload of cripples and old farts to the wild West. Mary won’t approve it.”
“I don’t want to ride a bus thousands of miles to Massachusetts either. Even one of those fancy tour buses we took to the Smoky Mountains,” whined Elizabeth Bradshaw. She occupied the upholstered Queen Anne chair in Agnes’s apartment because it had fat arms for her to push on when she rose. Her cane rested nearby.
“Just across the Mississippi River Arkansas is smart enough to offer medical marijuana,” said Betsy. “But only for residents.”
“Could we get Arkansas residency?” asked Elizabeth. “Or know someone who would share with us?”
A long, thoughtful silence followed.
“Well, we have to do somethin’.” Carl said finally. “I’m down to a few weeks supply, and I can’t walk a lick without a gummy.”
Everyone massaged an aching knee, elbow, or shoulder joint.
Sadness arched through Agnes. She wished she didn’t need the gummies to dull her pain. She wished she still lived in her three-bedroom ranch in east Memphis. She wished her sweet husband hadn’t died. She wished she could remember what she came for when she entered a room.
“The best plan is for you to go visit Bonnie, Aggie,” Carl declared. “You can bring back our gummies.”
Agnes shuddered. California was a long way.
Eighty-four-year-old Gina Grayson consulted the iPad in her lap. The overpowering aroma of gardenia perfume she wore made half the group sneeze. However, they depended on Gina to help them order things from Amazon and eBay.
“Look here. A website for marijuana in Los Angeles,” she said. “Oh—herbal teas, sodas, mints, and chocolate marijuana, as well as gummies in raspberry and watermelon.”
“I am not carrying sodas in a suitcase,” Agnes said, wondering if she should go at all.
“Chocolate?” Betsy licked her lips.
“It’s potent and not really good,” Agnes wrinkled her nose. “And it smells like marijuana.”
“Well, duh,” Betsy snapped.
“I don’t want to fly out there by myself,” Agnes said.
“I’ll go with you,” Carl volunteered.
Agnes shook her head. “We’d have to spring for two hotel rooms—they’re expensive.”
“We could get one room.” Carl’s eyebrows danced up and down.
Amid the giggles Agnes stuck out her double chins. “It’s not proper.”
“I’ll go,” Betsy offered. “I always wanted to see the Guggenheim Museum.”
“The Guggenheim is in New York,” Agnes said. “You’re thinking of the Getty.”
Betsy blinked. “That one too.”
A skinny, eighty-six-year-old woman cleared her throat. She perched like a bird on the built-in seat of her walker ever since Agnes’s couch became too difficult to sit on and stand up from. A former teacher, the woman looked perpetually exhausted.
“I can go. I’m about to graduate from a walker to a cane,” she announced.
“Will there be a ceremony?” Betsy asked. Agnes gaped at her, so she added, “I mean when she graduates. I think we should have a ceremony in the reception area when people get off their walkers.”
“I think Betsy should go with Aggie,” said Gina with a wave of her arm that sent Carl sneezing again.
“We’ll pool our money to send you and get the gummies—or teas,” he sniffed.
“Who’s gonna go pay bail if they get caught?” inquired Elizabeth.
Bail? Agnes considered the legal implications of importing gummies for the first time. Bonnie acted like it was no big deal. Agnes’s hands began to sweat.
Carl scowled at Elizabeth then rose from a kitchen chair by putting both hands on the flat seat between his legs and pushing up. He grunted, “Sat so long I got stiff.”
The scent of gardenias filled the apartment as the Gina stirred. “I’ll leave some money in this basket and more later. Ante up, folks. Meanwhile, I’ll send you all a menu of items we can pick from this marijuana delivery services and you can email your choices.”
“No!” thundered Carl, slicing his hands through the air. “No paper trails.”
They agreed he was right. Instead, Elizabeth promised to show the marijuana menu around and take orders.
Agnes inhaled deeply as her guests departed. What had she gotten herself into?
After traveling up and down a maze of elevators, escalators, and steps, Betsy and Agnes located the Los Angeles airport location for catching an Uber to their hotel. Betsy plopped down on her walker seat. Agnes sat on the edge of a wire bench clutching her cell phone with the Uber driver’s car, route, and license number on it. Despite practicing how to use the Uber app with her daughter, Frances, she didn’t trust its ability to summon a ride. Her stomach fluttered. Then she thought of the long list in her purse and almost got sick.
“Stop saying you’re a mule. You’re only a little stubborn,” Betsy said.
“I’m a mule!” Agnes lamented. “That’s what criminals call people who carry their drugs.”
“I know what it is! But marijuana isn’t a drug.” Betsy countered, and stared hard at Agnes. “Drugs are the things they hand out at Oak Hill to make you sleepy, loopy, and pay for pharmaceutical company jets. Marijuana makes you smile, and your aches hurt less. Not the same at all.”
Agnes massaged her forehead.
“What should we do while we’re here in the Sunshine State?” Betsy asked.
“It’s the Golden State,” Agnes corrected. “Florida is the Sunshine State.”
“Both have Disney, though,” Betsy pointed out.
Agnes nodded, then waved at the street. “Oh! There’s a green Ford. See if the driver looks like Adoul in the cell phone picture.”
“I do want to go to Disney World,” Betsy began.
“Disneyland. Disney World is in Florida and we aren’t there,” Agnes sighed.
“I’ve never been to either place,” said Betsy said as they climbed in the Ford. “I wish we had a youngster to go with.” She poked Agnes’s side. “If you scrunched down you could pretend to be a child.”
Agnes loved Betsy to pieces, but sometimes the pieces seemed scattered.
After a week of sight-seeing and visiting, Agnes and Betsy checked out of their hotel and took an Uber to Bonnie’s apartment for a last visit.
Bonnie booted up her laptop and used Agnes’s credit card to fill the marijuana orders from the on-line delivery site. In an hour the gummies, teas, chocolates, and one soda arrived at the door of Bonnie’s apartment in three sealed plastic pouches. With Betsy hovering over her shoulder, Aggie showed her driver’s license and signed for the order.
The young delivery girl grinned. “Have a good time, ladies.”
Agnes thought she heard a snicker when she closed the door.
Once inside Bonnie’s kitchen, Agnes couldn’t figure how to open the pouches. Rather than appear foolish, she stabbed and ripped them open with a steak knife while Bonnie was busy making coffee. The contents of the pouches cascaded across the wooden kitchen table.
“Easy-peasy. We’ll divide them between both suitcases and carry-ons,” suggested Betsy.
“No carry-on,” Bonnie advised. “Security officers check it by hand.”
Agnes selected a lavender packet with a black bear on the front and opened it. She shook out a dozen soft, short plugs wrapped in dark purple paper.
“Looks like suppositories—hey, we’ll put them in Preparation H boxes.” Apparently, being a smuggler had awakened Betsy’s inner criminal.
Agnes squeezed a small sugar-coated watermelon gummy from a round silver tin. “And containers of breath mints.”
“Y’all are making it too hard,” Bonnie muttered. But she got her car keys.
She couldn’t find a parking place in the drugstore parking lot, so Bonnie drove around while Agnes and Betsy went inside to buy hemorrhoid suppositories, breath mints, and a couple of opaque plastic screw-top bottles of vitamins for seniors. It seemed foolproof, and Agnes breathed easier.
But when they got back to Bonnie’s, removed the suppositories from the box, and inserted the marijuana plugs, Agnes thought of another problem.
“Is there a limit to the amount you can smuggle?” she asked Bonnie.
“Pretty sure you can’t bring any of it to Tennessee.” Bonnie emptied the tins of mints on her table and squeezed in as many grape gummies as she could. They packed packets of tea into vitamin bottles, and Agnes flushed the original pills down the toilet for what Betsy dubbed healthier waterways.
“I mean, what is the amount of marijuana you can have before the law considers you a dealer. They get hard time,” Agnes fretted. “You see it on the news.”
Bonnie grinned and shook her head. “They won’t send you up the river, Nana.”
“White privilege.” Betsy muttered as she folded another suppository box closed, sliding it in her suitcase under orange cropped pants.
“Nana, I think Miss Betsy means even if you got caught you are old white women. It would cost more to keep you alive in prison than in Oak Hill,” Bonnie said. “Besides, you won’t get caught—unless they have drug-sniffing dogs at the airports.”
Agnes envisioned snarling German Shepherds pawing at her suitcase.
“We’ve got to book it if y’all are going to make a six o’clock flight,” Bonnie said.
Betsy ate a loose gummy she couldn’t find a hiding place for, while Agnes opened the glass bottle of marijuana-infused cherry soda and offered some to Bonnie.
She declined. “I’m training.”
“One for the road.” Agnes shrugged, chugged, and burped. “Excuse me. Oh, yum.”
Bonnie frowned. “Sure you didn’t overdo it?”
“It only has five milligrams of THC and ten milligrams of CBD—five milligrams are good for me. I’ll be mellow, able to walk through the terminal without much pain but not silly,” Agnes reported. “Sometimes I get a dry mouth, but mostly blessed relief from my knee.” She made a goofy face at Bonnie.
Betsy zipped her suitcase shut. “I feel wonderful here. People are so nice, the sun is warm, food is delicious. I loved Disney World.”
“Land…Disneyland—never mind.” Aggie surrendered.
“When Bonnie finishes her degree, we should start a pot farm,” Betsy suggested.
“My studies don’t cover growing, only transporting marijuana,” Bonnie quipped. “Don’t tell dad. Let’s go.”
“Oops. Forgot my walker,” Betsy smiled. “I haven’t even used it enough to remember.”
“I’ll get it,” Agnes said. “Take your carry-on.”
Bonnie grabbed Agnes’ green weekender and Betsy’s black suitcase with pink angora yarn around the handle then led the way to the elevator.
The two women kissed Bonnie good-bye, checked their bigger bags outside the airport terminal, and searched for their gate. They qualified for the Transportation Security Administration pre-check line, which meant they didn’t have to take off their shoes. As they entered the line, Agnes read a sign warning them not to take marijuana products any further and gulped. Suddenly it didn’t seem like a game anymore.
She watched her leather purse and blue flowered carry-on disappear along the rolling conveyor through the TSA screening and walked slowly through the metal detector. An agent on the other side was on the phone but kept his eye on a screen. Something he saw displeased him as she walked through the line. The burly officer motioned Agnes to the side, and her stomach lurched. The man hung up and pointed to a place to the side of the conveyor belt filled with scanned belongings.
“I got to get a female to pat you,” grumbled the man.
“It’s my artificial knee,” Agnes explained, heart pounding.
“Should have told me first.” He grunted, grabbing at a walkie-talkie. “Got to get a female to pat you.”
“I’ll wait over there, Aggie,” Betsy called as she collected her things at the end of the conveyor.
Agnes quickly reviewed what she carried. Smart of Bonnie to tell them not to bring their products on board. She licked her dry lips.
After a long wait a black-haired female TSA officer motioned Agnes to follow her around busy conveyor belts to an open area where other passengers submitted to a body search. The whole place smelled like someone—or several someones—had not showered recently. The officer who faced Agnes seemed young and bored.
As predicted, the wand sang at Agnes left knee then along the contours of her underwire bra. She felt sick. Silly. She had no grass on her. But what if this was a ploy to delay her because they opened her suitcase and gummies fell out of a hemorrhoid box? Agnes’s eyes flitted around the terminal, expecting to spot TSA officers pushing through the crowd from the baggage area. Or maybe they would call the officer running her hands over Agnes’ legs to arrest her. She glanced at the young woman and fought to control her breathing.
The officer rose and turned to the table behind her. Agnes craned her neck to see what she was getting.
“Hold out your hands. I have to swab them.” The young woman showed her a white patch of gauze.
“What’s it supposed to find?” Agnes prayed to the God of crippled old people the officer didn’t say marijuana.
The woman wiped Agnes’s palms. “Explosives.”
Agnes found Betsy sitting on a bench with passengers who had to replace or retie their shoes.
“What was that about,” Betsy asked.
“My artificial knee and underwire bra set off the alarm,” said Agnes.
“You still wear an underwire?” Betsy’s jaw dropped.
“I have melons, not lemons,” Agnes tossed over her shoulder. As the two women hurried for their gate, she chuckled at passing security scared but unscathed.
The comfort of the soda carried her through the three hour and twenty-eight-minute flight to Memphis, though Agnes thought a lot about drug-sniffing dogs prowling the baggage area. By the time she and Betsy started the long walk down the corridor to claim their suitcases, her knee pain and guilty conscience had roared back.
Like the others from the Los Angeles flight arriving at midnight, she and Betsy stood around the luggage carousel. They waited as the young couple returning from their honeymoon grabbed their suitcase and walked away laughing. They waited as the businessman in the rumpled suit hefted his black case and strode off. They waited as the family in Disneyland T-shirts got their bags and herded the screaming kids outside.
“Where are our suitcases?” Betsy hissed.
Agnes’s shoulders slumped. She never felt so tired and defeated. The shame. The personal and professional problems her family would encounter at her arrest. Frances would be embarrassed. Her son-in-law . . . Well, Agnes imagined John’s face turning reddish purple with rage. He might lose his job. A police chief couldn’t have a mule for a mother-in-law. And Bonnie? How would she stay in school?
“Do you think the bags are lost?” Betsy’s voice quivered. “Should we report to baggage claim?”
“I-I don’t know.” Agnes shuddered.
“Maybe we should just leave before they unleash the dogs,” said Betsy.
“We have name tags on our luggage. We can’t run far. Heck, I can barely walk.”
Agnes turned toward the glass doors leading from the carousel to the street. Frances waved from the doorway. Agnes took a breath and walked outside. Her nose wrinkled at the stench of car exhaust and cigarette smoke trapped in the covered roadway.
“Frances, you didn’t have to park and come in. I told you we’d meet you at the curb.” A wash of love overtook Agnes when they hugged. Frances was a fine woman, active in the realtor association, and a Sunday School teacher. Her brown hair showed a little premature gray, but her face remained unmarked by deep lines. She was a wonderful, sweet daughter who did not deserve a criminal mother.
“John is circling the block. We got here early and stretched our legs. Airport’s deserted this time of night. I knew you’d be tired and wanted to be here to help,” Frances said.
Agnes swallowed hard. “Honey, we don’t have our bags. I think they—”
“Oh, they were the first ones off the plane. John put them in the car already. How’s Bonnie?” Frances waved at a black car which slowed then glided to a stop.
Safe in the back seat of the car, Betsy slept most of the way home. Agnes sat beside her friend quietly wondering about herself. Maybe she had just discovered a swashbuckling adventurer inside her.
Mary Blackburn stopped the two visitors outside the exercise room. “Here are some residents in Zumba—one of many activities here at Oak Hill Manor.”
“Can’t dance,” groused the white-haired man. “Both knees are shot.”
“You never know what you can do, Dad,” said his son.
“You’ll be surprised how regular exercise helps.” Mary’s eyes followed the stares of the two men. Inside the room a bunch of giddy seniors with creaking shoulders and cracking knees broke it down to “Uptown Funk.”
The man harrumphed. “Must have good drugs around here.”
“Only what your doctor prescribes. Let’s visit our library.” Mary felt a zing of worry and made a mental note to check the medications of the Zumba class again.