Grandma’s Shrunken Head Decorates My Backyard Tiki Bar by Cheryl Markosky

Grandma was whole once, not a shrivelled brown skull on a stand doubling up as a paper towel holder.

The First World War broke out and her father was out of work. Grandma’s family was so poor she was sent to farmers to beg for rotting vegetables to feed the chickens. Instead, the family ate the putrid potatoes and parsnips themselves. From the shame, an incision was made at the back of the ear to remove her skull from her neck.

In the early Twenties during Prohibition, Grandma sold beer out of a pail to passersby. She peddled ice cream, using ice from an old mine tunnel, in exchange for groceries to keep her siblings alive. That’s when red seeds were placed under her nostrils.

Grandma married and got work at McLaren Saw Mills. Ten hours a day for $4.50. Five mile walk home at the end of the day to get the supper on. Her husband held her mouth together with three palm pins.

Grandma helped on a farm this side of Cowley. Payment was a milch cow, the start of her small dairy herd. Whatever spared milk or cream was sold. The larder was full and Grandma’s desiccated mouth tried to smile. Then the cows got Johne’s disease. Fat from Grandma’s flesh was extracted and boiled in water saturated with herbs.

Four children were born over four years. Fanny, William, Effie and Arthur. The mine closed down and Grandpa was laid off. When drink-sodden Grandpa was minding the children, they played on the railway track. Grandma’s favourite, Arthur, was hit by a train. He died instantly. Grandma’s head was dried with hot rocks and sand, moulded to retain human features.

Grandpa ran off with the neighbour. Fanny and Effie cleaned the houses of wealthy city folk along the Bow Valley. William became a manager for the Department of Highways. He didn’t drive to see Grandma as much as he should. Decorative beads were added to Grandma’s shrunken head as a finishing touch.

Shrunken Grandma sits next to the rum collection, toucan bottle opener, cactus neon artwork and clip-on tropical birds. They believe she’s content with her Hawaiian grass table skirt, shadows cast by the pineapple mood light. They believe her avenging soul won’t seep out, but she’s headhunting her perpetrators.

Canadian-born Cheryl Markosky’s a journalist, splitting her time between England and the Caribbean. Her work can be found in EllipsisZine, New Flash Fiction Review, Urban Tree Festival, Friday Flash Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed, and upcoming National Flash Fiction Day and Flash Fiction Festival anthologies. @cherylmarkosky

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