When my mom yelled, "Get over to
Grandma's house!" it meant two things.
Take the bus to the Heights, and “don’t
tell anyone where you’re going.” On these
special trips my grandmother would wait
at the front window on the second floor
until she saw me get off the bus. Then
she'd duck back in and cut me a big chunk
of apple pie. I'd run the half block, taking
the stairs two at a time, listening for the
low murmur of men's voices in the hall.
Then I'd slow down so they wouldn’t
notice how anxious I was to get my piece
The men were always there. The smokers
stood in the hall while the rest lined the
walls of the apartment, patting my head
as I went by. Their gentle brogues greeted
me with, "Good to see you, laddy," or
"Lookin’ grand, boyo." The smell of
tobacco and whiskey clung to their clothes
like Dublin perfume. Some of them had
fingers and arms missing, one was blind,
another had no leg, but each one always
had a warm greeting for a little boy
looking for his piece of pie.
My grandmother would be waiting at the
end of the line to lead me past the large
wooden crates stacked in the living room.
Four feet long, two feet wide, with
DANGER, HANDLE WITH CARE and
EXTREME CAUTION stamped all over them
in bright red ink. Some were wrapped in
blankets like children asleep in the
corners. An acrid, oily smell seemed to be
in the room when they were there, and
Granny would rush me by them with a
gentle push against the back of my
Into the kitchen we’d go where that big
piece of pie would be sitting on the table
next to the sweating bowl of cold whipped
cream. She’d pour the tea and look me
straight in the eye. "You know what to do,
Jack...where to go...who to see," she'd
say in her lilting brogue. I'd just nod with
my mouth full of the warm pie and
whipped cream. "It's the same as last time
and the time before that. See only
Himself. If he's not there, you’re to come
straight back here."
“Is it for the six counties again, mum?”
“That it is, boy. Don’t dawdle...and go out
through the backyard like last time.” Then
she’d stop talking, wait for me to swallow,
and say, “You’re to tell him—”
“The crates are in.”
“You’re a smart one, Jack,” she’d say,
pinching my cheek. Then she’d slip an
envelope out of her apron, with funny
looking stamps on it, and shove it into my
hand. “And if he’s there, give him this and
wait for an answer. If he’s not...bring it
straight back here.”
I never did have to go back to Grandma’s
house because he was always there in that
dark apartment over in Eastchester. He
was a giant of a man with a crutch under
his arm and a missing foot. A man that
never said, please or thank you or much
of anything else.
"The crates are in, sir, and I’m to wait for
an answer,” I’d say, handing him the letter.
He’d nod at me, shove some loose change
into my pocket, and point to a little blue
bowl of hard candy on the table. "Take a
sucker, son. I won't be long," he’d say,
and leave me alone in the gloom.
I’d take one of the striped peppermints
from the bowl and sit on the bulky couch
with its stained green slipcover. It was a
dreary place with its worn out linoleum
and mismatched furniture. A chipped
green vase, with a drooping sprig of pussy
willow, stood on a painted table. Under it
was a neat row of left-footed shoes.
On that particular day I reached for
another sucker and heard a high-pitched
sound like the cry of a wounded animal.
Growing louder it melted into a low litany
that flowed under the door. Someone was
crying in the next room. When I mustered
the courage to peek in I saw the one-
footed man on his knees, his whole body
heaving and wrenching with sobs. His
crutch leaned against a rumpled bed and
the rhythm of his chanting kept repeating,
“Mary, Mother of God, pray for us who
have recourse to thee.”
"Did I do something wrong, sir?” I
He looked up at me standing in the
doorway, then grabbed for his crutch.
Rising like a mountain, eyes wet with
tears, swaying back and forth like a
madman, he said, "My only boy is gone.
They’ve killed him."
“I’m sorry, sir.”
"You better stay away from us from now
on. Don't get wrapped in these troubles,
"We'll suffer them alone. They’re ours...
“Is it about the six counties, sir?” My little
voice echoed in the dark room.
“It’s best you run home now,” was all he
“Yes, sir,” I said, backing away and
running down the old wooden steps that
led out to the street. When I got back on
the bus I reached into my shirt pocket for
the loose change he’d put there.
It wasn't until years later that I under-
stood why I’d been bribed with money and
whipped cream. In those apple pie days it
was easy to make a little boy happy, and
even easier to make a one-footed giant
J.S. Kierland's short stories have been published in Playboy,
Bryant Review, Muse & Stone, Oracle, Colere, International
Short Story, and Front Range, among others. A graduate of
Yale Drama School, he has written two Hollywood films and
rewritten several others, but managed to escape before he
ever did that again. He now hides out somewhere in the