Shauna Checkley

Collateral Damage

Denise had been living in a hopeful and expectant air for weeks, awaiting a phone call, a text, an invitation in the mail, anything. She caught herself staring at her rose gold smartphone, checking it incessantly. Even beating the mail carrier to her box out front and thrusting her hand eagerly into it to only pull out a collection of pizza coupons, junk mail that seemed to get junkier all the time. Daily.

Still nothing though. Is it not going to come at all? The birthday invitation. So, what happened now? What am I accused of?

In her mind’s eye, Denise saw them, Savannah and Delaney, daughter, and granddaughter, respectively. My girls. The former grim and unsmiling, hair hanging in sharp, blunt, blonde strands, the latter a living dynamo of ADHD energy, sticky and moving.

What’s with Savannah now? Just what is her deal? Is she still toting grievances about like some big ass doll?

Denise frowned. She crossed her legs and lit a cigarette. She puffed absently. The smoke rose like a fleeing spirit. Sitting on the brown couch in the front room, it had long since lost its leather smell and was now only a smokey stiffness underneath her sagging bottom. Though she tried to partake outside as much as possible, she also knew that the air in her suite was stale and fouled from it. Whatever. God knows, I’ve tried my best. But there have been a lot of mistakes along the way too though.

Through the vents, she could hear loud, garbled voices coming from the basement suite below her. Probably Raelyn and Nik fighting again. That’s all.

Her eyes flew to the corner where the grate was, where the sound was coming from.

Beside it, a tall, ornate, standing light fixture stood sentinel like. A nearby window was covered in a smoky film. On the wall was one of many homespun sayings that she had hanging up throughout her suite. Live, Love, and Laugh. Bless this mess.

Catching sight of her fingernails and her painted bare feet only inflamed her further. Paid money to get them done professionally so I’d look extra good for Delaney’s big day, as what could be more important than an eight-year-old birthday party? Nothing. Not at that age anyhow.

Denise hadn’t stopped there though. She had her car, “Bumblebee,” washed and cleaned. Like nearly everything else in her life, her car had a nickname. It referred to the yellow and black sports car that she drove, a payout from a divorce years back.

She also had a henna put through her hair. And picked out her nicest blouse for the big day. Delaney’s upcoming birthday. It all had been carefully thought through.

On impulse, Denise texted Savannah, her grown daughter.

hey guys wats going on 4 Delaney’s birthday this year Haven’t heard from u guys or Linnea in awhile

She waited impatiently for a reply. She stared hard at her cell phone. Then at her fingernails once again, the light-yellow tabs that on her long digits appeared sophisticated, sleek.

She texted again.

Hello Savannah??

Nothing. Just empty air and suggestion.

Though an inner voice told her not to, Denise ignored such heeding and dialed her daughter straightaway.

Savannah answered on the first ring, shouting. “What do you care about Delaney anyhow? Where were you when I was a kid? I took a back seat to all your cavorting, that’s for sure.”

Then she hung up.

Denise shook her head. She reached over and butted out her smoke angrily. Her hand trembled as she did so.

What is with her? My God! It’s all in the past and I’ve formally apologized to Savannah too. I was young back then. What does she expect? And what does she want me to do about it now anyhow? It’s all in the realm of hindsight. The rear view mirror. That’s all.

And what about the truth setting you free? Why didn’t that promise pan out? So where is the reward and the reconciliation? Denise cursed that aphorism for not gracing her life with the expected deliverance that truth gives. For if anything, things had gone the opposite way. The truth had put her decidedly in the doghouse, on the top of the shit list even. Especially with her daughter Savannah, though with others as well. Fuck the truth! It really screwed things up.

Suddenly seeing Savannah as a child in her mind’s eye, that anxious, too thin child with the furtive blue eyes that tended to dart everywhere at once, Denise knew that she probably should have seen the rift between them coming. Savannah never was too content. We never did bond as close as most do. I should have tried to quell her anger and fear back then. I suppose I could have done better, at least differently for certain.

Lately, Denise had been struggling within. She tried to make peace with her unlived life, the opportunities not taken, the feelings unexpressed. There were so many different roads I could have traveled. Maybe I should have gone more Betty Crocker, Martha Stewart? But I’m a wild child and that’s all there is to it. I gotta be me!

Still, she worried that she had a design flaw like a defective appliance, a shoe with a broken heel. What is wrong with me after all? Yet she knew that she was just one of the hordes of modern women who partied down, the divorcees, single moms, “ladies’ night out” gals about the town. Cosmo after Cosmo. Hoot after Hit. Besides, it was all done in good fun after all, wasn’t it?

Chuckling inwardly, she recalled all her antics and misadventures. Back in the day, they drank in ways that were illegal now, chugging while standing on their head’s upside down in a bar, endless shot night. She recalled seeing roadside crosses a few miles from every country bar. Yes, those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end. Indeed.

Underneath her, Denise could hear more basement rumblings and grumblings. Is it the foundation or the occupants themselves? She pictured tiny, strangely shaped Raelyn. The young woman with seemingly extra short limbs, abbreviated arms, and legs but with that plucky demeanor. Nik the squatter, the stoner that occupied her couch with a masterful air, like everyone was somehow graced by his presence. Denise occasionally bumped into one or the other in the shared laundry room, often sharing a smoke or a toke or a joke with whatever party was doing a load of jeans.

Denise rented the main floor of the house. She didn’t know the tenants below that well and really preferred to just keep her distance from them. Got enough of my own problems, God knows. It’s bad enough right now that the toilet isn’t working properly and I’ll have to deal with my landlady, crazy Bernadette, the thousand-year-old Gypsy! Go figure!

Tapping her manicured fingernails on her outstretched leg, Denise was soon lost in thought. She stared at her muted big screen TV. Jeopardy was on. What book begins, All happy families are the same? Denise pondered the question.


“What did Grandma Funk want?” Carter queried. He was still clad in his work clothes. Dickies plaid and denim.

Savannah shook her head and stomped past him and out of the bathroom. They had been redoing the caulking along the bathtub as it had been hanging in unsightly strands for the longest while and Savannah could no longer tolerate it. She saw a silverfish flit from slits in the caulk. And it offended her sense of propriety and cleanliness.

Carter finished the task. Then he wiped his hands and returned to the living room. Seeing Savannah glowering on the couch, eyeing her phone suspiciously, he could feel the tension in the air. Like an Exacto knife. Guessing that the flare up had to do with Delaney’s birthday that weekend, he paused.

They exchanged strained looks. He waited for Savannah to speak.

Finally, she tucked one blunt strand of hair behind her ear and said, “Dunno why she thinks it’s okay to play grandma when she was never a mother, a parent, to me.”

Carter nodded. He understood the twisted dynamics between them. Savannah had spoken of it many times. A party girl, Denise had a riotous lifestyle that her daughter resented to this day. Pills. Booze. Dope. Parties. Men like a conga line that never stopped.

They referred to her privately as Grandma Funk. It was a nickname that stuck for obvious reasons and one that Savannah used in the most exasperated of tones. Grandma Funk!

Carter compared it to his own homespun country upbringing, and it made him sorry for
Savannah. His was a childhood of family playing board games and riding horses together, Sunday brunch with waffles. It was so different from her accounts of being pawned off to anyone and sometimes just living on drive through fries and potato chips, not even being able to sleep at times because all was so raucous and loud.

He had developed almost a paternal sense towards her as well as Delaney. Both my girls he thought protectively, though Savannah’s moods and ugly temper got to him at times. It was something he did weigh in the dead of night when his shift was starting to drag, or when he went home afterwards, and sleep eluded him like a playful child. Were her sweeping outbursts worth it, truly warranted even? Sometimes he wondered. But he always returned to the nest, nevertheless.

Racing through the room and yelling at the top of her lungs, Delaney sped by. She was a pink blur.

“That’s enough! I’m not in the mood for that!” Savannah shrieked.

Carter blinked. “Did she get her meds today?”

Savannah nodded at him impatiently. “Whaddaya think? I always see to it that she gets them.”

They exchanged frowns.

Then Savannah relented, her expression shifted to calm. A light returned to her eyes.

“Delaney always comes first. Even if it wasn’t so for me, it is for her…Linnea too” Savannah spoke softly.

Carter smiled weakly. He looked at her sadly, then nodded.


Standing out on the back step, Denise stood and puffed her cigarette. The late afternoon air was cooling down. It was like the daily changing of the guard when things settled heavy and dense. Like then.

To any passing observers, she would have seemed like an attractive, middle-aged woman albeit one funkier and hipper than polished and professional. For she rocked the tight jeans and heels and bangles that she was wearing. She was the one you’d ask what was the best club in town. Where you could get the best drink specials, just who was who and what was what. She wore that sort of tarnished, informed halo.

Then a black truck pulled up into the driveway. Honked twice.

Nik soon emerged with a duffel bag in each hand. His jaw was clenched tight.

Raelyn hurried behind him and in a loud, anguished howl, cried “Don’t leave!” She sounded like a wounded animal. It was that kind of heartbreak that was heard in every syllable and beyond, though Denise sensed it had the echo and ring of a father walking out on her, a lot of people in fact. A shiver went down Denise’s spine.

Returning indoors to her own suite, Denise opted out of the unfolding drama. Just too tense for me to be sticking my nose into it, she believed. Yet she knew it was more collateral damage as now stoner Nik would no longer be around, that glazed face lingering in the laundry room, his presence announced by sickly sweet fumes. Oh well, no big loss there, she concluded, except for maybe poor Raelyn.

Then her thoughts returned to her daughter Savannah. Wonder if she’s still playing Carter? I know she hopes to keep Carter by pretending that I was a dragon, so he’ll feel sorry for her and stay with her. She insists to him that home was part carnival, part crucible, a gong show in fact. Sure, I partied way too much back in the day. But I always worked, and she was always cared for. Nobody kept a cleaner house or cooked better meals than I did. Her needs were always met, so there’s that side of the story. My side. But no, we wouldn’t want to keep a perspective on things now, would we?

And besides, a lot of Delaney’s hyperactivity and problems could be traced back to Savannah’s own abuse of pills. She had quite a little side hustle going for the longest time with stealing, selling stuff online then buying pills and o’ding like Elvis or Michael or Prince. I know that’s a secret she’s hidden from Carter for years. All. Of. Her. Own. Bullshit. It was the very bullshit that she had never owned up to, chronically side stepped in fact.

Whatever, Denise sniffed.

The thought had crossed Denise’s mind on more than one occasion that perhaps Savannah was jealous of her bond with her kids, the grandchildren. But Denise dismissed it. One thing I know is that she’s not that petty, her rancor has not hit those rock bottom depths where the most wounded are impaled on jagged peaks, rough edges. Thank. God. For. That.

Plopping down on the couch, Denise pondered her next move. Should I try texting Linnea? Might give it a try. If I can’t get through to Savannah and Carter, then I will try Linnea.

hey sweets grama here wat r u doin 4 delaneys bday

so busy sorry

Whatta brat! Won’t have anything to do with me either. Too busy with grade twelve partying and yet she maintains that she’s disgusted by both her mom and me for doing just that! Whatever. She’s Savannah’s kid so you’ve got to expect her to have attitude, I guess.

Denise pictured the teen girl who seemed to alternate between gangsta and goth, with that fine, thin frame and bunny rabbit teeth that made her seem extra fragile somehow. When was the last time I saw my other grandkid anyhow? At least not for a couple of months, Denise knew.

Linnea had begun to spend more time lately at her dad’s place, spurning both Grandma Denise and mom Savannah and Stepdad Carter. At least dad’s got cable and a cool black Jeep, the teenager pointed out. Plus, unlimited wads of cash just for her.

Who can compete with that anyhow? Denise wondered. These days I think I’m even behind on my paltry Netflix bill and what’s that ten bucks a month? Fuck!

Hearing the ping of an incoming text, Denise grabbed for her phone. Her heart sank, however, when she saw that it was Bernadette, her landlady texting about the plugged toilet. Bernadette was decidedly new age and even insisted that she was a thousand-year-old gypsy incarnated into her present form. But she just made Denise’s headache at the best of times. How could someone like that be so wealthy, owning a honeycomb of apartments within the vicinity? Denise had almost stopped looking for any kind of normal rationale in the world about her, that wider, wilder world of Tik Tok stars, reality, and social media mavens. None of it makes sense, she had begun to concur. None. Of. It.


Sitting forward on the couch, Denise stretched her back and was relieved to feel her spine adjust, crack back into place. She butted out her cigarette and she forged a new plan.

That Saturday afternoon, the day of Delaney’s birthday party, it was one of those brilliant Autumn days where everything blazed orange and gold in varying degrees, the sun, the leaves on the trees and the piles spilling onto the grounds. Denise loved those kinds of scenic days, though she did mourn summer’s passing as well.

Driving to Savannah’s place, she had decided to crash the party. Sort of. Not quite. I’ll just drop off a present at the door, maybe sneak a quick hug from Delaney if possible. If Savannah gets ugly, I’ll just ignore it. Don’t want to make a scene on Delaney’s big day. She circled the block several times to size up the whole situation. She watched a kid (was that Shyla from daycare?) clamber out of a soccer mom style van, dropped off for the event at hand. The pig tailed girl dressed fancy in a shiny silver dress was escorted to Savannah who waited at the open door.

Omg! I hope Savannah didn’t see me!

Denise sped past the older style seventies duplex and turned the corner. She ducked her head slightly.
Continuing to circle the block, to cruise the neighborhood, Denise sought the right moment. Hope I don’t seem like some crazy stalker hahaha. Well, at least I’m driving the bumble bee and am not in an unmarked white van.

Trying to screw up her courage, Denise drove rather slowly. Yet she was immersed in thought. She hoped that Savannah would come around, if not today at the party, then hopefully eventually. Denise believed just as she had heard a counselor state on daytime TV (was that Dr. Phil?) that all people deep down want the same thing-love, unless of course they are a psychopath or something.

Maybe we can reconnect or reconcile someday after all. It was a notion that gave her hope. Maybe there will one day be peace in the House of Herzog. Who knows? Couldn’t Savannah see things in a different light, chalk it up to having a cool mom instead of someone matronly. Why not? I come complete with a pimped-out sports car after all. Hahaha.

She turned another corner. She drove straight into the sunlight. She slipped on her sunglasses.

While the tumult of the party was well underway, little girls receiving mani-pedis and makeovers (princess themed party), all a buzz and a blur of pink chiffon, glitter and fake stick-on nails, Savannah excused herself for a moment. She let Carrie, a mother helper at the party, deal with the proceedings. Then she took Carter by the elbow and led him to the doorway.

He looked at her curiously. His one eyebrow arched as it always did when he was wondering. He looked like a dandy all dressed up for the birthday party, with black dress pants and red bow tie. It was in stark contrast to his work attire.

Then Savannah leaned towards him and whispered, “Lock the door. Grandma Funk is circling.”

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About the Author

Shauna Checkley lives in Regina, Sk. Canada with their daughter and cats. Shauna is a long-term employee at Regina Public Library. She is Disabled.