My Cousin May


John Burnham


There must be an ogre somewhere that dreams up ways for parents to torture kids. One of his most fiendish things is “art appreciation day.”

Mom has a firm grip on my hand as we stand here looking at a picture of two old geeks. Booor-ing or what? There’s a sign under it that says “American Gothic”—whatever that means. As I look at the woman with the tight bun and wire-rimmed glasses, my imagination begins to rescue me from the boredom.


Yes—the lady in the picture looks like my cousin May. The fact that she’s an old lady and I’m a kid or the fact that both of my parents were only children doesn’t make any difference; imagination is a wonderful thing—stuff can be whatever you want it to be. 

Yes, that’s my cousin May, but don’t let the grandmotherly appearance fool you. My cousin May doesn’t bake cookies and make quilts. My cousin may is a mule. She carries illegal stuff across borders. Last time she came into Los Angeles, she was packing two kilos of coke. The Customs guy didn’t give her a second look; stamped her passport and waved her on. (It didn’t hurt any that May had managed to get in line ahead of a blonde wearing a short skirt.)

The transfer didn’t go so well though. May walks into this deserted warehouse labeled 12D. A gorilla with full-sleeve tattoos comes out of the shadows.

“Hand over the goods, granny,” gorilla says menacingly.

May gives him the disapproving look. “That’s not the way it works, young man. You hand me the money and I hand you the goods.”

Gorilla sneers. “Ain’t gonna be no money. Ain’t even sure you’re gonna leave here alive.”

The sneer disappears from Gorilla’s face as the muzzle of a .45 peeks out from under May’s shawl. Gorilla opens his mouth but nothing comes out. A slug has entered his torso, breaking into fragments—each with enough kinetic energy to flip a Volkswagen.

As May leaves the warehouse yard, she spots a maintenance worker. “Pardon me, young man, but there’s a terrible mess in 12D that needs cleaning up.”

That’s My cousin May.


I feel mom tugging my hand. We walk a few steps and stop in front of something with a sign that says “The Potato Eaters.” This one is reeeallly boring. Whoever did it didn’t even know how to draw. Mom’s going on about how the Dutch people had to live on potatoes during the war. Donno what’s so bad about that . . . I could live on french fries. 

With what the people in the picture are wearin’ on their heads, it’s kinda hard to tell, but one of ‘em looks like a girl about my age. Yeah, that’s my cousin May. But, My cousin May aint no scared little girl hunkerin’ down, gnawing on a potato. My cousin May is part of the resistance.

My cousin May is running through the night. She stops at a house and whispers that the German supply train is two hours ahead of schedule. Then, she’s off; running down the alley, hiding behind a hedge as the German patrol goes by, sprinting to the next cover, informing the next member, until all of the demolition team has been notified.

At the gorge, Rudy is reeling out the wires from the charge as he climbs the hill. They can hear the train whistle as Hans holds the detonator box while Rudy attaches the wires.

The four men and My cousin May all hold their breath as the train rolls onto the trestle. The engine is almost across when Hans slams the handle down. An ear-splitting explosion and fireball rip through the night. The trestle collapses, breaking the train behind the first two cars. The train’s engine and lead cars slide backwards into the valley below. Momentum carries the rest of the cars forward onto the trestle and down to their doom. The cars carry a mixture of supplies, munitions, fuel,  and—unfortunately—troops. Fire erupts on the valley floor. It grows, fed by falling fuel cars. Explosions begin as the heat activates munitions.

The five people on the hillside trade high-fives and begin to disappear into the night. The young girl hesitates for a moment as screams mingle with the explosions below. That’s My cousin May.


Mom’s tugging my hand again. This time, mercifully, we are headed for the door. “Wasn’t that inspiring?” she says.

I look up at her with my most angelic expression. “Yeah. Now, can we go to the DQ?”