“Orin,” Hattie Moon said, looking out their front storm door. “You’re not going to believe where our newspaper is! All over God’s creation. Can you imagine? What was Jason thinking?”
She glanced back into the living room. The soft brown eyes of a man in uniform met her gaze.
“Yes,” Hattie said to her dead husband’s photograph. “Now, let’s not make assumptions. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation. This darn latch probably didn’t catch. It’s very windy, you know.”
Orin’s everlasting smile held no response.
Hattie pivoted around.
A charcoal gray sky, dense and swirling loomed above. Tree branches swayed from twisting winds and heavy rain. Pools of water, no longer able to drain away, swelled up the driveways. Craning her neck, Hattie stretched taller to see if any of the paper could be salvaged.
“Should we call over to the Meekses and talk to Jason? But I wouldn’t want to wake anyone. It’s only seven-thirty.”
Frigid air from the drafty door swept across her cheek. “Of course, I could ask Howie for his paper. But you know how he gets. If I mention any problems, he’ll find some excuse to tell me this house is more than I can handle. Remember how he got a few days ago when the pilot light went out? Said I could have blown up the place.”
Her breath made a small, foggy circle on the glass. With a patch of blanket that hung from her shoulders, she wiped the spot clean. “No, asking our son for his paper may not be the best idea.”
Lucy came to the door and rubbed against her legs. “And you. Don’t even think about running off.” Lucy meowed, then focused a wide-eyed stare at the storm.
The day was turning ugly. Not only had her sleep been interrupted by arthritic hip pain and nature calls to the bathroom, but it was further compromised by lightning and thunder that had flashed and cracked so loud and close, she had jolted upright, spraining a muscle in her back. Now the tray of buttered rye toast, soft-boiled egg, and cup of tea was cooling to room temperature and she’d have to reconsider her plan of enjoying a warm breakfast while cutting out the coupons.
Across the front yard, sheets of newspaper, with their corners flapping in the wind, collected along the chain-link fence that separated her property from the Spencer’s. Judging from the paper size and color, Hattie felt certain these were the inserts she needed.
For years, Hattie set aside five dollars every week for any advertised precooked, flash-frozen or vacuumed-packed food product that her son could throw in the microwave. How he survived eating so much processed food was a mystery. Still, buying him these things were small payment for their weekly trek to the supermarket. Hattie thought hard. Perhaps the pages could be collected and dried on the radiator. Certainly, that was an option. Looking for signs of life, she glanced up and down the street. No lights appeared in any window. Quite possibly the few neighbors were still asleep, and if she were to run out, she wouldn’t even have to get dressed. Besides how long would it take? Surely not more than five minutes.
An accumulation of coats and shoes cluttered the small front closet. With the blanket puddled at her feet, Hattie reached for her warmest wrap, a black winter coat with a faux leopard-skin collar. She had worn it to Orin’s funeral thirteen years earlier, and one other time when she and Howie had gone to the Philharmonic to see some Irish dancers. The sheer weight of it made her arms weak. Still, she managed to slip it on over the long flannel nightgown and cardigan sweater. She then straightened her shoulders and fastened the four buttons.
Unable to see the dark closet floor, she rummaged with her feet and kicked a discarded pair of Howie’s sneakers into the vestibule. More like boats than shoes, she stepped into them with her slippers still on. Surprisingly, they fit. On tippy-toes, she then grabbed an old blue knit cap of Orin’s and planted it on her head. Hattie shied away from a mirror that hung on an opposite wall. She had no desire to see an eighty-three-year-old woman who, in all likelihood, appeared more discombobulated than Mrs. Potato Head.
At the storm door, she looked at the grim sky, braced herself, and pressed the latch. In an instant, a gust of wind ripped the door from her hands. Spinning around, it crashed against the house and frigid air blew into the small hallway. Seeing an opportunity, Lucy sprinted out.
“Nuts!” Hattie yelled. “Lucy come back here.” But by the time her words were spoken, the cat had scampered across the lawn and into the ivy under the maple tree. Now she had another thing to worry about.
There was no turning back. Hattie stepped onto the porch and wrestled the storm door closed, pushing it hard until it clicked. Then, as the rain came down in frigid heavy drops, she grabbed the railing and held on for dear life. Gingerly, she descended the three stairs, one at a time. “Please,” she said quietly. “Not my hip. Not here. Not now. Howie will kill me. Or worse.” She had a vision of herself lying helpless on a plastic sheet in a nursing home bed with unfamiliar hands giving her a sponge bath. She willed the troubling thought away.
At the bottom of the stairs, more storm damage came into view. Not only was the newspaper scattered across the lawn, but a huge tree limb had landed on the driveway. A sinking feeling lodged in her stomach. Could Jason have been hurt by a falling branch? She looked for any signs of him. He’d be easy to spot given the Army coat he had taken to wearing no matter what the weather. However, it was still rather dark and if he were lying somewhere . . .
Again, she thought of calling his house. But what if he hadn’t gotten home yet? She remembered her own pacing whenever Howie was late. Boys, she’d learned, perceived time differently; it seemed to get away from them.
She made a decision. Before salvaging the ads, she would take a quick walk to the street and look down the few paths that led to each house. Since Woodberry Lane was a dead-end and only ran the length of a few houses on each side, it would hardly be an inconvenience.
Castaway leaves, layers thick, covered the concrete sidewalk. To prevent slipping, Hattie opted for safety and headed across the wet lawn toward the street, passing Lucy who now peeked out from an overhang of bushes. Hattie said under her breath, “You’re going to get it.” Lucy meowed. Unlike her deceased husband Orin, Lucy always talked back. Just as Hattie reached the sidewalk to look for Jason, she saw trouble. Ralph Troutman’s truck swerved onto the street. Nuts. He and Howie were in cahoots, always keeping tabs on her. How could she explain being outside on a day like today, dressed as she was? Surely, he’d tell Howie.
Hattie quickly turned left and began walking away with purpose, although what purpose she could possibly have so early in the morning on a day like today was even a mystery to her.
In the distance she heard a car door slam. Then sure enough, two seconds later her name was called out.
Hattie stopped and turned.
Ralph was already at the foot of his driveway. He was a big, squarish man, with a shock of thick gray hair. “What are you up to?”
She could have told him the truth, that she was looking for an impaled paperboy, a derelict cat, and the coupons for space food but she knew none of her honest explanations would please either Ralph or her son. She had to say something. “Have you seen Jason?” she asked innocently.
“No, I just came from having breakfast. Is there a problem?”
Ralph often asked if there was a problem. He was the neighborhood handyman. Problems were his bread and butter.
“Not really, I just was worried that something may have happened to him.”
Ralph approached Hattie, looking at her feet. “Why would you think that?”
Hattie could sense Ralph was making some quick deductions about her sanity. “The paper wasn’t delivered.”
Ralph looked over to her property. His eyes widened.
“Well, it was delivered,” she added, “just not in the traditional way.”
“Darn kid,” Ralph said. “What a mess! Do you want me to go to his house?”
“Now don’t you go off on that poor boy,” Hattie said with as much force as she could muster. “I’m sure the weather had something to do with the situation.”
Ralph shook his head. “Brainless, bottom line. Kids today. Too much texting, video games, sex. Eyes are everywhere but on the ball. Doesn’t take a genius to know you can’t leave a paper outside on a day like this.”
“Yes. But do you think he could have gotten hit on the head?”
“Knocked silly, you mean.” He laughed rather cruelly.
Hattie suspected Ralph’s mood would soon worsen. Topics like children, gun control, women’s rights, turned him red, blubbering and insanely irrational. He needed to be refocused quickly.
“Ralph, only God controls the weather.”
He nodded, then looked up at the sky. “Weather’s supposed to break by noon. I’ll come over and clean up when it stops raining.”
She would have liked to have told him not to bother, but the branch in the driveway was more than she could handle.
“Now don’t worry about a thing. Just go back inside and get dry. I’ll take care of everything.” He grabbed her arm. “Let me walk you to the door.”
She shrugged him off. “That won’t be necessary. I’m quite capable.”
He backed off. Besides religion, Ralph had respect for independence. “Alright then,” he said. “I’ll see you later.”
Hattie nodded as Ralph turned around. His tall, broad frame lumbered across the street.
Perhaps he was right about Jason being distracted. Besides the brunt of the storm was around four in the morning, hours before he would have delivered the papers. The best thing to do was to call over to Jason’s house in an hour. Just to check. Meanwhile, she had to find those darn ads.
She stepped to the far side of the lawn where the sheets of newspaper had accumulated. At the fence, she hooked her fingers around the cold wire mesh, bent down and grabbed a sheet. Soaked, but still intact, was a picture of a Salisbury steak with impeccable grill marks. She looked closer. Eureka! A whole dollar-off coupon ran along the bottom. Perhaps the tedious morning was over and she could enjoy some warm tea after all. Stooping down, she gathered more clumps of wet paper and stuffed them into her coat pockets. Once inside, she’d look them over.
Suddenly, Lucy appeared, tantalizingly close.
Hattie inched toward her. “Good kitty.”
The cat’s tail swiped wide, quick, and in a flash, she turned and bolted down the side yard into the back.
“You little wisenheimer,” Hattie said. “Get over here.” Of course she was ignored.
The best thing to do was to let the cat languish outside. When sufficiently cold and soaked, she’d jump onto the kitchen sill and paw at the window. But in this weather with the freezing rain and falling branches anything could happen and Howie wasn’t going to tolerate another vet bill. With no other option, Hattie followed.
The property behind Hattie’s home extended to a far tree line where dense brush and ground cover flourished. It was a favored spot for Lucy. There she could stay hidden and vigilant for the squirrels that ventured onto the ground.
Walking toward the area, Hattie called out, “Lucy, here this very minute.”
A disembodied meow responded.
Hattie searched for movement in the pachysandra. But something else, tangled in the green leaves, caught her attention – an olive-green coat.
Her passing glance stopped cold. His white T-shirt stood out as bright and piercing as a flash of lightning. His head was turned, twisted unnaturally; his tender brown eyes stared, wide-open and lifeless. Were those tears or raindrops on his face?
Hattie looked for a fallen branch or blood trickling from his chest or head. Nothing. A chill, icy cold, ran through her.
“Jason?” she whispered.
Driving rain pelted his body. She absorbed details - a coat unbuttoned, an untied shoelace.
“Jason?” her voice echoed.
She stepped backwards, onto Lucy’s tail. A tortured screech ripped into the air.
Quickly, she bent over and grasped the mass of wet fur. She then hobbled off as fast as she could with shoes too big, an arthritic hip, and a clawing cat clamped under her arm.
Shaken, Hattie reclined on the couch, as Lucy, now dry, curled up by the radiator. Somehow, they had survived the shock of finding Jason.
A dead body in her backyard was more unsettling than she could have ever imagined. Dear Jason. His face, so pale and still. Those staring eyes, hollow and empty. Death, she had felt was a natural process, but the young boy’s discarded body, lying unprotected and vulnerable to the elements, was nowhere near natural. It was, instead, horribly obscene.
A red light strobed across the living room walls. Another police car must have pulled in front of the house. Hattie looked at Detective Ted Blansky, a high school friend of Howie’s, who stood at the window. His profile was not unlike Alfred Hitchcock’s – a bit extended in the stomach, sparse hair, with a nose reminiscent of a ski jump. A toothpick stuck out from his lips.
“Ted,” Hattie asked, “has Jason’s family been notified?”
“Been taken care of.”
Hattie’s heart fluttered. What would Jason’s family be feeling now? Their lives forever changed, crumbled.
The detective turned toward Hattie. “Coroner should be here any minute. So how long did you know the kid?”
The kid. How cold and irreverent it sounded. “Are you referring to Jason?” she asked pointedly.
“Oh my, has to be six or seven years. Been delivering papers for at least that long. He even carried my papers to the curb in the recycling box . . .”
Hattie’s voice petered out. She remembered Jason as a young boy dragging the heavy bin to the curb; then later as a young man who heaved it effortlessly atop one shoulder.
“So, it was the newspaper that made you go outside?”
“And you didn’t hear him earlier?”
An aching guilt was building. If only she had the curtains open, maybe she would have heard or seen him. Maybe she could have helped. After all, she had been up since four in the morning roaming around the house like some ridiculous blind mouse, doing useless things she could no longer recall.
“Did you have any concerns about him?”
“What do you mean? What sort of concerns?”
He shrugged. “Kids. Full of energy and nowhere to spend it. Did he seem high strung or nervous?”
“Jason? Not at all. He was always calm, even-tempered.”
“What were his interests?”
“He loved animals. For the longest time he had talked about becoming a veterinarian, but recently he decided to design and build animal habitats in zoos. Can you imagine?”
“Did he seem depressed?”
“Depressed? Heaven’s no. Why do you ask?”
Hattie studied the detective. He was fishing for something. “What are you implying?”
He removed the toothpick from his mouth. “Nothing, Mrs. Moon. Just gathering information.”
“Are you suggesting he committed suicide?”
“My Lord, of course it happens, but Jason had plans, he talked about the future. He was applying for college for goodness sake.” Hattie shook her head with conviction. “Besides why would he bother delivering the papers if he was about to hurt himself?”
The corners of Detective Blansky’s lips hinted at a smile. “Mrs. Moon, you’d make a good investigator.”
Hattie wasn’t sure if he was being condescending. She rearranged the blanket that covered her legs. “One has to be logical about such things.”
He nodded then faced the window.
As a boy Ted Blansky was a rather heavy-set child who would, only on occasion, come to their house. He tended to be quiet, and by the time he was in high school, sullen and antisocial. Clearly, his laconic demeanor hadn’t changed. Given his profession, maybe it was for the best.
“Did the boy usually go into your yard?”
Hattie had been baffled about this all morning. She had never known Jason to go any farther than the back door. His home was in the opposite direction and he was very conscientious about people’s property and privacy. He never wanted to do anything that would get him in trouble or have someone yell at him. He was just that kind of kid. “As far as I know, Jason never cut through the yard.”
“Were you aware of any problems?”
“Problems? What kind of problems?”
He continued staring out to the street. “The usual. Girlfriend. Family. School. That sort of thing.”
Hattie shook her head. “He never spoke of any.”
“Any health concerns?”
“No,” Hattie said. Still, she wondered. It certainly wasn’t unheard of for a young person to die suddenly from any number of medical problems. Could natural causes account for the poor child’s untimely demise? After all there was no blood that she could see. Sudden death could happen to anyone, at any time. Blood vessels leaked, hearts stopped, lungs filled with fluid. Perhaps he had a virus of some sort, or developed an allergy, or was bitten by something. But why didn’t he pass out closer to one of the houses? Why was he so far off his normal route?
The detective cleared his throat. “There’s a crowd gathering.” He glanced at Hattie. “Mrs. Moon, would you mind coming over here and telling me if anyone looks familiar?”
Hattie swung her feet onto the floor. She would do anything the detective asked. She rose from the couch pushing herself up with weak, trembling arms.
It was still raining, only now it had abated to a drizzle. The long branch that had fallen on her property was set by the curb. An ambulance, with its back doors opened wide, sat in her drive. Two men in white uniforms crouched in the back of the vehicle. On the other side of the driveway, a small group of people congregated – all neighbors.
While Woodberry was a street of cordial people, there had never been any communal activity; no street sales or weekend planting projects. The most collective thing the neighborhood had done was snow blow the street after a thirty-inch snowfall. Her contribution, at that time, had been freshly-baked shortbread cookies.
Hattie wasn’t sure how to respond to her neighbors’ inquisitive glances. Ralph was the first to acknowledge her with a wave. She waved back.
“They all live on this street,” she told the detective with a forced, public smile.
Scott Richards gave Hattie a thumbs up. His lips moved. Whatever he said made the others grin. Perhaps they’d thought something had happened to her.
“That man with the glasses, behind the others, looks familiar. Who is he?” Blansky asked.
“That’s Scott Richards, our mailman. He lives on the corner lot.”
“Yes, now I recognize him. And the man standing next to him?”
“Ralph Troutman. His home is directly across the street.”
“I see. And what about the young woman?”
Was he referring to Julia or Roxanne? She followed his line of vision. His eyes seemed riveted on Roxanne. Men’s eyes usually were. Even Howie gaped at her whenever he had the opportunity.
“That’s Roxanne Pastelle. She lives next to Ralph and owns the beauty shop around the corner. You may be familiar with it. Foxy Roxy’s.”
He nodded vaguely.
Roxanne shivered in a light sweater. Her face, framed by tousled blond hair, had a rosy glow. While not particularly young, after all she had a teenage son, she seemed youthful in many ways: energetic, friendly, always smiling. And there was something else about her, a style that was all her own, like some exotic bird. Of course, men were always fascinated with blondes, drawn to them like children to candy, so sugary sweet to the eye. But Roxanne had more than that to offer. Rumors were her investments thrived as well as her beauty business and that she, according to Howie, had gotten in on the ground floor of the technology and communication boom. Still, her spring vacations to Bermuda and in-ground swimming pool couldn’t explain her poor judgment in not wearing a jacket on a day like today. Blind spots. How we all have them.
“Who’s the kid next to her?”
“That’s her son Bailey.”
Hattie turned to the detective. “Yes. Do you know Bailey?”
“Heard the name.” He bit on the toothpick. “And who are the two under the umbrella?”
“The Spencers. They’re married and live on this side of me.” Hattie gestured to the left.
“Is anyone missing?” the detective asked.
“Are some people who live on the street not out front?”
Hattie thought it was a curious question. Could what you don’t see be as important as what you do? She’d have to remember that.
“Well, let me think. Muriel Manning lives at the dead end. But she’s in the hospital. Poor thing mixed up her medication a few days ago. She’s better now. And the Webers. Very nice people. They live right next door on this side.” Hattie pointed in the general direction. “But they spend winters in Phoenix and left earlier this month. Mrs. Weber has breathing problems. The dry climate seems to help.”
Hattie looked over the small group to make sure everyone was accounted for. How odd they seemed – together, yet still separate, as if each person were waiting for a bus. “I suppose that’s it,” she said.
Detective Blansky nodded. Hattie considered his unreadable expression. “Ted, do you think Jason died of natural causes?”
He took the toothpick from his mouth. “Mrs. Moon, we can assume nothing until the autopsy and the lab tests are completed.”
Hattie nodded. “Of course.”
Still, Hattie couldn’t help but wonder about other things. Why wasn’t Jason’s coat buttoned properly? Given the weather, wouldn’t he have bundled up? And an untied shoelace. With all the rain and mud, wouldn’t his sneakers have gotten stuck? Wouldn’t he have tied them?
“Ted, what if. . . .”
“What if what, Mrs. Moon?”
“Well, if it wasn’t a natural death, it would have to be unnatural.”
He craned his neck, peering out the window and toward the corner. “Mrs. Moon, there are many ways a person can die.”
What was he referring to? An accident of sorts?
A dark blue sedan pulled onto the block.
“Here comes the coroner.” Detective Blansky said. “Thanks for your help. Things should be moving along now.”
Hattie assumed he meant that the body would be properly taken care of.
The detective walked to the door with Hattie in tow. “Now you take it easy. Howie’s coming over, right?”
“Yes, I left a message on his machine as you suggested.”
“Good.” He turned the knob. “If I have any more questions, I’ll be in touch.”
“I’d be happy to help in any way I can.”
After closing the door, Hattie glanced at her husband’s photograph. “Orin. Give me strength.” She then continued to the kitchen and looked out the rear window.
Several policemen straighten as Blansky and a suited man approached the yellow tape. Nods were exchanged and the examiner stooped into the greenery. A minute later he stood and wrote on a clipboard. The officers huddled together and passed around plastic bags. Darn. What had she missed?
Howie, Hattie’s son, paced across the kitchen floor.
Hattie would never say that her one and only son was unattractive, but he had seemed to have inherited the recessive genes, leaving him with a washed-out look. Hattie saw her matching blue eyes, pale complexion, and straight dishwater hair that was thinning. And while he was taller than she, at five-foot-eight, it hardly put him in his father’s range of over six feet.
“You can’t expect to stay in this house. You’ve got to move. It’s too dangerous living alone. Jeez, Ma, a dead body in your backyard! This is the last straw.”
Hattie took a sip of tea. She wasn’t going anywhere at any time. Placing down the cup she calmly said, “Howie. I’m not leaving. And please don’t refer to Jason as a dead body.”
Her son stopped at the sink, then turned with a sweep of his arms. “Look at how you’re living. You’re not even using the house. You sleep on the couch, bathe in the kitchen. Don’t use the upstairs. Not to mention the gas problem. You can’t expect me—”
Hattie interrupted. “The gas problem could have happened to anyone. How was I supposed to know the pilot had blown out? I hadn’t turned on the heat all summer.”
“Yeah, well since you never go into the basement. One lit match and the whole place could’ve blown up.”
“I don’t smoke,” she said flatly.
Howie took a few steps and sat at the table. “That’s not the point.” He spoke in a measured voice. “The point is you need to be around people. You never get dressed or leave the house anymore.”
Hattie tugged at the collar of her housecoat. She did visit Muriel, she could argue, but that observation would set him off. Muriel was, in his less eloquent words, a ‘nut case’. She glanced out the window and wondered when the hierarchy of their relationship had changed. When had he become the parent and she the child? If only she had seen it coming, she’d have nipped it in the bud.
“You’re sleeping in the afternoon, then roaming the house at all hours of the night.”
“I sleep when I want to. Is that such a crime? And, for your information, I do get dressed, change my underwear every day.”
“Please, Ma,” he said shaking his head.
Hattie considered the tablecloth pattern and outlined one of the little red squares with her fingertip.
She’d be the first to admit that occasionally she didn’t quite know what time it was, or what day. However, it wasn’t a memory problem as she had asserted on multiple occasions, but an uncomplicated matter of not bothering to keep track. Her reasoning was simple: after eighty-three years, time had become redundant and generally tiresome.
Howie, of course, didn’t always agree. The nerve. She was getting the pressure-cooker treatment from her own son who hadn’t stayed in one place for more than a few months since his divorce. He was a fine one to talk. Nothing more than a vagabond, a gypsy with a college education. She imagined Orin was shaking his head right at this very moment; ten-thousand dollars spent on tuition, and for what? She looked up and glared at her son.
“What?” he asked defensively.
“Ma, you saw the brochure. It’s a nice one-bedroom apartment, wall-to-wall carpeting, modern kitchen, elevators. Twenty-four-hour service with the press of a button. What’s the problem?”
A heated rush surfaced, then bubbled over. “The problem? What about the dining room set? Your father made that. Where in that mouse hole of an apartment is that supposed to fit? And the train set in the attic, are you going to be taking that? Because I’m not leaving it or selling it.”
Howie rolled his eyes. “Downsize, Ma. Listen, we all got to do it sometime.”
“Does your downsizing include me staying in bed and being rolled from one side to another while they change my sheets? Does it include being hooked up to a bag so I won’t have to go to the bathroom? Does it include cold soup and food that’s wrapped in plastic and pills the size of chestnuts to put me to sleep and—”
“Now Ma, we’ve been down this road. I’m not talking about a nursing home. It’s an apartment, where you have your own key, come and go as you like. Cook, clean, or walk around with your finger in your ear, if it suits you.”
“You mean like this!” Hattie stood up and sashayed around the kitchen with her finger in her ear.
Howie gave her a wry smile. “Funny. But aren’t you being a tad difficult?”
Difficult? Not one bit. She was fighting for her life. Her survival, whatever time she had left, could only be assured by staying in the house, hers and Orin’s house. She scanned the small kitchen. So many memories: his chair, the misplaced tile, the light fixture they had argued over because of the price. All objects that kept her heart beating.
Hattie stood firm. “I’m sorry, but this conversation is over. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some chores to do.”
Walking down the hallway, she heard him say, “Aw Ma, come on.”
Once in the living room, Hattie considered Orin’s liquid brown eyes. “He’s at it again,” she whispered as she puffed a throw pillow.
“And that’s another thing,” Howie yelled from the kitchen.
“And that’s another thing,” she mimicked, under her breath.
Howie barreled into the hall. “Why are you always talking to him? It’s not normal.”
Hattie spun around. “Do you ever think of your father?”
He stopped abruptly. “Well of course. But—”
“And do you ever wonder if he’s watching you, or aware of you in some way? For instance, during a Notre Dame game do you ever think, Gee dad, did you see that?”
Howie sighed with exasperation. “Ma, what’s the point?”
“Okay. Maybe. Sometimes.”
“So what’s the difference if you think it and I say it?”
Howie didn’t answer.
Hattie’s shoulders loosened. “I know I talk to your father, but I’m not crazy. Crazy would be if he talked back.”
“Well, you’re right there.”
For once he agreed. Of course, if she were to be truly honest, she’d tell Howie that while she hadn’t heard Orin’s voice, it was the one thing she’d been praying to hear for thirteen years.
A ray of sunlight creased through the partially-closed curtains.
She needed to change the subject. “Howie, would you mind opening the drapes?”
He lumbered over and pulled the cord. With each tug, more light filled the living room.
Hattie sank into the couch.
Granted, her son was right about certain things. When was the last time she dusted, or bothered to stack the newspapers and put them in the back hall? Several weeks of towels were balled up on cushions, table tops and along the backs of her wingback chairs. Two hot water bottles, bloated and wobbly lay in the middle of the floor where she had warmed her feet several nights earlier. Hard-candy wrappers littered the floor along with leaves and muddy footprints from the day’s activities. She looked at the sleeve of her light blue sweater and plucked away at Lucy’s black fur.
“By the way,” Howie said. “Ralph called me earlier today.”
Hattie braced herself for another onslaught about her sanity.
“What made you go outside this morning anyway?”
“Oh, I forgot,” Hattie said. “Where’s my coat?”
Something dark was draped over one of the dining room chairs. She pointed. “There it is. I got some food coupons in the pockets.” She edged forward on the couch. “I need to lay them out to dry.”
Howie crossed past her. “Ma, just sit down.”He lifted the coat, fished through the pockets and tossed the wet pages onto the dining room table.
“One of them was for Salisbury steak,” she said. “Your favorite.”
He collapsed onto a dining room chair and began to unravel the crumpled balls. The light made his hair seem like golden straw, a pretty honey color, like when he was a boy.
“Howie, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said quietly.
But he didn’t seem fine, sitting there, slumped over, flattening out the pages. She didn’t like it when he argued, but when he got quiet and distant, it worried her. She then thought of Jason and his own mother. A friend of hers once said that when you have a child, it’s like throwing your heart into the street. She looked at Howie and her chest ached.
Suddenly, he stopped fiddling with the papers. “Ma, there’s something you need to know. I spoke with Ted Blansky. I know you don’t want to hear this. God knows I sure didn’t.” He looked at Hattie with concern. “Jason died of an overdose.”
“An overdose? You mean he took too much medication?”
“Not exactly, Ma. The kid was a drug dealer.”
“Drug dealer, Ma. And where there are drug dealers there are users and where there are users there are burglaries, hold-ups and people not in their right mind. I’m telling you staying in this house is dangerous.”