It was an ongoing argument, one that hadn't seen an end for more than seven years.
"Mother, please don't patronize me. I'm not your sixteen year old daughter any more; I happen to be twenty four, in case you've forgotten!"
"Twenty four and you still live under my roof!" she fired back, knowing full well that she was striking a tender nerve. When her daughter, Jolene, ran off with a lad she'd met one night at the traveling circus, she was only sixteen years of age. The 'affair' lasted less than a week before her mother begrudgingly welcomed her back into her home; she hasn't gone out with another lad since.
The details of those missing nights are few and far between. But whatever happened, the events changed Jolene forever. Once an outgoing, vivacious young woman, upon return to her mother's home, she was an empty shell of her former self. She shunned her girlhood friends, and outwardly cringed when her mother demanded that she run down the block to pick up a few groceries. Despite many initial attempts, her mother had long since given up trying to decipher the events of those few nights. Instead, she resigned herself to the fact that her daughter was a recluse, and virtually destined to be an old maid. There would be no sprightly grandchildren from her slender thighs, or the sounds of joy and laughter to be heard within the walls of the old 'Mason Place' again.
But it was a dark and evil secret that robbed Jolene of her innocence. An evil that wasn't quite finished with her yet. It was destined to come out, and although Jolene dreaded the day that it did, she realized deep in the pit of her stomach that it couldn't be any other way. The truth would set her free, or so the self-righteous claimed. Little did they know of the truth that plagued her!
But her mother was in an exceptionally surly mood this morning, despite the bright sunlight streaming in through the frilly lace draperies. She was determined that Jolene would share in her dark mood, since it was probably her fault, anyway. "There isn't any fresh milk in the icebox. Why haven't you gone to the store and gotten some. This shit stinks! Don't you ever check it? You know I don't like the smell of sour milk."
For the first time since returning to her mother's house, Jolene didn't cringe at her mother's gravelly voice. Instead, she apologized for the souring of the milk, though she had no idea why it was her fault, and said she would run right out and get a fresh quart. If she needed an excuse to go forward, she had just been given one.
After being momentarily taken aback by her daughter's eagerness, her mother quickly found her voice and retorted, "And don't be long, I haven't had anything to eat yet this morning, thanks to you!"
For conflicting reasons that Jolene wasn't ready to analyze, she hurriedly threw on her light parka and headed through the kitchen toward the side door, the door originally intended for admitting the hired help. She was almost through it, when she suddenly realized that she'd forgotten her coin purse. Spinning abruptly, she almost bumped headlong into her mother. Standing there in her worn and faded housecoat, the tattered leather coin purse held out in her right hand, she grumbled grouchily, "You would forget your head if it wasn't attached to your shoulders. Now don't be long."
Snatching the purse from her, Jolene spun on her heels and shot out the door, suddenly unable to breathe within the confines of the old mansion. As she came out in the carport, she turned toward Tenth Street and hurriedly shuffled along the cobblestone drive. When she reached the sidewalk, she turned to her left, away from the direction of the store, and set off at a brisk pace. For the first time in seven years, she knew exactly where she was going, and why.
The revealing skirt she wore drew the eyes of several passersby, arousing more than one honking horn, and several catcalls. She wasn't wearing it to make a fashion statement, but more so, because it was in style almost eight years ago, and she hadn't purchased any new clothes since; she hadn't any need of new clothes.
After more than twenty blocks, her ankles started giving her pain, and the loafers that she'd been wearing around the house for the past seven years began to chafe on her heels. But she noticed neither the attention of the onlookers, nor the physical pain; she was much too preoccupied for such trivial concerns.
Just before reaching 48th Street, she hung a sharp left and proceeded through a broad set of wrought iron gates. By now, her ankles were badly swollen and the loafers were coming apart at the seams. Her legs were growing unsteady and she stumbled over a low rise leading into an open, grassy verge. She was flanked on either side by flat headstones set flush with the grass.
Suddenly aware of the shabby condition of her loafers, she kicked them off without any further thought or regard. Although fatigued from her journey thus far, there was no less determination in her stride. According to the news article describing the lad's final resting place, she knew she was close, and she wasn't going to stop now. This journey had been seven years in the making; she had denied her destiny much too long already!
As she drew nearer, frantically looking from one marker to the next, memories from that dreadful night seven year's prior came flooding back to her. Although she had never forgotten that night, she had done a fine job of hiding from the reality of it; until this morning. Seeing his picture spread out before her on the table, everything came crashing back. All the little details, everything. She remembered the first time she laid eyes on the tow-headed young lad, as he worked the multitude of levers that made the machinery dance and whirl. At the tender age of sweet sixteen, she was immediately enamored with him. And when he offered her a free tour through the carnival, after hours, of course, she couldn't resist. He took her on one ride after the next, each more daring and exciting than the last. Until there were no more rides left to experience, and he sought to collect his fare.
"No one rides for free, Baby," he purred.
By now, they were high above the portable bleachers, overlooking the vacated main ring. In fact, the entire big top was deserted of both people and animals. It had been a busy day for the Carney's, and they were all gone to bed. Standing on the parapet of the trapeze, he grabbed her roughly around the waist, pulling her slender body hard up against his lean, muscular build. With a dexterity that he'd developed from working the levers, he hiked up her skirt and grabbed her firm buttocks between his strong hands, grinding his fingers into her tender flesh. A small, whimpering cry escaped her lips. This wasn't what she'd expected.
He forced his tongue between her teeth, and she suddenly gagged, wanting to vomit with the revulsion that swelled up inside her. With maniacal fury, she shoved him away from her and watched in stunned fascination as he flew backwards, off the parapet. There was no net.
Scared, she frantically clambered down from the precarious perch, and without daring so much as a glance at the broken body lying in a heap on the hard-packed dirt, she ran from the arena and out into the warm, night air.
For five days and nights, she ran. From city parks to abandoned buildings to back alleys, she ran. When she couldn't run any longer, she made the choice never to speak of what had happened again, and went home to her mother. For seven years, she had remained silent, living with the growing guilt of having murdered someone, while tolerating her mother's verbal abuse. Until this morning, when her mother inadvertently left the morning paper lying open to page three, and there, looking up at her was the tow-headed lad from seven years ago.
It took her a minute to collect her wits, and then she read the caption printed in bold beneath the black and white photo, "Investigation into mysterious death from seven years ago to be reopened".
She didn't need to read any further; she already knew what it said. Suddenly, she wondered if she'd done the right thing, sending an anonymous letter to the police. Or should she have remained silent forever, quietly going insane?
As she slumped to the ground, she knew she'd made the right choice.
Will Decker is an avid writer and traveler. His best-known work is the epic Sci-Fi/Fantasy series entitled "HEÄLF", an ongoing adventure. He is a firm believer that the hardest fiction to write is the short story and that life would be boring without books.
I wrote this short story for an international contest several years ago. To my surprise, it won. I hope you enjoy, Will