Mentions of murder, brief mention of blood.
78-year-old woman brutally murdered in apartment.
At the time I was relieved. The loud voices of police officers at my door, wailing sirens outside, people asking me what happened - all that was a welcomed relief to the oldies music and scratchy voice yelling at her cats from the other side of my wall.
78-year-old Judith Maren was gone now. The world now knew her merely as a woman that was murdered in her apartment. All they would ever know is that the police never knew who did it.
The building agreed that Judith was not a pleasant woman. Of course, I wasn’t entirely blameless in the situation either, but her faults entirely outweighed mine.
She was abrasive. Children couldn’t play in front of the building. It drew too much attention to her, she claimed, and she didn’t like seeing chalk outside. She insisted on knowing when visitors were coming so she knew she wasn’t getting robbed when she saw a stranger in the elevator. Once she called the police on another elderly woman’s 12-year-old granddaughter.
She was overly sensitive. Nancy, a single mother down the hall, was always getting yelled at because her baby was crying. Sweet Nancy would open the door with frizzy hair and dark eyes, bouncing her baby on her hip while Judith would rip into her for being a terrible mother who “couldn’t even shut her baby up.”
On another occasion, I forgot to take my trash out in the morning. One bag was full of cans for the recycle bin and in my struggle to handle a few bags and a dog, the can-filled bag knocked against her door. I had prayed she wouldn’t do anything, that maybe she wasn’t even home - but of course, she was, and within moments she was leaning out the door, shouting obscenities and telling me to take my trash out at a decent time.
Of course, this made her a hypocrite because she herself was loud - arguably the loudest one on the floor. She was a fan of the Beach Boys. The entire floor knew this because at almost any given time we could hear their music, anywhere you went. I was close enough to hear the words clearly. Occasionally I wondered if she needed hearing aids, but I knew better than to ask. While it wasn’t as annoying as vacuuming at ungodly hours or using a blender early in the morning and it was easier to block out, it was annoying to come home from a long day at work and have no sense of peace and quiet.
Officer Williams asked me if I knew of anyone with a motive, anyone that would have a reason to kill her. I said no. But really, we all did. Everyone on our floor wanted the cranky old lady to go away. But that didn’t mean they wanted to kill her.
When I moved into the building three years ago I wanted to make a good impression on my neighbors. I made banana bread for everyone in the hall. It was nut free just in case anyone had an allergy. I didn’t want to kill anyone on my first week there.
My first stop was the apartment on my left. It belonged to a sweet middle-aged couple, new empty nesters who had finished traveling the world for a year and had sold their home in order to do so. Bill had thinning white hair and wore cargo shorts while Jean wore a button up shirt that looked crisply ironed. Both were very tan skinned with pale lines where their sunglasses had sat. They informed me they were only there for about six months to visit their grandchildren before heading to Argentina. They asked me if I knew Spanish, and when I said I didn’t they were disappointed, but still thanked me for the bread and expressed their excitement to get to know me.
Optimistic and glad I made a good impression on my first ever introduction to my neighbors in my first ever apartment, I headed to the other side of my door and knocked with a smile. A short, floral clad woman opened the door. Her dress was flowy and loose, her hair done up in perfect curls, and blue eyes squinted up at me until she put her glasses on.
“Hi!” I greeted. “I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m James, your new neighbor. I live right here-” I gestured to my apartment with my elbow, “-and I wanted to bring some banana bread by.”
The old woman slowly slid her glasses down to her face and peered through the saran wrap at the bread. “It got nuts in it?” Her gravelly voice was thick with some sort of accent, but I couldn’t place where it might be from.
“Nope! I know some people are allergic, so-”
“Looks like it’s got walnuts in it.”
I cleared my throat nervously. “There aren’t any nuts in it. I can show you the recipe I used, and-”
“Can’t be around anything that’s been touched by walnuts.” The way she dragged out the a sound bothered me.
I blinked. It made sense, if she had really bad allergies. Good to know. I’d have to be careful next time. “I’m sorry. I’m sure I didn’t use any nuts, but… I’ll see if maybe I can make something and be really careful.”
The women hummed.
“And I wanted to say um - if you ever need any help, I’m here! I grew up on a farm, so I know how to do a lot of repairs and stuff. I’m just in town to go to college.”
Her eyes were still fixated on the loaf of bread
I spoke for a few more minutes, just rambling, before I said goodbye and went back to my apartment to decompress from the incident. Dad had warned me that not everyone would be as friendly as I was used to and at the time I had hoped that everything could be fixed with banana bread. Mom always brought banana bread to neighbors and fellow church goers to mend relationships or give them a boost in hard times.
Seems it doesn’t always work though…
So, after she died, I was shocked when a small crew of young adults came to the apartment.
She couldn’t possibly have family. I’d never seen them, never heard of them - where did they come from? I poked my head into the apartment after a few moments on wondering and found them determining who would clean and who would start packing things up.
“What’s going on in here? You guys related to Judith or something?” I hated how nosey that sounded, but I was too astonished to find another way to word my thoughts.
“She was our grandma,” one girl said. She seemed to be the oldest, the one in charge, and she had a slight accent, though from where I couldn’t tell. She directed the others to just start on cleaning, and approached me. “Who are you?”
“Her neighbor. I live right here.” I pointed to my apartment as I stepped more fully into view. “I didn’t know Judith had any family.”
The woman sighed and shook her head. “Honestly, we all live across the country. Some of my cousins live in Italy and can only visit every couple of years, so we never got to see her. I know she was lonely, but… yeah.”
I nodded, trying to seem sympathetic, noting her accent was probably Italian.
“She was a cool grandma,” she continued. “She always seemed to know exactly what to get us, which clothes were in style, who liked what video game. I don’t think it was our parents feeding her information, either, she was just cool like that. She played volleyball at the last family reunion.”
We were talking about the same woman, right? Judith Maren? The woman who ran down the stairs to scream at the ice cream truck for driving by with their music on in front of the building and then shooed the gathering kids away?
Was she just grumpy because she was lonely? Did the kids remind her of the grandchildren she never got to see?
“You guys are lucky to have a grandma like that,” I said.
“You’re lucky to be her neighbor. I wish I could have lived next door to her. We would have had craft time all the time.”
Judith Maren does crafts? I couldn’t picture her sitting at a sewing machine, lovingly quilting, or embroidering at her window. I imagined her sitting at a couch watching the news, criticizing wars and zoo announcements.
I glanced behind this woman and noticed a long white foldable table. It was neatly organized and clean, like the rest of the apartment. Minus the pool of blood in the kitchen, of course, this woman’s apartment looked like a typical grandmother’s house. That couch looked like it would eat you while you napped.
Did I really get her all wrong? Should I have tried to get to know her more?
“I hope they catch whoever did this,” she continued, unaware of my distracted thoughts running through my mind.
“Yeah,” I agreed weakly. “Me too.”
I wished them luck, then went home. My heart was pounding, and the business card of the policeman that was taped to my fridge sent a pang of guilt into my heart.
I had made a mistake.