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Crime Fiction

Mrs. Morrison

             Mrs. Morrison was too busy to die. And yet, by the end of the day that is exactly what would happen. Her demise was unexpected, certainly not something to worry about this morning, not on a day as lovely as this. Outside her freshly painted Cape Cod, Mrs. Morrison’s azaleas were in full bloom, a little late this year but more than worth the wait. The dogwood that dear Donald had planted in 1948 reigned in the courtyard; in a week or two, depending on the rains, it would shower the brick beneath it with creamy petals; the passage of another year marked in white. Just to the north of the brick courtyard, her Lady Campbell camellias framed the one unique feature her little home possessed, a magnificent bay window lined with silk curtains, their soft pink color identical to the camellias outside.

           It was in front of this very window, on a cool but clear January day, that her daughter married that no-good Henry Rawlins. Just last night Jennifer had called to say she was leaving Henry. His latest indiscretion had been too much for Jennifer to bear. She’d overlooked the parade of secretaries and file clerks, but a waitress, well, that was simply the end. Upon finding out about it, Jennifer assumed Henry’s tramp would have “common” written all over her. A visit to the restaurant, it was a diner really, confirmed her assumption. Jennifer rarely visited the low-brow businesses on South Elm Street, but she had to see Henry’s new girl. She told her mother how unsettling it was too see Henry’s tastes sink so low.

           “Well her hair, mother, it’s so, so, unnatural. So red. It’s as if she thinks she’s Lucille Ball. And her nails, scarlet red, so glossy and cheap in the diner’s harsh light.”

           “How old is she? What’s her skin like?”

           “Well past thirty, thirty-five even. A bit hard looking, not surprising given her profession. Pale skin, pasty almost, it made the nails and hair a bit shocking.”

           “I told you marrying an accountant from Bridgetown was beneath you, and quite a mistake. You see now that I was right, but you never think to listen to your mother, do you?”

           It was at this point that Jennifer regretted calling her mother. She should have called one of her friends. It’s just that she’d lost touch with most of her sorority sisters after she’d had to leave Lufton State. She still kept in touch with Minnie and Carol, but rarely talked about her mess of a marriage. With their perfect unions, she didn’t think they’d understand. They’d serve her tea and pity and that was more than she could bear. Even so, perhaps she should have called Carol. For a change, it was Jennifer’s mother that needed to end the conversation.

           “I’ve got some errands to run, I’ll call you tomorrow dear. Get some rest. Better yet, get a facial. That always worked for me.”

           Jennifer couldn’t remember her parents ever having a relationship crisis like the one she was currently suffering. Except for the usual squabbles that every couple encounter, they always seemed comfortable, if not passionate, with each other. Not her future it seemed. She arose from the table and showered for her tennis class.

**

           “Henry, can you come over to the house after work,” Mrs. Morrison queried her busy son-in-law. “Donald’s pension fund has sent me some papers and I just don’t understand what they’re for.”

           “Um, sure, Mom, I can come after 5 but I’ve got plans after 6:30. It’ll have to be quick.”

           “Oh yes dear, I won’t keep you from your busy evening. Are you making plans with Jennifer?” She couldn’t resist the question, for she knew he’d probably be heading down to the diner after he left her home. “I’ll make some tea and scones. Just a pick-me-up before you begin your evening.”

           Henry mumbled something but by this time Mrs. Morrison was no longer listening. She had a plan.

           She simply didn’t move as fast as she used to. This thought occurred to her as she finished polishing the Edwardian tea pot her grandmother had lovingly packed on her long trip from the Liverpool docks. Not an easy pot to polish, its shape that of a large elongated hexagon, beautifully embossed with elaborate Grecian designs across the six uneven sides. She took some time getting the tarnish out of each and every groove. It was one more thing she was losing control over, letting go. Her own mother, had she been there, would have commented on its neglect. She’d better hurry to get the scones done in time for his arrival.

           She’d just finished placing the tea tray on the coffee table when Henry arrived.

           “Come in Henry, I’ve made some tea for you. Let’s have it first before you bore me with the details of the letter.”

           “Matters relating to your pension and finances are never boring Mom. I told Donald, before he died, I’d always look after your money matters.”

           Yes, of course you did, she thought. She poured while he arranged himself on the sofa. He wasn’t quite the thin man he used to be, she noted. It was also apparent that his hairline was receding most dramatically. Why hadn’t she noticed this before? They chatted a bit about the weather and the garden before he began to lecture her on her future plans.

           “I think, Mom, that you should consider selling the house, I think it’s too much work for a single woman to maintain. I don’t want plumbers and carpenters taking advantage of you.”

           Mrs. Morrison wasn’t in the mood to be lectured, she decided. “Men always try to take advantage of women, don’t they?”

           “Er, well, um, I don’t think all men are like that Mom.”

           “Hmm, I wonder.” Uh-oh, she thought, here I go. She smiled suddenly, remembering something her mother used to tell her - once you’ve swung the bat you might as well drop it and watch the ball. “Don’t you feel sometimes, Henry, that you might be taking advantage of Jennifer too.” She hoped she sounded guileless.

           “I’ve worked very hard to make Jennifer happy, and to keep her free from worries about money and finances.” He realized, as he said this, how defensive he sounded. “Has she complained to you about something?”

           “Well, Henry, she hasn’t seemed very happy lately. Surely, you’ve noticed?”

           “No, actually, I haven’t. I’ve been so busy trying to save enough money for us to buy a larger home. You and Donald were able to, why not us too.” Henry knew, with certainty, that he was on the cusp of losing his temper. Like mother, like daughter – they both had this effect upon him. He fumbled with the tip of his scone. As always, when he became angry his fingers shook.

           “I think you should take her away somewhere, perhaps to Myrtle Beach. I think she needs a vacation.”

           “Can’t afford it right now, and I’m way too busy at work right now. She’ll have to wait.”

           For some reason this made her blood boil. What she was about to say could never be taken back. “Are you too busy at work or is it your private life that’s keeping you busy?”

           “What’s that supposed to mean? What did Jennifer say to you?”

           “She knows you’ve taken up with a new tart. She’s even seen her. Common I understand, very Bridgetown.”

           “God damnit, you never give up with the barbs about Bridgetown. You’ll never forgive me for daring to date your perfect daughter, how dare a boy from Bridgetown think he can ‘stick his dipstick’ in a girl from Lufton. Your daughter’s a frigid bitch. You should know that before you rail against my morals.”

           Mrs. Morrison wasn’t sure which part of his response injured her the most. Was it the vile (and totally inappropriate) sexual comment or was it his remark about her daughter’s frigidity? She picked up the teapot just to give her something to do while she processed her rage. Instead of filling a teacup or banging it down upon the polished tray, however, she stood up, arm and teapot now in one movement as she moved it in an arc above his head. Perhaps it was something as simple as her astonishment when the tea spilled out of the pot and down her wrist and arm that caused her to abandon her plan. Damnit, it hurt. She lost her footing on the thick rug and tumbled down, teapot in hand. As she fell her perfectly coiffured head hit the edge of the coffee table.

           In Mrs. Morrison’s last moments, she had just two thoughts. She hoped, dearly and fervently, that the blood that seeped out of her head would not stain the Aubusson rug. She hoped Jennifer would take care of that. More importantly, though, she hoped Henry, even with his brutish, common ways, would realize what her Donald had. It was time to quit the women and the booze and just stay home. It was healthier that way. Sometimes a man had to know when to quit. 

April 13, 2021 22:26

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2 comments

Gip Roberts
19:38 Oct 02, 2022

Nice, attention-grabbing opening line. The story that follows kept me reading too.

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James Freeh
01:25 Nov 14, 2022

Thanks! I have to confess it was a prompt given to me!

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