“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”
That was what my grandfather used to tell me. He was, after all, that kind of jack. He could easily start a new hobby or develop a new skill. I remember my mother explaining to me when I was a child why grandpa was like that. She said, he grew up in poverty and was almost deprived of anything he could’ve enjoyed when he was young. Thus, when he got older and became financially secured, he started pursuing all the things he had always wanted to do.
I couldn’t help but remember him when I first got to know my neighbor, a middle-aged woman who lived alone. Barely a week of living here, I figured she was no different from my grandfather. One moment, she’d be gardening, next she’d be sitting in her porch sewing something. I have also seen her exercising, tinkering with something in her garage, and during my first night, before I even thought about ordering something for dinner, she came over with a tray of freshly baked lasagna, which smelled and tasted great.
She boasted about this recipe of hers being the best in the neighborhood. She didn’t stay long though. After telling me to not worry about immediately returning the tray—after seeing that my house barely looked like one with all my stuff still in transit—she returned to her house.
The next time I got the chance to chat with her was when she brought me a jar of cookies. Although it smelled and looked great as well, she didn’t seem as confident about it compared to her lasagna.
“I just started baking, so I’m not really good at it,” she said almost defensively as I took one cookie and ate it in front of her. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. I think that lasagna somehow raised my expectation of her being a great cook, and this cookie was a total letdown.
“It’s good,” I lied. “A few more practice and you’ll be able to claim the title of the best cookie baker in this neighborhood too, next to your lasagna.”
For a moment, she looked at me with wide eyes and was about to blurt something but stopped herself. After a couple of seconds, she replied with a sweet smile, “Right, I should do that.”
I took my chance to tell her how much she reminded me of my grandfather, having seen her doing all sorts of things in her house all week. She looked surprised though, as if she never expected a neighbor to notice her with all her varying activities. I thought it was fairly normal, knowing that it had been years since she last had a neighbor, as my realtor told me.
“Ah, yes,” she said. “I can’t seem to just stick to one hobby. I need to keep trying out several things.”
“That’s exactly what my gramps used to say,” I replied. “As the saying goes, ‘a jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.’ Funny how his nickname was Jack, and so is yours, minus the ‘k’.”
She smiled again, but something seemed off. It looked awkward, the way she smiled. Before I could even ask if I said something wrong, she excused her and headed back to her house.
The next day, I still saw my neighbor engaged in different leisure activities the entire day. The only difference was, she didn’t look as pleasant. She also didn’t even acknowledge me when I waved at her.
A few days after that, she went by again to hand me another dish of freshly baked lasagna. Honestly, I was very happy to receive it once more even though the last time was only a week ago. That lasagna was truly something great to boast about. Besides, it seemed like she was back to her usual self. In return, I handed her the other tray and thanked her for lending it to me. I also told her that I’d make sure to return this second dish as soon as I eat up the entire batch. I wouldn’t be needing her container any longer. While most of my stuff was still with the movers, I was able to purchase disposable plates and utensils earlier that day.
She smiled proudly and said, “Oh, I’m pretty sure you’ll love this even more than the previous batch.” She didn’t stay long, leaving me to finally dig into her beloved recipe.
She was right. This lasagna tasted way better than the one she baked last week.
That was all I could remember clearly. The next day was a kind of a blur.
I remember going about my day as usual, sitting down to a morning virtual meeting. I think I managed to eat the leftover lasagna from the previous night. That was the reason why I decided to go out and pay my neighbor a visit. I intended to return the clean tray and ask her out for a friendly dinner in return for the excellent dish.
It was before dusk. I went out to find three few police cars lined on our street, two of them were parked right outside my neighbor’s house.
A police officer was walking towards me when I saw her came out of her house, accompanied by two police officers, her hands cuffed behind her.
She turned to me, smiled, and shouted, “You can keep that, Sid!” referring to the empty dish in my hands. A huge grin flashed across her face, followed by a wink.
When the police officer told me what was happening, I ended up dropping the dish on my porch, its shattered pieces flying everywhere.
Apparently, the neighbor I came to know as Jac who never ran out of hobbies, was actually an “alter” of Shelly Diaz, the real name and primary identity of my neighbor. She suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder that rooted from her being sexually abused when she was young. Jac, short for Jacquline, was the domineering alter. She was loud and outgoing, the very person I befriended. She was the one who baked the neighborhood-famous lasagna. She was also the one who loved to work out and who always worked in the garden. Although I didn’t know then, I’ve also met Shelly, the timid one who baked the cookies. Another alter of hers was called Dina, the one I saw sewing and tinkering. I was told that she was the detached one among the three identities and liked to keep to herself.
But I only found out about that weeks later. What led me to needing therapy was the thing that the police officer told me the day Shelly or Jac or Dina was arrested.
Apparently, Shelly saw that the man who sexually abused her was in town. He was a friend of an acquaintance, but he didn’t recognize her. When Jac “learned” about his whereabouts, she concocted a plan to take her revenge. She befriended Shelly’s abuser, lured him into her house, and killed him. To dispose of his body, she chopped him up and buried pieces of him in the garden. The hardest part to dispose was the torso, so she kept it in a large freezer in her garage, waiting for an opportunity to dispose it somewhere else, away from the prying eyes of her ‘nosy’ neighbor. This never happened though, as the police found the torso still in the freezer.
All the things I saw her doing which I thought were her hobbies were actually her trying to get rid of the traces of her abuser. Her jogging with a small string bag which I thought contained her snack and water was actually for the man’s clothes which she disposed in separated garbage bins. Her going back and forth to her garage while gardening was actually her bringing parts of him from the freezer to bury in her garden.
It was all Jac’s doing.
The worst of all was that lasagna. While the investigators insisted that there was no evidence that suggested Jac cooked parts of her victim, the chopping up of his body was done so haphazardly and carelessly that even the investigator who talked to me seemed unconvinced in his own statement. During her questioning, she neither denied nor confirmed it.
She did however send me word.
“Looks like I’ve become a master of one.”