Honey I'm Home
On the evening of December 13th the Witherspoon family was found dead. Phone records revealed that the mother had spent the afternoon disputing an insurance claim for the eleven-year-old daughter’s strabismus surgery. The daughter’s last text, a homework question, had been sent at five. The father took his usual bus.
The nineteen-year-old son, and prime suspect, found their bludgeoned bodies around eight. He worked at House Despot part time while attending community college. A few weeks prior, he was proud of having, for the first time, passed a drug test.
The Witherspoon's bought the gutted and renovated colonial from a couple who flipped houses and were headed to A McMansion blasted from limestone. At the closing Mrs. Witherspoon had asked, “And who did you buy it from?” The sellers hesitated, "Phil and Nancy." Any more questions would require a lie. Forms awaited signatures. "Did they have kids?" Mrs. Witherspoon was curious about the names traced into soft concrete by the pool. “No,"” the sellers said without resting their pens.
Technically, they were truthful. Phil and Nancy 's daughter had been killed by her estranged husband. His initial ring left an imprint on her cheek. After strangling his wife, he returned to his apartment and hung himself. Their kids, who had been at school, moved away with their grandparents and spent the rest of their lives in therapy.
The ironic coincidence of two murders occurring in one house clouded proceedings.
Every town cop congregated on the night of the Witherspoon murder. They interrogated the son. In high school, he had hung with the troublemakers smoking weed by the creek. News leaked that the son worked in the carpeting department. Certainly, that gave him unparalleled access to a ball peen hammer.
The police chief rose to his fifteen minutes. He eloquently answered the Times reporter. It’s not often that murder comes to a New Jersey suburb. Surely, there was some tragic twist, a junkie son, sordid affair, pedophile dad: dirty little secrets protected by high taxes.
After the funeral, the son was arrested. Mr. Witherspoon's sister arrived from Vegas, hired an attorney, pocketed valuables and listed the house that had been sanitized with Clorox and coffee beans. Her interest waned when it was determined that the son a product of Mrs. Witherspoon's first marriage was sole beneficiary. The son, who had been in rehab, but who had finally turned around, started using again with a vengeance. Prior to getting clean, he had owed substantial sums. The kind of money everyone assumed could get your family killed.
The conviction of a young black male with a rap sheet for narcotics trafficking followed. Residents who boasted about their exemplary school system failed to recall the theme of To Kill a Mockingbird. An innocent criminal went away.
The mayor of the top ranked town, as featured in Soprano Monthly was elected County Executive . The realtor sold to an out of state family and made a tidy profit. Neighbors greeted the Witherspoon replacements, who moved in without the benefit of even a bottle of holy water, with extra good cheer. Property Values stayed up. The SCARE Program expanded to younger children and taught them about drug practices. Within six months, the Witherspoon son was dead. Order was restored.
At the town pool and drunken backyard barbeques, the fine residents opined, "The son did it" or the "dealer did it" depending on their political affiliation. The kids by the creek said, "That house is fucked up. It’s possessed."
A closer look at the curriculum would have revealed the enduing themes of humanity and proven all were wrong.
On the afternoon of December 13th, Jeanette McGinley boarded a bus at Penn Station where she would later discard the clothes. During the prior weeks, she had observed the family's routine. Walking down their street in her winter coat and backpack, she appeared another working Mom. Someone to be shunned at practices by stay at homes but otherwise invisible in this neighborhood.
At the door, she introduced herself to Mrs. Witherspoon. Jeanette thought her pretty but ordinary: Mrs. Witherspoon's unlined face betrayed no suffering, "Hi, you must be Doug's wife," she said. The wife relieved not to find a witness or kids hawking pledges shook hands after Jeanette explained how she and Doug were schoolmates. "He talked so much about you," Jeanette said. "He wanted a hard copy of the auction catalogue for the fund raiser. The wife knew of no such bulletin but let Jeanette in.
That summer, Jeanette and Doug’s reunion had been held in a third rate hotel in the town where they had grown up. For twenty years, Jeanette had imagined what her life with Doug would have been like. To be fair that's not all she did. Jeanette worked to be a successful professional, caring mother and loving wife. But she ruminated about what would have happened if Doug and she had not split, if he hadn’t left for college, if she had spoken the right words, if she had been bustier.
At the party, she cornered him by the crudités, "Doug, it’s me." Jeanette looked more or less the same. His pasty smile was not simply the embarrassment of a forgotten name. Jeanette felt like molten metal suddenly cooled. Doug's features were as vacant as if he were already dead.
Jeanette shyly asked Mrs. Witherspoon to use the powder room. She changed into sweats, sneakers and a tee. Mrs. Witherspoon managed to say, "What" before Jeanette landed the ping between her eyes. The next crack was to the back of the head.
She went upstairs. The daughter was at the desk. Jeanette felt proud that she had spared the mother the suffering of knowing. She took care of business swiftly. Jeanette was no monster afterall.
Doug however, she allowed to go through the house calling out. She heard him scream from downstairs and race up the stairs. When he walked into the master bedroom, Jeanette was ready for him. "Now you won't forget me," she said.
BIO: Lydia's stories and poems have appeared in ezines and journals including Quality Fiction, 971 Menu and Literary Tonic. She lives in Northern New Jersey where she does not open the door to strangers.