by E.B. Davis
Maybe Baby was first published in Mysterical-E magazine.
I awoke that first day on the North Carolina barrier island with the intention of tackling maintenance chores on my beach house. A bright, sunshiny day might have motivated me to bound out of bed and start work. But when I lifted my head and saw the fog through the windows, I dropped back against the pillow.
After my parents’ investments tanked in the bad economy, the house was all that remained from their estate and of my inheritance. Keeping up with the insurance and taxes on the place put me in hock most of the time. Fond memories kept me from selling it.
I had driven my classic 1956 cherry Thunderbird convertible through city rush-hour traffic after working my paralegal job at the esteemed law firm of Berkley, Martin & Sanders. The February night’s temperature prohibited me from putting the top down. In the summer, I loved to drive down the beach road with the wind flying through my “Marilyn” hair. My parents were to blame for my affinity to the 1950s era. Although most people knew me as “May,” my full name, Maybellene, came from Chuck Berry’s 1955 hit song that my parents had loved. The T-bird kept my coffers low just like the beach house, but I’d never sell it.
The drive delayed getting to bed until two a.m. Exhaustion lodged behind my eyes and in my shoulders as I shifted in the queen-size bed and wished that I wasn’t alone. Conjuring a vision of Danny, a local my parents had called a hooligan, made my heartbeat quicken. I closed my eyes and heard Ricky Nelson sing “Dream Lover” in my ear.
When I finally emerged from the bed, I thought about a conversation I’d heard the night before. On my way to the house, I stopped at the 24-hour Food Lion for groceries. In the store sparse with shoppers, the checkers talked between themselves while I transferred my food items from the cart to the conveyer belt.
“You heard about the break-ins?”
The checker nodded. “At the tourist rentals?”
“Yep. Bet they’re filled with wide-screen TVs, sound systems and a few come complete with computers and all-in-ones. Some even have theater systems.” He grinned. “Too bad, huh?”
“Nothing off me,” my checker said, greeting me with a smile, and continued the conversation. “It’s all insured.”
“Must be professionals from the mainland. Deputy Black said there wasn’t a fingerprint or any other trace evidence.”
“No broken windows or scratched locks?”
“Nope. They’re trying to find the goods through the fence.”
“Good luck with that.”
Vacation rental homes, uninhabited over the winter, were being burglarized. The employees hadn’t cared. I’d heard their glee. The locals held mainland entrepreneurs, who’d built the monstrous homes for rental-profit, in contempt. The influx of income helped the island economy while destroying a close-knit community. Their Robin Hood mentality made me wonder about right and wrong. The law was only one criterion.
While standing at the check-out, I thought about my own house, which I used only sporadically, and wondered if I should install a security system. Thinking about that expense now, I concluded that the interior contents of my house were unworthy of the cost.
After pulling on my old work jeans and a long-sleeved tee shirt, I went upstairs to the second-story kitchen of my reverse-floor-plan home, poured a mug of coffee and sat on the exterior deck overlooking Pamlico Sound. The mildness of the February day was responsible for the fog. It swirled over the water in patterns like clouds, within which I used to find pictures and faces. Mesmerized in the murk, I procrastinated by deciding to take a walk before starting my chores.
At the door, I pulled a hoodie from the pile of jackets hanging from hooks on the side wall, grabbed my coffee mug and walked down the neighborhood road to the path leading to the private Sound beach, a favorite of the local kids for night-carousing, and where I’d lost my virginity. “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” by The Teenagers played in my head.
We’d learned to keep the noise down since it carried over the water. Most of the houses were built with outside decks with exterior stairs, making stealth and escape easy for teens in the middle of the night. The memories of this place warmed my heart.
The stairs of railroad ties cut into the ground declined to the beach, going through a tunnel of live oak, pine and oleander that created a barrier from the houses and from the prying eyes of homeowners, an important element for devious teenagers. I laughed silently to myself at how priorities change—and yet since I didn’t have children—those adolescent priorities weren’t so grownup-foreign.
I still liked to pull one over on people when the opportunity arose. Some might judge my deceit as juvenile, but it was more a defensive action I used to protect myself from nosy people. Malicious gossip destroyed more than my benign deceit concealed. I had a right to privacy, which I valued. No one need know everything about me.
When the stairs gave way to the path of pine needles, the poem, “Hiawatha” always came to mind. As usual, I recited those first few lines to myself as the pine needles ended on sand, normally soft and squishy, but moisture from winter storms had compressed the sand into a hard packed surface.
On the perimeter of the beach, wild roses grew. Their prickly vines often tripped me so, with my eyes trained on my feet, I was surprised when the sand changed to dried sea grass. Looking up, I viewed the sand’s positive slope from the water. Dried sea grass pillowed from the shore to the higher marsh and forest, mounting in deeper layers, and covered the sand entirely. The winter storms purged the Sound of its detritus.
As if on the hollow fog, I walked gingerly to the water’s edge, feeling the sea grass’s sponginess through my
sneakers. For a few minutes, I communed with the birds that flew through the fog. I identified with their plight. Wasn’t my life so much like trying to fly through fog, finding my way and knowing my path might be wrong? My mind took me in one direction; my heart pulled me in another.
With a sigh, I turned to look back at the surrounding forest and gasped. My pulse echoed in my ears. A skiff with an outboard motor lay buried on the beach underneath the sea grass. It had been invisible looking down from the path. Astonished, I stared at the boat for a few minutes before approaching it. Who in their right mind would bury a good boat on the beach and why?
Sea grass covered the boat’s interior. Through the layers, I saw brightly colored safety flotation devices, gas cans, fishing rods and tackle. I studied the interior for clues eventually digging through layers of grass until I heard a clank of metal. Poking through the layers, I saw a round metal object. One half of a pair of handcuffs, a few chain links attached and clearly cut through, lay on the floor of the boat.
Had someone carelessly flung them there? A scenario came to mind. I knew of a minimum security prison located on the mainland, thirty miles across the Sound. But would an escaped inmate carelessly have dropped them in his haste to get away? My speculation was hardly enough evidence to notify the authorities.
I thought of other scenarios. Reporting evidence of an S & M tryst could prove embarrassing if those involved were identified. For all I knew, kids could have brought the broken handcuffs as a prop for their play, found the boat and decided that it was a great hide-out. Calling the police would make me look like a foolish woman with an overactive imagination. If someone had purposely hidden the boat, it was none of my business.
I picked up the handcuff, trying to feel warmth in its steel curvature, hid it in the pocket of my hoodie and walked home.
Washing windows, replacing HVAC filters and cleaning ceiling fans occupied the rest of my day. I made a list of the supplies during supper that I would need for tomorrow’s chores. Exhausted from the day’s work, I forgot about my discovery hidden in the pocket of my hoodie.
That night I slept with the lights on in the bedroom. If the burglars were in the area, advertising my presence was the best action I could take.
The next morning, I drove through the fog to the hardware store in the village to stock up on supplies. The clerk was one of the locals I used to party with on the Sound beach. The conversation I had with him jazzed me. In the car on the way home, the fog surrounded me. I felt secure in its cloaking privacy, and I hummed along with Elvis who sang, “Don’t Be Cruel” on my own internal radio.
I worked steadily throughout the day to finish my chores. All work and no play make for a dull girl, and I still had four days off work to enjoy. Crusted with dirt, I poured a bubble bath, opened one of the bottles of wine I had purchased at the Food Lion, and relaxed while shaving my legs and drinking the wine. Frankie Avalon sang “Venus” while I gave myself a manicure and pedicure, and I loofah-ed my entire body into a polished gleam.
That night I kept the lights on in the bedroom again.
Around one in the morning, I awoke. Had my hearing detected an abnormal sound? Knowing that noise traveled on the water made me complacent. Someone at another Sound-front house could have made noise, so I wasn’t alarmed until I heard a decisive click from the lock on the upstairs kitchen door at the back of the house.
After getting out of bed, I realized that in my wine induced state I’d worn a ragged nightgown to bed that was too long and might impede my stealth. I changed my clothing, saw my cell phone on the nightstand and grabbed it. If I found a burglar in the house, I’d creep away unnoticed and call the police.
I snuck up the staircase to the second floor and couldn’t see a thing. It didn’t matter since I knew every square inch of the house, but it felt empty. Darkness shrouded the interior. No moonlight penetrated the fog outside nor came through the curtained windows. I approached the kitchen, hesitating in the doorway and knowing the chance I took. Interrupting a burglary in process wasn’t smart. I inched open the door with my shoulder and stepped inside. I didn’t see anyone until the refrigerator light came on as its door opened.
I held my breath. A dark figure moved in front me. By the height, I assumed it was a man. He must have sensed my presence. When he turned to face me, I saw the glint of metal in the appliance’s light. He held a knife out in front of him as he walked toward me. I froze in place.
Aiming the knife’s tip at my torso, he opened the gown of my negligee.
“Hey babe, good to see you.”
I exhaled my fear after recognizing his voice. “Danny, where have you been?”
“You bet. I’ve been here two days already.”
I had hoped Danny was the burglar, but I hadn’t been entirely sure. One of his friend’s parents owned a rental company. When I’d heard the properties incurred no damage, I suspected Danny. His motto “get what you can, but do no harm” served him well. He frequented only minimum security prisons like a traveling businessman favored one hotel chain. Lifting keys from the rental office would have been easy.
I knew the line of new, ostentatious Victorian houses. “Now, I wonder how that happened,” I said, rolling my eyes.
Danny just smiled and wiggled his eyebrows while looking through the opening of my gown. “I hope you were expecting me.”
“It’s Valentine’s Day.”
“You knew I wouldn’t forget.” A grin appeared on his handsome face. He retracted the knife and picked up a red-wrapped box on the table.
Inside were a dozen red roses. “You’re so sweet. I hoped you’d come.” He stepped into my embrace, and I felt his desire.
“The prison arranged a dentist appointment for me.”
He treated the prison management as if they were his hotel concierge staff. I shook my head as he continued his tale.
“I slipped out the back of the dentist’s office. Jack met me on the other side of the woods where it goes down to the Sound. He had the skiff moored nearby. After the holiday, I’ll go back to prison.”
“But Danny, they’ll up your sentence.”
“Yes, but I doubt by much. I picked up two pounds of fudge from the Sweet Spot, the warden’s favorite flavors.”
“He’s a Sweet Spot fudge fan?”
“Loves the stuff. He’ll put me on work detail around the prison. Each day I work removes a day of my sentence, so by the summer, I be out and ready for your vacation.”
I shook my head at Danny in silence since my words never affected his criminal tendencies. “You fence the stuff?”
“Sold it for cash to some ex-cons who I found out were on the island picking up some other stuff. They operate out of New Jersey.”
“Yeah. She has a hard time when the tourists aren’t here. Money’s tight. When I go, you visit her.”
We finished a bottle of wine to celebrate Valentine’s Day and went to bed. Outside, the fog still swirled while we reignited our relationship’s fire and inside, Buddy Holly sang “Maybe Baby” in my ear.
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