by Lida Bushloper
Throughout this week leading up to Mother’s Day we will be publishing several mother related mystery short stories and one non-mystery one. Every Day is Mother’s Day by Lida Bushloper is the first, and has never before been published! Be sure and come back this week to check out the rest of the stories! You can also find all of them after they are posted, and many others, in our Terrific Tales section!
“I’m so glad that you would make time for an old lady like me. I hardly ever get to meet any of Joseph’s friends.” It was early May when I sat in the perfect kitchen of this woman I had just met, but recognized from the photograph I had been given. Of course I knew what response was expected of me, and I didn’t disappoint.
“You’re hardly old, Mrs. Wilson. In fact, you look more like Joseph’s sister than his mother.”
I had no qualms about being disingenuous. I wanted her to like me, possibly even trust me. She smiled. Perhaps no one but me would have noticed that none of her smiles ever reached her eyes. As for me, I didn’t do this kind of thing very often–okay, never, until now–but if I appeared nervous, well, wouldn’t that be only natural for a woman having tea with her prospective mother-in-law for the first time? But those nerves also kept me on my toes, ready for anything.
Mrs. Wilson laid on the charm and I suspect that in any other context, I would have been delighted to be counted amongst her friends, but this situation was different, of course. Joseph and I had only known each other a few weeks, yet we had made a serious connection which I knew was leading somewhere. I just wasn’t sure yet where. He had been completely open early on about how close he and his mother were, and I applauded that. I had needed him to be honest about everything. I turned my attention back to what Mrs. Wilson was saying.
“Naturally, with Joseph being my only child, I’m probably overly protective. Not that I’ve ever stopped him from doing anything he wanted, even dangerous things, like bungee jumping. When I see how much joy he gets from pushing the limits like that, it makes me happy, too. And I’ve always encouraged him to do whatever he can to advance in his career–finish college, work extra hours, take on hard projects, and that’s paid off big time. As you know, he’s in line for a vice presidency at his company.”
“Of course, I do know all that. And isn’t it time he had some joy in his personal life, Mrs. Wilson.”
The briefest of dark shadows passed over her smooth, unlined face, to be quickly replaced by a look of sadness, which I sensed was also phony. “Yes, of course. Perhaps you know about the many tragedies that have come his way.”
“Well, naturally, he doesn’t talk about it much, but he did let me know about the deaths of his two previous fiancées.”
“I think ‘fiancée’ is perhaps too strong a word, at least in the first instance. They were little more than good friends. But still, it seemed to hit him pretty hard.” She paused and turned to gaze out through the picture window at the wide expanse of garden beyond the glass. “The second one hit him the hardest. After she went over the cliff in her car, they say it took them several days to even find the site of the accident and locate her body.”
I stayed as still as I could, silently hoping she would continue. Her tone shifted and she leaned back as if to make a pronouncement. “I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, my dear, but women need to take more responsibility for themselves. Why she didn’t maintain her car properly is a mystery to me. And the first one–who could ever have imagined her bungee-cord would turn out to have been defective? And to think, Joseph and I witnessed the whole thing.”
I spoke without betraying the least shock or judgment. “You were there?”
“Of course, dear. Joseph likes to have me along on all his little excursions. He’s such a good son, as you know.”
When it was obvious she was not about to say more, I steered her to a different topic. “You have such a beautiful home, Mrs. Wilson. I gather Joseph grew up here?”
“Oh, yes. After his father was killed falling off the roof, Joseph couldn’t bear to leave me alone. Luckily, Bert left us very well off. In fact, that’s one of the things I dread about Joseph possibly getting married. It would be hard for me to live here by myself, but on the other hand, there’s plenty of room. A newlywed couple could easily live here without any interference from me. At least until they got on their feet, you see.”
“But with Joseph already established in such a well-paying position, surely…”
Her face hardened as she stopped me in mid-sentence. “Marriage, then moving out is simply too much change at once. Not good for anyone.” The sharp tone in her voice and angry look warned me away from pursuing that line of thought.
I changed the subject again. “I can see why you love the house so much. The gardens alone are spectacular. Just look at the profusion of blooming plants you have. I’ll admit, I have no idea what any of them are. Could you point some of them out for me?”
I admit this was more buttering up. I actually knew precisely what plants Mrs. Wilson had growing close at hand, but it had the desired effect. Her face wore the look of smug satisfaction I’d seen on so many people who were sure they were the smartest folks in the room. She turned her head to look out the picture window and began to identify them one by one. This gave me the chance to do what I had come there to do. I had rehearsed my actions so they were quick, smooth and silent. She, so self-absorbed in displaying her superior expertise, never noticed.
She turned back to me. “Dear, you haven’t eaten much. I hope you liked what I prepared. I do love cooking for Joseph, but ‘tea’ is more of a girl thing, don’t you agree?”
“It was all marvelous, Mrs. Wilson, and you had quite a spread. Here, let me take the plates over to the sink.”
She jumped up, almost panicky. “No! I’ll take care of it. You’re a guest, and besides, you don’t look well. Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”
“As a matter of fact, I am feeling a little queasy. Certainly not from your excellent meal.” I gave what I hoped was a sickly smile. “Perhaps I’m just nervous about getting to know Joseph’s family.”
She actually smirked, as she steered me to the door and saw me out. She was about to slam the door behind me, but I caught it with my palm. “I’d love to stop by again, Mrs. Wilson. We both care about Joseph so much. Perhaps I could come again next Sunday. It’s Mother’s Day, after all.”
Her first reaction was a stony face of refusal, but she quickly caught herself and smiled widely, another smile that did not reach her eyes. “Well, that would be fine, but for me, with my wonderful Joseph, every day is Mother’s Day. And always will be, I assure you.” With that she firmly closed the door.
All that was a week ago; today I was back and not alone. The results of the tests on the dregs of tea I had dribbled into the sterile vial, as well as on the tea sandwiches and squares of cake I had slipped into separate evidence bags were clear. The exhumation and testing of the bodies of the previous two “fiancées” was under way. The car and the bungee cord had been located and were also undergoing re-examination. I didn’t know what that would reveal, but the DA was sure we already had enough for attempted murder. Thanks to Joseph, his suspicions and his willingness to go along with the police, and with me, a rookie, in my first ever undercover operation.
I wonder if they celebrate Mother’s Day in prison.