by J. R. Chabot
Throughout this week leading up to Mother’s Day we will be publishing several mother related mystery short stories and one non-mystery one. If Mama Could See Me first appeared in issue 17 of Blue Murder in 1999. Be sure 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 have my own room. Of course, since Mamma died, the whole house is mine. Mamma left me the house and the money. But this room is really my own. I grew up here. All my treasures and all my secrets are here. My father left before I remember, so it was always just Mamma and me. And now she’s gone.
My room is on the second floor, with one window looking out to the rear, another showing the house next door. That’s how I saw the new people moving in. I was sitting on the window seat, just watching, when the big U-haul pulled in. Two men got out. The driver was a big man, with arms and shoulders so big he seemed top heavy. That’s Mr. Jefferson. The other man was smaller, darker, with quick movements.
Then a big black SUV pulled in behind, and she got out. She was small and wore tight blue jeans and a tight blouse. She had dark hair, cut short, almost like a boy’s. But she was no boy. The way she moved and the tight blouse, and…she was the kind Mamma warned me about.
I watched off and on as they moved in, the men lugging the sofas and tables–the bigger pieces–while she carried in boxes. They were at it most of the day, stopping only once to go somewhere in the car–I guess to lunch. Once, when Mr. Jefferson was inside, I saw her go up to the other man, put her hand on his arm, and whisper something to him. They both laughed and I wondered what that was about. What was between them?
During the next week I didn’t see much of Mr. Jefferson–he left for work early. I’d hear him at some ungodly hour, revving up the SUV, then finally hear him back out and be off.
But I saw her, mostly in the afternoons. There’s an in-ground pool in their backyard. The yard is enclosed in a privacy fence, but from my second story room I can see the pool. The Monday after they moved in, she came out wearing a short terrycloth robe and sunglasses, carrying a magazine. She took off the robe, spread it on one of those tubular frame chaises, and stretched out to read. From the gleam of her skin, I guessed she had put on sunscreen before she came out. She must have had to use a lot, because the bathing suit didn’t cover hardly anything.
After she’d been reading for maybe fifteen minutes, she put down the magazine, took off the sunglasses, and rolled over on her stomach. Then she untied the top part of her suit, and lay there, her back bare, only that little bit of a bottom part of her suit showing, practically naked, right there for all the world to see. And you couldn’t really call it a bathing suit, anyway. I watched her until she went back into the house, nearly an hour, and she never went near the pool. Oh, yes, Mamma would know what kind of woman she was.
It was like that every day there was sunshine–the robe, the sunglasses, the magazine. She’d stand there, teasing, then slip off the robe and stretch out. Sometimes it would be as much as twenty minutes before she’d roll over and undo the top.
It was while she was lying like that–this was about a week after they’d moved in–that the other man showed up, the small dark one who’d helped them. He drove up in a little red sports car. After trying the front bell, he came around the side and yelled something through the privacy fence. She got up, slipped on the robe, and went to open the gate for him. They were talking, real close like, as they walked back to the pool. Then she took his arm and practically pulled him into the house. I mean, it was so brazen. I wondered what Mr. Jefferson would do if he knew. He hadn’t struck me as the forgiving kind.
Well, two or three days later, she didn’t come out to sun herself. It was a little overcast, but I didn’t think it was all that cloudy. I waited until well past her usual time, just to be sure, but she never appeared. Then her husband came home, a little later than normal. Instead of going straight into the house, he went to the rear of the SUV, opened the rear hatch and took out a box. A very unusual looking box. It was wooden, about six feet long, and maybe a foot and a half wide. I wondered what he could possibly do with something like that. He curled one beefy arm round it and carried it into the house. From the way he handled it, I guessed it to be empty.
So then, what do you suppose? Not fifteen minutes later, he came out to the back yard carrying a pick and a shovel. He had changed into raggedy blue jeans and a T-shirt with some kind of sports logo on it. He went to the back corner of the yard, lay down the shovel, and began swinging the pick. After a while, he’d stop, use the shovel to scoop out the loose dirt, then go back to the pick. I sat there watching, horrified as I saw what he was doing. He was digging a shallow trench along the back wall.
So, tell me, what would you have done? I didn’t know him or his hussy of a wife, but still…In the past week I felt I had gotten to know her in a way. Not that I approved of her, understand, but how could I approve of what he was doing? I tried to think–what would Mamma do?
I remember, in the hospital, just before she died, she said something very strange. She was very weak and I had to bend real close to hear her. And she said, “Bobby, what’s to become of you?” It was strange because Mamma taught me how to cook and keep the house. I can take care of myself. Maybe she was afraid I couldn’t, what with her being gone. If she only knew.
I called 911 and told the woman who answered what was happening. She wanted me to give her my name, but of course I didn’t. Why would she need my name?
There weren’t any sirens. I was hoping there would be, but it was just a police cruiser pulling up very quietly. At first, they just sat there. Then a young policeman got out from behind the wheel. The passenger door opened and another one emerged. He was a big man, older than the first. They stood there for a minute, looking around, taking in the neighborhood. Then the older one shrugged, and they started up the drive. The young one went to the front door, while the big man walked to the fence gate. Pretty soon the young one joined him. They talked a bit, and then began knocking on the fence, calling something.
I looked back at Mr. Jefferson. He stopped, annoyed, then came to the fence, and stepped through, closing the gate behind him. After that it was all outraged gestures and red-faced anger on his part, mixed with a few unintelligible ravings. The policemen stood quietly, the young one’s hand hovering near his nightstick.
Jefferson stopped gesturing, held up his hand, and marched to the side door. He opened it, stuck his head in and shouted, “Nita.” Even through the wall and the distance, I could hear that. “Nita, get out here!”
They all stood waiting, eyes on the door. Me, too. Then she came out, wearing a bulky bathrobe and slippers, a box of Kleenex under one arm. She kept dabbing at her nose with a tissue. So that’s why she hadn’t come out to the pool. There was some more talk, more questions. At one point, she straightened up, angry, looking around as if wanting someone to light into. I pulled back from the window, not wanting her to see me.
Then it was over. I saw the young policeman walking back to the patrol car. I’d lost sight of the older one. Then I heard the doorbell ring.
He was even bigger standing in my entryway. His black uniform seemed to fill the foyer.
“Mr. Bates, I understand you called 911 earlier today.”
“Me?” How could he know that? I hadn’t given my name.
“Someone from this house. It wasn’t you?”
“Well, yes, I mean . . . I thought . . .”
“That something had happened to Mrs. Jefferson.”
“Well, I just wanted to let you know she’s all right.”
I had seen that for myself. Except for the sniffles, she was….“What about the box? That coffin he brought in?”
“He’s a gun collector. Old rifles, muzzle loaders. He keeps them in those boxes. It helps protect them from rust.”
“Oh. Well, he was digging a grave, wasn’t he? I saw that.”
His expression said that he was losing patience. “No, sir. He’s putting up a shed out there. He was digging trenches for a cinderblock base. Really, sir, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Then who is the other man? The one she was with. The one who helped them move in.”
He gave me a hard sort of look, and said, “I’m not sure that’s any of our business, is it?”
I started to say something, but I could see the disapproval on his face. He went to the door, but just before opening it, he said, “The man who helped them move is her brother, sir.”
Two days later, she was back on her chaise. I had missed her. But there she was, flaunting herself as she always did. The routine was as usual. She read for a while, then turned onto her stomach and undid the top. It was good to have her back. I watched.
She had been lying there for only a few minutes, when a dog somewhere began to bark–loudly, insistently, on and on. She raised up on her elbows and looked around, annoyed. The top part of her bathing suit stayed on the chaise. Oh, my God, I almost looked away. Then I did, as I saw her staring directly at me. I didn’t jump back, as if I had been caught peeking or something. I looked to one side, casually, then slowly got up and moved away. I went far enough back into the room where I was sure she couldn’t see me. When I looked again, she was standing, pulling on her robe, still glaring at my window.
That evening, Mr. Jefferson brought home another of those boxes.
Now they know who called the police, and they know I saw her like that. And they’ll try to do something. I don’t know how they plan to do it, but I can imagine. I think she’ll call some afternoon, and ask me to come over. She’ll have some excuse, something plausible. All innocence. Just being neighborly. And if I go, she’ll be wearing that little robe and who knows what else. And she’ll seduce me. Women like that know how. I’ve thought about that a lot. After that, her husband would come in and kill me and they’d put me into one of those boxes. I saw him out there last night digging another trench.
But I’m safe up here in my room. The doors are locked and I don’t answer the phone anymore. They won’t get me that way. I go out only at night to get whatever I need. I stay up here in my room, sitting by the window, safe from everyone. And I watch. Mamma would be so proud.