by Cari Dubiel
Here is another entry in our Father’s Day Mystery short story contest–while not a winner, all the stories were great so we wanted to share some of the others with you as well! Watch for more this week.
“There’s some dead bodies I need to deal with,” said my father as I walked into his room.
Dead bodies were common in Meadow Green. I walked by one on my way in, and said as much.
“What’s not common,” he observed, “is you coming to visit.”
“It’s Father’s Day,” I said by way of explanation.
I blinked, as if I would cry too. “It does have to be.” I gestured to a floral wall calendar hanging by his bed. “It’s the third Sunday in June.”
“That’s not what I meant.” He growled a little. “I could use you more often.”
That was the dad I knew. I laughed and slung my purse over an armchair, then straddled the ottoman. I caught his hand in mine. “What do you need me for?”
“Reconnaissance.” He squeezed my hand, his skin paper-thin, then dropped it. “I think Myrtle James killed the Walters. You know. Don and Joan.”
I didn’t know. I wasn’t here often enough. I felt a twinge as I took in the room, the peeling wallpaper, the ancient furniture. It should be bright, warm, inviting. Pick a tone, I told myself, my inner critic snapping at my knuckles with a pencil. Be light or be serious. Dad didn’t need mixed messages.
Dad had retired from the force almost twenty years ago now. If this reminded him of his old life, gave him a sense of purpose, I had to humor him. I pursed my lips. “Who are Don and Joan?”
In reply, he brandished a crinkly newspaper pulled from his bedside. I scanned the article and immediately felt sick. Lovebirds, together until the very end. They died holding hands. A heartwarming story for most people, but not for the newly single.
“Joanie’s been sick,” Dad said quietly. “But I play Texas Hold’em with Don a couple times a week. Or I did. He was fine, and I don’t believe this at all.”
I eyed him, choking down sarcasm. “You don’t believe in the enduring power of love?”
“I believe he loved her.” Dad was earnest. “Not enough to die with her.”
We rolled downstairs to the activity room, as light settled in patches across the card tables. “I don’t know anything about poker,” I said.
“You don’t have to.” The room was deserted. Dad pulled a deck out and shuffled it into piles. “I’m waiting for Myrtle to get here, so you can see her conniving face.”
The room was silent. People must be taking naps or visiting with their loved ones. I wanted coffee. I reached for the cards, but Dad snatched them away. “I’m not ready,” he said. “Wait till she gets here.”
“Why do you think she’d do something like that?” I asked. “Kill your friends, I mean.”
A laugh came out of me like a bullet. I couldn’t hold it back.
“You think it’s funny?”
“It doesn’t make sense,” I said to cover myself. “If she wanted him, why kill him?”
“He didn’t want to be with Myrtle,” my dad said, as if he were talking to four-year-old me. “She was upset and jealous.”
I shook my head. “Still doesn’t make sense. She wouldn’t want that romantic death for him.”
Dad frowned. “Like I said. Just wait till you see her face.”
As if on cue, Myrtle rolled into the activity room, pushed by a soporific nurse. She was thin, and her face was all angles. She was coiled like a viper ready to strike. Dad looked at me: See what I mean?
“Deal me in,” Myrtle said, leaning over the plastic.
“You don’t even know the game,” Dad said, snide.
She turned to me. Her narrow eyes seemed larger and more youthful as she opened them wide. “Are you his daughter? I’ve heard so much about you, dear.”
Later, I pushed my dad into the elevator. We would eat, probably a pizza ordered from the specialty kitchen, and Dad would proclaim it terrible, and why wouldn’t they just let him eat real pizza, since he was going to die anyway? Then I would go home, and who knew when I’d be back, even though now that Rich was gone, I was the only one in my sad little world. Me and my empty apartment, one pathetic room, not unlike my dad’s little room. Only there were no nurses to watch over me. I only had myself. I would only have myself, when Dad was gone.
I picked up my purse, the bright maroon that should have reminded me of happier times. “I’ll go pick it up,” I told him. I meant the pizza.
He held up a hand. “Stay. Another minute.” He picked up the article from the bedside table, where I’d left it. It was an arduous process. He wheeled towards it, excruciatingly, and grabbed for it, finally snagging it and bringing it back to me. I exhaled as he approached. “Do you think this nonsense is real?”
“That may be what everyone wants, but it’s not what everyone gets.” I looked at the floor. There was dirt in the lines of the brown-green carpet.
Dad raised his chin. “Love is fickle, and Myrtle is murderous.”
“Dad, Myrtle likes you.”
He scoffed. “Not possible. I saw the way she looked at Don.”
“She was looking at you.”
“For you,” I repeated.
“If it wasn’t Myrtle, then who?” My dad scratched his head. He looked exhausted. I came toward him and cautiously, gently, helped him back into bed. His body was so fragile, so different from the man who’d swung me like a monkey. But he still had the mind of the man who taught me how to read. I swallowed.
“I know,” I said.
He didn’t reply. I’d have to spell it out.
“Joan did it,” I said. “She wanted the fairytale ending. She knew she was sick, and she couldn’t bear the thought of Don living without her. So she found a way.”
My dad’s head bobbed, his lids drooping. “So she did.”
I ate pizza in the armchair–had it delivered, since Dad wasn’t eating–and leaned back as dusk fell. The days were so long now. It was after nine. I flipped on a light. The nurse would be in soon. I was ready to slip out when he mumbled something. I stepped closer.
“I love you, June,” he said.
June was my mother. I swallowed, patting his arm. Wondered, worried. I decided not to leave. I held his hand as the dark became a lengthening curtain.
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