by Cathy Ace
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
If I hadn’t undercooked the Thanksgiving turkey, Jake might not be dead. It was my first one ever. Now maybe I’ll never cook another, given the way it’s all turned out.
To start, there was the problem with the gravy. That should have been a sign, I guess. The package said to mix the powder with cold water and heat it up, but it went lumpy. And the potatoes didn’t roast properly. Pale potatoes don’t look good next to undercooked turkey when they’re covered with lumpy gravy. The carrots might have added some color, but Jake was right about me throwing those out; they were ruined.
If our kitten Mindy hadn’t distracted me by bringing that mouse into the kitchen I guess I’d have noticed the smell of vegetables burning, but she looked so proud of herself I had to make a fuss of her. The gash she gave me when I took the limp little body away from her will heal up just fine and I don’t reckon I’ll even have a scar. The burn I got on my arm when I took the carrots out of the oven will surely leave a mark. And there weren’t no beans on the plate, neither. Who runs out of green beans right before Thanksgiving? They’ve gotta have some kinda idiot doing the ordering at that supermarket. Everyone has green bean casserole with turkey for Thanksgiving, don’t they? They sure do around here anyway, so I guess that’s why they sold out. Fresh, frozen, even tinned.
Maybe the real problem was that Jake didn’t finish putting up the new lights in the kitchen until yesterday. With his mess lying about the place I couldn’t get ready for today ahead of time. The lights hang over the counter, so bits kept falling down until he was done, then I had to bleach everywhere to be sure it was all good and clean. Who knew a quart of bleach could spread so far on a tile floor? If only I’d bought the small rubber gloves instead of getting the big ones with a coupon, my fingers would have fitted into the handle of the bottle, then it wouldn’t have slipped out of my hands and gone everywhere. I even had to pull the oven away from the wall to mop it up. The trouble I had pushing the range back into its spot was something I hadn’t expected, but I managed it without having to tell Jake. Well, I thought I had. Found out this morning I needed to give it a final shove just to get it right back in there. And the smell from all that bleach is still so strong, even today. Yuk!
No wonder when the guy came to fix the dishwasher he asked what I’d been doing to the place. He was such a gentleman; so good to fit us in the day before Thanksgiving, and quick too. He said maybe something had dropped down and trapped the spinning arm, so he guessed that was why the motor had been working too hard, which made it catch on fire. Well, it only smoked a little, then I switched it off – but he still said he couldn’t fix it. I’ll have to wash dishes by hand now – which won’t kill me, I guess. Won’t kill me!
Poor Jake. Maybe if someone hadn’t smashed into his truck outside the bar last week he’d have been able to get all the stuff he needed for the kitchen lights sooner. But we’ve been sharing my old car, and when he broke the back window trying to get the ladder to fit, it took a whole day to get it fixed. The glass went everywhere. I thought they did a good job of vacuuming it all up at the repair place, but they must have missed the bit Aunt Edna sat on when we went to church. If she hadn’t tried to brush it off her good coat she wouldn’t have ended up with that gash on her hand.
I’ve gotta to say, the ER was full of the weirdest people for a Sunday afternoon. In any case, she seemed fine when I dropped her off at her condo afterwards. Tired, but at least the stitches didn’t hurt, she said. I guess we were lucky she wasn’t here on Monday evening, like usual, because the TV fell off the wall onto the mantel. Jake was out with the guys at the bar when it happened. I was taking a bath, but the noise was enough to get me downstairs to check what was going on. It was a shame about the TV – we paid a lot for a real thin one that was just the right size so Jake could sit on his big chair and watch his football in comfort.
We brought the TV from our bedroom into the family room and put it on a table beside his chair ready for the big games today. When the plumber came on Tuesday he said it looked “cute.” That was before he saw the mess I’d made upstairs by dropping the hand-held shower head over the side of the bath when I rushed to investigate the noise down here. I’d cleaned up best I could, but he reckoned that was what had dripped through to the laundry room below. Who knew getting water into a dryer would do that? He said I didn’t need a plumber, but a new dryer. It was an old one anyhow, and it hadn’t been working right for weeks.
That’s a long list for the upcoming sales: a dryer, a TV, a dishwasher, and a new computer. That was getting old too; last week, after I printed out the recipe for the turkey, I got nothing but a black screen. I told Jake I hadn’t been fiddling with it, but he wasn’t happy. First he shouted a lot. When he calmed down he said there’s a guy at the bar who might be able to rescue our wedding photos and video off it before we dump it. I hope so. I’d like to have something so I can remember Jake looking handsome.
He made a real big effort for our wedding; he trimmed his beard, and you could hardly see his neck tattoos because of his new shirt. He doesn’t understand why folks don’t care for them. He says it’s tough to get jobs because folks judge him. Sometimes he delivers stuff with his truck for some of his friends, but it ain’t easy to keep money coming in, he says. I’ve been careful with the cash he gives me, and he gets windfalls. He says he plays pool at the bar and wins cash there. My part-time job at the local convenience store helps, and I get good discounts too.
Jake says I’m nuts about keeping the house clean, but I think it’s important, and having the right kind of supplies ain’t all that expensive. He says I should chill out, but Mom brought me up to believe that cleanliness is next to Godliness, so I like to have a clean house because it respects her memory. She kept this house in real good shape, and now it’s mine – well, mine and Jake’s ‘cos we’re married – so I want to do as good a job as she did.
He sure was glad I had that big bottle of stain remover when he came back from one of his all-nighters with the guys. All I can say is I was pleased it wasn’t his blood on his shirt. His leather jacket even had a little tear in the arm, and it looked like the edges were scorched. I cannot imagine what would have done that. Maybe he leaned on something hot?
I guess the guys he hangs out with are all okay really; they’re always polite when they call in on their motorcycles. Not for long, you know, but quite often. He’s got a lot of friends. One of them, Dave, sure has been good to us. Showed up one day and handed me a wad of cash. When I gave it to Jake and told him Dave said it was ‘his share from the last lot, and not to spend it all at once’ he laughed. Got a great laugh when he’s happy, has Jake. But he shouldn’t have laughed at me. Or the turkey. That was not polite.
I should call the cops soon, I guess, though I don’t like to disturb them on Thanksgiving. And I wouldn’t want them seeing the place looking like this. If the dishwasher still worked I could push all the pots and pans in there and have them cleared away before they get here, but I guess I’ll have to wash them by hand. I could do with some old rags to clear up around Jake, ‘cos they’ll have to go out after I use them. I think there are some in the garage, but that’s Jake’s private place, and he keeps it locked. Sure, it’s okay for his friends to go visit him there, but not me. Says it’s his ‘man cave,’ which would explain why the guys are always running in and out of there through the side door. I think he keeps the key on the chain in his pocket. I’ll check.
But first I’ll have a glass of milk and some cookies, because I’m real hungry. I didn’t get to eat any of my meal before Jake began to laugh at me, and I was up early, trying to make things nice for our first Thanksgiving together. Dave’s girlfriend makes coconut flavored cookies, and I always feel good and relaxed when I’ve eaten a couple of them. They’re a kinda funny color, but they taste just fine. Kinda earthy. I guess that’s the coconut.
Brought over a bagful for Thanksgiving they did, which sure was nice of them. Yes, I’ll do that, and then clear up…then maybe I’ll call Aunt Edna to wish her a Happy Thanksgiving and ask how her hand is coming along. She’d like that. We’ve been close since Mom died. I won’t mention what’s happened to Jake. She’ll be upset, even though she didn’t like him. Always said he was no good. But she didn’t know him like I did.
Thinking about it, Aunt Edna kinda played a part in his death. I was following that turkey recipe off the Internet and it didn’t work out the way they said it would. That’s not my fault, right? Why couldn’t Jake see it that way? Laughed and laughed, he did, but it was when he waved that big old electric carving knife in my face I got real scared, and kinda lost it. Aunt Edna gave it to us for a wedding present. If she’d given us the coffee maker we’d asked for, the knife wouldn’t have been so handy. But she didn’t, so it was.
I still don’t know why I did it. In fact, I don’t even know how I managed to stick the knife right into him like that. It just kinda slid in. I do know it’s a sin to kill, but Mom always said “The Lord sure does move in mysterious ways, Ellie,” and it could only have been Him who gave me the strength to do it, right? I’ve been getting awful tired with everything that’s been going on here these past weeks and I’ve been working hard to keep it all together. But when Jake laughed at me with his not-nice laugh – the one he uses right before he swears at me, and shouts, and hits me – I just kinda snapped. Then there he was. Dead.
LOCAL HOME EXPLOSION NO LONGER A MYSTERY
The cause of the explosion which ripped through peaceful Alder Drive on Thanksgiving afternoon has been discovered. The County Fire Department announced the home’s gas range was the source.
“Evidence shows when the gas was turned off it continued to seep into the home because of a small tear in the gas line leading to the range. We believe a flame or a spark ignited it,” said Fire Chief Polley. The electrical system in the house was also found to be compromised. Cables had been re-routed to service the illegal growing of marijuana plants in the attached garage.
Jake Trent, 26, was killed in the blast. His wife of just three months, Ellie Trent, 20, remains in stable condition at Mercy Hospital. She suffered severe burns and lacerations but is expected to make a full recovery. The couple had no children. The family cat was found by first responders, unharmed, hiding in a neighbor’s garden. It’s being kept at the county animal shelter. “Ellie will come to me when she’s on the mend, but the cat? I can’t have it, I’m allergic,” said Mrs. Edna Wells, aunt of the injured woman.
Mrs. Wells added, “I don’t think my Ellie knew anything about what they say was in the garage. She wouldn’t have had anything to do with drugs. She’s not that kind of girl. She was well brought-up by my widowed sister. She works hard, always kept a lovely home, and never missed church on a Sunday. I can’t believe it of her.”
The deceased was known to police and rumored to have gang affiliations. When this reporter told her about the man’s police record Mrs. Wells said, “I never took to him. He turned my niece’s head and she doted on him. She’s a true innocent and couldn’t see him the way I could. He treated her very badly.”
No adjacent properties were damaged by the explosion.
In a strange twist, authorities also revealed they believed Mr. Trent had just finished slicing the Thanksgiving turkey when the explosion occurred; he was found with an electric carving knife embedded in his chest. The Medical Examiner reported this was likely the result of the effects of the explosion: “Given the poor condition of the body, it’s all I can surmise.”
Police have not yet interviewed survivor Ellie Trent, who has been sedated since what they say they are convinced was a tragic accident. “We’re not sure what she’ll remember,” said Chief Wilks of the County Sherriff’s Department. “The medics tell me she sustained a concussion when she was blown out of the kitchen door, so maybe nothing. She’s lost everything in the explosion, including the family home where she was born and raised. We’re happy to wait to talk to her until she’s in better shape.”
Chief Wilks declined to comment about the activities of Jake Trent, other than to say, “Finding the grow-op came as no surprise. That part of the investigation is ongoing, and we’re undertaking an interview with the deceased’s known associates.”
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