No Evil – published in Collateral_Damage Anthology (2004)
When I was 26 I was very brave…for a VERY short period of time.
I recently discovered that my entirely forgettable first foray into short stories actually DID make it on to Goodreads.com. The Collateral_Damage Anthology is not exactly awful but I strongly suspect that the only reason it’s visible online at all is because it was posted by the authors who contributed to the book. Doesn’t matter! I’m chuffed anyway.
Not all that chuffed that it’s taken me more than ten years to dip my toe back in the literary water again of course but, ah well, here we are. I have my floaties on and the unflattering swim cap – I’m ready to dive in!
Standing in the doorway of her apartment building, Mrs Beckett watched her daughter Mary, struggling with two weighty carrier bags and tentatively trying to navigate her way down the steep front steps. Every so often, Mrs. Beckett would call out to her, something like, “be careful”, “drive safely”, and “call me when you get home!” So familiar with the words and more concerned with not losing her balance under the burden of the cumbersome parcels, Mary made little response. Mrs Beckett clucked nervously and frowned. Only once Mary had, with some relief, dumped the carrier bags in the back of the car and started to drive off, did she allow the creases of concern that wrinkled her forehead to smooth.
Walking back into the building, she continued to think of her daughter. Everybody loved Mary. With her easy manner, natural grace and unquestionable warm heartedness, how could anyone not? Mrs Beckett delighted in telling those who’d listen (and often many who rather wouldn’t) how Mary had never been a moment’s trouble her whole life. As a child, she had been so undemanding and easy to care for, qualities she’d carried with her into adulthood. Even when married at quite a tender age, hadn’t Luke been the neighbourly boy Mrs Beckett often said she hoped Mary would eventually settle down with? Of course, there had been hiccups, but that was natural and Mary never really complained, so Mrs Beckett turned a blind eye to the odd unpleasantness.
At lunch this morning, she noticed Mary ate very little. She had gotten the strange impression that her daughter wanted to say something, her eyes filled with words her mouth was unable to form. Quite content herself and unwilling to spoil her pleasant mood, Mrs. Beckett, however, chose not to question Mary further. She thought it rather a better idea to attempt to pass along some of her own good cheer and spent the time prattling about gossip and her new sewing project. Mary smiled and nodded in all the right places, so by the time it had come for her to leave, Mrs Beckett had all but forgotten the uneasy feeling she’d experienced earlier. At the door, Mary took her coat from the rack. As she put it on and lifted her hair out from the collar, her mother caught a glimpse of three ugly red-blue lesions imprinted high on Mary’s neck. She’d averted her eyes quickly and continued to talk half-heartedly about something inconsequential. As she opened the door to the now empty apartment, she brushed away, like a fly, any troubling thoughts that might still annoyingly linger to disturb her.
Peter Lowry was scrabbling under the counter for an order form when he heard the tinkling of the storefront bell. He lifted his head to see who had walked in and smiled broadly. It was Mary Davies, no, Jacobs, he corrected himself. He had known her since she was a little girl. Sweet Mary, always friendly and ready with a kind word. It seemed just like yesterday that he’d set up this little bookshop, but then he would remember how he had seen Mary grow from a shy young girl into a beautiful woman. The years were moving on without him he often mused. Not only had Mary frequented this store for more years than he could remember, but they lived in the same building. When newly married and just moving out from her parents’ house, Mary was delighted to find one of her oldest friends living not two doors away from her. There had been many dinner invitations and weekend get-togethers, the Lowry’s and the Jacobs’ becoming less like friends and more like family. Peter even regarded Mary’s two little boys as his own grandchildren. Having none of their own, he and his wife were grateful for this adopted family.
Walking in this afternoon, Mary did not have the boys with her, they were more than likely still at school. “There’s my girl,” Peter growled warmly and stepped out from behind the counter. Mary gave a weak smile and seemed limp as he enfolded her in a bear hug. He kept one arm around her shoulder and with the other hand, flamboyantly pointed out the new renovations and displays that’d sprung up since she last visited. He suddenly remembered that the limited edition she had ordered a week ago was sitting in the backroom. Rushing off he returned with it clasped lovingly in his hands. Because at first he could not see her, Peter called her name but there was no reply. He frowned and wandered towards the other end of the store. A sound filtered towards him from behind some shelves near the Romance section. A soft whimpering he could not place seemed incongruous, it didn’t belong. Before he could round the corner, he suddenly realised it was Mary, weeping softly so he stopped in his tracks. Lowering his head, he turned round and walked quietly back to the front counter.
A few moments later, Mary emerged, her eyes liquidly gleaming, a stiff smile pinned to her lips. She exclaimed in mock surprise as she looked at her watch. She told Peter she would be late in picking up the boys and must rush. Peter nodded, pretending that he’d heard nothing. Just as in the past, when lying awake in the dark, he tried desperately to ignore the violent sounds and stifled pleas that issued from the apartment two doors away. As he watched Mary leave, he reminded himself that this was none of his business, that he would be a fool to interfere and risk losing his extended family. The book hung forgotten at his side.
In the bustling playground, Miss McKenzie stopped for a moment to catch her breath. She laughed softly, tucking her wind-blown curls behind each ear. Little blurs of garish colour ran in every direction, making it impossible for her to keep track of them all. She loved the kids, only now and again did the young woman wish they were a little less energetic. She had always had an aptitude with children and even though teaching hadn’t been on her list of high power career choices, it had been the right decision in the end. Miss McKenzie was also grateful for her position here, knowing that few individuals so newly qualified, managed to snag posts as good as this.
Her eyes were drawn to an area of the playground where the rhythm of constant motion was broken by a unnatural stillness. The Jacobs boys sat on a low wall shoulder to shoulder as if drawing vital support from one another. Like cherubic statues, their heads held together, they surveyed their surroundings with a detached tragic air. Miss McKenzie, over time, had noticed their gradual withdrawal from most activities and had felt helpless to entice them back. As she watched them intently, Miss McKenzie noticed a flicker of life spark in the faces of the boys. She followed their gaze across the playground to where their mother had just arrived. Mrs. Jacobs, she thought to herself, the model parent. Miss McKenzie only wished all parents were as active in their children’s education. The boys, released from their inactivity, ran to their mother, clinging desperately to her as she made soothing sounds of reassurance.
As she moved toward the gate, Miss McKenzie step forward and smiled warmly. Mrs. Jacobs stopped and greeted her in return. They briefly spoke of school matters, the two children crouched against their mother, one under each arm as if sheltering themselves. She debated whether or not to draw Mrs. Jacobs to one side to discuss the strange and listless behaviour of the boys. Miss McKenzie knew that things at home were probably not all well. Children were often the innocent casualties of domestic disputes. She also sensed that it would take little coercion to get Mary Jacobs to open up. The mother projected frailty, her little boys like props, holding her erect as if they themselves sought strength from her. Miss McKenzie decided against it, though; it was not her place to say anything. She was sure that in time, whatever it was, it would pass and things would return to normal. She let Mrs. Jacobs go without a word. Sometimes it was better not to say anything, rather than risk aggravating matters. Miss McKenzi sighed and turned back to her flock.
When the news broke, that Mr. Jacobs had been taken into custody for brutally beating his wife, Mary Jacobs, to death on the night of April 12th, everyone had responded with sincere shock and disbelief. Everyone loved Mary. The police had questioned her family and acquaintances. They asked whether in the past there had been any indications that might have suggested something like this was likely to occur. All said they had seen nothing, heard nothing and so, had done nothing.