Delia Harrigan is counting the buds on the rose bushes out where the walkway to the house meets the front sidewalk when she sees a flash of red that isn’t a rose. She peers into the dense thicket of trees and bushes that marks a boundary along the sidewalk, separating the front yard from the street traffic. People driving by regularly heave junk into it – cans, bottles, pizza boxes, shoes, dirty diapers, once even a Bible.
This looks like a red sneaker. The toe is pointing straight up. The sneaker is attached to green pants camouflaged by a tangle of nightshade. She is looking at a leg. She calls the police.
“Is this the police?”
“This is Chief Rozinski.”
“Oh. I want to report something. I found a leg in my front yard. A human leg.”
“Have you talked to the desk?”
“The front desk. This is my direct line. You should talk to the desk.”
“Okay. But listen. There’s this leg in my yard. A dead leg.”
“I’ll transfer you down.”
“Is this the desk?”
“This is Sergeant Malloy. Can I help you?”
She repeats her story and gives her address.
“I really think this is important. My God, there’s a leg out there.” She realizes her voicehas a forced, inauthentic tone.
“We’ll send someone out.”
She tells her daughter, Sierra, when she comes home from high school.
“That’s so cool,” says Sierra. “What did the police say?”
“Not much. They took it away.”
“Did they give you a receipt?”
“It’s a joke, Mom.”
Seth has been out of the office and unreachable all day, and he comes home late, looking dazed and pale. “Don’t ask,” he says.
After dinner she tells him about the leg. “Let the police handle it,” he says.
The next day Delia doesn’t go out to count rosebuds. She is busy working on a free-lance project analyzing survey results for an on-line beauty products company.
Two days later she goes out to count rosebuds again. She doesn’t want to look in the woody patch, but she can’t help it. She sees nothing out of the ordinary and is immensely relieved. But the next day she goes out and just beyond a pink dogwood now past blooming she sees an arm in a blue-and-gray plaid flannel shirtsleeve. A purplish hand is visible, though the shoulder is obscured by the nightshade, which is sprouting little violet flowers.
She calls the police and talks to Sgt. Malloy.
“Is there something more you can tell me about these body parts?” asks Malloy.
“What do you mean?”
“Since they’re turning up so often in your yard, I thought you might have some idea about them.”
“I have no idea. And it’s not often. It’s two.”
“Two in a week. Some might say that’s often for body parts.”
“Well I can assure you I don’t know anything. Can you please send someone out?”
“We’ll send an evidence car.”
“Evidence of what?” But Malloy has hung up.
She is questioned by the evidence technicians but repeats she knows nothing. They have no information for her either, not even if the two limbs are related.
“Not again, Mom,” says Sierra when she comes home.
“It’s not my fault.”
“This house is creepy,” says Sierra.
Delia sits in the kitchen with a cup of green tea asking herself whether in fact maybe she does know something. She examines events of the past few weeks for a clue.Just work, shopping, family stuff. Normal conflicts with Sierra about losing her belongings and with Seth about failing to notice anything around the house. She hasn’t called her mother in a couple of weeks, but that’s hardly unusual.
“We need to have a talk,” she tells Seth when he comes home.
“Tonight’s a bad night. I’ve got to catch an early flight.”
“You didn’t say you we’re going out of town.”
“It came up suddenly.”
“There was an arm in the yard today.”
“Listen, we’ll talk when I get back. But don’t worry about it. It’s probably the last one.”
“The last body part?”
“I’m sure it’s just coincidence. Anyway, I’ve got to get organized for tomorrow.”
Delia gets up early with Seth and kisses him goodbye at the door when the taxi arrives. She helps Sierra find her sandals. When the house is empty she lies down for a nap, but her thoughts leap around disjointedly. She goes to the basement where Seth keeps his tools and takes a hatchet from its place on the corkboard.
If I cut down some of that thicket people will stop thinking of it as a dumping place, she thinks. She runs her finger gingerly over the blade. It is sharp. I’ll cut down one or two trees and Seth will get the idea I’m serious about this. How hard can it be to chop down a tree? Somebody’s got to do something.
She goes to the end of the walk and notices two new rosebuds, which she takes as a good omen. She goes into the wooded patch and hacks at the branches of a thorn tree, which snap off easily. She is enjoying herself. When she’s knocked off enough branches to get a clear shot at the trunk, she takes a big swing. The hatchet hits the tree awkwardly, ricochets and the blade slices into her shin. She goes down. Her screams attract a passer-by, who calls 911 on his cell phone. An ambulance comes, as well as the police. Sgt. Malloy talks to an officer on the scene.
“Yeah, that’s the same house,” Malloy says. “Figures.”
At the hospital, doctors are able to save Delia’s leg, though it’s a near thing. Seth’s prediction is accurate. There will be no more body parts in the yard.
Bio: J. Linn Allen teaches journalism and writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He recently had his first fiction publication in the ezine, Sweaterbrain.
Missing Her Quietly
"I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright, enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
Enough happiness to keep your spirit alive, enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
Enough gain to satisfy your wanting, enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough "Hello's" to get you through the final "Goodbye." – Anon.
Once again the urge has come upon me. I want to slap the faces of those who stare, who gaze at me with their ranges of emotion. Pity, scorn, sympathy, disgust.
They do not know me, but of me – the woman who has borne the runaway child, mother who cannot control her daughter. Daughter who had perhaps bolted from a terrible household. After all, you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, underneath the veneer of respectability.
An average home, or is it? How many mothers forfeit nights out with their husband, with ‘the girls’ to devote their life to the children? Whose every thought is based around her young, every decision made with them in mind?
Eggshells have been my carpet for months now, my tread feather-light lest I break them. With each crack, discord could erupt, sourness lasting for hours or even days. The imbalance in the very air was perceptible, could almost be felt should I dare to reach out and touch it.
When my ground was strong, the atmosphere wasn’t dense, it smelt of flowers, was oppression-less. Laughter filled the house from everyone, relief evident, even if only for a short while.
Thunderclouds lingered around corners. In the darker times, lightning was lurking behind her lips, ready to burst forth in a stream of venom. Every heart in the home would beat that little bit faster, knowing what was to come. The raging hormones had taken her over again. As the days wore on into months, the beat got slower, bogged down with a sadness, a weariness of having to live through those tender times again.
The greatest cry from my girl came when she ran. Wanting to break free from even the lax restraints that held her, she went, a simple message on my phone telling me so. For a second time in a week, the emotions wracked me, everyone, as we worried, fretted, our imaginations conjuring images usually confined to the movie screen.
Sleep – when it enclosed me while unaware of its approach, was fleeting, riddled with visions much like the horror stories I produce. To live the terror for real cannot be described on paper. There are no words adequate enough.
And so days passed, a blur of pacing the house, grasping the phone with hope and dread when it rang, drinking endless cups of tea – the making of which gave me something to do with my hands, my fingers gaining some respite from my teeth gnawing at the nails, the skin.
The house – searched by Police, a necessity, though a violation all the same – yielded no clues. No note. No diary. No scribbles of unhappiness. This was not an unhappy home, it was ordinary. Perhaps that was the problem. She had already said her life was boring.
While she walked the streets, gaining blisters on the heels and soles of her feet, she slept away the nights with little regard for anyone but herself, in blissful ignorance. We, the ones who cared, so many of us, searched and prayed, showed random strangers her picture, scoured the internet for guidance with the next step – appealing to the public. Local news. National papers. A daunting prospect.
Through sheer desperation and determination, I telephoned and gained the trust of one of my daughter's friends, a teenage girl, who switched her allegiance, saw which way was honest, and rang me daily, sometimes more than once, with snippets she had gleaned from those who knew my daughter's whereabouts. This young girl, this darling child who decided to help me, regardless of any retribution she would face afterwards, eavesdropped, asked questions. With her help our daughter was found. With undesirables. People we had only heard about from the T.V. – soaps, documentaries.
Brought home after four days, her being had changed. She was the same, but different. My daughter, yet strange somehow. I had already faced the painful fact that my eldest girl had a selfish trait, who didn’t realise, nor seem to care that she had run from nothing, to nothing. That hundreds of people, family, friends, the Police, had been worrying over her. It didn’t register as any big deal. After all, she was fine, wasn’t she?
The stinging blow came. Friends meant more than family, as is some people's way, their preference, and she chose to live with her father to be closer to those that had encouraged her behaviour change, urged her to be as she is now.
And she went. Packed up fourteen-years of belongings, left behind trinkets, posters, clothes from the past that had meant so much at one time but now meant nothing. Those trinkets I have kept, some in our bedroom, along with a photo of the three-year-old darling, opening her Christmas presents. The young child who wouldn’t have hurt a fly, who loved and laughed shyly.
Teenage years became her metamorphosis, from cocoon to caterpillar to butterfly. Instead of lingering on the flowers of home, she chose the wider world, and the day she flew broke my heart.
"Are you sure this is what you want?"
She nodded against my shoulder as we hugged, her voice thick with tears when she said, "Yes."
"If you're happy, then I'm happy," I said, feigning a brightness I didn't feel.
Tears fell, of course they did. Hot down my cheeks, seemingly wetter than any shed before. The golf ball in my throat threatened to suffocate me. And as the car drove away, the dam broke – but I didn’t let it all come out.
“Why you cry, mummy?” my smallest child asked.
“Ooooh, because I hurt my foot!”
“You wiping your eyes?”
“Yes, I’m wiping my eyes because I hurt my foot and it made me cry, but I’m better now.”
I smiled at my youngest, and hoped the day never came when she might choose the same path as her sister.
I stood then, at the back door, smoking a cigarette, looking up at the darkened sky, sending up a prayer that my eldest child’s life would bring everything she wished for, that she would still turn to me for guidance, and that me being not so involved in her day to day life would make our bond stronger.
Abruptly I turned the tears away, closed over the wound on my heart, and patched my emotions until I had time alone to sift through them, if indeed I ever would. I suspect the hurts will join the others, in my locked mind box, the key to which is buried deep inside so that even I can’t find it.
As a dear friend said to me, “You should miss her quietly. Clinging would become a ball and chain around her ankle that she’ll strive to break from.”
I had already surmised as much for myself, but it felt good that I was indeed doing this the right way. Or the way that came naturally.
So, despite the hurt that I have disguised as nonchalance – despite the fear masked as a smile – despite the tears that threaten to fall at unexpected times, dashed away with my angry hand, for I do hate to cry – while my mind screams, I shall, forevermore, miss her quietly.
Bio: M.E. Ellis is a 33 year-old mother of five. Writes, reads and is merry!
She has been published in Wildchildpublishing, Underground Voices, Demonminds, girlswithinsurance and is a regular at EOTW where this story was workshopped.
Learning to say, ‘fuck’
Yesterday, I taught a friend to say ‘fuck.’ High on the Downs, frost still crisping the turf, we stood in the sun and yelled, ‘fuck’ to no-one at all. A few young men preparing to hang glide paused and shrugged.
Her husband left her. Or the dog died. Or her son said to a friend on the phone ‘I can’t wait to leave home,’ Or… anything. She and I yelled ‘fuck’ to the sky and a man hanging under a red and yellow sail looked around and smiled.
I wrote off the beamer. Or shoplifted, got caught, and I’m married to a magistrate… or for the first time I did NOT take flowers to my mother’s grave because I hated her.
The air was clear and so cold. It was like spring-cleaning the soul. I yelled it again. Louder. My voice cracked. ‘FUCK!’ She’d relaxed. Her shoulders were down. Her face open, sparkling. “And more FUCK!” The almost-hang gliders laughed.
She’d been given six months. Or they’d got burgled and her engagement ring was gone forever. Or she just didn’t want to be forty next month. She ran up the ridge, flapping her arms. “Fuck fuck fuck.” Now THAT felt stupid. Running behind her, panting and flapping, “uh, fuck, uh.” The man under the red and yellow wing hung over our heads, waving.
Every time the phone goes I think it is someone to tell me my father’s died. Or it’s the police to say my driving’s not good enough. Or I haven’t won the lottery. I grabbed her arms, pulled her around in a circle, our breath misting. “Fucky fucky fucky.” The almost hang gliders put their heads together. Calling the police? Did we care?
Her brother’s got AIDS. Her husband is moving to Brussels. She found a lump this morning. Dance dance “Fucky fucky fuckedy fuck.”
Then. Oh. Then.
Her hang glider man has a dark red sail. Mine is the man who smiled from the sky. Red and yellow. A bird each. Side by side and the others shouting, “Yeah!” “Go!”
I was flying. Above me, pressed to my back, a man… I don’t even know his name. I feel his legs move over mine. I feel him breathing.
To the right, there she is, hanging in the air, tandem with someone she doesn’t know. Her face pink, her arms out like she’s grabbing the air in great handfuls.
Out over the grass. The swoop in the stomach when the thermal takes us. A bellying up and over the slope.
Maybe we both are sliding. Maybe things are almost done. Maybe we were beautiful once. Maybe the most important thing that’s ever happened ever, just did, and the world spins on by beneath us, but we still shout, and our men work the gliders and shout with us, and from here, our words bounce off the slopes and echo back at us, over over over, getting louder and then fainter but never disappearing.
" fuck………….fuck…………..fuck…. "
Bio: Vanessa Gebbie is a journalist living and working in the UK. Her short fiction has been published both in print and on the net. She has had some success in writing competitions, coming First in Cotswold Writers 2005, JBWB 2005, Cadenza 2005 and Willesden Short Story Prize 2006. She teaches Creative Writing as part of the treatment programme in drugs rehabs in her home city, Brighton, and is married with two sons. She is also the editor of a special magazine for rehab writing- www.tomsvoicemagazine.com .
Vanessa's story, "The Collector" was published in GSJ's Oct. issue and the editors like to brag about this piece to everyone who will listen! And judging from the fan letters, readers loved it, too!