Yellow Mama Archives

M. A. De Neve
Home
Adhikari, Sudeep
Ahern, Edward
Aldrich, Janet M.
Allan, T. N.
Allen, M. G.
Ammonds, Phillip J.
Anderson, Peter
Andreopoulos, Elliott
Arab, Bint
Augustyn, P. K.
Aymar, E. A.
Babbs, James
Baber, Bill
Bagwell, Dennis
Bailey, Ashley
Baird, Meg
Bakala, Brendan
Baker, Nathan
Balaz, Joe
BAM
Barber, Shannon
Barker, Tom
Bates, Jack
Bayly, Karen
Baugh, Darlene
Bauman, Michael
Baumgartner, Jessica Marie
Beale, Jonathan
Beck, George
Beckman, Paul
Benet, Esme
Bennett, Brett
Bennett, Charlie
Berg, Carly
Berman, Daniel
Bernardara, Will Jr.
Berriozabal, Luis
Beveridge, Robert
Bickerstaff, Russ
Bigney, Tyler
Blake, Steven
Bohem, Charlie Keys and Les
Booth, Brenton
Bougger, Jason
Boyd, A. V.
Boyd, Morgan
Bracey, DG
Brewka-Clark, Nancy
Britt, Alan
Brooke, j
Brown, R. Thomas
Brown, Sam
Burton, Michael
Bushtalov, Denis
Butkowski, Jason
Butler, Simon Hardy
Cameron, W. B.
Campbell, J. J.
Campbell, Jack Jr.
Cano, Valentina
Cardinale, Samuel
Carlton, Bob
Cartwright, Steve
Carver, Marc
Castle, Chris
Catlin, Alan
Chesler, Adam
Clausen, Daniel
Clevenger, Victor
Clifton, Gary
Coffey, James
Colasuonno, Alfonso
Conley, Jen
Connor, Tod
Cooper, Malcolm Graham
Coral, Jay
Cosby, S. A.
Costello, Bruce
Crandall, Rob
Criscuolo, Carla
Crist, Kenneth
Crouch & Woods
D., Jack
Dallett, Cassandra
Danoski, Joseph V.
Daly, Sean
Davis, Christopher
Day, Holly
de Bruler, Connor
Degani, Gay
De France, Steve
De La Garza, Lela Marie
Deming, Ruth Z.
Demmer, Calvin
De Neve, M. A.
Dennehy, John W.
DeVeau, Spencer
Di Chellis, Peter
Dick, Earl
Dick, Paul "Deadeye"
DiLorenzo, Ciro
Dionne, Ron
Domenichini, John
Dominelli, Rob
Doran, Phil
Doreski, William
Dorman, Roy
Doherty, Rachel
Dosser, Jeff
Doyle, John
Draime, Doug
Drake, Lena Judith
Dromey, John H.
Dubal, Paul Michael
Duke, Jason
Duncan, Gary
Dunham, T. Fox
Duschesneau, Pauline
Dunn, Robin Wyatt
Duxbury, Karen
Duy, Michelle
Elliott, Garnett
Ellman, Neil
England, Kristina
Erianne, John
Espinosa, Maria
Esterholm, Jeff
Fallow, Jeff
Farren, Jim
Fenster, Timothy
Ferraro, Diana
Filas, Cameron
Flanagan, Daniel N.
Flanagan, Ryan Quinn
Francisco, Edward
Funk, Matthew C.
Gann, Alan
Gardner, Cheryl Ann
Garvey, Kevin Z.
Genz, Brian
Giersbach, Walter
Gladeview, Lawrence
Glass, Donald
Goddard, L. B.
Godwin, Richard
Goff, Christopher
Goss, Christopher
Gradowski, Janel
Graham, Sam
Grant, Christopher
Grant, Stewart
Greenberg, K.J. Hannah
Greenberg, Paul
Grey, John
Gunn, Johnny
Gurney, Kenneth P.
Haglund, Tobias
Halleck, Robert
Hamlin, Mason
Hanson, Christopher Kenneth
Hanson, Kip
Harrington, Jim
Harris, Bruce
Hart, GJ
Hartman, Michelle
Haskins, Chad
Hawley, Doug
Haycock, Brian
Hayes, A. J.
Hayes, John
Hayes, Peter W. J.
Heatley, Paul
Heimler, Heidi
Helmsley, Fiona
Hendry, Mark
Heslop, Karen
Heyns, Heather
Hilary, Sarah
Hill, Richard
Hivner, Christopher
Hockey, Matthew J.
Hogan, Andrew J.
Holderfield, Culley
Holton, Dave
Howells, Ann
Hoy, J. L.
Huchu, Tendai
Hudson, Rick
Huffman, A. J.
Huguenin, Timothy G.
Huskey, Jason L.
Irascible, Dr. I. M.
Jaggers, J. David
James, Christopher
Johnson, Beau
Johnson, Moctezuma
Johnson, Zakariah
Jones, D. S.
Jones, Erin J.
Jones, Mark
Kabel, Dana
Kaplan, Barry Jay
Kay, S.
Kempka, Hal
Kerins, Mike
Keshigian, Michael
Kevlock, Mark Joseph
King, Michelle Ann
Kirk, D.
Knott, Anthony
Koenig, Michael
Korpon, Nik
Kovacs, Norbert
Kovacs, Sandor
Kowalcyzk, Alec
Krafft, E. K.
Lacks, Lee Todd
Lang, Preston
Larkham, Jack
La Rosa, F. Michael
Leasure, Colt
Leatherwood, Roger
Lees, Arlette
Lees, Lonni
Leins, Tom
Lemming, Jennifer
Lerner, Steven M
Lewis, Cynthia Ruth
Lewis, LuAnn
Lifshin, Lyn
Liskey, Tom Darin
Lodge, Oliver
Lopez, Aurelio Rico III
Lorca, Aurelia
Lovisi, Gary
Lucas, Gregory E.
Lukas, Anthony
Lynch, Nulty
Lyon, Hillary
Lyons, Matthew
Mac, David
MacArthur, Jodi
Malone, Joe
Mann, Aiki
Manzolillo, Nicholas
Marcius, Cal
Marrotti, Michael
Mason, Wayne
Mattila, Matt
McAdams, Liz
McCartney, Chris
McDaris, Catfish
McFarlane, Adam Beau
McGinley, Chris
McGinley, Jerry
McElhiney, Sean
McKim, Marci
McMannus, Jack
McQuiston, Rick
Mellon, Mark
Memi, Samantha
Miles, Marietta
Miller, Max
Minihan, Jeremiah
Monson, Mike
Mooney, Christopher P.
Morgan, Bill W.
Moss, David Harry
Mullins, Ian
Mulvihill, Michael
Muslim, Kristine Ong
Nardolilli, Ben
Nelson, Trevor
Nessly, Ray
Nester, Steven
Neuda, M. C.
Newell, Ben
Newman, Paul
Nielsen, Ayaz
Ogurek, Douglas J.
O'Keefe, Sean
Ortiz, Sergio
Pagel, Briane
Park, Jon
Parr, Rodger
Parrish, Rhonda
Partin-Nielsen, Judith
Peralez, R.
Perez, Juan M.
Perez, Robert Aguon
Peterson, Ross
Petroziello, Brian
Pettie, Jack
Petyo, Robert
Phillips, Matt
Picher, Gabrielle
Pierce, Rob
Pietrzykowski, Marc
Plath, Rob
Pointer, David
Powell, David
Power, Jed
Powers, M. P.
Praseth, Ram
Prusky, Steve
Pruitt, Eryk
Purfield, M. E.
Purkis, Gordon
Quinlan, Joseph R.
Quinn, Frank
Rabas, Kevin
Ram, Sri
Rapth, Sam
Ravindra, Rudy
Renney, Mark
reutter, g emil
Rhatigan, Chris
Richardson, Travis
Richey, John Lunar
Ridgeway, Kevin
Ritchie, Salvadore
Robinson, John D.
Robinson, Kent
Rodgers, K. M.
Roger, Frank
Rose, Mandi
Rose, Mick
Rosenberger, Brian
Rosenblum, Mark
Rosmus, Cindy
Ruhlman, Walter
Rutherford, Scotch
Sanders, Isabelle
Sanders, Sebnem
Savage, Jack
Sayles, Betty J.
Schauber, Karen
Schneeweiss, Jonathan
Schraeder, E. F.
Schumejda, Rebecca
See, Tom
Sethi, Sanjeev
Sexton, Rex
Seymour, J. E.
Shaikh, Aftab Yusuf
Sheagren, Gerald E.
Shepherd, Robert
Shirey, D. L.
Sim, Anton
Simmler, T. Maxim
Simpson, Henry
Sinisi, J. J.
Sixsmith, JD
Slagle, Cutter
Slaviero, Susan
Sloan, Frank
Small, Alan Edward
Smith, Brian J.
Smith, Ben
Smith, C.R.J.
Smith, Copper
Smith, Greg
Smith, Paul
Smith, Stephanie
Smith, Willie
Smuts, Carolyn
Snethen, Daniel G.
Snoody, Elmore
Sojka, Carol
Solender, Michael J.
Sortwell, Pete
Sparling, George
Spicer, David
Squirrell, William
Stewart, Michael S.
Stickel, Anne
Stolec, Trina
Stryker, Joseph H.
Stucchio, Chris
Succre, Ray
Sullivan, Thomas
Swanson, Peter
Swartz, Justin A.
Sweet, John
Tarbard, Grant
Taylor, J. M.
Thompson, John L.
Thompson, Phillip
Tillman, Stephen
Titus, Lori
Tivey, Lauren
Tobin, Tim
Tu, Andy
Ullerich, Eric
Valent, Raymond A.
Valvis, James
Vilhotti, Jerry
Waldman, Dr. Mel
Walsh, Patricia
Walters, Luke
Ward, Emma
Washburn, Joseph
Weber, R.O.
Weil, Lester L.
White, Judy Friedman
White, Robb
White, Terry
Wilsky, Jim
Wilson, Robley
Wilson, Tabitha
Woodland, Francis
Young, Mark
Yuan, Changming
Zackel, Fred
Zafiro, Frank
Zapata, Angel
Zee, Carly
Zimmerman, Thomas

guillotines.jpg
Art by K. J. Hannah Greenberg 2018

GUILLOTINES CAUSE PERMANENT DISABILITY

 

By M.A. De Neve

 

       “I've figured out a way out of this job,” Ron told me.

       “You're quitting.”

       “I didn't say that.”  

       “Ron, get over here. I thought I told you to...” Jack, our boss shouted above the noise of the presses and the huge guillotine paper cutters. 

       As I watched Ron hurry over to where Jack stood, I wondered what he had in mind. He could pretend he hurt his back and collect disability.  Here in rural Michigan, tree cutting and paper-mill factory jobs offered opportunities for disabling injuries, real or imagined.  Ron wouldn't be the first person I knew who took the easy way out of a boring, low-paying job.

       If Ron got fired, he'd get unemployment checks for 26 weeks. Jack often threatened to fire Rowan, but despite Jack's gripes, Ron was a good worker. Jack was NOT going to make good on the threat, and Ron needed this job. 

       I went back to work. Jack didn't pick on me as much as he picked on Ron, but that didn't mean he wouldn't call me on the carpet or dock my pay or give me the worst job in the plant. The worst job usually belonged to Ron.  Sometimes he had to run the fearsome gigantic electronic guillotine paper cutters. These machines are as big as a small  bathroom. The wicked blades come down with the power of thousands of pounds.

       Later that day at the punch-clock, I asked Ron, “What did you mean when you said you found a way out of this job?  Are you quitting?”

       “I don't know.  I didn't say that. Did I?”

       “You need a ride home?” I asked. Waiting for the bus could take up to half an hour, and Ron took the bus.  On our wages, I was lucky I could afford a car, but then my wife works. Ron is a bachelor.

       He shook his head. He was upset. Jack had been extra mean that day, and as usual Ron got the worst of Jack's ugly moods.

       I drove to the bar down the road and ordered a beer. I wished Ron had come with me. I was worried about him. All that abuse he'd been taking from Jack was bound to hurt.  I was finishing my second beer when I heard the sirens. Looking put the window, I watched police cars and fire engines head toward the plant.

       I followed.

       Rowan stood in the parking lot. “Was the bus late?”

       “I went for a walk. There'll be another bus.”

       “What happened?” I nodded toward the plant. An ambulance had followed the police cars and emergency workers hurried inside.

       Rowan shrugged. I noticed some red stains on his shirt. Ketchup? Red ink that might have leaked from one of the presses?

       Other workers crowded around us. The parking lot was blocked off, but they found parking spaces on side streets.

       “What happened?” we asked each other.

       “We didn't have a night shift.”

       “Who's in the plant?”

       “Didn't everybody check out?

       “Jack stays late.”

       Kyle, Jack's assistant foreman, approached the building and talked to an officer. I walked up closer, so I could hear what they were saying.

       “Got us a messy accident. The guy somehow got caught in the guillotine cutter. It cut his upper body in two.”

       Other workers heard the news the same time, I did.  I heard their nervous murmurs. Our guillotine cutters used to have dozens of safeguards. Since Jack became foreman, he cared more for production than safety. Many of those safeguards had been discarded.

       “Who was it?” I asked loud enough for the officer to hear.

       “Name's Jack...” the officer took a stab at pronouncing Jack's long foreign name.

       Murmurs ran through the crowd. None of us liked Jack very much, but no one deserved to be cut in half in a guillotine paper cutter. When I turned to look at Ron, he grimaced. Was that a grimace? It looked more like a smile.

 

       The crime lab cleaned up, and all of us workers got a week of unemployment insurance while they cleaned. Back at the plant, on our next workday, Kyle called us all together.

       “First, the machine that killed Jack is gone,”  he told us.  “All the other guillotines have been serviced and they've now got safeguards on top of safeguards. If you think there's anything to be concerned about, call me over. I'll make sure the machine is closely checked out.”

       He paused and let us murmur about machine problems. “I've put in for five percent raises for everyone,” he said.

       We hurrayed and applauded and a few of us patted Kyle on the back. We'd missed chances at raises over the years because Jack didn't think we were worth squat.

       “And I want everyone to say 'hello' to the new assistant foreman. Ron.”

       Ron nodded at all of us.  He'd get an even bigger raise than the rest of us because he had the new job. And Jack was gone. He wouldn't be harassed anymore. As the others made their way to their work stations. I watched Kyle and Ron. I hadn't realized they were such good friends before.

       I remembered the day of the accident. Ron had been in the parking lot waiting for the bus, and Kyle had been in the plant with Jack. What if Ron had gone back in. What if Ron and Kyle held Jack down and...

       “How are the police handling Jack's... How are they handling what happened?” I asked.

       “They don't know how it happened. Machine probably malfunctioned,” Kyle told me.

       “Jack never ran that machine. What was he doing stretched inside it when the blade came down?”

       Kyle turned away. He didn't want to answer the question.

       “Let's get back to work,” Ron told me. “And, Buddy, forget what I said about finding a way out of the old job.  I didn't mean anything.”

 

The End






 

shellshocked.jpg
Art by K.J. Hannah Greenberg 2019

SHELL SHOCKED

BY M.A. De Neve

 

       School isn't a good place for me. I don't like it. I don't even like recess.

       I see Trudie and Jeff talking. He's given her a ring. This seems to add to the popularity of both, though we are sixth graders and most likely their parents and our teachers don't know about the budding romance.

       Trudie likes to have things other girls don't have, like a boyfriend. She's a bit of a show-off, wearing pretty dresses and practicing to be a cheer leader. The boys notice her. I've seen Jeff take this snakelike thing out of his pants and show it to her in class. Being half hidden behind the desk, he thinks no one else noticed.

       Jeff walks away from her, and joins a group of boys. They playfully punch at each other and laugh. Trudie watches the boys.

       Jeff eats peanuts like he always does. He stuffs his pockets with them. He leaves trails of peanut shells.

       Back in the schoolroom, I glance at the calendar. There're pictures of all the presidents right up to President Eisenhower. I do like Ike. I wouldn't mind if he could run again in 1960. Some of the boys make fun of the old-time presidents' hair styles.  I Wonder if someone will one day look at our hairstyles and giggle. I've read books about some of those presidents, and they had lots of smarts under all that long hair.

       I live 1.5 miles from the school, so I have to walk home after school. I can take a short cut through the woods, but I've been bushwhacked. Jeff and his older brother have knocked me down, kicked me. This happened a few times. I've learned to avoid the paths and found my own openings in the pines. It's hard to get lost in the trees. They're bordered by a busy highway on the east and a railroad track on the west.

       Few of the other kids live down this way, but they do come into the woods. They smoke in here. Boys and girls come here. They lay down together, and I don't want to describe what they do. Maybe I'm lucky I don't have friends.

 

       Mama's still hung over from last night. The guy she's living with now is even meaner than Jeff. Mama says I gotta stay out of his way. He doesn't hang around too much, anyway.

       I make myself a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich. I open my math book and try to concentrate. It's too boring. I open a Zane Grey book instead. I got this one from the library. I love Zane Grey. He writes westerns.

       At 6 p.m. Bronco comes on and then Wyatt Earp. Tomorrow it's my favorite, “Wagon Train.” I daydream about my favorite cowboy heroes showing up at school and making the other kids stop bullying me. Boy, would the other kids be jealous if Hugh O'Brien, the actor who plays Wyatt Earp, was my friend.

 

       When I walk to school, I stay close enough to the path to notice a trail of peanuts. Jeff's been here. I move further away from the path. I don't want to run into him.

 

       The trees are my friends. I spend some time with them each morning before I go to school. I stand in a clump of trees and take deep breaths. I imagine them as giant protectors, warriors who will save me from the bullies.

       I’m real still. I don’t want anyone thinking I am weird. I hug a giant pine, but what’s weird about that?

       Someone’s coming. It’s Trudie. I don’t want her to see me. Trudie thinks she's better than everyone else, but especially better than me. When she talks to me, she looks at my shoes like that's where I am.

        I crawl deeper into the trees. I don’t make a sound. It’s Jeff. She smiles at him. Then their voices get loud. They are having an argument, but I can’t make out the words. They rush over me like violent ocean currents. Then they stop talking. I look up. He’s tightening her scarf. She’s leaning against him and starting to fall. He’s still tightening the scarf. I see all this, and it's like I'm watching an old silent movie.

      

       Jeff stands over Trudie. She's on the ground. He's breathing really hard. He takes a handful of peanuts from his bag and eats them. Then he turns away.

        I am too scared to move. I silently recite the names of songs in my record collection in alphabetical order. I have lots of records. I am as far as “Don't Forbid Me” by Pat Boone.

       Linda, Cheryl and Terry Johnson walk into the woods. They stop, take out cigarettes, light them up and smoke.

       “Where's Trudie?”

       “Haven't seen her.”

       After awhile, they put out their cigarettes. Linda trips over Trudie's body and screams. Soon the woods are filled with people running here and there. They haven't noticed me yet.

       “What happened to her?”

       “God, I don't know.”

       “Is she dead?”

        Other people come running. I crawl through the bushes.

       “There,” someone yells. I've been spotted. I get up and run. Someone grabs me by the ankles and tackles me the way Green Bay Packers tackle the other team's players on television. I go down like a cow roped and wrestled. Someone is pounding me. I smell hair grease and peanuts. Shells cascade around me. Jeff pins me down and pummels my shoulders and head. He's holding a rock or something hard.

       When I wake up, I’m in a jail cell. There’s a girl there with me. She’s older, but not very old.

       “Your old man beat the crap out of you?”

       I think I have a black eye. I can open the eye, but it feels like there’s a big sack of pus covering it.

       “I don’t have an old man.”

       “You’re a skinny one.” she observes. “What’s your name?”

       “Mandy.”

       “What did they catch you doin’?”

       “I was hiding in the bushes, and I saw Trudie Miller getting choked.”

       “You choke her?”

       “No.”

       A police officer opens the cell and motions for me to come out. He waits for me to stand outside, and then locks the cell door. I expect to be handcuffed. But he just nods toward a door to my right. 

       “Am I being arrested?”

       He doesn’t answer. I walk like a condemned convict toward the door that leads away from the cells. Beyond that, there’s a hallway with office doors, all of them closed. The officer points the way. I imagine an electric chair waiting. That’s the kind of imagination I have.

       He gently takes my arm to stop me and to settle me. He opens one of the doors. I walk inside a room. I keep my eyes on the floor. I don’t make eye contact.

       “Can you tell us what happened?” the man behind the desk asks. I look up at him or rather I look as far as a uniform and a badge. I think he’s the sheriff.

       I shake my head.

       “Do you know what happened?”  

       I know I should tell him. Maybe I have to tell him. I don’t know what to do. It's like a dust storm rages in my head. I get confused like this sometimes. I get angry and frustrated.

       He’s talking, but I am not paying much attention. I am too scared. “I want you to think about this,” he says.

       I nod. Think about what? I missed some of what he said.

       My mother comes in then. She isn’t calm like the jailer and the sheriff. “What have you done?” she demands of me.

       “Nothing, Mama.”

       “Don’t you lie to me. How did you get beat up like that?”

       “I fell down.”

       I guess the sheriff knows I’m a liar now.

       “You look like shit,” Mama says.

       “Looks like she was just at the wrong place at the wrong time,” the sheriff says.

       “Story of her life,” Mama smells like the inside of one of those bottles she drinks from. “Is she under arrest?”

       “No, but I want to talk to her again. I’m pretty sure she saw the girl's murder.”

        “Can’t stay out of trouble,” she says looking at me like I'm a useless knick-knack she meant to toss out, but that instead got busted into a mess that's too much work to clean up. 

       There’s a mob outside the jail house. They aren’t yelling, just murmuring. I hear some if their words. “Crazy girl,” and “It was only a matter of time before she did something like this.”

       The deputy says they’ll have a police car stationed outside our house. He says the sheriff already issued a statement saying I couldn’t have killed the girl. 

       “You sure of that?” Mama asks the officer.

       “Yes, ma-am. A puny thing like that couldn’t strangle a kitten.”   

       “She’s stronger than she looks, and she ain’t all there. Anyone can see that.”

       The deputy turns to me. “You all right with going home with your Mama?” I have nowhere else to go.

      

       The next day Mama's sleeping and not feeling well. I hear a knock on the door. I'm afraid to answer it. Some people still think I killed Trudie, but I look out the window. There’s a pretty lady there. She’s wearing a nice dress and pearls. She has a patent leather purse. She is tall and pretty like a Sears Catalog model. I answer the door.

       “Mama’s sick,” I tell the lady.

       “The neighbors tell me your Mama gets sick a lot.”

       I don’t see how that’s any of her business, so I don’t say anything. I just hope she doesn't notice the empty whiskey bottle on the counter.

       “You wanna take a walk?”

       “Mama won’t like it,” I say, “And I have chores to do.”

       “I’ll buy you lunch. How’s that? You can have anything you like. Cheeseburger. Fries. Ice cream. All of the above.”

       “I’m not hungry,” I lie. There isn’t any food in the house, and I was wondering how I could get some money so I could buy some, but I don’t like strangers, and I don’t know this lady.

       “I'm the sheriff’s sister,” she tells me.

       “Is he going to arrest me?”

       “No. He’s issued a statement that you definitely did not kill that girl, and he’s got a cruiser right down there, to make sure no one hurts you.” She pauses. “You’ve been hurt enough.”

       Is she talking about the swollen eye and the bruises from when Jeff tackled me?

       “You look like someone carrying lots of pain,” she says.

       I touch my eye. “It don't hurt much,” I lie.

       “The teachers call you Little Professor. They say you read books all the time, and you know about the lives of historical characters like General Lafayette and Wild Bill Hickok and lots of other people.”

       “I don’t do well in school,” I admit.

       “Why is that?”

       “It’s boring.”

       “I was the same way when I was in school. I devoured information. I learned conversational French and German before I was ten years old.”

       “You must be a genius.”

       “No,” she tells me. “I was too just bored by school to get good grades. You remind me of me.”

       “Really.”

       “Let’s have that cheeseburger.” Her smile is real nice.

 

       Large fires. Double burger. Chocolate malt. She orders for me.

       “So tell me about your classmates,” she says.

       “What do you want to know? I can tell you all their names.”

       “What else do you know about your classmates?”

       Not much, but I don't want to admit it.

       “Would you describe any of them as bullies?”

       “What do you mean?”

       “You know what a bully is,” she tells me.

       “Sure.”

       “Every school has its share of bullies. Who are the bullies in your school?”

       The food arrives, and I take a big bite of the burger. I’m real hungry. She eats her salad slowly and watches me.

       Finally she says, “I used to get bullied when I was in school. Thank heavens I had a big brother. He saved me from more than one beating.”

       Her brother is the sheriff, so I guessed that bullies had to leave her alone.

       “But you do get bullied. Don't you?”

       “I don’t want to talk about it.”

       “That because you’re hurt. You don’t have many friends and you think that’s your fault.”

       “Who says I don't have any friends?”

        “You don’t know much about your classmates, so I guess you can't be good friends.”

       “They're just kids, that's all.”

       “What was Trudie Miller like? Did she have lots of friends?”

       She dressed better than the other girls,” I say. “She had a boyfriend.”

       “Who would that have been?”

       It wouldn't be tattling if I told her Trudie liked Jeff, would it? I keep eating for a while. I know she wants me to say something. She's waiting for me to say something.

       “Mandy, I'm autistic and I think you are too. Like I told you, I was just like you when I was a kid. We’re not weird. Or maybe we are. We're different. We’re people who don’t make eye contact naturally. Is that so bad? If we find something boring, we find a way not to do it. But we’re smart and very focused. Sometimes we get blamed for things other people do. We’re often loners, so that makes us easy targets of bullies. You and me, Mandy, we’re both autistic. You’d have to be evaluated, and I can arrange that, but the sheriff noticed it right away. You reminded him of me, his autistic baby sister.”

       “Aren’t autistic people unable to function?”

        Some of us are high-functioning.”

       “You said we were weird. I thought maybe I could grow up to be rich and famous, but if I'm always going to be weird.... I don't know. How do we get people to like us?”

       “We start by you telling me who killed that girl.”

       “He’s popular. The kids don’t like me. They'll believe him, and they'll hate me for accusing him.”

       “Do you think he should get away with murder?”

       “No.”

       “He probably knows you saw him. He could come after you and Bobby, that's my brother, can't justify having a cruiser follow you around forever.”

       “He won't do anything. It'll be my word against his. He'll say I'm lying.”

       “And probably increase the bullying. Or arrange for you to have a bad accident. He already killed one girl.”

       “He doesn't think enough of me to kill me.” I finish my chocolate malt and thank her.

       I don't want Jeff to get away with this, but what can I do? The other kids hate me enough as it is. No one will believe me. They never believe me.

       I think all that food upset my stomach and then I realize, it isn't the food. I'm scared.

      

        The cruiser has left. Mama says it scares her friends away. Her friends are guys she picks up in bars. The latest boyfriend moved out. I think all that attention scared him. He might be wanted by the cops. Mama said he had a police record.

       People watch me now. They think I am even more of a freak, than they thought I was before. Someone spray painted “FREAK” across the front of our house. They spray painted KILLER on the sidewalk.

       “You can't stay out of trouble, can you, girl?” Mama said when she noticed the writings. She's pretty upset about the boyfriend moving out.

       I think about skipping school and going to the library to read, but someone will tattle on me. I walk around the woods. The trees and the paths scare me after what happened to Trudie. Suddenly Jeff is walking beside me. He gives me a shove that almost knocks me down. “Hey Fleabag,” he says.

       “My name is Mandy,”

       “Your name is dirtbag.” He shoves me again. “Don't talk back to me. You're a dirtbag. You got that? Say it. I'm a dirtbag.”

       “I'm a dirtbag.”

       “And a snoop. What were you doing watching Trudie and me? You some kind of a pervert stalker?”

       “No.”

       “I catch you snooping again, I'll ring that ugly neck of yours. You understand?”

       “Yes.” I tell him. He gives me a good shove and walks away.

       I don't think he'll kill me. I'm not worth the bother. But if I'm not worth the bother of killing, then why am I worth the bother of bullying? He knows no one will believe me. But if I do tell, he'll at least be suspected. I am a danger to him.

       The nice lady, the sheriff's sister, said Jeff might arrange for me to have a bad accident.

       I think about television. What would Wyatt Earp or Cheyenne do? Wyatt Earp locks up bullies and Cheyenne punches them until they stay down. I don't have those options.

       I think about last week's Sugarfoot episode. Sugarfoot hid in a tree and jumped on top of the bad guy.

       I'm not good at climbing. But I could do it. At least I'll be safe up in the tree tops. No, I won't be safe there either. Jeff can climb better than I can.

       I think about running fast behind him, and knocking him down.

       What good would any of that do?

       He'd just beat me up. I can't think of any way to stop Jeff or other bullies.

       I'm real scared. When I go to bed, I don't sleep. I think every noise is Jeff coming to get me.

       I have to stand up to him. I must do it where there are witnesses. I can't let him kill me or anyone else. He killed Trudie. She was mean to me. They all are, but I can't let him kill anyone else.

       In class, I'm really scared. I hate to speak up because the other kids make fun of me if I have the wrong answer. Even if I have the right answer, they make fun of me. They don't like me.

       Mrs. Stallmaster is talking about the Revolutionary War. Those Boston Sons of Liberty had little chance of winning a war against Britain, the most powerful nation on earth. I wonder if Paul Revere and Dr. Warren were scared.

       I know I have to speak up. I swallow and feel the lump in my throat. I have to go to the bathroom. It's almost recess time.

       I stand up. “If you have something to say Mandy, raise your hand,” Mrs. Stallmaster tells me.

       I stare at her. I am not sure my voice will come out.

       Jeff stands up. “Tell her to sit down, Mrs. Stallmaster,” he tells the teacher. She likes him. She'll listen to him, but not to me.

       “He…he, he,” I begin.

       “What are you a donkey or something?” Jeff asks me. The other kids giggle. 

       “He killed her,” I say. “Jeff killed Trudie.”

       “She's lying,” Jeff says.

       “I think you should sit down, Mandy.” Mrs. Stallmaster says.

       “I'll bet they found peanut shells under the body,” I say. “He's always eating peanuts. He was eating peanuts when he killed her.”

        Jeff gives me a hard push. I fall right over my desk and I hit the floor hard. He runs out the door.

       The kids are saying. “She's lying.” and “She's making it up.”

       Mrs. Stallman sends the others out to recess. “Are you making up stories, Mandy?”

       “No,”

       “Jeff is such a good boy.”

       “No. he isn't.”

       “I'll call your mother, and have her take you home.”

       “I can get home on my own,” I say.

       “You'll apologize to Jeff tomorrow in class.”

       “No,” I say. I say it louder than I intended. I walk out the door.

       Going home, I move slowly, Jeff could be hiding in trees. He could come out of nowhere and kill me. There's no one else around. I'm still scared. Just as scared as I was in the classroom.

       I think, he could be waiting for me. He could be in my house.

       I check each room. Mama's asleep in her room, but no one else is in the house. Then I call the sheriff's office. I tell the sheriff what happened. Then I sit on the couch and cry.

 

       Jeff has been arrested for Trudie's murder, and he's headed for reform school and maybe prison after that. The nice lady, the sheriff's sister, says he'll discover a whole new level of bullying there. The coroner had wondered about peanut shells on and around the body. Mystery solved. The other kids still don't like me much, but they know I told the truth. And sometimes I see expressions of respect on their faces. 


The End




thewitness.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2019

THE WITNESS

by M.A. De Neve

 

“PRAIN, People Helping Animals in Need.” I told the caller. “How may I help you.” Calls to the cat rescue where I volunteer are routed to my home phone during the day.

“Yes, how are you?” the caller didn’t wait for me to answer. “I want to report animal abuse. There’s this woman who lives near me. She must have at least a dozen cats.”

“You need to report animal abuse to the police,” I told her.

“I did. They told me to call you.”

“What seems to be the problem?”

“She’s got too many cats.”

“Where does she live? Some areas don’t put restrictions on the number of animals people keep.”

“That doesn’t make it right.”

“So you think this person you are calling about is a collector?”

“A what?”

“Someone who takes in more animals than she can care for. It’s what we call a collector.”

“Yes, that’s what she’s doing. She needs to be arrested.”

“We’re a rescue group,” I told her. “We rescue animals; we don’t arrest people.”

“But you can get the police involved. That’s what I need you to do.”

I sighed. “What’s the address of this lady with too many cats?”

She rattled off an address.

“Thank you for calling PRAIN,” I hung up. That caller lives across the street, and she’s been trying to get me in trouble for taking care of too many cats. Maybe she doesn't know that I work with a rescue group, but why doesn't she come over here and talk to me? Why is she always trying to get me in trouble?

Neighbors. I got up to pour myself another cup of coffee.

The PRAIN line telephone rang again.

Sergeant Lisa Patterson of the police department told me she had a complaint.

“Not my neighbor again. She keeps calling PRAIN expecting me to investigate myself.”

Lisa laughed. “Hey, we know you’re a legitimate rescue. This one’s different. A lady over on Parkview has over two dozen cats. At least that’s the complaint.”

“She’s got me beat.”

“Thought you’d like to know there’s another crazy cat lady out there. Think you can drive over there and check it out? See if you can help her?”

“Sure, give me the address.”

I put a light sweater on over my “Crazy Cat Lady’ t-shirt and walked to my car. The drive was a short one. I pulled in at the address Sergeant Lisa had given me. I rang the door bell. No answer. But I heard scurrying inside. Maybe the sound of the doorbell scared the cats. It sounded like there were several cats inside. I noticed a cat nervously peeking at me through the window. After a few minutes, I knocked instead of using the door bell. No sense disturbing the pride.

Again, I got no answer; I walked around to the backyard. A boy, seventeen or eighteen, sat at a patio table some distance from the house. He wasn’t moving. Maybe he was sleeping. “Hello,” I called. He didn’t answer.

A woman came out of the house, “Go away, just go away.”

 Are you the lady who lives here? I just wanted to talk to you about your cats.”

“I don’t have any cats.”

Through the kitchen window, several cats stared at me. They looked frightened. Something was off here. What was it? “I’m not here to judge. I rescue cats myself, so I keep several in my home. I’ve got ten now.”

“Well I do have cats, but that's none of your business, now is it?”

“I just want to see if you need any help. We can provide spay or neuter operations and shots.”

“I don’t need any of that.’

“It gets expensive, and help is out there.”

“I said I don’t need help. I have some income and Social Security. My cats are adults and they’ve all been altered. I got help from Animals And Us.”

“That’s a good rescue group,” I told her. “I know them.”

Just then the kid at the picnic table toppled over and I noticed the knife in his back. “Oh my god,” I hurried over to check his pulse. “Call 911,” I shouted.

“I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.” she said. “I found him like that this morning.”

He was dead and ice cold. I took my cell phone from my purse, and I made the call.

Sergeant Lisa Patterson showed up after the ambulance. We talked. “It's not the neighbors,” Lisa told me. “Some kids called the police several times about her cats.”

“I haven't been in the house, but the cats I've seen look well-cared for. She was working with another rescue. Her pets are up-to-date on shots and they're all spayed or neutered.” I had already called Animals And Us to check her out. She seemed to be a middle-aged cat lady like me.

“It's a case of kids trying to get an old lady in trouble.” Lisa sighed.

“Don't I know about that. What was he doing in her yard?” I nodded toward where the body had been.

“Officers are talking to the neighbors and to the boy's parents. We've just begun the investigation.”

“She wouldn't kill anyone unless she or her cats were threatened.” I said.

“And you know this because...”

“It takes a crazy cat lady to know one. But the boy looks athletic.”

“Football player on the varsity team.”

“She's probably sixty something. And where did she get the knife? It's the kind of knife a hunter or a kid would have.”

“Anyone can buy a utility knife. Check out Amazon and eBay,” Lisa said.

“But the buyers are outdoorsmen, not little old ladies.”

“Look, I don't think she did it either,” Lisa began.

“I know she didn't do it.” I told her.

“The kid was probably a bully and she felt threatened. Self-defense?”

If the kid was a bully, I wondered who else he victimized.

When I went into the house to talk to the cat lady who lived there, I saw a girl of about 15 scooping poop from a large litter pan. “Do you live here?” I asked her.

“No, but I like Mrs, Avery, and I like her cats. My dad won't let me have another cat after I lost my Rizzo. She was so pretty, a calico. So I come over here and help Mrs. Avery's cats.

“Did you know the victim?”

“You mean Bobby? He goes to the same school that I do.”

“He was a nice-looking young man. I bet a lot of girls liked him.”

“Not me. I don't like anyone who hates cats.”

“How do you know he hated cats?”

“He did things to cats. Tormented them. Hurt them.”

“That's awful. Did you witness some of the things he did?”

“He'd show off. He'd show us videos of cats he hurt. He...He...” Tears flooded her eyes, and she couldn't say more.

“You should have reported him.”

“I did. His parents laughed and said, 'boys will be boys.' Lot of good talking to them did.”

“You could have gone to the police,” I told her. But I realized that if he was torturing cats and video taping it, he wouldn't have been showing the pictures to parents or police. “I'm sorry,” I said. “Seeing those pictures must have been awful. And the cats...” I could barely think about what that boy might have done to different cats.

The girl shrugged. “Is Mrs. Avery going to be arrested?” she asked.

“I don't think so. You knew this boy, this Bobby, from school. Do you know anyone—besides cat lovers—who might have wanted to hurt him?
“He's popular. The other kids like him.”

“Then, they didn't know what he did to neighborhood cats?”

“He's popular and good looking. People like that get away with things. He was giving Mrs. Avery a tough time about her cats. He wanted to get her in trouble.”

“Did he do things like that to other people?”

“You mean, did he cause trouble?”

I nodded.

“He said he had my cat Rizzo. She ran away, and and...” the girl sobbed. “He had this video... and... So this morning, one of Mrs. Avery's cats was out on the lawn and Bobby...Bobby was going to... I couldn't let him do it.” She sobbed. “He hurt my Rizzo and I couldn't let him hurt another cat.”

I didn't ask her if she killed him. I didn't have to. I couldn't imagine what seeing a video of her beloved cat being tortured might have done to her. And if he was threatening another cat...

“Are you going to tell?” she asked me.

“No,” I said. I hoped Mrs. Avery wouldn't tell either. I was sure she wouldn't. We crazy cat ladies are not the kind of people who get other people in trouble.

We aren't tattle tales.

THE END






M. A. De Neve holds a master’s degree in English and taught college-level writing for over twenty years. M. A. wrote two novels, both available on Amazon, and has published articles in many newspapers and magazines, including Over My Dead Body and Mysterical-E.  M. A. volunteers with an animal rescue group in Michigan. 



Lonni Lees is a multi-award winning writer in both fiction and non-fiction.  Her stories appear in Hardboiled magazine and on Yellow Mama, A Shot of Ink, Shotgun Honey, Black Petals, Einstein’s Pocket Watch, All Due Respect and in the anthologies DEADLY DAMES and MORE WHODUNITS. She has award-winning stories in both FELONS, FLAMES AND AMBULANCE RIDES and BATTLING BOXING STORIES.  Her short story collection, CRAWLSPACE, and her first novel, DERANGED (which won the PSWA 2012 award for best published novel) are available from Amazon.com as is her second novel, THE MOSAIC MURDER.  It’s sequel, THE CORPSE IN CACTUS, will be out shortly and she’s working on another novel.

          Lonni was twice selected as Writer in Residence at Hedgebrook, a writer’s retreat on Whidbey Island. After living in four states and visiting many countries, she’s settled in Tucson.  Also an award-winning artist, she fills her spare time showing her art in a local gallery, illustrating stories for on-line magazines and dreaming up new tales to tell.

In Association with Fossil Publications