Yellow Mama Archives II

Liberty Price

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Zumpe, Lee Clark

Junipers

by Liberty Price

A pair of scruffy boots leaned against the doorframe. Caked in dried mud, they looked especially feeble next to the potted junipers guarding the house. Stones in the driveway crunched under approaching steps, but the knock at the door went unanswered.

Outside, an engine idled. Several more severe bangs echoed through the empty hallway, unanswered. The house remained stoic, until the door itself was under attack—separated from its hinges, it was thrown unceremoniously into the carpeted hallway. The plants remained like pillars.

Three uninvited guests entered.

“Police!” called one, rubbing his shoulder.

“Mrs Pettigrew?” yelled another.

They pushed deeper into the rooms and called louder, their uniforms like soot against the flowery wallpaper.

“Welfare check, police!” PC Steven Surmount went upstairs.

PC Kaylee DeLasim couldn’t shake the feeling that she had been here before. Her superstitious partner, PC Anikha Seba, followed closely behind, looking over her shoulder at the empty hallway they’d come through. The living room was void of any personality, a beige room with white sofas, and some generic framed artwork on the walls.

However, the kitschy vase on the dining room table jolted Kaylee’s memory: this was where she would sit, lulled by her mother Jane’s conversation with her old friend Mrs Pettigrew— it was very familiar. You could see the driveway from the windows, and the tips of one of those plants outside.

“And she would have sweets in this cabinet,” Kaylee continued, telling Anikha about how she used to draw while the adults talked. “But they were always caramels. Hate them!”

Within the house, the static of a radio blasted. The walls were so thin that upstairs they could hear their colleague Steven’s every word. Every beating heart in the vicinity dropped. The already-terse situation had been upgraded—the specialists were now en route to document a murder.

Hesitant to move, Kaylee and Anikha stood grimly. A sense of duty to assist their boss tugged at their sleeves with the same voracity of their fear, which pulled them firmly in the opposite direction. Until this point, it hadn’t felt real to them— they hadn’t expected to be launched straight into a murder so soon, after only a month of policing between them.

The house smelled vaguely of Kaylee’s mother’s perfume.

But, why?

A retired policewoman, Jane DeLasim had risen through the ranks faster than any of her peers. She had been called a marvel, single-handedly responsible for the trend in dropping crime rates, and she wanted nothing more than for her daughter Kaylee to follow in her footsteps.

*

Kaylee remembered the last time she’d been in this house, before Mrs Pettigrew and Jane had butted heads. An overexcited and clumsy child, Kaylee had been tearing around the house, showing off her drawing to the women. She accidentally tripped over Mrs Pettigrew’s foot, stepping on it.

Jane’s pride had made things worse. Kaylee never forgot the look on her mother’s face.

Kaylee had been ready to immediately apologize for the bruised foot— but Jane was not one to back down.

All to protect her child, Jane still spat out cutting remarks about Mrs. Pettigrew.

*

“Why couldn’t it just be vandals?” Kaylee attempted to ease the tension, which stuck in the air like a bleating fire alarm. “Or someone locked in their car?”

“Yeah,” Anikha said. “A nice easy one for us to start on.” After a pause, she said, “Do you think we should—”

Kaylee could almost taste her mother’s tight-lipped pride, the seldom-seen praise ladled on her, the ripples that would resonate to other family members. More than anything, Kaylee didn’t want to go up there.

But that dead body was someone Kaylee had known.

“Probably,” she told Anikha, fearing what they would face.  “Yeah, we probably should.”

The stairs were covered with plush cream carpet, much like the rest of the house, but each step felt as if the officers were sinking.

When she used to visit, Kaylee was never allowed up here, and this only weighed her down more. She felt as if she were intruding, even though Mrs Pettigrew wouldn’t mind, anymore.

The door was already open, and the victim was in bed. Neither officer could resist glancing over at her.

Kaylee saw the woman whom she had known for years, the woman she used to visit earnestly, lying prone.

Mrs. Pettigrew looked as if she were simply asleep, her head lolling against the pillows, eyes closed.

“Steve,” Kaylee said, “Are you sure she didn’t go in her sleep?”

“Yeah, she looks really . . . I . . . don’t know. Just—” Anikha said, “Like, peaceful, and—”

“Not to worry, ladies, you can be assured that I have done my job properly.” Steve was an aged officer, with salt-and-pepper sprinkles flecking his stubble, and he wasn’t about to be proven wrong— especially by newbies.

Deep within his steely exterior, he possessed insurmountable knowledge but lacked tact. His patience for social norms was either bled from him that time he got nicked with a knife, or forcefully extracted after the blows he had earned from violent scuffles.

This may be why he indicated the spreading bloodstain that the policewomen had previously thought was part of the bedspread design, an oversized paint splatter.

“Bint was murdered.”

Kaylee and Anihka stood horrified. Steve’s refusal to adhere to politeness was assumedly why he continued—flipping the duvet up, he exposed the pale leg of the victim, and the beginnings of the bloodied stump where the other one should have been.

“See?” he gloated.

“Ealayha alsalam,” Anikha whispered.

Kaylee was speechless. The image would stick with her for some time.

As she stared agape at the mutilated corpse, a cold association between crime and perpetrator began to fester. Steve’s unfriendly chuckle had become a harsh tune etched into her skull, and that surge of justice present in every fresh recruit was beginning to take hold.

Kaylee was certain that she would be the one to carve out justice, to get the person (or people) responsible to face the consequences.

“Was probably done after she’d been killed, or else this whole room would look like a bleedin’ cranberry,” Steve continued. “Less oxygen, less blood flow . . . Are you ladies gonna barf?”

When neither answered, Steve let them go outside, one at a time.

When Anikha came back, claiming she’d only needed to readjust her headscarf, Kaylee noticed that she was the quietest she had ever been, and her eyes were red-tinged and puffy.

Kaylee went back through the house, lingering on the décor before stepping through the doorway. She thought for a moment about propping the door back up but decided against it. Today, the disruption was impossible to clean up.

*

If she had simply apologised, Kaylee felt, everything would have been forgotten.

But Jane had stood firm, marching her away by the hand. “Eventually,” Jane told her, “The witch would get her comeuppance.”

Even then, Kaylee had felt sorry for Mrs. Pettigrew. For years after, Jane’s resentment had grown, with “Mrs Pettigrew” becoming a name tinged in hatred, mentioned often.

*

The junipers didn’t divulge what they had witnessed— the woman following Mrs Pettigrew into her house, carrying her shopping, their cheerful conversation swallowed by the closed door. A good deed: the payoff would come. She had waited long enough already.

“I’m sorry, dear, but I’m getting tired. Happens a lot these days! You can let yourself out, can’t you? It was lovely to catch up again.”

It takes a certain kind of person to be a police officer.

The days are differentiated— one day a theft, the next an assault, but eventually the years do desensitise you to things. The sooner this process began, the more effective an officer would be in the line of duty.

Of course, daily exposure to many different types of crime hardens the right type of person.

“Of course, no problem.”

Before she turned, Mrs Pettigrew called her back. “Jane, dear!” By now, she was already in her bed, bringing the covers up to her chin. “When are you going to bring Kaylee by to visit? I haven’t seen her in ages!” She yawned.

After so long, Mrs Pettigrew had been astounded to hear from Jane. She’d forgotten the argument completely, welcomed her old friend into her home without a second thought.

But Jane knew that there could be no black mark against Kaylee’s name, no matter how small or insignificant— she had to be certain.

*

Kaylee took deep breaths before she pressed the button, hopeful that her mind was just overactive, that things were too convenient.

Her mother answered.

“Hello?” Jane could barely speak.

“When you were late back yesterday . . . I . . . Did you ki—”

“Kaylee, what a preposterous question.” But Kaylee could hear the smirk in Jane’s voice.

She hadn’t even finished the question.      

THE END

Liberty Price is a Creative Writing student at the University of Lincoln. She enjoys exploring nature and cycling; but most of all, reading and writing (in equal measure!) At the moment, she’s probably looking up the meanings of words or thinking of a new story plot. She has previously been published in Spellbinder Magazine, Acumen, and Visual Verse, with others in the works! You can find her on Twitter: @LibertyPrice15.

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