Yellow Mama Archives II

Merrilee Robson

Acuff, Gale
Ahern, Edward
Allen, R. A.
Alleyne, Chris
Andes, Tom
Arnold, Sandra
Aronoff, Mikki
Ayers, Tony
Baber, Bill
Baird, Meg
Baker, J. D.
Balaz, Joe
Barker, Adelaide
Barker, Tom
Barnett, Brian
Barry, Tina
Bartlett, Daniel C.
Bates, Greta T.
Bayly, Karen
Beckman, Paul
Bellani, Arnaav
Berriozabal, Luis Cuauhtemoc
Beveridge, Robert
Blakey, James
Booth, Brenton
Bracken, Michael
Burke, Wayne F.
Burnwell, Otto
Campbell, J. J.
Cancel, Charlie
Capshaw, Ron
Carr, Steve
Carrabis, Joseph
Cartwright, Steve
Centorbi, David Calogero
Cherches, Peter
Christensen, Jan
Clifton, Gary
Cody, Bethany
Costello, Bruce
Coverly, Harris
Crist, Kenneth James
Cumming, Scott
Davie, Andrew
Davis, Michael D.
Degani, Gay
De Neve, M. A.
Dillon, John J.
Dinsmoor, Robert
Dominguez, Diana
Dorman, Roy
Doughty, Brandon
Doyle, John
Dunham, T. Fox
Ebel, Pamela
Fagan, Brian Peter
Fillion, Tom
Flynn, James
Fortier, M. L.
Fowler, Michael
Galef, David
Garnet, George
Garrett, Jack
Glass, Donald
Graysol, Jacob
Grech, Amy
Greenberg, KJ Hannah
Grey, John
Hagerty, David
Hardin, Scott
Held, Shari
Hicks, Darryl
Hivner, Christopher
Hoerner, Keith
Hohmann, Kurt
Holt, M. J.
Holtzman, Bernard
Holtzman, Bernice
Holtzman, Rebecca
Hopson, Kevin
Hubbs, Damon
Irwin, Daniel S.
Jabaut, Mark
Jermin, Wayne
Jeschonek, Robert
Johns. Roger
Kanner, Mike
Karl, Frank S.
Kempe, Lucinda
Kennedy, Cecilia
Keshigian, Michael
Kirchner, Craig
Kitcher, William
Kompany, James
Kondek, Charlie
Koperwas, Tom
Kreuiter, Victor
Larsen, Ted R.
Le Due, Richard
Leotta, Joan
Lester, Louella
Lubaczewski, Paul
Lucas, Gregory E.
Luer, Ken
Lukas, Anthony
Lyon, Hillary
Mannone, John C.
Margel, Abe
Martinez, Richard
McConnell, Logan
McQuiston, Rick
Middleton, Bradford
Milam, Chris
Miller, Dawn L. C.
Mladinic, Peter
Mobili, Juan
Mullins, Ian
Myers, Beverle Graves
Myers, Jen
Newell, Ben
Nielsen, Ayaz Daryl
Nielsen, Judith
Onken, Bernard
Owen, Deidre J.
Park, Jon
Parker, Becky
Pettus, Robert
Plath, Rob
Potter, John R. C.
Price, Liberty
Proctor, M. E.
Prusky, Steve
Radcliffe, Paul
Reddick, Niles M.
Reedman, Maree
Reutter, G. Emil
Riekki, Ron
Robson, Merrilee
Rockwood, KM
Rollins, Janna
Rose, Brad
Rosmus, Cindy
Ross, Gary Earl
Rowland, C. A.
Saier, Monique
Sarkar, Partha
Scharhag, Lauren
Schauber, Karen
Schildgen, Bob
Schmitt, Di
Sesling, Zvi E.
Short, John
Simpson, Henry
Slota, Richelle Lee
Smith, Elena E.
Snell, Cheryl
Snethen, Daniel G.
Stanley, Barbara
Steven, Michael
Stoler, Cathi
Stoll, Don
Surkiewicz, Joe
Swartz, Justin
Taylor, J. M.
Taylor, Richard Allen
Temples. Phillip
Tobin, Tim
Traverso Jr., Dionisio "Don"
Turner, Lamont A.
Tustin, John
Tyrer, DJ
Varghese, Davis
Verlaine, Rp
Viola, Saira
Waldman, Dr. Mel
Al Wassif, Amirah
Weibezahl, Robert
Weil, Lester L.
Weisfeld, Victoria
Weld, Charles
White, Robb
Wilhide, Zachary
Williams, E. E.
Williams, K. A.
Wilsky, Jim
Wiseman-Rose, Sophia
Woods, Jonathan
Young, Mark
Zackel, Fred
Zelvin, Elizabeth
Zeigler, Martin
Zimmerman, Thomas
Zumpe, Lee Clark

Why I Left the House that Smelled of Death

By Merrilee Robson


I don’t know when Starshine became so selfish.

You’d think she’d be happy to have a visit from her only sister over the holidays.

But there was only a long pause when I called to tell her I was coming.

“Well, Rainbow,” she said. “We’re all being very careful with this new Covid variant. You know Grandpa Steve hasn’t been well since he had that stroke so we’re looking after him, and we want to minimize our contact with anyone outside our household.”

I really tried to keep the tears out of my voice, but I couldn’t help letting out a small sob. “You’re saying your husband’s father is more important than your only sister.”

 “No, of course not, Rainbow. Normally we’d love to have you. But you know you’re not vaccinated….”

“My body, my choice,” I said sharply. “I can’t believe you want me to put poison in my body just so I can have Christmas with my own family. You know how many allergies I have. Do you want to kill me, Starshine?”

“No, of course not. It’s just that Grandpa Steve is so vulnerable right now, and….”

I really couldn’t stop myself from crying. “Mom and Dad are right. You are hard-hearted. No wonder they don’t speak to you anymore.”

I can never understand how Starshine can live in a house like this – a white, two-story house in the suburbs – after the wonderful, supportive commune we grew up in.

When they bought the house, she had said something about running water and not having to get water from the well or go to the pond when she wanted a bath. Mom, and Dad are right; she really has become too conventional.

I was also surprised when my niece sounded so hostile when she opened the door.

All I asked was why my sister wasn’t there to welcome me.

It was hard to tell what she was saying with that mask on. I mean, I know there are mask mandates and such, and the girl always follows the rules, but surely there was no need to wear a mask in her own house.

“Mom just took some food and presents over to Grandpa Steve’s place,” she said. “Dad’s going to stay there over the holidays.”

“Is that why this house smells like death?

“I guess that means you’re not still on the Paleo diet,” Erin said, “and that we’re not having turkey for dinner.”

I explained patiently that the foray into the diet of my ancestors had been a mistake and that I was back to being vegetarian. With good reason.

I dropped my bags and stormed into the kitchen.

“This room reeks of pain and death,” I told Erin. “How can you stand it. Can’t you hear the screams of the turkey?”

“Um, no, that must be very unpleasant for you. Mom just cooked a turkey breast and some roasted sprouts to take to Dad and Grandpa. I suppose you can hear the screams of the sprouts, too. Mom says you won’t eat them and we can’t have them in the house.”

“I have a serious allergy to Brussels sprouts,” I said. “It’s nothing to joke about.”

“Mom wasn’t sure if you would eat turkey. But we do have tofu. I can put the turkey in the freezer and everything else is vegetarian.

“Then what is that,” I said. My voice was shaking as I pointed a trembling finger at the kitchen counter.

“Um, the rolls. They’re whole grain. Mom took most of them over to Dad and Grandpa Steve but she left a few for us. Don’t they smell great?

I shuddered. “I can’t tolerate gluten. And is that butter? Can’t you feel the pain of those poor cows. And besides, I told your mother I’m vegan now.”

I picked up the blue butter dish and put it in the trash.

“That belonged to my dad’s grandmother. It’s an antique. You can’t just throw it away.”

“How can you live with the pain of those tortured cows?”

“I do care about animal rights,” Erin tried to justify herself. “But the butter is from a small local dairy. The cows are grass-fed. They spend their days in the pasture. They’re very well treated.”

I wiped a hand over my aching head and then tried to wave the stench of the food away.

“I am exhausted,” I said. “But I need to cleanse this whole house first. I’ve always tried to be there for Starshine. But Mother was right; she really is very inconsiderate.”

I don’t know how I could tell, under that mask she was wearing, but Erin was looking very smug by the time I returned to the kitchen with the bowl of smoking sage. I wouldn’t have put it past her to have retrieved that butter dish from the trash. Honestly, Erin is as bourgeois as her mother, who always had a ridiculous fondness for matching china.

But I had more important things to concern me.

“Honestly, Erin. If cleansing with sage doesn’t work, I don’t think I can stay here.”

For some reason, I thought she brightened a little at that, but all she said was, “Um, the smoke detector is pretty sensitive. What is that stuff anyway?”

The ear-splitting screech was more than I could tolerate. Who has such things in their houses, anyway. We never had smoke alarms in the commune and we were fine. Except for the time Dad fell asleep smoking a joint and set the couch on fire. But that wasn’t such a problem, once we had rebuilt the living room.

Anyway, I yanked the back door open to let in some fresh air. That would clear the smoke and maybe stop the sound. At least it would clear the smell of meat from the house.

Erin was screeching just as loud as the alarm. Something about not letting the dog out. She seemed very upset when a brown creature dashed out the door and disappeared into the snow.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Erin shouted. “Poppy’s terrified of that alarm. Who knows how far she’ll go. She’s not used to being out without her leash. I’ll have to go out and look for her.”

Honestly, I don’t know why I bother visiting this family. Maybe Mom and Dad were right to stop seeing my sister when she married a guy who worked in the tax department. But I’m not the kind to bear grudges. Family is family, after all.

“I’m sure the dog will be happy with a taste of freedom. Our dogs always used to run free at home. You can help me carry my bags to my room first. I’m quite tired after the trip here and I had to bring quite a lot for such a long stay.”

I thought Erin’s face was white under her mask. And I’m sure she repeated, “A long stay?” But it’s so hard to understand what people are saying under those masks.

“We’ve put you in the den,” she said. “The sofa bed in there is new.”

“Good,” I replied. “Then I’m sure you’ll be very comfortable. I can’t possibly sleep on a sofa bed, with my back. Now are there clean sheets on your bed? I really should lie down for a while.”

She was muttering something about needing to find the dog, but I said Starshine would be very upset that she was treating her mom’s only sister this way. I could feel tears gathering in my eyes.

“You know she prefers to be called Stella these days,” Erin said.

“How terribly conventional, Starshine is such a beautiful name.”

As Erin was putting clean sheets on the bed (honestly, the girl might have thought of it earlier) I mentioned that the energy of her room was all wrong.

“Can you move the bed for me?” I was very polite. “I’m afraid I’ll hurt my back if I try.”

“Won’t it be okay for just one night?”

“You surely don’t think I came all this way for one night. You might not have much family feeling, Erin, but I want to spend some time with my sister.”

“Well,” she said. “The room’s not very big so I’d probably have to move the desk to shift the bed.”

“That would be perfect, Erin. What a good suggestion. Why don’t you move it into the den where you’re sleeping? Then I’ll have room for my things.”

She muttered something about needing to look for the dog but she did drag the desk down the hall, and then came back to move the bed. I was so tired by the time she finished, she took so long.

 I really needed to rest but the room felt a little chilly, after the kitchen door had been left open to clear the smoke. At least it had stopped the smoke alarm quickly but I couldn’t sleep in a chilly room. I don’t know how Starshine can justify her carbon footprint in this big house but she surely doesn’t need to keep it this cool. I nudged the thermostat up a degree or two.

I was still trying to rest when Starshine came home.

You would have thought they could be considerate enough to keep their voices down.

Erin seemed to be whining about not being able to find the dog. The animal was probably having the time of its life, running free and playing in the snow.

“I hoped she come home but there’s no sign of Poppy. I need to go out and look for her again so I can’t help you with dinner. Maybe we should send out for something.”

I could hear my sister’s sigh all the way from the kitchen. “I’m not sure if much is open on Christmas. Or if Rainbow would eat anything if it was.”

Erin had seemed to be very upset about that dog but I heard her laugh. “Can’t you just picture Aunt Rainbow berating some poor delivery driver about the spectre of death in his delivery vehicle.”

I could hear Starshine giggling too, as if there was anything funny about that.

Then, Erin’s voice sounded more sober. “Mom, she says she wants a nice long visit. And you know she won’t wear a mask or stay away from other people. And she won’t get vaccinated.

“My university classes are going to be delayed because of the spike in cases but she’ll just be bringing her germs into the house. We might not be able to see Dad or Grandpa for weeks, maybe longer.

They stopped talking then, and I was finally able to doze off, although Starshine didn’t bother to keep quiet while she worked in the kitchen.

She did have everything ready by the time I woke up from my nap. I was glad because I was getting hungry.

The matching china was on the table and she’d grouped three small poinsettias in the center of the table.

“I don’t know how you turned out so bourgeois, Starshine,” I said. “All this matching china. And the bold color of those plants makes me shudder. Maybe I can help you while I’m here. Give you some color advice. The energy in this house is all wrong.”

Stella ignored my offer. “Um, about your visit, Rainbow. I really don’t think….”

Erin came home then, crying because she still hadn’t found the dog. She said she was too upset to eat.

I told her she was very selfish to spoil this special solstice celebration with family and I tried to be a good guest, entertaining them with stories about my painting and weaving.

But they weren’t keeping up their end. Erin kept getting up and calling the dog. And Starshine was rude enough to get up to answer a call from her husband, right when I was explaining about the ridiculous art critic that people thought was a bigshot, but really didn’t know anything because of what he had said about my wall hanging.

And then I felt something lurch in my stomach.

“What was in that tofu?”

“Oh, some vegetables,” Starshine said. “Mushrooms, carrots, onion, celery…. Is that a problem? I thought it was only Brussels sprouts you were allergic to.”

I groaned. “I feel a little dizzy.”

Starshine’s face was white under her mask. I was going to tell her how ridiculous she was, wearing a mask throughout dinner and just pulling it down every time she needed to take a bite. As if that was any way to live. But there was vomit rising in my throat.

I could hear Starshine shouting through the bathroom door. I should have known better than to eat in a house that smells like death.

 “Rainbow, do you really have allergies? I thought you were just making it up. Do you have pills, or one of those injection things?

“Erin, call an ambulance!” Starshine said. “Erin, why are you just standing there. We need to get help. I put Brussels sprouts in the tofu loaf. I wanted to show Rainbow these food fads are all nonsense. I was so upset I thought I wouldn’t care if it killed her! But I do!”

I could hear Starshine crying over the sound of my own retching. “Why aren’t you calling 911? Give me the phone! Maybe Mom and Dad are right. I am too selfish. My poor sister!”

“Mom, she’s fine,” Erin said. “Well, maybe not fine but I don’t think we need a doctor.”

I opened the bathroom door. “How dare you ignore my food allergies,” I said. “How dare you put my health at risk!”

Erin must have agreed with me, because she said, “Exactly!” very loudly as she helped me down the hall to my room.

Erin left a bowl handy beside the bed, which was kind, although it would have been nicer if they’d let me sleep in the master bedroom. That has an ensuite bathroom.

I wanted to rest but I could still hear them talking in the dining room and the clinking of glass.

“I know why she’s sick,” I could hear Erin say. “I could smell it across the table. And I found these bottles under the bed.  Smell this glass she’s been drinking from all evening.”

“She said she couldn’t tolerate tap water and she needed to drink the special spring water she brought with her.”

“It’s gin, Mom. I thought I heard bottles clinking when I carried her bags to my room. And I could smell it on her breath just now, along with the vomit. I think she’s been drinking all afternoon.”

“She’s drunk?” Not dying?”

“Yep,” Erin’s voice was far too loud, even all the way down the hall “Fortunately, she still had one bottle left. I think this will be quite festive with that cranberry juice in the fridge.”

“Oh, poor Rainbow,” Starshine said. “She must have a serious drinking problem. I should look into the programs around here. Maybe she should stay with us and I could help her…”

“Mom,” Erin said.  I could hear glasses and bottle clinking. The nerve of them, with my gin! “There are good residential programs, to help her quit drinking. You know she can’t stay here. And this can’t go on.”

“But she’s my sister. And family is important.”

“Mom, you tried to kill her.”

“That’s not true. Not really. I just wanted to show she didn’t have an allergy. I wanted to help her get away from these crazy food fads. I thought I could help her.”

“Like you’re going to help her quit drinking?”

“Well, I think I should. She’s always been very good to me. I know you and your father keep saying she pushes me around but that’s not true.”

“And yet, here we are, eating tofu instead of having dinner with Dad and Grandpa. And she didn’t think twice about being with all those people at the craft fair she mentioned and then coming here with a possible infection.”

“But she’s family.”

“And so is Dad. Don’t you want to be with him?”

Starshine was quiet.

“Mom, I know you love her because she’s your sister, but this really has to stop.”

 “You’re right, Erin. But she certainly isn’t well enough to go anywhere tonight. And she probably won’t feel very well tomorrow….’

Starshine paused again and I imagined her taking a large swig of my gin. Then she said, “I’ll tell her she can’t stay here. I’ll tell her it’s really not convenient for…for my family.”

There was a big commotion then, barking and scratching at the door. And Erin crying, “Poppy, good girl! You came home!” until I thought my head would fall off. And I swear I could smell the dog food all the way from the kitchen. I really had to get out of this place. Planning to stay with my sister was a big mistake. I’d have to call Mom and Dad and tell them my plans had changed. They hadn’t seemed all that enthusiastic when I said I might come to Oregon for the holidays, but I’m sure they’ll change their minds when I tell them about the smell of death here.

Then Starshine said, “You know, Rainbow and my parents keep saying how selfish I am. But she’s the one who kept the gin to herself. I’ll have to remind her about that when I ask her to leave.”

Erin guffawed in a way that made my head feel like it was splitting open. I’m glad I’ve decided to leave. Then she said, “Just remind her your name is Stella.”


The End

Like Mama Used to Make

by Merrilee Robson

I suppose you could say what happened was my fault.

But at the time I was just trying to get through the holidays with my family.

“Ceci, can you give me Susan’s cell number?” Tiffany’s voice roared out of the kitchen, echoed through the expansive foyer, and ricocheted off the uncarpeted stairs, sounding very different from the lisping little-girl voice she usually spoke in.

“Just a minute,” I hollered back, wincing at the echo in reverse. “I’m helping Mom.”

My mother stumbled on the stairs in my brother’s new McMansion and grabbed my arm. “Why does she want to call her? She’s not going to invite her here, is she? And Susan wouldn’t want to come, would she?”

“Seems unlikely,” I said, shrugging. I’d dropped the big suitcase when she grabbed my arm and the strap of the smaller one slid off my shoulder with the shrug. The thuds echoed around me. What were these stairs made of anyway? The dark, shiny wood looked pretty but I thought the noise would get annoying quickly.

Mom was limping. “I hope this is going to work,” she said.  “You know how bad my knee is.”

I’d just picked my mother up from the airport and driven her to my brother’s new house “Maybe there’s somewhere else. Tiffany just said you have the blue room at the top of the stairs. Maybe I should….”

Mom sighed. “Oh, no, the blue room sounds lovely. It so kind of Arthur to invite me here for Christmas. He’s always been such a thoughtful boy.”

I thought about pointing out that I’d been the one who’d booked and paid for the plane fare, and picked her up at the airport, while Arthur was nowhere to be seen.

Instead, I headed down to the kitchen, leaving Mom to settle into the guest room and rest after her flight. My mother has always thought the best of her blond, blue-eyed baby boy. But, really, the only thought Arthur puts into things is deciding how to get what he wants.

The question was, what was he up to now?

The kitchen was even bigger than the foyer, made larger by all the light bouncing off the gleaming white cabinets. This was not a restful house.

“Ceci…” Tiffany said as soon as I walked in.

“Please, nobody calls me that except my mother. And my brother when he wants something. I prefer Cecilia.”

My brother’s new girlfriend rolled her eyes.

“I can’t think of any good reason why you need to get in touch with my brother’s ex-wife.” I eyed the large diamond ring on her finger. Flashy, but not high quality – kind of like Tiffany. And this giant house.  “Actually Susan’s still his current wife, until the divorce is finalized. Arthur knows her number. Ask him, if you insist on contacting her.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grown woman pout like that. But she did start typing on her phone, fingers flying without any apparent hindrance from her long pink nails.

“Where is he anyway? Mom is looking forward to seeing him. It’s been a while.”

Her fingers didn’t pause. “Hmm? Oh. Arthur? He’s working. He’s such a good provider.”

That wasn’t the impression I got from Susan. She’d worked outside the home even when the kids were little but that house was only a modest rancher. I glanced around the enormous kitchen. He did seem to be providing for Tiffany.

“This is our first big holiday together. And in our new home. I want this to be the perfect Christmas.”

Which didn’t explain why Tiffany needed to get in touch with the woman he’d abandoned after 15 years of marriage.

I’d just left the house when my phone started ringing.

“Did you give that woman my number?” Susan’s voice was shaking.

“She asked but it wasn’t me. She must have got it from Arthur.”

“She just sent a message saying she wants my children to spend Christmas with her and Arthur.” Then she started crying.

I told her I’d be right over.

Arthur’s old house didn’t look like it was suffering in his absence. The lawn and patio had been cleared of any fallen leaves, the windows gleamed, and the paint looked almost new. I was pretty sure Susan and the kids had taken care of those kinds of tasks, even when Arthur had lived here.

A second glance showed that things weren’t really the same at all. The flowerpots that Susan usually filled with evergreens and winter pansies at this time of year sat empty and unloved.

Susan looked empty and unloved too. I remembered how beautiful she’d been on her wedding day, her golden hair shining in the light from the church windows, her face alight with love.

She was still very beautiful. Her face was a perfect oval, with just one perfect dimple appearing when she laughed. Her hair wasn’t the bright gold it had been 15 years ago but it was still thick, and shiny, tumbling around her shoulders in waves. Her eyes, although red from her tears, were still the most amazing sky blue, the irises rimmed with a darker sapphire.

Although I still couldn’t see how Arthur preferred the cliché that was Tiffany to this woman, I could see that Susan had lost the glow she’d had early in their marriage. She was beautiful, but not happy.

Tears started to spill out of her eyes.

“How could he let her contact me?”

“Susan, you know what Arthur’s like. He’s a coward. Always has been. He avoids conflict, even when he’s the one causing it. If he thinks there’ll be any kind of unpleasantness, he won’t call.”

The kids were home. My niece Lizzie had obviously been crying. Her older brother David, at 14, wasn’t going to cry.

“I’m not going,” he said, sounding angry. “I know you said he’s not divorcing us and he’s still our father but I won’t go.” He jumped up and ran to his bedroom, slamming the door. Maybe he was going to cry after all.

Lizzie was a miniature version of her mother – same honey-colored hair tumbling around the same oval face. There was no sign of the dimple, but she had that too.

I sat down beside her on the faded couch and gave her a hug. She gulped. “It’s not like the other times. He’s really not coming home, is he?” Lizzie burst into tears and headed to her room too. At least she didn’t slam the door.

I looked at Susan. “She knows about the other times?”

She sighed. “I didn’t think so but she seems to. Arthur’s never actually moved out before, just stayed in a motel until the affair came to an end. I thought she believed his story that those were long business trips. Of course, David figured it out a long time ago.”

Her phone pinged with another message. The look on her face broke my heart.

“Her again. She says she wants Arthur to have the perfect Christmas and it would be great if his whole family could be there. Not me, of course.

“David and Lizzie say they would feel more comfortable being home for the holidays,” she added. “The separation has been hard on them and I think they’ll feel better in familiar surroundings.” She looked back at her phone. “I don’t really want to get involved with her. Could you let her and Arthur know?”

I patted her hand. “I’ll see what I can do. And maybe I can bring Mom over for a visit while she’s here. Arthur insisted on her staying with him this time but I’m sure she’d love to see the kids. Maybe I can persuade him to come too, spend some time with them.”

She smiled at that and the dimple appeared at last. “Thanks, Cecilia. Oh, and could you remind Arthur he still owes the money he promised for the kids’ support and the mortgage. He’s not answering my texts.”

I liked that she was standing up to him. Susan was flattened by Arthur leaving her but she wasn’t going to let him get away with not providing for his children. She’d refused to sign the divorce papers until she was sure he was going to agree to support them. That was putting a crimp in Tiffany’s destination wedding plans, but I sure didn’t blame Susan.

I was almost back at my place when I got a text from Tiffany. “Susan’s not answering me. What time should we pick up the kids? Maybe they will want to stay over for the whole holiday break. Arthur’s got the new TV and that game thing. I’m sure they’ll love it.”

I didn’t text and drive so I didn’t reply right away. But the texts kept coming. “I asked her what Arthur’s favorite holiday foods are but she’s not answering me. Do you know? I want Christmas to be perfect for my man.”

I pulled into a parking lot to text back. “Why can’t you ask Arthur what his favorite holiday foods are? He should know. Can’t you leave Susan alone?”

I’d just hit ‘send’ when my phone rang. It was Mom.

“Cecilia,” she said. “Can you help me?”

I was shocked by how frail she sounded. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Well, I don’t really know. I know you took me to the blue room but now they’re talking about the basement. And things are here that shouldn’t be, and I don’t really understand….”

“Mom, I’ll be right there. Don’t worry.”

I drove faster than I should have and screeched into Arthur’s driveway behind a small moving van. Arthur and Tiffany were carrying furniture through a basement door. Mom was watching them, wringing her hands.

“I don’t understand what’s happening,” she kept saying, over and over again. I knew Mom had become a little forgetful lately but I’d never seen any real signs of dementia.

Then I saw the familiar floral pattern of Mom’s pink duvet cover, the cute little bedside lamps with the rosy shades, the rocking chair she used to cuddle us in when we were small.

“I don’t understand either, Mom.” I marched over to Arthur. “What’s Mom’s stuff doing here?”

“Umm, well, I thought it would be nice for Mom to have a longer visit. She keeps saying she doesn’t see enough of me and I …” I marched past him, through the basement door and into a dark room next to the laundry, with one small window high on the wall. Tiffany was unpacking a box of Mom’s clothes and hanging them in the tiny closet.

“What’s going on? I thought Mom was staying in the guest room upstairs. Why are you putting her things in here.”

Tiffany gave me a fake smile. “Oh, well, Mom was having a little trouble with the stairs so we thought this might be better.”

“She’s not your mother,” I growled. “And that doesn’t explain why her furniture is here.”

Arthur maneuvered the rocking chair through the door. “Yeah, we thought we could fix it up real cozy, with maybe a little fridge and a hotplate so she could fix her meals. There’s not a lot of room for all her China and stuff so I sold most of that but there are enough pieces that weren’t in great shape to sell, so I kept those.”

“Wait a minute! You sold Grandmother’s Minton China! That Mom treasures.”

“Yeah, well, who knew that stuff is actually worth something. But Tiff thinks it’s too old fashioned so….”

“The China Mom promised to me,” I said, my voice low. I always remembered the cinnamon and clove scent of Grandmother’s kitchen when we used those dishes, the happiness of family celebrations, when she and Grandpa and my dad were all still with us. “And Mom agreed to this?”

“Agreed to what?” Mom said, following him into the basement. “Why is all my stuff here and not back at home?”

Arthur looked down at his feet. “Well, Mom, you know that apartment at the retirement place is kind of expensive and we thought….”

“But I pay for it, with my pension,” Mom said, puzzled. “There’s no problem with how much it costs. I like living there. All my friends are there and they look after us very well. I don’t understand why all my things are here and not at home. You’ll need to put them back.” She picked up one of the lamps and started to carry it back to the truck.

“Look, Mom. I can’t do that. I told them you wanted to give up your suite and they’ve already promised it to someone else. You said you wanted to see more of me.”

My jaw dropped. “You moved her out of her own place without telling her?” I picked up the other lamp. “Well, you’re just going to have to fix this Arthur because Mom loves her home.”

He tried to pull the lamp out of my hand. “I can’t Ceci. You don’t….”

“We can’t afford it okay!” Tiffany screamed. “I’ve finally got my dream home but most of the rooms are empty and we can’t pay the mortgage. And yet your mom is living in that posh place where they wait on her hand and foot.”

“She’s paying for it. Did he tell you he was?”

She looked at Arthur uncertainly. “Well, I thought so. In any case, if she was living here and paying the same rent to us, we could…”

“You want our mother to pay for your house?” I asked my brother.

“And when we get custody of the kids, we won’t have to give all that money to Susan,” Tiffany added. “Though Arthur probably won’t get much for that dump when he sells the house.”

I smiled. “Tiffany, you probably don’t realize that the house is in Susan’s name too. She’ll get at least half of the money if the house sells. And she would never give up custody of the kids.” I watched Tiffany thinking. “But, even if she did, kids cost money – far more that Arthur’s been giving her in child support. Susan’s been working full time and Arthur hasn’t been giving her anything. And, are you really sure you want to raise two teenagers. I mean, I love them but, come on.”

I turned back to my brother. “You better deal with this and get Mom back in her home or I’ll be calling the police. I’m taking her back to my place.”

I pointed to a box with Mom’s books spilling out of it, with a battered old recipe book on top. “Arthur can probably tell you what his favorite holiday dishes are. But if he can’t, you’ll find the ones with the most food spatters on them. Those are the ones he likes best. Mom always wanted to make her baby boy happy.”

So I suppose you could say what happened was my fault. I was smiling at how that grubby book was going to look in that glaring white kitchen.

But the police will think we couldn’t have anything to do with it. Mom had moved in with me and we were both at Susan’s house with her and the kids on Christmas Day. It was a lovely meal.

Because Arthur wasn’t there, we were able to have sweet potato pie made with Mom’s original recipe, the one with the ground pecans in the crust. The recipe that was in that book I’d pointed out to Tiffany as I left.

Of course, ever since Arthur developed that allergy to nuts, Mom and Susan had been making that recipe without the nuts.

We were having such a nice dinner, it was a shame to have it interrupted by that call from the hospital about Arthur’s allergic reaction.

That trip to the hospital was so sad, especially when the doctor told us they hadn’t been able to save Arthur. Tiffany was shrieking so loud they had to take her to a different room but I was only concerned with the others. Mom was heartbroken and Susan and the kids were in shock.

I drove them back to Susan’s house and made sure they had warm drinks and something to eat. Sugar is supposed to be good for shock.

 We learned more in the days that followed.

Tiffany was swearing that she loved Arthur; that she didn’t know about the allergy.

But I suppose the police will find out about the money troubles. Apparently that fight they had after Mom and I left the house was so loud the neighbors were concerned

Anyway, the police have no reason to look at me.

Sure, I’d pointed out the recipe book with Mom’s favorite recipes. With the food spatters all over the sweet potato pie recipe because Arthur always loved that pie.

The police don’t know that I understand my brother better than anyone. That I knew Tiffany would have a tantrum and Arthur would stop talking to her.

So it’s probably true that Tiffany didn’t know about the nut allergy.

It’s going to be hard on Susan and the kids but, really, they’ll eventually realize they’re better off without him. And Mom, too, once I get her back in her retirement home with all her friends.

I’d do anything to protect the people I love.

But the police don’t know that.

Anyway, I always thought the sweet potato pie was way better with the pecans.


The End

Merrilee Robson’s short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Mystery Magazine, the People’s Friend, and various anthologies. Her first novel, Murder is Uncooperative, is set in a non-profit housing co-op in Vancouver, BC.

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