by Jenna Moquin
I walked down Teluna Lane. The ice shavings pelted right through my jacket, and the wind felt more like ice than the ice did – but I didn’t care. I liked the numbness it brought.
I shouldn’t’ve left Liz in the car, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. She was holding Mallory, rocking her back and forth, singing to her, pretending she was still alive. Pretending that her face wasn’t blue, that her eyes weren’t huge bulges, that her mouth was laughing instead of gaped open like a fish….that her….fuck it. I can’t take this.
Just can’t believe it was only a couple months ago that I brought Liz to the hospital, and after six hours of labor our daughter was born. That was the greatest day of my life, next to the day Liz said “Yes I’ll marry you Harry Watts!” and made me feel like the luckiest guy alive.
It was a running gag with her, to rhyme “I’m gonna marry Harry!” She giggled every time she said that. When she got pregnant last year, after we’d been trying for two years, I thought everything was working out for us. Wasn’t but a week later I got laid off; then Liz got a letter in the mail from those bastards telling her that a return to work after her maternity leave would not be required as the company was shutting down.
Can you fucking believe that? And she worked up ‘til two weeks before her due date!
I can thank good ole Bob Newburne for this. That piece of shit would rather close the doors than give up his swank house in the hills. Liz and I worked for Berkshire Communications for nearly ten years, and this is the fucking thanks we get.
Past Teluna was Crescent Hill, where Bob Newburne and family lived. I found my feet bringing me closer to his house. Liz and I were there two summers ago for a barbeque in his backyard. His wife…hell is her name? Beth? Betty? That’s it, Betty. Bob and Betty Newburne, golden couple from college parties and crew matches. They both went to Harvard, both came from money, blond hair and blue eyes, WASP-y types if I ever saw them.
Betty took us on this tour of their house, showing off all the artwork, expensive-looking antiques displayed in cases, custom-made furniture and a kitchen that was bigger than our bedroom. We were planning on getting a bigger place after Mallory was born, but we got evicted instead.
Thought I’d get a job soon, no big deal. I’d get a steady paycheck again, we could find a new apartment. But there’s nothing out there. Nothing. Everywhere I go, boards up on shop windows. Overgrown lawns on foreclosed homes. All we had left was the car, luckily it was paid for years ago so no one could take that away. Not exactly the best place to live in, but at least it’s some kind of shelter. But it wasn’t enough to keep Mallory alive. Not with this winter.
Got to the Newburne’s house. Their lights were on and the window shades up, I could see inside. It looked so warm, everything looked golden. Then I saw him.
Bob stood by the picture window wearing a fuzzy looking robe and drinking out of a mug. I wanted to pick up a rock and throw it through the window, wipe that smug look off his face and drop the mug right onto the floor, stain the carpet. That sonofabitch.
Not sure how long I stood there staring at the house, just stood there until I was numb all over. The lights went out, and I couldn’t see inside anymore. Then I thought about Liz, how I’d left her in the backseat rocking Mallory. My heart pumped, feeling came back and I ran to the car.
Liz was so still in the backseat, I was scared they were both dead by then. I yanked open the door and sat next to her. She didn’t move. She was so cold. I put my arm around her, and placed my palm under her nose. I felt air. Saw her shoulders heave really slightly. I had to do something with Mallory.
I tried to pry her out of Liz’s arms, and that’s when she woke up. She screamed and slapped me, and gripped Mallory.
“We have to bury her, honey,” I said, keeping my voice as soft as possible. “We can’t keep her here.”
“No! I have to keep her warm, she’s too cold!” She went back to rocking.
I figured what harm could it do to let her rock the baby back and forth. She started singing again.
“Hush little Mallory, don’t say a word; Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking-bird.” It was her go-to song whenever Mallory couldn’t get to sleep.
No harm in singing, really, or pretending Mallory’s still alive. We’re both going down the same path. Pretty soon we’ll die of exposure just like Mallory. What harm could it do to let her live in this fantasy for a bit longer?
I turned on the car to let the heat run, and noticed the gas was running low. We had nothing left to pawn, no money for more gas, and just a few packages of cheese crackers in the glove box. I figured it wouldn’t be much longer.
I stayed awake all night, kept my arm around Liz who finally drifted off. I kept checking her breathing, half expecting her to drift off in that final way at some point during the night. But I didn’t want that. I knew what our fate was, and I wanted us to go through it together, not alone like Mallory did.
Maybe I should use the last of the gas in the tank to drive us off that hairpin turn in the mountains. I’ve often wondered what it would be like, if I made that turn too quickly one day and lost control over the car, and over the edge we went. What a way to go, right? Be helluva lot better than starving to death or freezing to death out here.
When morning came, the sun reflected off the snow and made everything around the car a blinding whiteness. Liz was so out of it her arms had dropped, and loosened her grip on Mallory. I saw my chance and carefully scooped her up, and covered Liz with a blanket. I stepped out of the car with Mallory in my arms.
The ground was too frozen to try and dig through, so I had to make do with the piles of snow all around. I brought her over to the big elm tree near the park; there was a crystal clean bank of snow that looked perfect. I knew when the snow melted, she’d still be there, and would probably freak out whoever ended up finding her in the spring – but I also knew that Liz and I would be long gone before then.
I kissed her forehead before I placed her in the snow. She looked so weird, all blue and her face scrunched up – but she still looked as beautiful as she did the day she was born. I prayed to God to bring her to a good place, and to bring Liz and me to the same place. I found some comfort in the thought that we’d all be together again soon, and walked back to the car.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, I thought about driving us over the cliff while Liz was still asleep. That way she’d die peacefully, and might not even know what was going on until it was too late. I played it out a dozen times in my head, but never turned the key in the ignition. I ate a couple of crackers, kept checking Liz to make sure she was breathing, and sat there while it was warm in the sun.
When the sun started to go away, Liz stirred under the blanket. I panicked, not wanting to face her when she woke up and realized Mallory wasn’t there. I started up the car, visualizing myself driving to the hairpin turn. I drove down Teluna, and when I reached the turn near Crescent Hill something made my hands turn the car onto that road instead of the one that would lead us to the mountains.
I found myself driving near the Newburne house. Dusk was settling in, I could see inside the house and see Bob and Betty, the two blondies, rushing about looking like they were in a hurry. I parked the car in front of the house next door, and a couple minutes later their garage door opened and a shiny white Lincoln Continental rolled down the driveway. It passed us, and I glanced inside to see Bob behind the wheel, and Betty in the back fussing with a baby in a car seat.
A baby. When did they have a baby? Then I remembered. She had a baby just before Liz’s maternity leave. I remember Bob bragging about it, they had a baby girl…hell is her name? Something with a C or a K. Bob was showing off newborn pictures in the office, but I was too distracted by the fact that Liz could go into labor at any point, and didn’t pay much attention. Now that I look back, I even remember Bob saying something about our families getting together for birthdays and trips to Chuck E. Cheese since we had kids around the same age. Then that bastard let all of us go, so he could keep this big house in the hills.
“Where’s Mallory?” Liz spoke from the backseat. I jumped, thought she was still asleep.
“Where’s Mallory? Where is she, Harry?” She started to rummage around the backseat, as if I had her hidden in the empty cooler or underneath a blanket.
“Um…” I looked at the Newburne house, imagined how warm it must be inside. I bet they had lots of food, coffee…can’t remember the last time we drank coffee. Hell, if we’re going to die we might as well get a decent last meal. The guys on death row get one before they get the chair.
“She’s in there,” I said it before I even thought about it, and pointed at the Newburne house. “I brought her in there so she could get warm. Let’s go in and get her, okay?”
Liz looked at me, and I knew she didn’t believe me. But she also knew that Mallory was dead, and was pretending otherwise. I just wanted inside that house.
“Okay, let’s go get her.” Liz stepped out of the car, and I followed her. She must still be up for playing pretend. Figured if they catch us and put us in jail, at least we’d be indoors.
I remembered Bob bragging in the office one day about the house key he’d hidden in the backyard. He thought he was so clever hiding it underneath a fake plastic rock, and the rest of us rolled our eyes when he walked away. Luckily he still had that hide-a-key contraption, the fake rock was so obvious sitting apart from the garden, right next to the backdoor.
The door opened so easily, I half-expected an alarm to start going off, but nothing happened. I brought Liz inside with me, and stopped her when she tried to turn the light switch.
“Let’s keep the lights off, okay?” I didn’t realize how hoarse my voice was until I tried whispering. I grabbed her hand and we went down the hallway, very slowly. Much of the house was familiar from the barbeque a couple years ago; the end table near the guest bathroom still jutted out and I successfully sideswiped it.
The next hall led to the dining room, and the kitchen beyond that. Pulling Liz behind me, we walked through the dining room and entered the kitchen. Betty had made a few changes to it. The glass-topped table had been replaced by one made of chunky oak, and the cabinets now had glass fronts so you could see the plates and cups inside.
I went straight for the fridge, and the sight of chicken salad, pickles and a gallon of milk almost gave me an orgasm. There was a loaf of bread on the counter, and I grabbed it along with the chicken salad. Liz took some glasses from the cabinet and sat down with me. She munched on a pickle while I spread the bread so fast it tore, but I didn’t care. I stuffed my face with everything in front of me, only taking brief reprieves for swigs of milk.
“Slow down, Harry! You’ll make yourself sick.” She nibbled on a sandwich and drank two glasses of milk.
“I don’t care if I get sick. This tastes so damn good – I don’t even like chicken salad!” I started laughing, I don’t know why; maybe just giddy from all the food, but I couldn’t stop laughing. Liz cracked a smile, and soon joined in with me. It felt so good to be sitting there with her, laughing and eating; it’d been so long since we felt that good. I never wanted it to end.
“Think we could make some coffee?” Liz spotted a canister on the counter with a label on it that said “Coffee,” next to a similar canister that said “Decaf.”
“Why not?” I thought about looking around to see if ole Bob kept any cigars in the house.
Liz found some filters and started up the coffeemaker. The scent of brewing coffee wafted through the kitchen, one of the greatest smells I could’ve imagined at that point. I couldn’t believe it when I felt myself getting hard, and wondered if Liz would be up for a little romp in Bob and Betty’s bed.
The second the coffee was ready we heard a rumbling noise. Like the sound of a garage door opening. Then a light came on in the driveway. I rushed over to the window and peered out: sure enough, the Newburnes’ car was turning into the driveway.
“Oh my God Harry, we have to get out of here!” Liz started putting the food back into the fridge, and turned off the coffeemaker. But I didn’t want to leave. I wasn’t ready yet. I thought if we hid out somewhere, they’d go to bed and we could sneak into the kitchen and get that feeling back.
“Harry, come on!” She grabbed my arm, but I wouldn’t move. The garage door closed, and I heard footsteps, and the sound of a baby crying.
“Mallory?” Liz let go of my arm. “She’s here, Harry, she’s here!”
Liz ran out of the kitchen before I could stop her, so I ran after her. Bob and Betty with their baby walked through the door that connected up from the garage. For a few seconds, we all just stood there looking at each other in shock. Then Betty screamed, and the baby followed suit.
“What in the name of God is going on here?” Bob placed his hands on his hips, in the same way he used to do when he was reprimanding one of us at the office.
“Hi Bob, remember us?” I put my arm around Liz’s waist. I don’t know if he did or not, he never said.
“Betty, get the baby upstairs, I’m calling the police!”
I considered letting him do it; at least in jail we’d be warm, have food and be able to stretch out for sleep. Bob grabbed a cordless phone from the wall and started to dial. Without even thinking about it, my hand flew up and slapped the phone out of his hand and it fell to the floor.
“You don’t remember me, do you? But I guess that’s because an asshole like you doesn’t give two shits about the people he put out in the street.”
“Wh-what? I have no idea what you’re talking about!”
“Berkshire Comm, you moron. You sold it, you took away both of our jobs.”
I could hear the baby screeching, and Liz turned toward the sound. I clasped her hand to keep her next to me.
“That doesn’t give you any right to break into my home!” Bob bent down to pick up the phone; I kicked it away from him, let go of Liz’s hand and shoved Bob against the wall.
“Unhand me! Unhand me!” Man, he even talks like a douche bag.
“Get out of here, Liz,” I said to my wife, but never took my eyes off my former boss. She ran upstairs toward the sound of the baby’s cries.
“Where is she going? What are you doing?”
“This has been a long time coming, ole Bobby Newburne.”
I punched him square in his jaw, blood squirted out of his mouth and he doubled over. I never felt so alive; I don’t know if it was the food in my belly, the erection bursting through my pants, or doing something I’d wanted to do for years: punch out Bob.
While Bob was doubled over trying to catch his breath, I gripped his shoulders and my knee found its way to his face. It hit his nose, and I heard this awful yet satisfying crunching sound. Blood everywhere.
Bob fell to his knees clutching his shattered nose. I looked around and saw a fireplace a few feet away, and next to that one of those iron pokers. I didn’t stop and ask myself what I was intending to do; I just did it.
I picked up the poker, and Bob was still on his knees, sobbing and bleeding and probably couldn’t even see what was coming at him. I held that poker with both hands, thought about the time my dad taught me how to chop wood, how to pick your mark and try to hit it square on, and how to use the full force of your upper body.
The poker came down just like the axe that day, my mark was the middle of Bob’s head, and just like that day I didn’t miss my mark.
I let go of the poker; it was stuck in his head. Bob collapsed to the floor; the poker twisted and then tore out of his skull. He twitched a couple of times and then he was still. I didn’t even realize I’d been holding my breath until I let it out, and felt my lungs gasp for air. A brief thought came through my mind, that Bob wouldn’t ever gasp for air again, and I shoved it aside as I ran upstairs to get Liz. We really had to get the hell out of there.
The baby had stopped crying, so I had no sound to go by. The upstairs of the Newburne house had a long hallway and many doors that were closed, but one was open.
I walked over to it and stood in the doorway; the room was dark, but I could see the shape of a body.
“Liz? That you?” I stepped into the room. It was then I realized it was a nursery. Big crib in the middle of the room with a mobile above it, and Liz was standing next to the crib. She reached down and pulled out the baby.
“We found her, Harry! We found Mallory! She’s okay, she’s okay!” Liz held the baby and half-laughed, half-cried. I didn’t know which to do myself.
“Where’s Betty?” I had the eerie feeling she’d already called the cops and that we’d be hearing sirens any second.
Liz didn’t answer; she rocked the baby back and forth and seemed to be in a different world. My eyes started adjusting to the dark of the room, and the rest of the nursery came into view: stuffed bunnies and bears on a dresser, a changing table, an armchair with a breast pump on the floor next to it, a pair of feet – and my line of vision centered on the body of Betty Newburne lying on the rug.
She was perfectly still. Arms splayed out, and there was a knife sticking out of her chest. I assumed Liz grabbed it from the kitchen.
“Jesus Christ,” I said very softly, partially relieved that there wouldn’t be any sirens approaching, at least not just yet. I looked at Liz; she rocked the baby and had this delirious smile on her face.
“Hush little Mallory, don’t say a word; Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking-bird. If that mocking-bird don’t sing, Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.”
My legs gave out and I crumpled to the rug, opposite of Betty. I stared up at Liz, she was still singing. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the baby’s name wasn’t Mallory, but Claudia. Suddenly everything I knew about the Newburnes ran at me: Bob’s liking for hot pastrami for lunch, and those goofy Santa ties he’d wear in December; the greeting cards Betty sent us for every single holiday, even Flag Day; how depressed Bob was when his father passed away two years ago, and that Betty sewed a mourning patch for him to wear over his sleeve. I always thought that was real classy. The Newburnes had always been a classy pair. Had been…the Newburnes were a “was” now.
Then, for the first time throughout everything, from the lay-offs to living in the car, even Mallory’s death, I cried. I looked at little Claudia, who had classy parents and a great life ahead of her, now an orphan thanks to us. I bawled harder than she was bawling, and Liz kept singing. She kept singing, even when sirens could be heard outside, getting louder as they got closer. Betty did call the cops after all, must’ve done it before Liz got to her.
I tried to get Liz to sneak out through the back door, but she wouldn’t budge. When I told her cops were outside, she started singing again. When I tried to take Claudia from her, she shrieked and bit my hand. I leaned over and puked inside Claudia’s crib. I should’ve driven us over the cliff at the hairpin turn…at least we’d be in heaven with Mallory. Now we’re going to hell.