Death had already made himself quite comfortable at the foot of her bed, patiently waiting like time. Still. Calm. He has a distinct scent, Death, and is always with us now. He’s the only other in my mother’s life. She has no one but us.
I lift her easily in my arms to set her by the window. Death has helped me by making her light. She loves looking out the window at the big oak, older than she, that seems to be molting; she loves the way the leaves, orange and red and brown, have blown against the side of the house and won’t let me rake them.
“Leave them,” she smiles at the pun.
Still clever, I think sadly. What will I do when Death carries her away?
She seems to have a tad more energy today. Restless, even.
“I have something to say to you,” she says quite frankly. “There’s something I need for you to know.”
I breathe in the emanating dankness that Death carries like a cloak, and I suddenly realize that whatever she is about to say is what has been keeping her here.
She knows something.
Death knows it too.
I’m the only one in the dark.
“You were so tiny,” she began, “too little to remember.” She stared beyond the oak, the leaves, the horizon.
I waited for her to go on.
“You’ll hate me when I’m gone.”
“No,” I responded immediately. “Never. I could never hate you.”
“I’ve killed people,” she said.
I gasped and sucked Death’s scent into my lungs. Of course, he knew. This was his business, after all.
“What?” The word escaped my mouth before I could help it.
“You heard me, girl. I killed them. I may not have done it with my own two hands, but I killed them all the same. There was a man I knew who took care of these things. I paid him. I told him what I wanted. He made it so.”
She wasn’t making sense. This woman, who had cared for me, who’d raised me all by herself with no help from anyone… this woman I adored, who sacrificed much for just the two of us… she’d never killed anyone.
I looked into her dark brown eyes and knew by her thousand mile stare that this was not the dementia that had started to steal her from me. She was remembering something as real as the ground beneath and the sky above.
“They were mean,” she paused for a moment, took a breath and added simply, “and there needed a killin’.”
I sat down.
“The house next door held nightmares that never ought to have happened. Those God-forsaken walls kept their secrets. The man… a hurricane. His wife? A whisper of a woman, but just as guilty. They ought not to’ve had any children. Some folks just don’t merit it.”
She turned from the window and looked at me now.
“It was them, I had killed,” she admitted. “They had a sweet… sweet baby girl. Kept her dirty. Skin and bones, poor thing. Didn’t talk. Didn’t smile. Dahlia, she was called. Didn’t deserve her.”
The room grew suddenly cold. Death had walked over to testify to the truth of it. He took my mother’s hand in his.
“I gave the man every dime I’d saved. I kept a plastic container with all my extra money I’d earned from my sewing under the flour in the cellar. I gave him $67.12 to hand that baby out the window to me and beat them both to death with a tire iron. They were too drunk or high to fight back.”
I put my hand to my mouth in horror, as Death wrapped his arm around her shoulder.
“We doused the house with gasoline and burnt it to the ground.”
She looked up at me. She wasn’t sad. She wasn’t nettled.
“I took you, and we got outta there.”
Death took her face in his hands and looked at her as she looked at me.
“And now I’m going to Hell for it because I’m not even sorry. Never spent one sleepless night over it.”
I started to breathe rapidly as Death turned her face toward his. He leaned in to kiss her… I knew she’d go quickly.
“I love you!” I told her in a panic as their lips met, and he whisked her away.