General Fiction posted November 16, 2019

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
A son visits his mother at a rest home


by oliver818

The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.
The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

She shivered a little, and pulled the quilt a little closer to her chin. She must have tugged too hard because the quilt came away, exposing her feet to the chilly air. She sighed, and moved her feet as best she could until the quilt covered them again. She lay there unmoving, staring into the darkness. Slowly, a cold, faded light snuck in through the curtains, as if someone was poking small holes in a thick veil, and soon she could see her toes moving under the blanket at the bed. John would be there at nine, she thought to herself, which gave her time to work on the letter. He would come with his children, but maybe not Julia who had to work a shift at the hospital. She was glad, as her daughter-in-law was always tired after nightshifts and shouted not only at the children, but also at John and, on occasion, at her mother-in-law. Laura felt that was a little unfair, as she was now over eighty and often talked about how she would die sooner or later. That was one reason Laura shouted at her- she couldn't bear to hear the word 'death' around the kids. She said in Chinese culture it brought bad luck. To be honest, Laura didn't think death was a word she would associate with good luck, either.

Laura knew a lot about death. Her late husband had been a coroner, and before John was born, she had often gone to visit Luke when he was working late with a flask of coffee and thick slices of ginger cake which they consumed on a small table next to official papers and dusty folders. When he returned to work, she would watch through a window, or sometimes even go in with him, covering her clothing with a doctor's smock. She knew what it sounded like when a saw cut through bone, what internal organs looked and smelt like, and on one occasion, she had even held a brain in her gloved hands, its surface rough and slippery. Luke didn't mind her coming in, but after John was born, he encouraged her not to come so often. Luke, however, often talked about his work, especially murder cases. His only rule was no names and no talking about children. She could always tell when he worked on a dead child because he was sullen and drank more than usual. On those nights she also drank more and held John's small body long after he had fallen asleep.

When John pushed open the door a few hours later, she had already eaten the breakfast which the retirement home staff had delivered and was sitting in the sunny lounge of her small apartment. He walked across to the small sofa and sat down next to her.

"Where are Julia and the kids?" she asked, accepting his kiss.

"They couldn't come, Mum. The kids all have the measles."

"What? I thought you got them vaccinated," Laura said, pouring tea for them both.

"I tried, but one of the mothers at school showed Julia an anti-vax video and since then she has refused to get them any vaccinations," he said, stirring a sugar cube into his cup.

"That's ridiculous, John. They're your kids too," Laura said.

"Yeah, but you know what she's like, Mum. She gets something in her head and just won't budge."

"Yes, well, if it were me, I'd buy the injections and administer them myself. There's a reason they created those vaccinations, you know. Those diseases can kill," she said, sipping her own tea. "I saw quite a few cases that started as measles and ended in death when your father was coroner."

"I know that, Mum, you don't need to bring that up every time I come over," John said, dropping his cup onto the table.

"Alright, sorry. Let's talk about something else then. How's work?"

"Busy. There have been a few gruesome murders lately. Very unpleasant, and there are no clues. The whole department is a bit down about it to be honest," he said. "Personally, I think they might be gang-related, but there's no way to prove it yet."

"Well, there's nothing like that going on around here, love. It's boring as anything," she said, yawning. "Why don't we go for a walk? The sea is lovely this time of year."

"Sure, why not?" John said, picking up his cup and slurping down the last mouthfuls.

They headed outside, and followed the narrow path through the pine trees and up to the top of the cliffs. No one was sitting on the bench, so they settled themselves into it. Laura wasn't surprised by John's silence, his visits were often like this. It was Julia and the kids who normally talked. The sounds of waves rolling onto a rocky beach came from far below, and a sail boat streamed along the coastline, its sails billowing. The sun sparkled off the gently rolling water, and she wished she had brought her sunglasses.

"Is everything alright, Mum?" he asked suddenly. "You seem on edge."

'What do you mean, John?" Laura asked.

"You're mumbling to yourself again," he said, taking her hand.

"Am I?" she said. "Well, it's nothing, Johnny. I just didn't sleep very well. Do you think we might go back? It's almost lunch time, and then I might have a nap."

"Of course. Let's go," he said, helping her up.

He took her arm, and they walked towards the pine forest path again. The sound of waves faded slowly behind them, and birdsong echoed overhead.

'What's that over there, Mum?" John said. "It looks like a ring."

He bent down and picked it up. She grabbed it from his hands, stared into the large diamond, then held it up to the sky.

"It looks expensive," she said.

"Probably a wedding ring," he said. "Someone must have dropped it while they were out walking. I'll give it to the receptionist when I leave."

"No, don't worry, I'll do it, John," she said, slipping it into her pocket.

After John kissed her good bye, she pulled out the ring. How had it got onto the path? She took the small dictionary off the shelf, flipped back the cover and twisted the knobs inside to enter the code. Then she pulled it open. The letter was still there, folded, and under it lay several other rings, studded with precious stones, and a lot of money. She had taken the rings out while she was writing, and this one must have got caught in her clothing and dropped out while they were walking. She could have sworn she put in back in the safe with the letter and the other rings, though.

"I must be getting old," she said to herself out loud, as she closed the dictionary, put it back in the bookshelf and lay down on her bed.

She awoke a few hours later, her mind running wild. What if her son had recognized the ring? Was the case even still open? She had no idea how long they kept murder cases open. She called the airport and booked a flight from Auckland to Los Angeles for the next morning at ten am. She would arrange the rest later, she thought as she began to pack her suitcase.


Something scratched outside, and then a long howl filled the air. It was three am. She threw back the quilt, and shivered as the cool night air hit her legs. The carpet muffled her footsteps as she made her way to the window. Outside, a cat, its legs bent, head stretched out, released its childlike moan. She unlocked the window, and pulled it open.

"Psssst," she hissed. "Be quiet, you stupid animal."

The creature exposed its teeth, let out a mournful growl from the back of its throat, moonlight flashing in its yellow eyes, and then it was gone.

She took down the secret safe again, and pulled out the letter. In the moonlight, she could make out her spidery handwriting.

'Dear John.
I love you and your family with all my heart, but when you read this, I will be gone. I know you will be hurt, but I don't have a choice. I want you to know that I will always love you, but I can't stay here. The older I get, the more afraid I become. That's why I'm going to tell you what I did.'

She skipped to the end.

'Your father knew nothing about all this of course. It was all my work, my planning, and it's what saved us financially, put you through college, and helped me pay for this apartment. It's also what will fund the rest of my life, wherever I end up. Please forgive me, and if you can't, just remember that I did it for you, so you could have the life you have now.
All the best, your loving mother.'

She sealed up the letter. Everything she wanted to say was now in the letter, she thought a she got back into bed. She didn't sleep though, and got up and showered at six am. At exactly seven am, the taxi arrived. The driver heaved her bag into the boot, and held the door for her while she slipped into the back seat. I'm really doing this, she thought to herself.

She had only lied a little in the letter. Of course her husband had known something, that was why he left them and moved to Australia. In fact, the real reason he left was because she threatened to do the same thing to him. He had died in a road accident a few years later. She sometimes wondered if it was all those hours spent with him in the morgue that had awoken in her the desire to do what she did. As a teenager, she hated the sight of blood, or at least that's what she thought. Maybe she actually hated the feelings that the sight of blood evoked in her.

She had only acted on that instinct once, and as she had told John in the letter, it was for money. Her husband had sliced a tendon in his wrist when a knife slipped during an autopsy, leaving him incapable of doing his job. He transferred to another part of the hospital but then depression and drinking set in. Eventually, he lost his job after he was caught throwing up half a litre of whiskey while on duty, and she decided to take action herself.

A few weeks later, the opportunity arose. The Smiths, who were very rich, invited them over for a party. While everyone got drunk on champagne and cocktails, she sneaked into Mr. and Mrs. Smith's room, and rumbled through their chest of drawers, stealing several rings, including a diamond wedding ring she guessed must be a family heirloom as Mrs. Smith wore her own magnificent ring. She also took a few thousand dollars in cash she found under the mattress. She found the safe in the wardrobe, too, which she was sure must contain more money but it was locked.

After the party, her husband dozed off in his chair, and she went back to the Smith's house with a large kitchen knife and waited until the lights went out. The backdoor was unlocked. She went in, and snuck upstairs again. She could make out loud snores so she pushed the door open gently, and walked to the bed. She put her hand over Mrs. Smith's mouth and thrust the knife into her neck, twisting it. Blood flowed out, the woman's eyes opened wide for a moment and then shut. Blood soaked into the sheets, and dribbled onto the floor.

She put the knife against Mr. Smith's throat and slapped his fat, thinly stubbled cheeks.

'What it is, Margaret?" he said. "I'm tired."

"I'm not Margaret," Laura said. "She's dead. Tell me the combination to your safe, or you're dead too."

Mr. Smith's eyes burst open, and he began to shake, causing the knife to nick his flabby throat. Her hand slammed down on his mouth, and she leaned close to his ear.

"Don't scream, or I'll make you suffer. Just tell me the combination to the safe, and this will all be over."

Slowly she removed her hand.

"549838," he said, tears trickling down his face.

"Thank you," she said, and stabbed the knife into his chest in same the spot she had seen death wounds in the morgue.


"You alright, love?" the taxi driver asked. "I said we're here."

"Oh right, thank you," she said, pushing open the door and getting out of the taxi.

The driver helped her put the suitcase on a trolley and she headed into the terminal. Large crowds swarmed around her, and she saw on the screen that her flight was delayed. She made her way to the queue, and pushed to the front.

'What's the meaning of this," she snapped. "Why is this flight delayed? I need to get to Los Angeles."

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but the incoming plane has been delayed."

"Then I want to be put on another flight," she said. "As soon as possible."

"I'm afraid all our flights are fully booked at the moment, ma'am, you'll just have to wait."

"I'm not going to wait, I need to be on a flight out of here. Do you hear me, you bastard?"

"There's no need for that kind of language, ma'am," the worker replied, his face growing red.

"Don't you call me ma'am, you little shit. I could be your grandmother. I'm telling you, I want to be put on another flight, and if you don't, I'm going to smash your computer over your head."

"You need to calm down and come with us, please," a voice said from behind her.

"Why? So you can delay me some more? I won't put up with this," she said, swinging her handbag into the security officer's chest.

Her hands were pulled behind her back, and cold metal closed around them. They took her to a small, dirty room and closed the door. Half an hour later, the door opened and her son entered.

"Mum? What on earth is going on?," John said, grabbing her arm and removing the cuffs.

"John, I need to get on the flight to Los Angeles. I don't want to die in prison," she said, tears starting to well up.

"Don't be silly, Mum, they don't put people in prison for making a fuss at the airport."

"Not that, John, the letter."

'What letter? What are you talking about Mum?"

"Excuse me, sir, we found this letter in her bag. It's addressed to you," a young policeman said behind him.

"It's a joke, John. I swear. Just a bad joke," Laura said, as John opened the letter, and looked over it.

"A joke, Mum?" he said, growing pale.

"You know I know a lot about crime and murder, John. It's an idea for a novel, that's all," she said, grabbing it back out his hands. "I'm tired, John. I'd like to go home."

'Yes, of course, Mum," John said, picking up her suitcase.


Waves crashed below, and a cold wind whipped at their faces as they looked out to sea. In the distance, a seagull hung for a moment and then dived, letting out its melancholic call.

"The doctor said it's part of your condition, Mum," John said, holding her hand. "I've asked the nurses to drop in on you more regularly."

"I know, John. I'm sorry I put you through this," she said, rubbing her free hand over his face.

"We'd better burn that letter, though," he said. "Because I vividly remember that murder of the Smiths. It's still unsolved."

"And it hopefully always will be, son," Laura said, pulling out the letter.

John pulled out a lighter, lighting the edge of the envelope, and they watched as the flames danced over it, black smoke rising into the evening air.

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Artwork by Sierra Treasures at

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