Horror by Phone
A gravely voice answers: “Is that you, Sally?”
“Don’t you recognize me?”
“No. Who is this?”
“Your daughter.” I might add: your only daughter—you
know, the one you spawned with your only husband, just fifty
years ago. This kind of information, though, seems excessive,
don’t you think?
“Oh, Becca! I haven’t had breakfast yet. Why
are you calling me?”
“Well, I found all this information, Mom. I thought
you’d want it ASAP.”
“I didn’t sleep at all last night. Are you sure
this can’t wait?”
“Sleep disturbances commonly occur after a death,
Mom. That’s perfectly normal.”
“No, it isn’t. That child has been in here again.”
“What do you mean, Mother?” I don’t really want
to hear about juvenile delinquents in my ancestor’s neighborhood,
but I’ve got to ask. She’s got a right to complain if this
kid’s half as bad as she’s led me to believe.
“My jewelry turned up—all that stuff he took.”
“Your sterling silver collection? Your charm
bracelet? You got them back!” Delight ripples over me. Just
the suspicion of neighbors exploiting my mother while she
tends to a funeral, a memorial service, and the details of
cremation have kept me on the phone for three weeks now—twice
a day, sometime three times. The Cranky Mom, The Grieving
Sister, and The Outraged Senior Citizen have been keeping
me up nights, too.
“He put it back in a drawer where I’d never look.
It was right there when I opened it last night. This is gonna
turn out all right. I’ve got somebody working on it—somebody
they’d least suspect. He can get in through that window in
the garage. It’s just one step above the heater. They think
they can get the better of me, but they don’t know me.”
“Mom, who are ‘they’?”
“Just you never mind. They think I’m alone down
here, but I’m not. Just remember that.”
“Mom, you got a lead on the thief?”
“It’s a child. I know that much. They can’t find
his footsteps, but they’re everywhere. I scrub them off everyday.
He’s not fooling me.”
“Mom, when you find them, just leave them there,
and call the Sheriff. He wants evidence, Mother. If you got
it, don’t let him get away.”
“Now, you listen to me. I don’t need your two
cents, and I don’t need his, either. I keep this place clean,
and that sonofagun isn’t gonna turn it into a sewer. Ever
since Susan died, I’ve had to wash and spray from one end
of the house to the other. That smell the other night almost
did me in. There was a man outside, and he sprayed his smell—you
know, the way men do—right in here.”
“Did you find his footprints outside the house?
Was there a pool of liquid on the ground or a little neat
package—a gift, so to speak?”
“I’m not making this up. He was right there!”
“I know that can happen, Mom. When we lived in
the city, the whore next door attracted men to her place,
and they competed with one another by squirting her fence.
It’s disgusting, but it happened. If it happened in my neighborhood,
it can happen in yours. In fact, it’s all the more likely
to happen in your county because the Internet statistics on
sexual predators for your town are off the charts. I gave
Susan that information, but I didn’t tell you because I didn’t
want to scare you. You need to protect yourself, though.”
“You don’t need to worry. It’s real quiet. The
sheriff makes his rounds every hour. We don’t have any perverts
“Have you seen the stats, Mom?”
“No, I haven’t! You ask the damnedest questions!
What do I want to see them for? They won’t let me sleep, either!”
“If you report that smell to the sheriff, Mom,
he will look for that pool on the ground. He wants concrete
evidence, and you can help him by checking outside the house.
Is it possible that your brother left that smell—or the cat
you said his wife brought with her for the funeral?”
“No! I’ve cleaned every nook and corner. No smell’s
coming from in here. It was outside, outside the window, when
I went in there.”
“This business of outside and inside is very
important, Mom. If a man did this, there must be evidence.
Otherwise, the sheriff won’t believe you. If you need assistance,
I’ve found other places that you can get it. Do you have a
“Yes. There are people here, though, who will
help me. The yardman stopped just yesterday and asked if I
wanted to go shopping. I took him up on it, and now I’ve got
my chicken and everything else I need. Don’t you worry about
“Okay. Here are two addresses to write down.
1: The VA. You may even qualify for legal aid, so you may
not have to pay a lawyer. You’re a pensioner of a veteran
who died in the line of service, so they offer all kinds of
free assistance. You just need to find out what they offer.
“I’m not calling them. Leave your father out
of this. He did enough for me—and for you, too. There are
soldiers coming back here without legs, without arms. They
need the help more than I do. I’m not taking anything away
“It’s not taking things away from them if you
need help, too. The government’s got enough to go around.”
“You just mind your own business. That’s what
your father would say, and now I’m saying it.”
“Okay. Here’s number 2: The Agency for the Aging.
I’ve checked on the Internet, and they provide all kinds of
services—transportation, shopping, and yard work, too. There’s
only one catch, Mother, and you should be aware of it. They
will monitor all your behavior for physical and mental health
issues. They will be evaluating you every time you speak with
“You know something? You’re just like my brother.
All you want is my money. Now, I’m telling you something,
and don’t you forget it. I’m eighty-eight years old, and I’ve
been taking care of somebody all my life. I’ve lived alone
before, and I can do it again. I WANT you to let me alone.
Do you understand? Good by now.”
“I’m just thinking about the hurricane season,
Mom. It’s coming.”
“If I die, I die. That’s it!”
If the sheriff calls me again to investigate
thefts, what do I say? He told me himself that, in all his
experience, robbers have never brought things into the house.
They only take them out of a house. If I tell him the culprit
is a child who leaves no footprints, we won’t need to say
another word. If she wouldn’t destroy the evidence, of course,
there might be a case for the courts.