from the short story collection "Brain Matter"
dying and I knew that today would be my last day in this pathetic world. I
needed to tell someone my story before I died. So, I had the paper send a
reporter, a bright young man named Charles Fain.
I actually asked for him by name. His stories of local life were always the highlight of the Sunday paper and I was a fan. “Bring a voice recorder,” I said. “I don't want you to miss a single word.”
In his late 20's, nicely dressed and handsome, Fain came in at around one o'clock, just after my lunch: bland chicken, dry mashed potatoes, some kind of shitty, mixed veggie side dish and that nasty cube of orange jello that always has more color than flavor. How sad that this plate of dog shit would be my last meal, but the appearance of this bright young man more than made up for it.
“Ms. Marris?” he said as he entered my room at the Silver Acres Retirement Home.
“Hi, I'm Charlie Fain, from the paper. I was told you asked for me by name.”
My voice was a little strained as I said, “I've read your stories in the local life section. I love your work.” I smiled weakly. I tried to sit up a bit in my bed to get a better look at him.
Charlie smiled, dimples and all, as he walked over and helped prop a pillow behind me. Then, he helped adjust the oxygen tube under my nose. Such a polite and kind young man.
“Well, thank you, ma'am. I'm very flattered,” his voice was so smooth and soothing. “I brought a recorder. I know you asked for one, but it's my standard practice, anyway. So it's a win-win.” He smiled again as he placed recorder next to me on my bedside table. “Well, I won't ask any questions. Just tell me your story.” He pushed the 'record' button.
I looked at him and began, in a weak voice:
“My name is Mavis Elizabeth Gordon-Marris. I was born in 1942 and I'm dying from a brain tumor. I've been married twice... outlived them both. And I've had six children, five of which are dead.” Charlie's expression was sympathetic, until I said: “I want to confess to their deaths.”
Charlie sat forward, jaw agape, at my last statement. He looked a bit uncomfortable and confused and I could see it in his eyes: the sweet little old lady before him had just died. But, to his credit, he didn't say a word as I continued to give him the story of his career:
“It was in nineteen fifty-eight that I had my first child, I was sixteen and the father was just some punk I knew from another school. There was no fanfare, no cigars... not even a proud father at my bedside. Just me and Hazel. I named her that only because I remembered my mother had a bottle of witch hazel in her bathroom cabinet and it was the only name I could think of at the time. I was too young to have a baby and I really didn't want one. My parents weren't going to let me keep her, anyway.
“So, that night, while she slept in a crib in my hospital room, I put a pillow over her face. It actually covered her whole body... I could barely feel her struggle. Then, she stopped and was quiet and I lay back down and slept.”
Charlie nearly stood from his chair, “Okay, Ms. Marris. This interview is over.” He reached for the recorder.
“Don't you dare shut that fucking thing off!” It took almost all of my strength to get that out as strongly as it came and I was nearly sitting straight up at that point. “You will sit your little ass in that chair and listen to my confession.”
“If you think I'm printing this, you've lost your mind, lady. I'm calling the police,” He went for his phone.
“Put that thing away, Charlie,” I settled back a bit. “After I've told you everything, you can go to the police, the FBI, the KGB. I don't give a shit, but, I suspect the first place you'll want to go is to one of the biggest papers in the country. I'm giving you a story that will make your career, you idiot,” My chest began to hurt. I drank some water and settled back into my pillow as I caught Charlie silencing his phone before putting it back in his pocket.
Once we were both settled, I continued:
“In the winter of nineteen sixty-five, I was six months pregnant when my first husband, William, got sent to Vietnam. The baby came a few months later... William Baines, Jr., we called him.
“He was only eight months old when his father was killed in a foxhole. We lived... well, I lived in a small mobile home on the outskirts of a small Missouri town. There was hardly any insulation and it snowed for several days. In my grief, I put William, Jr. in the room at the opposite end of the trailer and left the window open that night. I couldn't bear to raise a child with no father. I never heard him cry that night; he froze in his sleep. That was a damned rough winter.”
By now, Charlie was disgusted. “You're fucking insane. I can't believe I'm listening to this shit.” He stood. “I need some air.”
“Want me to open a window?” It was a very disturbing remark, I know, but I couldn't help myself.
“Fuck you.” He turned off the recorder but left it on the table. “I'm stepping out for a moment. Is there a vending machine close by? I need something to drink.”
He walked out, but returned in less than five minutes with a bottle of lemonade. Bullshit or not, there was something about my confession that grabbed Charlie and wouldn't let go. He just had to hear the rest. He sat in the chair and guzzled the lemonade.
“How much longer will this take?” He was visibly shaken.
“That depends,” I said between breaths. “Do you need to pee after drinking your lemonade? Or can I continue uninterrupted?”
He looked at me and cocked his head to the side, “Are you for real or just some old lady who's full of shit and wants to leave a mark after she's gone?”
I smiled. “I like you, Charlie,” I said with a bit of rasp in my voice. “It's good to know you have doubt,” I breathed deeply. “I'd hate to leave this world thinking that you believe everything you hear. Your stories in the paper are always so vibrant and full of life. But I sense some bullshit in all of them. They seem a bit contrived and a little too mushy to be true. I'm sure there's some embellishment here and there.”
That didn't sit well with Charlie.
“I don't embellish a damned thing,” he snapped. “Everything I print is as true and accurate as the stories I'm told by the people I interview.”
“Good, then keep that in mind as I continue my story.”
He turned the recorder back on and settled back into his chair, arms crossed. He took a deep breath, looked to the ceiling for moment then turned his gaze to me. “Well?”
I took a deep breath, myself. “Nineteen seventy-one, I was a cocktail waitress at a shit hole strip club just outside of Detroit. The bartender was a real prick, but real good looking, too. We had a little fling late one night after a big bar brawl. I got pregnant and he found another bar to tend, never came back. Later that year, Chloe came along... named her after one of the dancers.
“Late one night, after working a double shift, I bathed her for the last time... she was about two. I was exhausted and Chloe wasn't sleeping very much at night. In fact, this was night number 5 or 6... maybe 10. I don't recall.”
My heart began to ache as I told Charlie about Chloe's death; I had grown quite fond of her. But, I held back my tears as I continued:
“I washed her face... she had spaghetti earlier that night. Then, as I washed her hair, something happened. It was like a veil came over me and I held her under the water until she stopped splashing.”
I stared at the ceiling, but out of the corner of my eye I could see Charlie looking at the floor and wiping a tear.
“I wrapped her in a towel,” I continued. “Put her in a suitcase. Packed a few things and left Michigan the next morning. I'm sure that suitcase is still somewhere at the bottom of Lake Erie.”
Charlie couldn't contain himself, “Are you fucking kidding me? 'A veil' came over you? The first two babies you...” He took a deep breath, gained his composure. “The first two times, you try to give reasons for... murdering your children. You were too young, your parents wouldn't let you keep it, your husband was dead, you were distraught. But this last one... Chloe... you just did it. No reason.” He looked me right in the eyes, “You're evil. Pure evil.”
I broke the gaze between us and looked at the faded watercolor floral print that hung on the wall across the room near the foot of my bed. That piece of shit... I hated that damned picture.
“You deserve whatever it is hell has in store for you,” he said. “And I hope it comes sooner than you expect.”
I turned my eyes toward him. Then, slowly turned my head towards him. I smiled. “Me, too.”
“Don't you fucking smile at me, you bitch,” Charlie was letting his emotions get the better of him. He stopped the recorder. “I could choke your ass out right here.”
“You probably could, Charlie,” I said. “But you'd miss the rest of my story. And right now I've got you too curious to screw that up.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Charlie was just a bit disturbed. “I can't figure you out, but that's probably something I'm better off not trying to do. How the hell could anyone do what you claim to have done to your children and live all these years without telling a soul? Like it was no big deal. I can't imagine a mother like that.”
“Oh spare me, Charles!” I looked at him, again. “You’re a big boy. You’re telling me you’ve never heard of a mother killing her own children? I suppose your parents never did anything to hurt you. How the hell do you explain that burn mark on your arm? Looks like it's been there a while. Mommy give you that?”
It was barely visible, peeking out from under the long sleeve of his button-down shirt. The burn scar ran from his left wrist and disappeared under the sleeve. He rubbed it.
“I pulled a pot of boiling water from the stove when I was three,” he explained with fevered conviction.
“Mm-hmm,” I kept at him. “And that scar on your chest? Just below your neck. Looks like a stab wound.”
The two top buttons on his shirt were open and made the scar visible on the right side of his chest. Nearly faded, but it was there.
“I fell off my rocking horse when I was two, impaled myself on several pieces from my brother's Erector Set. And how dare you?” He seemed a little offended. “My parents were loving people. I had a happy childhood. Fuck you, lady,” he pressed 'record'. “Let's finish this so I can turn your ass in. Maybe we can get those children some justice before you croak.”
I smiled weakly, again. I looked out the window at a family coming to visit someone they had abandoned in this hellhole of a nursing home. Fuck them... damned, ungrateful kids.
“Nineteen seventy-nine. My second husband, Tony, was a DJ at one of the biggest disco joints in Houston. We had twins that year; Derek and Dewayne. They were a handful, I tell ya.”
I coughed a bit as pain shot through my head and down my chest. For a quick second I thought I’d black out. Charlie, in spite of his disgust, leaned in and helped me drink some water, my hands were too unsteady to hold the cup myself.
“Sorry,” my voice was a little more strained; weaker and raspy. Charlie pulled his chair closer and leaned in so he could hear me a little better.
I took another deep breath:
“The boys were two when I'd finally grown tired of them. I took them for a walk. There was this wooded area in the neighborhood and a trail that passed an old junkyard with a hurricane fence. That junkyard had three of the meanest sonsabitchin’ Doberman's that ever walked the earth. You think I'm evil?” I chuckled. “These hounds had to be straight outta hell.”
“Some of the pot-head teenagers from the neighborhood had pulled the fence away at a section furthest from the road... far and away from anyone's view, probably so they could sneak in and smoke their weed and God knows what else. I stood there, near the small opening in the fence, pulled at it to make the opening a little bigger, then, made the loudest commotion you ever heard. The boys started crying and those damned dogs came fast and fierce.”
Charlie was thoroughly disgusted by this one. He knew exactly where the story was going and stood up, holding his stomach. For a moment, I thought he was about to puke all over me. My shaking hand offered him a drink of water from my cup and he looked even more disgusted.
I put the cup down and finished the story:
“As I ran down the path, back to my house, I heard the dogs come through that fence,” I stared at Charlie as he locked his terrified eyes with mine. “And those boys justa screamin'.”
He turned away and walked toward the foot of the bed, staring at that shitty floral print. That damned thing was such an eyesore; I was a little embarrassed.
“I got home and called the police, crying, of course. Told them that the boys wandered away from the house. They gathered a search party. Blah, blah, blah,” I chuckled, again. “And, you know, they killed those dogs. Which was probably a good thing,” I took a deep breath. “I can't compete with that kind of... evil.”
My last statement got his attention and he shot a glare at me that sent a slight chill down my spine. He walked over and leaned in close. The tone his voice had turned. It was darker, a little more menacing. “I cannot begin to fathom how you went almost 60 years and never got caught. You're going to burn in hell. But not before you pay for what you've done, you piece of shit.”
Charlie turned and picked up his recorder. “I'm taking this to the cops.”
“Don't turn that thing off, just yet, Charlie,” I pleaded. “I've got one more.”
“One more? You said there were five.”
“No,” I took a deep breath. My vision was beginning to get a little blurred, my breathing labored. “I said there were six children... I killed five.”
He cocked his head at me. Perhaps there was a little more curiosity left in this cat.
“Sit, please, Charlie. Believe it or not, this story has a happy ending.”
Charlie sat back down, but this time he put the recorder on the bed next to my head to catch my ever weakening voice.
“Tony and I moved to Missouri to be closer to his family after the boys died. He was so saddened by it and I finally got a glimpse of humanity through his grief. He cried for days and every holiday season we bought Christmas presents for them; usually something small.
“It broke my heart to see him that way and the time came when he finally decided he was ready to have another child. In nineteen eighty-six, we had another son, Gavin. Good Lord,” I huffed. “Why he chose that hideous name is beyond me, but I let him have his way.
“Gavin was a good boy. Quiet. Smart. But something wasn't right; I just didn't feel like we were a family. I felt empty, like I needed to tell Tony about the twins. But I couldn't.”
Charlie was all ears. He leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on the bed.
“One night, when Gavin was three, I drugged Tony's dinner and while he slept, I stabbed him about a dozen times with a kitchen knife and lit a fire in the living room.” I took a deep breath. “Then, I went to Gavin's room and stabbed him several times.” I looked at Charlie. “Five to be exact. I left him in his crib and skipped town that night as the house burned.”
Charlie was puzzled. “Wait, you said you only killed five of your children. What the hell kind of happy ending is this?”
I ignored him:
“I was long gone, in some little roach motel somewhere in Arkansas, I think, when I caught the story on the news the next day. The fire department had come, fought that fire and, wouldn’t you know it, they pulled out a tiny survivor... Gavin,” I finally got a little smile, a glimmer of hope, out of Charlie.
“I've always wondered what ever happened to him. Did he die later at the hospital? Did he grow up and become a doctor? Lawyer? Policeman?” I chuckled as I said, “A fireman?”
I took another deep breath. I was getting weaker. “Anyway, according to the news, he suffered some burns. Pretty bad ones,” Once again, I locked eyes with Charlie. “I believe to the left side of his body.”
That's when the light went on in Charlie's eyes and for a moment I lost his gaze as he rubbed his left arm, then, his chest, caressing the stab wound just above his collar.
I watched the tears well up in his eyes as he stared at the floor and began to vaguely remember something that had been locked away in his brain for twenty-six years. Somehow, something clicked and he knew the truth about how he got that burn scar on his arm and those five scars on his chest.
Then, I asked, “You were adopted, weren't you? Gavin?”
Something in him snapped. He looked at me with a blank face, his eyes piercing, pupils dilating. I knew what was coming next and I let it happen. I welcomed it.
He leapt from the chair and came at me, grabbing my throat. That grip... such a strong boy.
“You fucking devil!” Charlie's voice echoed in the room. “I'll kill you right here, you bitch!” There was no doubt that the nursing staff would come soon, what with his big mouth and all. I had to act quickly.
With my right hand, I clutched the back of his head and pulled him close. My left hand came from under my blanket with the knife I had taken from the cafeteria earlier in the day and I shoved it in his throat.
He loosened his grip on my neck and stared at me for a moment. A tear streamed down his face.
My senses were fading. This was it. I was dying, but not alone.
I looked into his eyes for what seemed an eternity and I sent a chill down my own spine as my weakened voice, deep and raspy, whispered, “You almost got away, you little shit.”
With my last bit of strength, I ripped the knife across his throat and felt his warm blood all over my face and neck.
He slumped to the floor, gurgling in his death throes. I think I could barely hear him as he clawed his way towards the door. Then silence.
The coppery taste of his blood filled my mouth. I swallowed it.
Then, I died... happy.