This story is by Karen Crawford and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Maria awoke to the tantalizing smell of old spice sweeping the room. It tickled her nose. It scorched her lungs. She soaked it in.
Tim was home.
She shivered with anticipation as his bare feet tiptoed across the floor. He reached the bed and slid under the covers. She turned on her side, snuggling into the warmth of his flannel pajamas. His hands crept under her nightgown, caressing their way around her skin. Stroking, exploring, probing. Hungry lips kissed her neck, making their way down to her shoulder. Maria moaned, succumbing to the heat that was coursing through her body. Nibbling, he gave her a love bite. Then his teeth clamped down, tearing into her flesh, drawing blood. She screamed in pain. A vise-like grip smothered her mouth, and she bit and clawed at his fingers. Startled, he let go and fled, the door closing behind him. She shot up, heart racing.
That wasn’t Tim.
Breathing hard, Maria rushed to bolt the door and found the lock was missing. Disoriented, her eyes searched the room. Something wasn’t right. It looked like her bedroom, yet it wasn’t her bedroom. Overcome with a sudden urge to run, she tried to open the door, but the handle wouldn’t budge.
Someone had gotten in, but she couldn’t get out.
With quivering fingers, she reached for the phone to call her son. The answering machine clicked on. “Hi, you’ve reached Jerry and Kate. Please leave a message.” She stared at the phone, face burning with rejection. Then she slammed it into the receiver. They were avoiding her call. Again.
The mist that was clouding her mind began to clear. This wasn’t her bedroom. It wasn’t even her house. Tears sprang like a geyser. Tim was gone. Jerry was grown. And she was a burden. Maria’s eyes stung with a deluge of wistful thinking. Maybe she’d still be living at home if Tim hadn’t gotten sick and Jerry hadn’t married Kate. Instead, Jerry, had packed up, moved out, sold the house, and dumped her in this studio apartment. The tears dried up and her mood grew dark. Kate, with her cat shaped eyes and her Colgate smile, had stolen Jerry away. Seething, Maria phoned again and waited for the beep.
“Jerry, it’s your mother. Somebody broke in. Kate said this place was safe, but I was attacked, Jerry. Attacked. The door is stuck, and I can’t get out. Please come and get me. Hurry.”
Satisfied, she turned on the light and assessed the room. Her eyes landed on a rubber doorstop on the floor. The man must have used it to keep the door open.
The man who pretended to be Tim.
Her lips curled up in disgust. She picked up the stopper and wedged it underneath the threshold. Then she sank into the bed, pulling the comforter around her. Biting what was left of her nails, she stared unblinking for signs of movement. Sure enough, the doorknob started to jiggle.
“Go away,” she hissed. “Go away, or I will call the police.”
The door continued to shake, and the stopper began to give. Maria was on the floor in an instant, fury replacing fear. She pushed a heavy armchair against the door like a woman possessed.
“Let me in,” a voice insisted.
Maria stood panting. Sweat pooling. Fists clenched. The phone rang, and she shrieked at the sound. It was Kate. “Maria, are you okay? We just got home and got your messages.”
Kate was such a liar. “Can I speak to Jerry, please?”
“He took the dog out for a walk. What’s going on?”
“This place isn’t safe, Kate. There’s a man outside, and he’s trying to get with me.”
Maria heard Kate sigh, exhaling each word as if she were talking to a child. “The place is very safe, Maria. It’s late. Go to sleep. Jerry will stop by in the morning.”
“No, Kate, please. I know you don’t believe me, but I’m scared. I have to talk to Jerry.”
Kate’s tone softened, and she promised he would call.
Maria began to pace like a geriatric cat in a cage. She stared at the phone, willing it to ring. Why wasn’t he calling her back? Did Kate even tell him she’d called? Damn that woman. She rummaged through her dresser, looking for Tim’s gun. Where was it? He’d always kept it here.
He’d always kept her safe.
The air left her lungs, and she fell to her knees, a raging waterfall spilling down her face. She missed her husband. She missed her home. She missed her life. She realized Jerry wasn’t going to call. She was on her own.
Maria pulled herself together and went to the window, feeling like a dried out sponge. Air, she needed air. She opened the curtains and noticed a gardener mowing the lawn below. Exuberant, she tried to lift the window, but it only raised a few inches. She lowered her face to the opening and tried to yell for his attention, but he couldn’t hear above the noise. Frantic, she grabbed a shoe from the closet and hurled it at the glass. It bounced off with a thud. “Help!” She flung the shoe again. “Somebody help me!”
The phone began to ring, and she heard pounding at the door. Maria covered her ears and screamed. “Go away! I have a gun.” She grabbed a blanket and crawled under the bed. Curling into a fetal position, she fell into a trance. “Go away. Go away.”
The door burst open, and the armchair slid across the room. “Mom!?” Maria heard the panic in Jerry’s voice. She opened her eyes and saw him on his hands and knees, reaching out his hand to her.
“What happened?” she sputtered through the fog in her brain. “How did I get under the bed?”
“Mom, you called me like ten times saying someone had broken in.”
“ I did?” She shook her head, “No, I don’t think so.”
Kate glanced at the ceiling, and a woman Maria didn’t recognize took Jerry aside. She spoke in a hushed tone. “I know this is hard, but moving her to this memory care unit was the right thing to do. The hallucinations, her dementia, they are going to get worse.”
“She said she couldn’t open the door.” Jerry seemed uncertain.
The woman nodded. “We lock the doors from the outside at night. Some residents wander. It’s for their own safety.”
Kate put a reassuring arm around Jerry. “This place smells like your Dad.”
Maria gasped, Old Spice had returned. Everyone turned around and saw a silver-haired man in flannel pajamas standing in the hallway. His shoulders drooped forward like the branches of a withered tree, but the thirst in his eyes was unmistakable. Maria started to shake as the words rattled in her head.
He tried to get with me, Jerry.
“Roger?” The care manager’s eyebrows rose, and she started walking towards him. “Well, aren’t you a sneaky one. How did you get out of your room?” Then she looked back at Jerry and tried to sound casual. “It’s his first week here too.”
Maria felt herself shriveling beneath the folds of her oversized nightie.
He tried to get with me, Jerry.
She stood shifting and mumbling until she lost her balance. Jerry grabbed her hands and kissed them. Maria stared at her feet. “Can I stay with you and Kate if I promise not to be a burden.”
He hugged her tight, and she shrunk into the safety of his arms. She felt his tears against her cheek growing warmer and warmer as they slid off her face and onto her bosom. Then she pulled away wincing. Blood was seeping through her nightgown.
Jerry tried to suppress the alarm in his voice. “What happened to your shoulder, Mom?”
“I told you. He tried to get with me, Jerry.”