Pat gave Lena the money and watched through the window as the dusky evening swallowed her up—Pat hoped—forever.
She closed the blinds; she must start dinner. Pat entered the kitchen and stared at the counter, now bathed in the evening light shining through the box windows. Dusk gleamed, its indigo hue broken by the last rays of sunlight that shot out of the earth and colored the fluffy bellies of the cloudy sky.
Pat took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and opened them moments later. She was still standing by the counter in the darkening kitchen as the gloom engulfed the cabinets and the glazed white backsplash behind the spotless stove.
I should turn on the lamps, she thought, and flicked the light-switch.
As the electric beams flooded the kitchen, a light broke through her own dark thoughts. A wave of emotion rose through her feet and broke with a thundering crash in her chest, right by the heartbeat. Tears came unbidden as Pat leaned against the kitchen table with its inlaid wooden, multihued rhombi arranged in a star pattern. It was a beautiful table, and she contemplated it, trying to keep the toxic thoughts at bay.
Lena came and went; now, she was a thorn in Pat’s side, though once a beloved daughter.
Tonight was the last time, Pat promised herself, though her resolution faltered.
Could she ever do it?
Hoping the darkness would swallow Lena up forever differed from wishing her harm, she persuaded herself. With a shake of the head, Pat chided herself for her guilty wish as Lena left with money in hand.
Though once a happy child, Lena fell in with a dangerous company as a teenager. Despite Pat’s and Ted’s entreaties, Lena chose the path of fun and recklessness, which had led her down a speeding highway of drugs and booze.
Ted had not lived to see the jittery waif Lena had become. Her first arrest had ended with Ted’s massive heart attack.
Pat clenched her fist as she recalled using Ted’s savings to bail her daughter out of jail. Her head throbbed, and her pounding heart shook her entire frame to the core.
Lena left soon afterwards and once in a while returned, sometimes sober and apologetic, though most times high as a kite, and always begging for money. Pat always complied.
A stifled sob broke through the kitchen’s silence.
“No more,” she whispered, “please give me the strength to let her go.”
Pat had used much of her own savings to pay for Lena’s first stint in rehab, with excellent result. Pat had relaxed for the first time. Then one day, Pat came home to find her jewels and debit card missing, and Lena gone with the wind. The hassle of canceling the account before Lena cleaned it out still made her blood boil.
Later, she had dipped into Ted’s life insurance payout to bail Lena out a second time. The girl swore and promised she would quit, and cajoled Pat into investing even more money into another drug rehabilitation program. But it seemed Lena could not stop. Did she not want help?
Years passed and Lena appeared and disappeared, and every time, Pat’s little income dwindled.
Tears stung Pat’s eyes and flowed down her cheeks as she gritted her teeth. The rage that had been boiling inside her for years erupted in a geyser of sweltering tears and heartbreaking sobs. Gloom closed in around her, and swallowed Pat the way she had hoped it would swallow Lena. The salt and pepper shakers rattled from the force of Pat’s shaking body, and her enraged screams ripped through the silent house she had shared with Ted.
“Please,” she cried, “please help me let her go!”
A hand on her shoulder startled her. Pat turned, expecting to find Lena, but her jaw dropped. Through the tears, she saw Ted as young and handsome as the day she had met him. He smiled at her.
“Hey doll, don’t you worry ‘bout Lena no more,” he said in that sweet tenor voice Pat missed so much, “she’s made her own choices. You are not responsible, nor were you ever. She’s always known what she’s doing. She relishes in the harm she causes.”
“Why?” Pat gasped.
“I don’t know,” Ted answered, “but it’s not for us to know.”
Ted pulled her into his arms. Pat felt the love she missed in the cold-warm spectral embrace. She closed her eyes and relished the moment as her old body pressed against his young image.
Lena knocked on the door to her mother’s house. She stood on the stoop perplexed when a young man answered.
“May I help you,” the young man asked, eyeing her with suspicion and disapproval.
She looked like a junkie, and she knew it. It was all part of the act, part of the scam.
So the old lady turned out to be a real cougar, a wry smirk spread across her lips.
“I’m looking for Pat Morrow,” Lena sprinkled the name with contempt.
“Sorry, I don’t know who she is.”
“This is her house,” Lena said, her haughtiness rising, as it always did.
“No, this is my house,” the young man glared; his stern reply startled Lena.
“Who sold it to you?” Lena defied the man with her jutting jaw and arms akimbo.
“The realtor,” the man’s exasperation showed, “the old woman who lived here died, and her estate put the house up for sale. Now, please leave, or I’ll call the police.”
He shut the door in her face.
Lena stood a moment longer as the realization dunked her into a tank of icy water; the goose that laid the golden eggs was dead.