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Saturday, May 9, 2015

No Hair Day, A Mother's Day Mystery Short Story

by EB Davis

Enjoy this Mother's Day mystery short story, originally published in 2012 in the A Shaker of Margaritas: Bad Hair Day anthology.

I stood in front of the powder room mirror, my hand frozen in mid-air clutching the blond wig that I was about to fit over my unlovely pate. A man armed with a knife had entered my home through a screen door I’d failed to lock. His intrusion shattered my enjoyment of this “off” chemo day in the regiment. I held my breath. Wasn’t my no-hair day bad enough without some jerk-off home invader?

He passed by unaware of my presence. I watched him in the mirror, his head turning from side to side, as he walked forward into the family room past the staircase–athletic shorts, black tee shirt, tattoos down his arms, and high topped sneakers. He could have come straight from the basketball court, but the knife in his hand told me he had another game in mind. I jammed the wig on my head and peered out the door.

Why me? The question I’d asked myself every day for the last six months since my ovarian cancer diagnosis. The lack of answers rankled. My bald head resulted from Taxol, one of my chemotherapy drugs. I resented cancer and now I resented this intruder. How dare they disrupt my beautiful life? Like on my chemo days, which took nine hours and left me exhausted, I felt like crying. My life had become surreal–my time–precious. Spending it with some lunatic wasn’t on the schedule. Maybe he’d take some stuff and leave.


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Since I was close to the front door, escaping to my neighbor Carla’s house across the street was my best choice. I crept out of the powder room in the direction of the screen door when reality smacked me and chilled my bones. My sixteen-year-old daughter, Jenny, slept upstairs in her room. Summer vacation started today. I’d forgotten she was at home while bemoaning my fate.

Mothering Jenny had taken a backseat to my diagnosis. My heart rate zoomed as I assessed the situation. Protecting my child, putting myself between the man and Jenny and getting her out of the house without alerting him were my priorities. A quick swivel reversed my direction. I scooted toward the staircase checking to make sure his back was turned. I got as far as the second step.

“Where are you going, lady?”

Doctors had poked and prodded me with futile questions since my diagnosis. No wonder cancer patients developed black humor as a survival tactic. It came so easily now. How should I answer his question? Just checking to make sure there were fresh sheets in the guest room? Getting the key to our safe for your convenience? I answered him with silence and continued up the stairs.
He ran over and grabbed my arm.

My other hand remained on the handrail. I pulled back to resist. He wasn’t a large man, but his goateed face looked thirty years younger, a few years older than Jenny. Before my diagnosis, I’d gone to the gym three times a week and lifted weights. Chemo had weakened me, but I managed to twist my arm out of his grasp, lean into the railing and use the height from the third step to snap my foot into his chest. As he flailed from the blow, he grabbed my hair. The wig pulled from my head. His eyes widened and he uttered a squawk staring at the wig in his hand before falling backwards into the lower hallway.

I ran up the stairs as Jenny stumbled out of her room still full of sleep, and I envisioned the toddler she’d once been. I grabbed her arm. “Quick there’s a man, an intruder downstairs. Let’s go into the master bathroom.”

“What? Are you serious?” she asked, but then we heard pounding on the steps.

I pushed her in front of me. Once in the bathroom, I slammed the door shut and locked it, doubting it would stop him for long.

“Do you have your cell phone?” Jenny asked.

“No. Do you?”

“No. What are we going to do?” she asked me, her voice a panicked whisper.

“The first thing I’m going to do is get you out of here.” I surprised myself with my determination and shoved open the bathroom window. “You can get out onto the front porch roof, and then scoot into the valley between the main house roof and the garage. Hide there, but if a car passes, wave and yell to call the cops.” As I worked to remove the screen in the window, the man pounded on the bathroom door.



Image source: Elaine Douts

“Open the door, ladies,” he said. His voice wasn’t loud, which surprised me. Perhaps he’d invaded others’ homes before and had perfected a routine.

I ignored him and put my hand on Jenny’s arm to propel her out the window.

She resisted. “I’m not leaving you, Mom.”

“Oh yes you are,” I said, and pushed her toward to open window. “You can get help.”

“No.” Jenny turned to face me in a boxer’s stance. She had grown to her full height, taller than me by two inches.

I looked up at her as if she were crazy. “Of course you’re going. Staying is nuts.”

“Ladies, open the door before I bust it open.” The intruder sounded irritated, as if we failed to follow his script. I ignored him again.

Jenny squared her body, her feet aligned with her hips. “No, you’re always pushing me away. I’m not leaving.”

“This isn’t the time to defy me. On Friday night when I want you home before midnight– defy me then, not now.”

“This isn’t defiance–it’s demand.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know damn well what I mean.”

Why did she sound like me? I wasn’t sure what she was saying, but I knew it had nothing to do with the current situation. “I want you safe.”

“I want you safe, too,” Jenny said, echoing my words.

An abrupt bang resounded against the door. “Open the door, now,” the intruder said. The quietness of his voice unnerved me. He was more insistent this time.

Anger flashed over me. How dare he? In the last six months, new demands had been thrust at me that I never wanted, resented, but I couldn’t deny. Juggling chemo, while maintaining a normal life for my husband and daughter, was wearing thin. The twit at the door had no idea his demands were last on my list of priorities. “Jenny,” I said, using my most authoritative mother voice, “go now.”

“No. You can’t order me away anymore.”

“I will break this door down,” the intruder said.

“Oh shut up,” I yelled back. “We’re having a discussion.”

“What?” Incredulity seemed to color the intruder’s question.

I ignored him. He had no idea that I faced death every day. I was only concerned for my daughter, who wasn’t complying with my wishes. She faced me looking angry too. “You haven’t let me go with you to any of your chemo appointments.”

“Do we have to discuss this now?” My disbelief at her poor timing must have been apparent.

“Yes.”

“Honey, you don’t want to go with me.”

“Yes, I do.”

“In the first place, it’s boring. In the second place, it’s awful. I don’t want you around all that sickness and death.”

“You pushed me away. We should be fighting this together. You’ve pushed Dad away, too.”

“I’m not. I’m trying to protect you. My friends can take me to and from chemo. Your life should be normal.”

“My mother has cancer and I’m supposed to act as if nothing is wrong?”

We faced each other, arms crossed against our chests. “Yes,” I said, aware that my answer sounded stupid.

“Open the door, now!”

Jenny and I turned toward the door simultaneously and yelled, “No.”

“That’s crazy, Mom. I’m not going to pretend everything is normal. I won’t live in denial even if you are.”

Was I living in denial? No, I wasn’t in denial. I was totally and absolutely furious about having cancer. Jerry, my husband, adjusted with a quiet determination I had yet to muster. My response wasn’t productive the professionals told me. One of the nurses had recommended that I go to a support group. I’d frustrated the counselor by refusing to meet the challenge of chemo.

Resenting cancer made me its victim, a status I needed to lose, she said. I was supposed to become proactive in my treatment, which would boost the effectiveness of the chemo.

She designed visual exercises in which I was supposed to evoke my inner warrior. What inner warrior? There were no Valkyrie women in my ancestry. It was all make-believe, pretending to decide who would die on the battlefield as if survival were my choice. The counselor wanted me to conquer the cancer by slaying the cells using the chemo as my weapon. I was flunking support-group therapy.

Yesterday, the lady receiving chemo in the hospital bed next to mine said I should look at the hair loss as a way to experiment with hats, as if without chemo I would have missed a great opportunity. Then she winked and donned a black, fuzzy fedora worthy of Marlene Dietrich. I turned away at her prattle as she patted my arm. The only opportunity I’d missed was punching her.

Why did everyone get me mad? I should be appreciative and well-adjusted. I felt like a rebellious child and looked away from my daughter as tears formed in my eyes. “Okay, maybe I haven’t accepted my diagnosis. I don’t want to die and I don’t want you to see me die. I’m angry that I may hurt you, and it’s not my choice at all.”

“See, that’s the problem, Mom.”

“I don’t understand.”


“No, you don’t.”

With another blow to the door, the intruder said, “You bitches are dead meat. Open the door or I’ll knock it down.”
His goateed face appeared in my mind. “By the hair of your chinny-chin-chin?” Sarcasm worked for me.

He must have remembered his fairy tales. “What? That pisses me off.”

Like I cared about his emotional state! It was obvious he didn’t have had a gun or he would have used it by now. “Go steal some stuff, why don’t you?”

“That’s not why I’m here.”

What the hell? “So why are you here?”

“Two reasons. The first is your pot.”

“Pot? What pot?”

“Everyone knows people who get chemo have prescriptions for pot–good pot.”

The nausea removed the extra sixteen pounds I’d accumulated, a pound per year, since I bore Jenny. I felt lousy, but I loved the result. The doctors said I was more than welcome to a prescription for Marinol, a drug containing THC, which would reduce the nausea but also get me high. Being caught up in my own drama was bad enough. Being a bad example to Jenny broke the rules in my motherhood manual. Sure, there are exceptions to the rules, and Jenny would forgive me. But what if I didn’t win this fight?

Would my daughter remember a whacked-out, stoned mother, her final memories for the rest of her, I hoped, long life? No way, wasn’t happening.

“I don’t smoke pot. I don’t want my daughter to have some whacked out pot-head for a mother.”

“You didn’t take the pot?”

Contempt or ridicule? Either way, he thought I was an idiot. Who cared for his opinion? He suffered from false information. Doctors don’t prescribe marijuana.

“Oh for crying out loud,” Jenny said to the intruder. “I know who you can buy it from. Let me give you the kid’s name and phone
number. There’s money in the top drawer of my bureau. Go buy an ounce.”

I turned to Jenny amazed, but she ignored me, opened the cabinet doors and took out appliances, placing them on the countertop.

“What? We’re going to do our hair?”

“No. We’re not doing our hair.” She plugged in all three curling-irons I’d bought her. After using the first one for a week, she claimed it pulled her hair. I bought a Teflon coated iron the next time, but it performed with lackluster results. The third one was smooth and chromed. It finally worked fine. I watched as she took out my old electric rollers. I hated those damn things.

The curlers got so hot they burnt my fingers when I tried to roll them. And after I’d put a few into my hair, I always burnt my hand on the uncovered, hot rods as I selected the next roller.

“So what are we doing?”

“Demonstrating positive action,” Jenny said.

“What?”

She nodded toward the door and whispered, “We’ll burn him when he tries to get us. Look for anything else we can use.”

I had no intention of fighting the young man. “That’s ridiculous.”

“No, it’s not. Why won’t you fight?”

“I shouldn’t have to.”

“Well you do. ‘Shouldn’t’ doesn’t have anything to do with it.” Jenny glared at me.

Evidently, I frustrated my daughter as well as the medical team, counselor and the intruder. No sounds came from behind the door, which worried me. What was he up to? I hoped he had left, but then I heard a noise.

“What’s that?” I said to Jenny.

She walked over to the door and assessed the noise. “Sound like he got a crow bar, maybe from the garage.”

I heard a splitting sound. The cheap hollow-core door was cracking. “You said there were two reasons you were here. What’s the second reason?” I asked the intruder.

“To kill you,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Why?”

“With two kills, I gain leader status with my gang.” He laughed.

With all the other problems I faced, the intruder’s presence had taken a backseat to my irritation. Now, fear arose, and I felt my stomach quiver. Jenny and I looked at each other. We’d surmised the same thing. His manner was too calm and determined, making him an effective enemy. This reality preempted cancer and threatened Jenny.

Like everything else out of control in my life, my inner warrior, the one the counselor tried to get me to summon, arose. I grew a foot in height and developed muscles like Hulk Hogan. I gritted my teeth, lowered my head and prepared for battle. No one hurts my daughter.

I whipped open the cabinet doors. Underneath the sink, I kept cleaning supplies–spray tile cleaner, spray ammonia for mirrors, baking soda for dental appliances and vinegar for the shower doors. From helping Jenny with science projects I knew combining baking soda with vinegar would cause an explosive, frothing reaction. I took them out, mixed them in a squeeze container I used for lotion when I traveled and shut the applicator before the mixture escaped. Jenny grabbed the pail holding her old bath toys. She took her squirt gun and filled it with ammonia.

“I have a good aim,” she said, with a nasty smirk she threw towards the door.

I heard the door crack again and saw the hinges skew.

“There’s Carla,” Jenny said, from her view of the window.

Carla’s car pulled up in her driveway. As she got out, I yelled for her to call the cops. Her mouth dropped, and she ran into her house. The bathroom door gave way.

The intruder pulled out a knife and grinned. “The cops won’t get here in time to save either of you.”

Jenny lifted her squirt gun and pulled the trigger. Ammonia streamed into his eyes. He dropped to his knees, bent over, covered his eyes with his hands and howled. The knife clattered onto the tile floor. Jenny bent over to get the knife.

“Careful, pick it up by the blade,” I said, contrary to my normal admonishment. “His fingerprints are on the handle.”

She took my advice and threw it out the window. We’d find it later.

I ripped two curling-irons off the counter, yanking the cords out of the outlet, and hit him in the neck with the hot irons pressing them against his skin. He yowled in pain, writhed up on his knees, facing us, grabbed at the irons and burnt his hands. Jenny stuffed hot curlers down his athletic shorts. The netting around his privates held the curlers like they were made for the purpose. He grabbed his crotch, which pressed the searing curlers into his privates, a result he hadn’t considered.

Jenny took the curler appliance from the counter, dumping the rest of the curlers so the hot rods were bare. When he let go of his crotch, she slammed the hot rods into his chest, toppled him over backwards and then straddled him while branding him with the rods.

I grabbed my hair dryer and wound the cord around his ankles securing his legs.

“You really ought to let us wash the ammonia from your eyes before they’re permanently damaged,” I said.

He opened his eyes, and Jenny leaned back to give me a clear shot. I squirted the baking soda/vinegar solution at him. It erupted out of the container, smacked his eyes with a velocity and an acidity I appreciated. Elementary school science rocked. Jenny and I had loved the exploding volcano project.

His mouth dropped, as if he were dumbfounded that anything we could inflict would damage him. The kid was arrogant and ignorant–typical, young male. I took out the portable clothes line and extracted the cord. Jenny knew I wanted to tie his hands so she lifted up on her knees and flipped him over. As his face started to slam onto the tile floor, he tried to protect his face by carrying his weight on his elbows. I yanked one arm back, and Jenny took hold of the other. She held both of his wrists together as I tied his arms behind his back with the cord. His face crunched into the tile. I heard the pop of his nose. He screamed.

Seeing him trussed, squealing like a pig, I said. “I’d quit the gang, dude. You’re one of the three little pigs, not the Big, Bad Wolf.”

A siren screeched in the distance, getting louder as it came down our road. Carla came out her front door and directed the cops to our house. I yelled to the patrolmen to enter through the screen door and come upstairs.

The police took our statements and found the knife in the front yard. One of the patrolmen noticed the intruder’s injuries.

“What did you do to him?”

“Just gave him some beauty treatments,” I said.

“Nothing women don’t go through every day,” Jenny added.

The patrolman rolled his eyes. After they left with the punk in their custody, Jenny and I sat at the kitchen table.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean to push you away.”

“Two can fight better than one, Mom. We’ve got the entire summer. By the time I go back to school, you’ll be finished with the chemo, recovered.”

I admired her positive stance and felt affirmation in her belief. “Yes, I’ll be cancer-free,” I said. My conviction wasn’t false bravado. My warrior wouldn’t fail me now.

“Tomorrow I’m coming with you to chemo. If you need pot, I can get it for you.”

I shook my head at my Valkyrie daughter and was about to wave my finger in her face, but I stopped and saluted. “Yes, ma’am, commander. We’ll fight this together, and we’ll win.”

E. B. Davis’s short stories have appeared online and in print. Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, included “Compromised Circumstances.” The Carolina Crimes: 19 Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing anthology contained “Ice Cream Allure,” and “Wishing for Ignorance” was chosen for A Shaker of Margaritas: That Mysterious Woman. She blogs at writerswhokill.blogspot.com. Look at her website at: www.ebdavismysteries.com
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5 comments:

  1. Wonderful Mother's Day story! I just re-read it and it's still good.

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  2. Wonderful Mother's Day story! I just re-read it and it's still good.

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  3. I laughed out loud! Thanks for the shot of humor on Mother's Day.

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  4. Excellent! A good story with a serious message but a fun read at the same time. Not easy to do all that in a short story, but you nailed it.

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