I looked out over the front lawn waiting for my neighbor Maria to come back from school. There were hours between my window looking and Maria bringing me my homework, but waiting for things to change was part of the routine and boredom of barely breathing. Looking out over the lawn is about the most exciting thing a 14 year old girl with pneumonia can do.
Maria’s sister was a gangly woman, like a tall and awkward bird with sunken eyes and dark stringy hair. She’d just had a baby, and her body hadn’t quite recovered its shape, which in my young naive mind added to her strangeness. She opened the door of Maria’s house that day and I watched her body move as if throwing itself away from the place, fast and desperate into the grass. Her limbs were bent impossibly and wild slow motion as she fell to her knees, her long strange bird body heaving up and down making noise like a bagpipe marionette.
She was screaming for help, the strange heat of her pointy face shaking snot into long strings that reached down into the grass.
“Please somebody help me! please!” she was saying, ” I just stabbed my stepfather!”
I wanted to run to her; I wanted to hold her weird body there in the grass and reassure her that whatever she’d just done, she was still an excellent mother. I had seen her kiss her baby just the day before. But I was petrified too, wheezing there on the couch, safe behind the glass. I had seen the bad kind of crazy before and was torn between what I knew about her and the blood on her shirt.
Did you ever have to call the police as a child?
“There is a woman screaming in her front yard,” I said. “She looks really scared, she says she stabbed someone… I’m 14, I’m home from school today because I have pneumonia… my mom is at the Shopette getting 7-Up.”
I felt like a tattle tale, I felt like a grown-up, I felt stupid, and hurtful, and scared, and like I had betrayed someone.
The police cars pulled up and escorted Maria’s sister back into the house, she was all collapsed and sideways. It was quiet for a time then an ambulance showed up and paramedics wheeled a body covered in a sheet out the front door. Dead. They didn’t run sirens when they left.
The police asked me questions. My mother, home from her errand, paced behind them. I wheezed out answers, “No, I didn’t see her do it.” Yes, I heard her say she stabbed him.” One officer offered up that Maria’s sister said she did it in self defense and I heard my mom whispering incredulously “she stabbed him in the back seven times.”
“Who has the baby?” I asked. “Maria will be home from softball practice soon to babysit, where is her sister? Who will tell her her father is dead? Who will bring me my homework when Maria moves away?”
Later, my father and his army unit were asked to come clean up the house, this happens in the military, they take care of their own. I watched them go inside and I watched them leave. I still imagine them scrubbing the blood of their friend from the carpeted stairs.