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Beauty Beheaded

by Mary Haynes about a year ago in fact or fiction
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Conversations With an Eccentric Friend

Beauty Beheaded
Photo by Marina Reich on Unsplash

They never found the heads. How they'd gotten off the property, I never figured out. I suppose I should have been more concerned about it, but sometimes you need to leave things well enough alone. Besides, it all worked out in the end.

I remember being awakened by screaming. I'd never heard anything like it, a high-pitched scream punctuated by a sobbing intake of breath. I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs. Mom was standing in the open doorway, leaning heavily on the frame.

She turned toward me, her face was blotchy, and her eyes were red and puffy. With an effort, she loosened her grip on the door frame and pointed outside. She groaned. "Why? Who would do this?"

I followed her shaking arm to the point of her trembling finger. At first, I couldn't see what she was upset about. It looked lush and green outside. That was it, green, and nothing but green! Every single one of my mother's many plants had had their blooms cut off. Not one lily, daisy, or rose petal had been spared. I laughed.

My mother turned toward me. Her face was as white and fragile as one of her missing narcissus blossoms. "You think this is funny? Did you do this?" She crumpled to her knees and cupped her face in her hands.

"Oh…no…Mom, I didn't do it. I'm sorry. It's terrible, it is, but the way you were screaming, I thought there had been a murder. Mom, come in and let me close the door. The neighbors are staring. That's it, scooch over!” As she pulled herself over the threshold, I waved at Mrs. Anderson across the street, then shut the door. Mom crawled over to the stairs, pulled herself up, and sat on the bottom step.

She hugged her knees. Her nose was running. I'd never been comfortable with snot; I almost gagged. "I'll get you some tissues, Mom, and make some tea. I'll be right back."

I closed the kitchen door behind me. I needed to laugh. It wasn't funny, but neither was it tragic, and I always had a bit of a schadenfreude disorder. I couldn't help laughing at tumbles and small misfortunes in life. Still, if I wanted a Christmas present ever again, I had to keep the chuckling to myself. I knew Mom's flowers meant more to her than just a garden. She attached great significance to them. She planted several Audrey Hepburn roses for me and Cary Grant roses for my brother, Cary. To her, they were more than flowers; they were memories, tributes.

My mother called from her perch on the stairs, "Audrey? Could you put some brandy in my tea? There is some in the cupboard."

"Brandy already, Mom? It's only seven-thirty." I knew that there was really no point trying to talk her out of it. It was clear that she would need company today, which meant my trip to the beach was a no-go. My last summer before college was supposed to be fun. So far, all I'd done was work and hang around with my mother. I put the teapot, a cup, and the bottle of brandy on a tray covered in Royal Albert roses. It would be less work that way – this was more than a one cup day. I gave her a wad of tissues and turned my head as she wiped her nose. "Mom, let me help you into the solarium. The sun is perfect; it's not too hot yet." I got her situated on the white rattan chaise and went back for the tea tray. I poured her a cup and topped it off with Hennessey. I went over to the corner of the room and pulled back the vertical blinds.

"Oh, my God! No! This can't be happening." Mom's mouth and eyes were wide. Her teacup smashed on the floor. I looked outside. Every pot, planter, and bed of flowers had been vandalized. With surgical precision, just the flowers had been removed, leaving a vast green scene.

This time I didn't laugh. We had a six-foot fence surrounding our property. Someone had climbed over it and did this while we slept. That was scary. "Okay, I'm calling Dad." I picked up the cordless phone from its base.

"Don't you dare call your father, what if he did this?"

"Mom, he left you for another woman. He feels guilty, he isn't mad at you. Why would he do this?"

"Then maybe she did it. She probably saw my phone number displayed when I called him yesterday and was jealous. I've always thought she was insane."

"Mom, listen. I know you don't like Tara, but no offense, she doesn't consider you a threat. In fact, I think she's getting ready to leave Dad anyway. Women like her break hearts and move on."

"Oh? You know, before your brother went to Europe, he mentioned the same thing. You think it's true?" Her eyes glimmered with tears and high hopes.

"Mom, don't even think about it. I love Dad, but he doesn't deserve you, not after he walked out on you for her."

"But I miss him. This would never have happened if your father were here." She gestured toward the garden and started sobbing again. I got a glass off the bar in the solarium and poured brandy into it. At this point, the tea was just a prop anyway. Mom took a big swallow, no grimace for this woman; she had no problem downing it. She'd been a stage actor, hanging out after the show and drinking with the boys had been part of her life for thirty years.

"Well, if you don't want me to call Dad. I'm calling the police. I don't know if I should dial 911 or another number. This isn't exactly an emergency. I'll go look up the community number in the phone book."

"No police!" She yelled.

I stopped. "Why not? What else are we supposed to do? It may be silly, but your garden is huge. There are hundreds of dollars worth of damage here. Some creep wandered around last night chopping the heads off your flowers. This is a crime."

"Call your father then. He'll know what to do." Her voice was calm, too calm. Maybe she was going into shock. I refilled her brandy and dialed Dad's number.

"Is everyone alright? Did you lock all the doors?" Dad spoke rapidly. "Call the police. I'll be right over."

When he arrived, he inquired about the police. I explained that Mom hadn't wanted me to call them. He was as baffled about that as I was. I walked with him into the solarium.

"Margaret, I am so sorry. I know how much those flowers meant to you. I promise we'll catch whoever did this." He knelt beside her and stroked her hair.

She gazed up at him and put his hand in hers. I coughed.

Dad took his hand back. Mom shot me a look and then teared up again.

"I could use another glass of brandy, please, Audrey." I took the glass, and she snatched my father's hand back.

My father spoke softly, "I'm sorry you had to go through this. I can't imagine who would do such a thing. Oh, my God, Margaret, were you dating anyone? Maybe you have some crazed stalker."

"I wasn't dating anyone, Ken." Although some men knew about you leaving and had asked. Maybe one of them is crazy."

My dad looked as if he might faint; his pale lips brushed my mother's hand. "I'm so sorry. I can't excuse the way I left you. It was wrong and stupid and so unfair. You're beautiful; you didn't deserve to be left alone to face crap like this." He laid his head in my mother's lap.

"Audrey, get your dad a drink too." She entwined her fingers in his hair.

"I will, Mom, but I need to speak to Daddy first. Dad, I think we should check the doors and windows."

Dad pulled loose from mom's grip on his hair and jumped to his feet. "Of course, what if the culprit got in? Margaret, I'll be right back."

When Dad came into the kitchen, I shut the door and smacked him several times on the chest with my fists.

"Ouch, what are you doing?"

“Don't you do this, Dad! Don't you be nice to her and then walk back out that door. I'm tired of babysitting her. She's lonely and hurt, and you did it. Don't do it again."

Dad grabbed my fists and then held me tightly in his arms. He kissed the top of my head. "Hush, sweetie, I know. I've made a huge mess of things. I've made everyone unhappy, and the truth is I'm not happy either. I want to come back if she'll still have me. God, how I want to come back."

I looked up at him, my big, strong Daddy. I wanted to forgive him, welcome him back, but could I? "Dad, if you come back and then leave again, I will find whoever took the snippers to Mom's garden and pay them to do the same to you. Am I making myself clear?"

"Vividly. You sure you didn't do this craziness?"

I assured him that the flower assassin had not been me. Cary was backpacking across Europe, so that eliminated him as a suspect.

"Dad, should we call the police?"

"It's such a bizarre thing; I don't know what they'll do with the case. I'll check the papers for similar attacks and chat with the neighbors to see if anyone saw anything. I'm going to install security cameras around the outside of the house. If it happens again, we'll be ready. And I'm moving back if your mother lets me."

I glared at him.

"I would love that, Ken." Mom opened the door and walked into the kitchen. "You can move your things into the guest room for now. We'll decide on where we go from there." Dad crossed the tile and held her in his arms. I could see a spot forming on Mom's sweatshirt from his tears.

It's strange how uncomfortable it can be watching your parents' hug. It's always kind of icky. I announced that I had some errands to run. I'm not sure they heard me. I phoned Jason, who was getting ready for the beach. Jason reacted as I expected him to.

He raged. "If I catch the jerk that was creeping around near my girlfriend, I'll kill him. Do you want me to come over?"

"No, but if I could just see you for five minutes before you go meet the rest of the crew, I'd feel better. I just need a hug, and I'd like to get out of here for a while. Can I come over?"

"Of course, you can stay as long as you like. The beach will be there all summer."

I pulled on some blue jeans and a tank top, brushed my hair, and put it in a ponytail. I walked downstairs and found my dad heading out the door. I held my breath.

"Your Dad's just getting a few things out of his car. He'll get the rest of his things later."

"Good. I'm taking the Jeep, so I can see Jason for a few minutes. Phone me if you need me." I gave them each a peck on the cheek – like the old days.

As I was backing the Jeep out of the drive, something peachy orange caught my eye in the front entrance flower bed. I stopped the car, got out, and went over to see what it was. A rose bush had survived the butchering. Odd, it was surrounded by Peace roses that were headless. I looked at the little brass tag attached to the bottom branch. Singing in the Rain was the name on the tag. I knew it was the song Mom and Dad had danced to at their wedding and every anniversary after that. The two flowers were perfectly unfurled and fragrant. Coincidence? Highly unlikely. So, mom was still quite the actress. Either that or she was crazy! I would have to keep an eye on her, but I wasn't going to turn her in. I looked back at the house. Dad was carrying his suitcase inside.

My summer had just turned around. I phoned Jason. "Get your stuff ready. We're going to the beach!"

fact or fiction

About the author

Mary Haynes

Mary Haynes splits her time between a romantic old sailboat in tropical waters and a beach home in Ontario. A wanderer, by fate, she embraces wherever she roams! Mary recently completed her first children’s book, “Who Ate My Peppers?”

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