Then. . .
He stood outside the house, staring at it from the back yard. They didn’t know he was there. They didn’t know that he stood in the back yard of many houses, watching, thinking, plotting.
He could see her outline through the kitchen window above the sink. Her figure was hazy beneath a dress, but he smiled to himself as he watched her. He knew what she was like, what they were all like.
A yellow square of light from the window set in the back door fell onto scraggly grass. As he watched, she moved from the window above the sink to the one in the back door, peering out. For a moment his heart squeezed with the thrill of the hunt. Could she see him? Could she know?
But no. She couldn’t know. She didn’t know about the others though the newspapers and television reporters were squawking about the missing women whose bodies had yet to be discovered. She didn’t know about him. How close he was. . .how she was in his sights. . .
His eyes burned and he wondered if she could feel his desire and fury, but she turned away, her back to him. The curve of her white nape was beautiful as she tilted
her head as if listening.
Do you hear me, bitch? Do you?
He felt himself harden as he thought of her, and his cruel smile widened as he reached down inside his pants and began rhythmically stroking himself, part of the ritual, part of the beginning. . .
Do you feel me?
I’m coming for you. . . .now. . .
Livvie Dugan looked in the mirror and said, “I’m six-year’s-old today.” She was missing one of her front teeth and she dragged her lips back in a snarl and stuck her little finger through the hole, just to see what it looked like. Pulling her pinkie back out, she next stuck her tongue through the space, squinted one eye and said, “Arrrgh, me maties!” Just like pirates did.
It had been a grand day. Mama had gotten her a big cake with pink roses on it, and she’d blown out all the candles at once! Her brother Hague, who was only two and a half and didn’t know diddly squat, according to their dad, tried to blow them out first which made Livvie so mad that she’d stomped her foot. Livvie knew Hague was special; Mama said he was even though he seemed like he couldn’t do diddly squat but that didn’t mean he got to blow out her candles! No way! She’d pushed him out of his chair and he’d toppled to the floor, and started crying like a big, big baby and Livvie kinda thought that’s what he was, anyway, a big, big baby. But Mama had scooped him up and soothed him and then shot Livvie that look – the one that said she was really mad but would hold it in till later.
Then Mama sat Livvie in front of the cake and she’d sucked in tons of air and blew with all her might. The candles had flickered and gone out. All of them at once! It was grand, Mama said. Grand. But she’d still been mad about Hague, though, so she didn’t smile too much. She got Livvie and Hague each a paper plate with a slice of the white cake with the pink filling and a small cup of milk. Livvie had asked for apple juice but Mama hadn’t seemed to hear her, so she’d said it louder and Mama got it for her, kind of like one of those robots, like Mama didn’t know what she was doing. Then Hague had gone down for his nap with a loud, “Noooooooo!” as Mama carried him away which was what he always said. Livvie thought he deserved to be put to bed and left there forever. After all, he’d tried to blow out her candles.
Livvie had finished her cake and smashed the crumbs with her finger and sucked them into her mouth. But Mama never came back, so Livvie had finally left the kitchen and wandered into the den and that’s where she’d found Mama, just sitting on the couch. “What are you doing?” Livvie demanded. Mama had just left her in the kitchen and gone to the den! And the TV wasn’t even on! It was just a dark square, but Mama was staring at it anyway, as if it were playing General Hospital, her favorite show.
“Why aren’t you watching TV?” Livvie asked, upset. It was her birthday! Mama hadn’t answered, so Livvie declared, “I want to watch cartoons!”
Mama got up from the couch and stuck a tape in the machine. They had a videotape of some of her favorites though Mama said it wasn’t going to last much longer and that was because Hague had grabbed it and pulled out some of the dark ribbon. Livvie had wanted to kill him, but Mama had put it back together and swept up Hague while Livvie wailed that Hague had ruined it! Well, he had. But the tape still worked okay sometimes.
Livvie settled herself onto the couch and though Mama usually left her to watch alone, today Mama had stayed and sat with her a long while which was kinda weird, but then Hague woke up and she went to get him. Livvie had expected Mama to come back and shoo her outside because Mama didn’t like her watching cartoons too long, but today she didn’t. It was Livvie’s birthday, after all. When the tape ended, Livvie rewound it and watched it again. After that, she was kinda bored, so she grabbed up the new box game she’d gotten for her birthday, Hungry, Hungry Hippos, and because it was no fun playing by herself, she went back to the kitchen and asked Mama to play with her. Mama was just standing at the sink, staring outside like she was in a trance. (That’s what happened on cartoons, too. They went into trances sometimes and sort of floated around.) Hague was on the floor by her feet, playing with some blocks, pounding one on top another.
Mama said she couldn’t come play right then, but maybe Hague could play with her? “No way!” Livvie yelled back, then quickly scooted back to the den. She played the game by herself, then watched some more cartoons. After a while Mama called her in for supper and she ate a Swanson’s turkey TV dinner. Mama knew it was her favorite, and Hague saw it from his high chair and said, “Um, um, um!” ’cause he wanted some, so Mama gave him some leftover mac and cheese from lunch which he threw on the floor, of course. He pointed to Livvie’s plate but Mama ignored him, for once. Livvie then smushed around her food when Mama wasn’t looking and asked if she could have more cake.
She was kinda surprised when Mama brought her a piece, but she had to clap her hands over her ears when Hague, seeing Livvie’s piece, started howling.
“Stop it!” Livvie yelled at him. “Mama, make him stop! It’s my birthday! He’s ruining it!”
“He’s not ruining your birthday,” she said as she gave him some cake, too.
Livvie was upset. “He can’t have my cake. He’s too little. And he didn’t eat his mac and cheese!”
“He can have a bite.”
“That’s a whole piece! It’s not fair!”
But Mama went back to the sink and stared out the window again. She kinda stood there, her hands braced on the counter, like she was having trouble staying on her feet.
Mad, Livvie glared at Hague who smacked away on his cake. Livvie dug into hers, too, but she couldn’t quite eat it all because Mama had cut her a very big slice. A grand slice. Then, when she couldn’t eat anymore, Livvie slid from her chair and left the room, and Hague said something to her. He couldn’t talk right ’cause he was too little, and anyway, he didn’t know diddly squat, but it sounded like he said, “Kill you.”
Mama turned and stared at him and he grinned at her with his little teeth.
Livvie then wandered back to the den and turned up the volume, loud. Mama rushed in and said, “Turn it down!” in that hissy whisper she used when she was really, really mad. “I’m putting Hague down for night-night and it’s too loud!”
“Sorry,” Livvie mumbled, but she really wasn’t.
Mama switched down the sound and left in a hurry. Livvie heard her putting Hague to bed and his wailing, “Noooooo!” and she crossed to the dial and turned it up again, just a little. She waited, listening, but when Mama came out of Hague’s room she went right past the den back to the kitchen.
Hague howled for a while, then finally quieted down. Livvie rewound the tape and watched some of the cartoons again, but after a while she got bored and wandered down the hall toward Hague’s room. She kinda still felt mad at him. It was her birthday. Hers! Not his.
“He doesn’t know any better,” she said to herself, pausing outside his door.
She almost knocked. She kinda wanted to wake him up. Or, she wanted Mama to come back and sit down with her in the den but Mama never did. After a while, she walked backwards to the den, trying not to look around and not to run into any walls. She wondered if Mama was going to put her to bed soon, too. That thought turned her around and sent her scurrying back to the den couch where she flung herself face down. If she was really, really quiet, maybe Mama would forget.
Then Mama cried out. Livvie lifted her head. What was that? She got to her feet and went to the den door, opening it a little.
“Mama?” she called softly, peeking from the den. She wasn’t too far from the kitchen, just down the hall and around the corner, but she felt really scared all of a sudden. Carefully, her heart jumping around in her chest, she tiptoed toward the kitchen. She could just see Mama; she was sitting at the table and her leg was shaking. When Livvie came up to her she saw that Mama was holding the side of her face with one hand. Underneath her hand the skin looked red and she was staring toward the open back door. There were tears in Mama’s eyes.
“What happened?” Livvie cried, alarmed. “Mama, what happened? Why is the door open? Is someone there?”
Mama looked around the room in a kind of scary way, Livvie thought, but when the policeman asked her later if when she said ‘scary’ she really meant ‘blankly’ Livvie just clammed up. She didn’t know what he meant.
The policeman had also repeated, “The back door was open,” to Livvie, like he didn’t really believe her, and Livvie had pretended she couldn’t hear him anymore and just sent herself away into a quiet world where no one else was. A place she went sometimes ‘cause it felt safe.
But at that moment Livvie cried, “Mama! Is there somebody out there? Who’s out there? ” Mama had used her mean voice and said, “Go back to the den, Olivia!” Livvie had started to cry. It was her birthday! Why was everyone so mad?
She’d run back to the den and slammed the door, still crying, waiting for Mama to come charging in and send her to her room or something. But when that didn’t happen, she got mad, too. She stuck out her chin and crossed her arms. She sat down on the couch and stared at the door. She was going to stare at it and stare at it until Mama walked through.
But then. . .Mama never came and Livvie sorta forgot. . .and fell asleep. ‘Cause suddenly she woke up and it was a lot later than she usually stayed up, she could tell. She’d drooled on the couch pillow and that reminded her of her tooth, so she went into the bathroom and stuck her tongue through the hole, squinted one eye, said, “Arrgh, me maties!” and ran over the rest of the events of the day in her head.
She concluded that pirates probably deserved another piece of cake, maybe even with ice cream this time.
She tiptoed back to the kitchen. But as she got close, her arms suddenly felt funny. She stopped short. Her heart was speeding up, and she felt scared. “Mama?” she whispered.
She stepped into the kitchen, looked, and started screaming. Screaming and screaming.
Because Mama was hanging in the air, her face all puffy and her tongue sticking out like she was joking around.
But she wasn’t.
Livvie knew she was dead.
Dead. That’s what it was.
Mama was dead.
Livvie kept on screaming and went to her safe place that was the last thing she remembered for a long, long time. . .