Allison’s cell phone rang at 3 am. She leaned over onto the nightstand to turn it off. For the next 10 minutes she watched as the blue light lit up her dark apartment. It could only be her mother calling at this hour and with this fever.
She thought of conversations with friends regarding the strange new invasive behaviors of their parents in their old age. Allison’s mother was no exception. Possibly more invasive than most. She had made the mistake in her early adult life to answer the middle of the night phone calls but quickly realized that her mother was more than likely experiencing either an enlightening or frightening drug trip and the phone call would turn into 3 hours of incoherent philosophical babel from her mother.
The next morning Allison listened to her voicemail as she got ready for her day. She worked for a collections agency in a low-lit basement cubicle on the edge of town. She needed to be on the road by 7am to be in on time and to avoid any more write-ups from her supervisor. She made just enough money to pay rent on the studio apartment and to fill the fridge twice a month. She wouldn’t describe herself as happy per se, but she felt independent and stable enough.
The middle of the night voicemail from her mother started off as expected. There was a lot of background noise, an indication of a party on the farm. One thing Allison did not have to worry about as her mother aged was the loneliness that usually accompanies an aging mother. But by the end of the voicemail, Allison knew that something was going on and that a visit was in order.
Allison had spent most of her childhood wishing for a brother or sister, not for her own enjoyment but to help carry some of the intensity of her mother. She wished for that more now than ever. She called her mom back who was probably just now going to bed and left a voicemail saying she would be on her way out to the farm Friday evening. “Leave the back door open for me.”
Allison went to work that day. On her drive home, with the windows rolled down and the music on full blast, she had a clear and rich childhood memory that she had never had before.
Allison and her mother were standing in the field just as the sun was going down. It must have been summer because her skin was sticky, and the fireflies were starting to light up around them. Allison could feel the mud squishing between her toes, the distant smell of a rainstorm that had quickly come and gone. Her mom was young and beautiful with long flowing brown hair down to her waist. Her mom thumped against Allison’s chest. Thump. Thump. Thump.
The rhythm of her own heartbeat pounded in Allison’s ears. Slowly at first and then deep and loud in her ears to the beat of multiple drums being played off in the distance around the newly lit campfire. Allison and her mom danced wildly to the drums and were laughing until tears were falling from her mother’s eyes.
Summers on the farm were always full and warm. The house was always full of strangers. The fields were maintained by people looking for summer work in exchange for a place to stay and dinner every night at 6pm. There was usually a campfire, usually a drum circle and always fireflies. Allison had somehow forgotten this moment in the field with her mother, a rare moment when Allison had her mother all to herself. She wondered how many of these moments had become clouded and greyed after the worst night.
Allison played out the rest of the week exactly the same until Friday evening, when she drove the three hours southeast to her mom’s farm. Her Grandfather had built the house himself and Allison’s mother spent her childhood tending to the large farm and its yearly crops.
Allison pulled into the long dirt driveway. Even in the dark she could see that the woods surrounding the road had not been tended to in a long time. How long had it been since she had been out for a visit? Allison was calculating the amount of time passed as she drove past the fields on the property. They were empty with the exceptions of weeds and dust. Had she ever seen the fields without growth this time of year? She knew now that things were even worse than she first expected.
Allison had to turn on the lights when she walked into the house, another strange change of pace for a woman who usually didn’t think about sleep until the middle of the night. The kitchen and the living room were a mess. Not the kind of mess she was used to seeing in these rooms. Usually the mess was the remains of a party from the night before. The room now was a mess with old newspapers, food left out, tissues and clothes. It looked as if an old person had moved in and taken over.
Allison noticed on the wall there was still a drawing hanging in the picture frame from when she was seven. She always remembered that night vividly. She was sitting in the middle of the living room floor with adults all around her talking and laughing. She was on her knees coloring a picture of the farm house. Someone from above her dropped their cigarette ash onto her leg and just as she was about to cry, her mother came rushing over from the opposite direction to admire her artwork.
Her mother made everyone in the room stop and look at the drawing and then took a photo out of the frame that was already hanging on the wall and replaced it with Allison’s drawing. Allison was so proud of her artwork, she almost had forgotten about the cigarette burn. And when the skin on her leg began to puff up and blister, she went to the bathroom and covered it with a band aid as to not detract from all of the compliments she was receiving.
Allison found her mother sleeping in the bedroom. She would have normally woken her mother up to let her know she was there, but her mother looked so small and fragile, she decided to wait until morning. When had her mother gotten old?
The next morning Allison woke to the smell of coffee and cigarettes. Her mother was rummaging through papers in the living room and Allison could now see that her mother had aged almost an entire lifetime since she had last seen her. “Mom, are you O.K? What are you looking for?”
“Allison baby, I don’t know how we got it away with it for all of these years, but I have to tell someone now. It’s is literally killing me. It’s making me sick with nerves. I can’t keep it in any longer”
“Mom. Please sit down and talk to me for a minute. That was so long ago. I don’t think it would help anyone now to know the truth. We did what we had to do.” “I did what I did Allison baby. You were just a little girl. You had no control over what happened that night. Oh God, that’s another part of it that is making me sick. I can’t believe what I put you through. The weight of such a secret at ten years old? I’ll never forgive myself for that. But if I tell someone, I can right a little of the wrong and maybe free myself from the misery of carrying it with me.”
Allison was not ready for this conversation. She hadn’t spoken of that night to anyone- not even her mother. Allison’s stomach began to churn, and the room was suddenly too hot and smoky for her to breath. She ran out to the back porch. She rummaged through an old cabinet that she knew would have a bottle of something strong. She opened one of the bottles and took a long drink. She waited a moment and took another drink.
Once her body felt warm and calm, she gazed out into fields behind the house. Her eyes immediately scanning the horizon line off to the right. This is where her eyes always landed when she viewed the farm from this angle. The shed was no longer there. It was now just a pile of wood. It looked as though someone had taken an axe to it from the inside out and just left it there to rot.
Memories from that night began flooding into her head. She took a seat on the porch swing and tried like many times before to talk herself back into the present moment but whatever she had drank had loosened up her mind just enough to let the past back in.
Allison was ten. It was fall because pumpkins were growing in one of the fields and she was wearing a blue wool sweater that made her arms itch. Someone was singing a Bob Dylan song to a guitar. The house was quieting down for the season. The fall was when most people left the farm to head for warmer weather.
A man who had been in and out of the house all summer asked Allison to show him where they kept a specific tool. Allison told him the shed in the back field. He told her “Well yeah, I already looked in there, but I can’t find it. Can you show me where it is?” Allison walked through the field with the man, she was wearing her new slippers and she was thinking that she should have put on her boots. She might rip a hole in the bottom of the new slippers.
Once in the shed, the man shut the door behind him. Allison turned to open it because she couldn’t see anything in the dark. He grabbed her and threw her on the ground. She hit the back of her head and could taste blood in her mouth. She could feel the dust creating mud on her cheeks and she tried to wriggle free from under him. He had pinned her arms in such a way above her head that she thought he would break both of her shoulders. He was trying to unzip her pants when his body was violently thrown across the room.
Her mother was standing above him with a shovel in her hand. She looked like a wild animal. The anger in her eyes was nothing Allison had ever seen before or since. The man began to climb to his knees as her mother pulled the shovel back and hit him again, this time directly in the face. Allison rolled away and buried her face into the dirt. She covered her ears the next time she heard the shovel hit. It was a total of eight times before the sounds stopped.
Allison and her mother sat there in silence, the man motionless and bloody. “Go to the house Allison and find his jacket in his room downstairs. Don’t let anyone see you, don’t let anyone know you are upset. We need all of his stuff and his car keys. Can you do that for me?”
Allison threw up and then washed her face in the spicket behind the shed before heading back to the house. Her arms were sore and now she didn’t even think twice about the slippers on her feet. She gathered the man’s things and made it back to the shed undetected. Her and her mother waited in the shed until the lights in the house were all out. Allison and her mother dragged the man from the shed to his red pickup truck parked behind the house in the pitch dark. Her mother put his body in the bed of the truck and they drove off of the farm.
Once they were far enough away, her mother told her to go stand on the other side of the road. Allison watched as her mother dragged the man’s body around the car and into the driver’s seat. Allison’s mom started the car and placed something heavy on his leg. With the driver’s door still open, the car leapt forward at full speed down the road and crashed into a tree. The sound was deafening in the near silence of the night.
After a moment, Allison’s mother ran towards the car and poured gasoline from the can in the back seat all around the truck. Allison watched from down the road as her mother lit a cigarette. She took a few drags of it before throwing it in the front seat. Her mother calmly began walking down the road back towards Allison as the car lit on fire.
Allison and her mother were almost out of eyesight of the car when they heard the explosion. They walked along the wood line in case of a passing car, but no one was out on the road that night.
They were walking up the long dirt road back to the farm just as the sun began to peak its way over the tree line. They both went into the bathroom and showered off the blood and smoke from their skin. They bagged up their soiled clothes and hid them in the closet until the next trash burning day.
They laid together in her mother’s bed until the sun was all of the way up in the sky and then they both fell into a long and dreamless sleep. When Allison woke, her mother was in the kitchen making breakfast and carrying on in conversation with a house guest as if it were a normal morning. Allison waited for a wink or side look from her mother but never got one. She understood then that their secret lived and died in the night before and that they would never speak of it again.
Allison, now 30 years later and drunk on her mother’s back porch at 8 am felt the same heat in her belly that she had felt that night.
Allison spent years waiting for the next shoe to drop but her and her mother never mentioned it to each other again. Eventually Allison allowed herself to forget- to explain it away as an act of self-defense. She had come to terms with it. She had buried it deep inside of herself. Why now was her mother bringing it all back to the surface? What good would it now to bring it back to life?
Allison went back inside the house. Somehow everything looked smaller, a universal experience of returning to your old home as an adult. Her mother sat silently on the couch, smoking a fresh cigarette and staring off into space. Allison said “Please mom, it won’t help anyone now to turn yourself in. Let’s just leave it in the past where it belongs”
Allison did not want to go to jail for that night. Allison did not even want to think of the possibility of jail for her or her mother. She couldn’t imagine the judgement or the pain that telling their secret would bring on either of them. She was to blame for the entire situation. She was dumb enough to go alone with a strange man into a shed and now her own mother was talking of turning them in for it.
They began to fight. Things were thrown across the room. Allison does not remember the details of the next ten minutes except for the texture of the fabric of the pillow that she used to hold over her mother’s face. Her mother had grown old and weak over the years and it was comically easy for Allison to pin her mother’s body down and wait until she was no longer breathing.
Allison made sure that there was no trace of her visit in the house. Four years, she remembered now. That was how long it had been since her last visit out to the farm. No one would ever suspect that her mother’s daughter had come out here and committed a murder.
Allison got into her car and began the drive back to the city. In the daylight, the fields looked even worse than the night before. Her mother had let go of the things she had once cherished. “Such a shame” Allison thought. Her mother loved those fields. It broke her heart to see them wilted and useless. Windows down and music blaring, Allison could not muster up one memory from her childhood and that was how she preferred it.