Today’s story was inspired by Holly Becker. I met Holly when she was a freshman at Great Lakes Christian College. I was a junior (I think). I loved her instantly. Holly is one of the most golden hearted people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I don’t believe that she has it in her to be rude or mean or anything other than encouraging. I’m not kidding. She’s amazing. I’m so thankful for Holly!
Here is Holly’s idea…
“Karen- 60 year old, sees the best in everyone and ignores problems, petite, loved by all, studied to be concert pianist.
Setting: Suburb of Detroit, 1980s, family home
Conflict: Son has admitted to a terrible crime. He is now back living at home while on probation.”
Karen had scrubbed the house from the attic to the basement. Not a cobweb remained. No dust lingered. Nary a streak on the windows. Perfect, perfect. All that needed to be done was to hang the streamers and “Welcome Home” banner. She pulled out her step ladder.
If Henry was here he could have hung this. No problem. She thought, missing her husband.
He had been tall. She was petite. They had told people that theirs was a perfect union. He could reach the top of the cupboard and she could crawl under the the smallest of spaces.
He’d been gone for years. But she didn’t want to think about it. She would never know why he left. It just hurt too much, so she stuffed it down.
Today’s supposed to be a happy day, she thought.
Her son was coming home after three years. She’d planned a big surprise party. The table would be full of finger foods. Guests would fill her home. She fretted over having enough punch. She even counted the paper plates to make sure that there were plenty.
The telephone rang.
“Hello? This is Karen,” she said into the receiver. “Oh, hi, Patricia…no, I understand…well, it was a last minute party…He should be home around 4 pm. I asked everyone to come at 3:30 for the surprise…No, dear, he was wrongly imprisoned…No, it doesn’t matter what the television said. He was charged for a crime he did not commit…Yes, he’s the one who told me that…Well, Patricia, if you feel that way it’s good that you can’t make it…No, I’m not upset with you…It’s just that I’m protective of my son’s reputation…He was innocent. I assure you…I know you love me. I love you, too…Okay, well, I’ll talk to you later…Good-bye.”
That was a strange conversation, she thought. She shook it off. There wasn’t time to think of it. A party needed to be pulled together.
It was 3:56. No guests came. She’d called every single one of them. Some had excuses. They were busy with family or a child was sick or they were called into work, yes, even on a Sunday. But they all loved her and wished her the best.
Only one told her that they wouldn’t support the release of a dangerous criminal. It would be a mockery of the justice system.
“Murdering drug dealers shouldn’t be released to the streets,” her friend had said. “Not even for information on a bigger criminal. It isn’t right and I won’t support it.”
None of them understand Lenny. I know my son is innocent. That’s all that matters.
She sat on the couch, eating eating chicken salad croissants and drinking punch.
At 2:25 in the morning the telephone rang. She jolted awake, still on the couch. Her neck ached and her hip seemed to creak when she stood.
“Hello?” she asked into the receiver.
“Hey, Ma,” Lenny said. “I need ya to come get me real quick.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m not sure.” His words were slurred. “But the strippers are done for the night and the bar tender told me I gotta get out. Problem is, I don’t got no more money.”
“How much do you need?”
“I don’t know if I have that much money.”
He cussed loudly. “Well, Ma, it’s either you come pay my tab or I gotta shoot this place up. Then I’ll get put right back in jail. You wouldn’t want to make me do that, would ya?”
Lenny had the bar tender give Karen the address over the phone. It was on the bad side of Detroit. She was sure he’d gotten lost. Why else would he end up at one of “those” bars? She wrote out a check for $231.48 and went to pick up her son.
He just needed to relax after all that time in prison. He’ll be back to normal tomorrow.
She had always been good at convincing herself of silver linings.
Karen played piano. Her favorite was Debussy’s First Arabesque. The movement of both hands exhilarated her. The way her fingers rolled from key to key made magic to her ears. She felt the song within her soul. She no longer had to look at the keys. Instead, Karen closed her eyes as if in prayer. Her small worship in playing this beauty into the world.
It was the song she’d played in her college recital. When Henry fell in love with her. So many years later, and with Henry gone, she still played that song. It was her comfort.
Lenny had been home for a month.
“I did it, Ma,” he’d told her one morning. “I don’t want you thinking I’m innocent. I killed a man. I sold drugs. I done the wrong things. But I ain’t ashamed. Nothin’ matters anyway.”
“No, Lenny.” She felt her heart throb. “If you killed someone, then why did they let you out so early?”
“Because I ratted out my buddy.” He’d laughed. “Guess I wasn’t such a good friend, huh? Anyway, I’m kinda on this probation thing. Better not screw up or I’ll end up right back in the slammer.”
“No, Lenny, no. Stop making up stories this instant.” She’d gotten up from her seat at the table and sat at the piano. She lost herself in the music.
Lenny started having visitors. They would come in through the backdoor and talk to Lenny in the laundry room. After two or three minutes, they’d leave. Then another person would come. And another.
Suddenly, Lenny had money.
“Just running a little…uh…consulting business, Ma,” he’d explained. “Nothin’ to worry about.”
Karen believed him. He’s learned his lesson, she’d thought. He wouldn’t do anything to violate his probation. He’s a good boy.
She’d play the piano loudly so she wouldn’t hear what was going on.
I just want to give him a little privacy, she’d told herself.
“Where is he?” A man pushed past her and in through the front door.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “He went out for a few minutes.”
The man went through her whole house. He opened every closet and looked under the beds. Karen managed to get to the telephone in the kitchen. She put her finger into the rotary dial “9”. It clicked as it circled around. Then she dialed a “1”.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the man asked. “Don’t even think about callin’ the cops. Sit in that chair.”
He tied a rope around her, securing her arms on her lap. “Now, you’re gonna be nice and quiet.”
Please, Lord, don’t let Lenny come home, she prayed.
The man helped himself to the fridge. He watched the television. Took a cat nap in the wing-backed chair. He wasn’t going to leave. Karen became certain of that.
After several hours, Lenny walked through the door. Within a very few seconds, he was on the floor, his life over, his blood spilling out.
“Why?” Karen cried out. “Why?”
“He killed my little brother,” the man said. “He had to pay for it.”
He kicked Lenny’s body as he walked out of the house.
Karen was found, passed out, in the chair, still tied up, days later. A junky came to buy drugs from Lenny. He stole the whole stash before calling the police and running off.
She was rushed to the hospital, questioned by the police, visited by her friends.
“We just knew he was no good,” they all said.
But he was good, her thoughts kept to herself. He was my little boy. He was all I had left of Henry.
“Just like his father. A whole lot of trouble. You’re lucky they’re both out of your life.”
Days later, Karen went home. She rode the bus. She wasn’t up to hearing her friends’ voices.
The blood was a huge, asymmetrical shape on the carpet. She was sure it soaked all the way through. She wondered why the police would have left that for her to clean. Surely they understood how terrifying it was. A silent house. Blood stained carpet. Family of one.
Then, the reporters came. They knocked on the door. Rang the bell. Waited, cameras ready to capture her tears, her story, her misery. And all to sell advertising slots.
But Karen didn’t open the door.
All they heard was music. Karen playing Debussy.