“Oh dear Alex! Stop wincing. It will just take a while”, Martha pacified her son Alex while applying the ointment on his neck. The 4 days old bruise on his neck had deepened from red to violet. Martha would regularly apply the ointment to bring relief to her son. Alex lay in the attic room. His favourite room in the house. Where he can sink into his own shell, away from the cruel world outside.
“I have made your favourite breakfast! Eggs sunny side up, toasted breads and bacon. Have it quickly.” Said Martha offering a plate full of food.
Martha came down the stairs quietly on hearing the doorbell ring. She opened the door slightly, to peep out of the small space. The chilly winter wind smacked her face. It was their neighbour John at the door.
“Mrs. Bates, is Alex home? Last week he took a stool from me for some carpentry work. I need it for some urgent work. I was wondering if he could return it.”, Asked John.
“Oh sure John! I will tell Alex to return it. He is having his breakfast now, he is a bit sick for last few days”, Martha replied through the gap. While John was still standing at the door, she turned back and responded to Alex in a loud voice, “It’s John from next door, asking for the stool which you borrowed from him.” She added after a pause,”………Ok! I will tell him.”
Then again turning towards John, who was still at the door with his turtle neck pullover pulled up over his nose, Martha said, “Alex will return you the stool in the evening.”
As a child Alex used to play with very few neighbourhood kids, the few times he went out to play. Mostly he would return home bullied by other kids, which inhibited him to make many friends. His friends would call him “Dumbo!”, “Butthead!” and what not. The behaviour of his peers subdued him further. Martha was always his saviour in his predicament. Alex’s father left them for “the other woman” when he was just 5 years old. It was a life full of ups and downs for the two of them, during which Alex was under Martha’s tutelage and Martha developed a strong possessiveness for him.
When in high school, he once lost his cool and in a moment of rage pushed a bully, who slipped and plunged to his death accidentally from the 5th floor of the school balcony. Alex was sent to juvenile home and after a short spell there he got released, but the incident always haunted him. After that Martha changed cities with him and finally settled in this small town. In that process Alex grew up and Martha’s hair greyed. In their new neighbourhood they were known to be an introvert family.
At night their pet cat, Lisa was crying aloud. Martha offered her milk. But the cat refused to have it. Martha then went up the stairs to the room in the attic. Alex was staring out of the attic window blankly with his bloodshot bulging eyes.
“Oh Alex! You didn’t even finish your lunch!” Said an irritated Martha shoving away the flies “Now put on that blanket….no, don’t resist, it’s too cold”, Martha pulled the blanket over Alex’s chest to comfort him.
“John was asking about you when I went to return his stool. I told him you are recovering. I didn’t mention you got fired from the job at the departmental store. Yes…. I know that he may find that out. But, I know you will find another job by that time.” Martha said as she held Alex’s hands in her’s in an assuring grip.
“Come down in an hour, I will serve dinner, I have baked something special for you” said Martha ascending down the stairs.
A week passed by. The winter was giving way to spring gradually. Martha peeped out of her room’s window in the morning. There was a commotion outside the house. A group of people have gathered and were engaged in some pensive conversation. People, mostly her neighbours, some of whom she knew by face and some by name. One of them approached their porch.
She went on to open the door, when the doorbell rang.
“Hello, Mrs. Bates!” Said the man standing outside, who seemed to be uneasy. “Is everything fine?” Asked the man, trying to have a glance inside the house, through the small gap of the slightly opened door. Martha stood at the door in her usual unwelcoming gesture “Yes, Mr. Lawson, everything is perfect. But why are you asking?”
“Our neighbourhood air is becoming musty, since last week. So I am enquiring at every household. Where is your son by the way?”
“He is out at work.” Replied Martha.
“Ok Mrs. Bates. Do call us, if you notice anything unusual.”
“Yes, sure Mr Lawson. Thanks for asking”, she closed the door almost on his face and again got busy with her usual house chores. She cleaned the house, did laundry and prepared meals for Alex and herself.
That night there was rigorous banging on their door along with frequent ringing bell. Martha rushed towards her door, frightened. She opened her door partially to find a few men in uniform, followed by John and Mr. Lawson. The men flashed their I-Cards and ordered her to let them inside.
A frantic Martha resisted their entry even after knowing they were cops. They barged in and went up straight to the attic. They were astounded and grimaced by the severe stench from a blanket wrapped half decayed body, and the sight of a noose hanging from the ceiling.
It must have taken a huge amount of strength for an ageing lady to bring down a hanging body, lay it on bed, and nurse it, after all it’s a Mother’s love!
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The above story is an entry into the writing event(Feb. 02nd – 20th) hosted by ArtoonsInn: #PullTheRug #UniK-3
Event rules and guidelines: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/pull-the-rug-unik-3-writing-event/
Check out Sanchari’s space here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/author/sanchari-banerjee/
Photo by Bruno Nascimento