Twisted Fates By Tony Bulmer—The Nine Lives of Mara
Greetings friends. Here is another story from my forthcoming book Twisted Fates, Twelve Tales of Murder and Redemption. No doubt there are those of you out there who have heard the Biblical story of Naomi (Mara) and her daughter in law Ruth. Redemption is considered by many as not only deliverence from sin but as freedom from captivity. I am a big fan of justice, morality and redemption in all its many forms. The Bible is, of course, the ultimate source of tales concerning murder and redemption. This twisted take on the story of Ruth will no doubt raise wry smiles among many. I hope you enjoy it—
The Nine Lives of Mara
As the doorbell rang, Bosley the cat sat on the window-ledge fat and sleek. He blinked, his inscrutable yellow eyes absorbing every detail in the neatly ordered room. Mara gave the cat a sad smile, and drew herself out of her armchair with difficulty. The chemotherapy treatment had left her weak and painfully thin. She had been sick to start with, but the gloop those sadists at the hospital poured into her every time she visited, it was killing her faster than the goddamn cancer.
The doorbell rang again.
“Alright, I am coming, just hold on a minute will you?” Mara hobbled down the hall. She was too proud and independent to use a cane like the doctor told her. She preferred to run her hand down the wall, so she could lean hard for support when she needed it. Mara felt the pain in her hips and knees, stabbing into her, with every step she took. Struggling towards the door, she saw the shadow on the glass and drew a breath. It was her daughter in law Ruth. She lived in West Hollywood, but she was always “popping over” to visit. Couldn’t the wretched girl just leave her alone? Allow her chance to die in peace?
Ruth’s face pressed hard against the frosted glass, cupping her hands now, so she could peer inside. The girl was so pushy—She just didn’t know when to stop. Maybe she thought people liked that kind of boundless enthusiasm the whole day-long? Maybe she thought she would be welcome—ceaselessly inflicting her company on a body, like some kind of mongrel social worker?
Mara opened the door with difficulty, her arthritic fingers struggling with the latch. Almost before the door was fully open, Ruth bounded inside and clasped Mara close. “Oh my God—when you didn’t come to the door right away, I thought something had happened to you—all alone in the house, it frightens me Mara, really it does.”
“I manage,” sniffed Mara icily.
“You say you do, but do you really? Have you given any thought to my—”
“I am not going in a home.”
“Assisted living—it’s not what you think. You will still have your independence; still be able to do all those things you like to do. There is no harm in at least considering it, is there now?”
“You came over to tell me this?”
Ruth stood back, placed her hands on her hips. “I came over because you need me.”
“I need peace and quiet, so I can mind my own business is what I need. Don’t you have any life of your own for Christ’s sakes?”
“Marlon left me well provided for Mara, you know that.”
“You cannot live on the insurance money for ever, you should get back to work, move on with your life. You are never going to find yourself a new man if you are skulking around here, pestering me all day long.”
Ruth gave a sparkling laugh, like that was the funniest thing she had ever heard. She brushed past Mara and headed for the den. “OMG you say the funniest things. You know I don’t get along in the work-a-day world, I am too much of a free-spirit for that kind of thing.”
Mara pulled a face, “You’re still using those drugs I suppose? They will turn your brains to mush, you know that don’t you?”
Ruth plumped herself down in Mara’s favorite TV chair, and spread herself out. “Spirituality is the only drug I need now Mara, you should try it sometime.”
“I gave up on God the day he snatched my husband from me.”
“Oh really, Mara. Have you heard yourself? It is years since Larry passed.”
Mara sank into the corner of the couch, and gave Ruth the hard eye. “I am living with God’s curse. He took my boys and saddled me with this cancer—my insides rotting out slow, like I am dead already—then you come around here—all bright and breezy like your own husband never existed—and you talk to me about spirituality?” Mara paused, a gimlet stare cutting into her visitor.
“Marlon might have been your son Mara, but he was a horrible driver. He always drove like a maniac; so fast and reckless, it is a miracle he didn’t kill himself sooner. It was almost like he didn’t want to live.” And Keith, you talk about him like he is dead already, rather than moved back east.”
“He might as well be dead, for all the times I see my grandchildren. That wife of his always has an excuse as to why they can’t come and visit.”
“So visit them, you could if you really wanted.”
Mara sat on the couch, hugging a decorative pillow that gave her little comfort. “I couldn’t get on a plane. I am so sick most days I can barely make it to the bathroom. You got any idea what that is like?”
“It’s not all bad. You’ve got me—then there is Stella next door, and Bosley too of course. She half turned, looked at the windowsill. The cat stared back at her, his big yellow eyes drinking in every word she said. He stretched and yawned, his tail flipping softly. Bosley didn’t like visitors, any more than Mara. Ruth turned away, her gaze drifting across the room like a guilty secret.
Mara’s lips tightened. There was something wanton and untidy about Ruth. Underneath her colorful shirt, tied at the waist, she was wearing a slovenly low-cut blouse that revealed her plunging décolletage, adorned with a tattoo, that appeared to be some kind of swooping bird enveloped in a scroll—there was black writing too—etched in a cursive hand. Mara couldn’t make out what the writing said, and she didn’t want to ask. Ruth would do about anything she could think of to get attention. She was that kind of girl. Mara watched her closely, sitting there without comment, as the girl ran her greedy little eyes around the room—like she was categorizing every stick of furniture for value and salability. The girl really had some cheek, coming around like she was still family. Oh, she put on airs, of course, and a big pretence like she gave a damn; but Mara knew the real reason this creature had called to see her. With her tangled mane of raven curls and slovenly whore clothes—she was perching ready like a carrion crow, preparing to flutter down from the telegraph wires and pick over a corpse.
After a long, bitter pause, Mara said, “I don’t need your fuss and concern, I am not in the ground yet, not by a long shot.”
“That is as maybe, but you living here all alone—just about anything could happen to you, and no one would be any the wiser. You know if you really wanted, I could move into the spare room—I understand you like to keep your own company and all, but who knows? You might get used to having someone around the place—I could help you out—do things for you and then, if God forbid something happened—”
Mara gave a contemptuous snort. “I’m not looking for a housemate.”
Ruth looked sulky. “It would be fun. We could hang out. I could take you places.”
Mara smiled, but there was no humor there, her eyes were bright and defiant. “Like you said yourself my dear, I like to keep my own company. You would get bored sick of hanging around this place after five sweet minutes.”
Ruth eyed the liquor cabinet. She ran her tongue across her lips as the Pavlovian sight of the hard liquor drew her in. “I don’t find you boring, honest I don’t. We must have some common interests, we are family after all.”
Mara raised an eyebrow. Tact had never been the girl’s strong point. “But we aren’t family are we Mara? Not anymore. And as far as common interests go, the only things that ever meant anything worth a damn in my life were my kids and by job—and now I don’t have either, so there really is very little to keep me busy, aside from my schedule of daytime television and my next dose of medication.”
Ruth looked doubtful. “Work? Are you kidding me? Anything is better than working at that damned laboratory, cutting up fish guts the whole day-long. I cannot believe you stuck it out at that place for so long. The very thought of it turns my stomach.”
“I liked working at the laboratory. What do I get to look forward to now? Local News at Five? Wheel of Fortune? And you say you want to join me?”
“What is so wrong with Wheel of Fortune?”
“If you even have to ask me that, you will never understand.”
“Game shows are fun. They have a soothing influence. Maybe if you tried watching a few you wouldn’t be so tense.”
“I’m not tense.”
“Vodka helps too.”
“I don’t like vodka.”
“You sure have a lot of it in that liquor cabinet of yours—expensive imported stuff. You expecting the Russian fleet to come visiting?”
“Marlon liked vodka. He must have gotten a taste of it from his father. Larry was quite incorrigible when it came to strong drink. I never saw the attraction myself. If I drink more than a glass of the stuff I feel quite strange.”
Ruth almost laughed, instead she licked her lips thoughtfully and said, “If you don’t like vodka, I could take those bottles off your hands—it is quality stuff you know, it seems like such a shame to waste it.”
Mara shrugged. “I got no use for the stuff myself. You want to take some with you, be my guest.”
Ruth looked wistfully at the bottles. “Maybe I will, or maybe I will just give it a pass for now. I am concentrating on my spirituality. Hard liquor is such a yang energy it interferes with my chakra centers.”
Mara pulled a face, shrugged. “Whatever you say. The offer is there.”
Ruth looked suddenly serious. “If something happened to you I would look after Bosley you know that don’t you?”
“Stella next door will look after him. She has already agreed to it,” said Mara quickly.
Silence filled the room then, the ticking of the cheap clock on the mantle rising to fill the void. Pictures on the television screen flashed by in silence as Mara focused on the remote handset that lay on the coffee table.
Finally, Ruth said. “I better go, otherwise I will get stuck in the drive time rush. I swear those Freeways are getting busier than ever these days.”
Mara sniffed, and nodded. “I will see you out.”
“There really is no need.”
Mara rose unsteadily to her feet and reached inside the pocket of her housecoat. “I have something for you.”
Ruth looked genuinely surprised. “For me? I really don’t want anything Mara, honestly I don’t.”
Mara nodded, gave her visitor a tight, pained look and held out a brass colored latchkey. “This is for you, in case like you say there is an emergency of some kind. This way you will be able to let yourself into the place.” Mara held the key up, her hand quivering as her arthritic fingers, grey and deformed, struggled to hold the key steady.
Ruth blinked. She licked her lips very quickly. “Are you sure?”
“Hell, yes, I am sure. Go on, take it and get out of here, before you get caught in traffic.” Mara figured she saw tears glistening at the corners of the girl’s eyes, but she couldn’t be sure. It was a long slow walk to the door. Awkwardness filled the narrow corridor with a dark feeling of foreboding.
Ruth turned at the door and kissed Mara lightly, hesitantly, on the cheek. “I will see you soon.”
“No doubt you will my dear.” Mara watched her go. She stood in the doorway and looked through the screen, until her daughter in law’s cheap imported car pulled away from the curb.
Bosley the cat wound himself around Mara’s ankles, mewling for attention. “You want your dinner don’t you my dear?” Mara smiled absently to herself and headed for the kitchen. She really did spoil that cat, nothing but the finest delicacies, and today was no exception. The fish was already laid out in the refrigerator; in Japan they called it Fugu, or more correctly Takifugu rubripes. Eaten by the Japanese for centuries the tiger blowfish was the world’s most dangerous delicacy, for whilst the flesh of the fish was soft and meltingly flavorsome, the liver and sexual organs contained tetrodotoxin, an odorless, tasteless poison 1000 times more deadly than cyanide.
That bitch Ruth had killed Marlon with her hard drinking ways, forced him to drive home the night he was killed. She would have her inheritance, just not the one she planned. Mara looked at the glittering vodka bottles stacked in the liquor cabinet and smiled a happy smile.