She’d Kill the Crocodile, Too
I wrote the following short story several years back for a college writing class. It’s a little rough around the edges, but I still enjoy this depiction of a meddling neighborhood elder. The last time this story saw daylight was on my extinct Tumblr blog many years ago, so apologies if you’ve seen it before.
Those Miller folks got their Jaime a turtle. A turtle, and she’s twelve years old! That creature’s not going to last a day. Argue all you like, but I know those kids, and you can’t say I’m nosing when they’re flaunting the beast around the neighborhood like it’s a new car.
Last Monday I was watering the daisies—they love a drink when the sun’s just a-peepin’—and I saw Jaime out in the yard with a shovel and the cutest little pink box. Gerbil sized. What does she do but dig up half her poor mother’s geraniums and dump that box down the hole? Not two hours later they’re driving to the pet market, and I swear that girl is smiling in the backseat.
Wednesday I see her again with that neighbor boy, Samson Malone, and they’re walking her new puppy around the block. Freak accident, they say. The dog slipped his harness. And who do you think gets to hose up the mess? The HOA only cares to send a letter, but I’ve got a mop. Last month I was out there every night scraping feathers off the pavement.
It was Sunday morning when my Mittens vanished. You think I didn’t know where to look? I marched right to the Miller house. I knock-knock-knocked on the door until Jaime peeked her head out, and real quiet I said, “Miss Jaime, where has my Mittens gone?”
“I don’t know, Miss Laura Jane,” she said. “I haven’t seen her,” she said.
I asked if she was sure, and her momma threw the door so far open I thought it’d fly right off the frame. “Miss Laura Jane, it is eight in the morning and we’re having our breakfast. You can come around another day.” Slammed the door right in my face.
But I know Jaime and Samson were tramping through my yard. There were footprints in my daisies. They like to sneak out to the field on Mulberry at night with that turtle. Fool creature. Don’t know how it’s lasted a week already, but I haven’t seen any crocodile tears across the yard since that puppy. Probably killed off the crocodiles, too, that girl.
I went back. Tried to tell her parents about that pink box I saw while those children were at church group, and they said, “Miss Laura Jane, we can handle our daughter.”
When I was heading home Mr. Davidson across the road was watching me. Never seen that man out of his house, but there he was in the porch rocker with a lemonade like it’s the most natural thing in the world. I gave him a wave, but he didn’t stop staring. Shuddered all the way home, I did.
No matter. I’ll follow that Jaime to the field tonight, and there will be hell to pay if they touch my garden.
My hip was acting up or I wouldn’t have lost them. At eight o’clock the Miller girl and Samson Malone met outside my back door. They thought I didn’t notice their giggles, but I could hear them just fine over the television and the kettle whistling. By the time I’d got my jacket on and my curlers off, those kids were halfway down the road. I ambled after, just a regular neighbor, and don’t you think anything of it.
They didn’t pay me any mind, and I wondered why until we hit the field. Arthur put up a fence. A fence! And they scampered on over like squirrels. Jaime pushed the poor turtle through a gap in the links, and I watched from the road while they ran into the trees. If this was twenty years ago I’d have followed right along, but a lady of class doesn’t go waving her underthings for the public.
Can’t believe they got away so easy, but if they think I’m done with them they’re dead wrong.
I went down to Arthur’s fence Monday evening and walked ‘round until I found the gate. Must have been a mile trek, but it opens easy, and the field’s right there once you’re through. I’m ready to catch those kids in the act now, next time they come around. If they come around.
I’d cornered Jaime on her way to school that morning, and I gave her the sternest talking to she’s ever heard. Bet my life on it. I had her shaking on the stoop when her mother came yelling and kicked me off the porch.
“Laura Jane stop harassing my child!”
If they think they’re getting one of my yearly pies they can think again. I’ll give their blueberry crumble to Mister Beatty on the other side.
I saw Mr. Davidson at the supermarket today. Found him between the eggs and the cheese.
“Why Mr. Davidson, I hardly ever see you around, and here I’ve seen you twice in one week.”
He grunted back at me and picked up a tub of parmesan.
“Now, Mr. Davidson, I just want to ask you a question or two.”
He looked at me and sighed hard, like I was wasting his time, but that’s not about to stop a woman on a mission.
“Mr. Davidson, you know the Millers, don’t you? Tell me, have you seen Jaime out with a cat any time lately? Prettiest brown tabby you ever saw?”
“I haven’t seen a thing, ma’am.”
He purchased two steaks, a bottle of wine, and a pack of tea lights. On the way out he joked with Rachel, the young cashier. My eyes narrowed so low I could hardly see.
“Would you say you like Mr. Davidson?” I asked the girl as I paid for my milk. She turned red as a poppy and said, “He’s always very kind.”
That was enough for me. I went straight to Terri Gillam’s place—she always know what to do. I could hardly speak through the horror of it all. “That Mr. Davidson’s up to something illicit, Terri.” Terri shook her head and laughed like it was no big thing, but I insisted, “He’s been flirting with Rachel, the cashier down at the Quickmart.”
“And just how do you know that, Laura Jane?”
“Well, I watched them.”
She patted my hand. “Laura Jane, hasn’t he been seeing Susan on Stonebrook Street for a few months now? Why would Mr. Davidson go after Rachel?”
Now, if you ask me, that didn’t explain a thing. But suddenly Terri was shooing me out; I hardly had a chance to gather my purse and my milk. As she made to close the front door I set my foot against the frame.
“Terri, have you seen my Mittens anywhere? It’s been a week, and I’m afraid that Miller girl took her.”
“Laura Jane, I know you don’t like Miss Jaime, but she hasn’t stolen your cat.” Probably wandered off after a squirrel or some such, she said. Probably finding her way back right now. Well, I know my Mittens; she doesn’t get last. She’s found her way home every day of her life.
By the time I’ve reached the sidewalk I’m stomping my feet. No patience to check up with Susan on Stonebrook Street. No patience for anything left in this town. Rachel can rot if she likes. Don’t know why no one in this place listens to me.
At midnight the light went on in Jaime’s room. I waited ten minutes for it to flicker off and there she went out the window like a snake. Past midnight no respectable girl should be up and about gallivanting across the fields with some boy. Least of all with my cat in tow.
I pulled on my jacket and my best walking shoes and took off for the field with a flashlight. The wind was blowing like a storm about to come in, and I thought of my poor Mittens lost and alone in the cold. She’d never stayed out during a rainstorm before.
The tall grass made my legs itch, so by the time I found those kids in the field I was scratching and cursing and limping. It’s no wonder I tripped with all that to manage at once. They just looked up, looked down, and kept on with their business. My ankle was throbbing, my flashlight had flown halfway across the field, and I thought I’d take a short rest to catch my breath. I didn’t see Miss Mittens, but she had to be somewhere.
“I thought I heard a rustling, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, it’s probably just a mouse or something.”
“It sounded pretty big though. What if it was Mr. Chessup’s dog?”
“The curse will get it then, won’t it? Come on, we’ve got to finish the circle before someone finds us out here.”
Well that perks me right up. Curses, huh? I know curses. Kids love curses. Tell a kid about a curse, and they’ll hang on every word. But getting two kids out in a field drawing circles in the grass? That’s some real power. I’d love to talk to the lady who told them about this one.
So I scoot myself forward a bit.
“You drew the left part wrong. It’s supposed to be a triangle.”
“You do it then, know-it-all.” I heard Jaime tramp through the grass and stop. “Walter’s looking a little grey.”
“Probably because you wouldn’t let him out of your clammy hands all night.”
“Shut up, Samson. Did you draw the part or not?”
“Yeah, it’s done. Where’s Walter?”
They shuffled, and I scooted up a little more. I could see them through the grass now, moving around. I caught my skirt on a twig, and the cursed thing snapped. The kids fell silent, held still, and Samson very slowly picked te turtle up from the grass.
“What do you kids think you’re doing?” I said. They couldn’t see me in the tall grass, but I could always put the Fear in them. The two jumped a mile, I swear.
“Who’s there?” asked Samson.
“Never you mind, boy. You let that poor turtle go now. The cat too.” I had to duck further under the grass then, my ankle twisted and all, because Jaime was trying to inch over this way. “And don’t you be wandering about. March right on home.”
“But we don’t have a cat.” He set the turtle on the ground.
“Don’t you lie to me, boy.”
“Honest, we don’t!”
“Then what in blazes are you doing out here?”
“Samson, is that Miss Laura Jane?”
“Of course I’m not Miss Laura Jane!”
“I think it’s Miss Laura Jane.”
Samson hiked up his jeans and tramped through the grass with his flashlight waving about until it shined in my eyes. “Miss Laura Jane, what are you doing out here?”
“I could say the same to you, boy. Do your parents know you’re out this late? Help me up, will you? What are you kids doing?”
They looked at each other. “Mr. Davidson said with all the pets dying, Jaime must be cursed. So we looked some stuff up. Some magic kind of stuff. It’s silly.” The longer he talked the more he started muttering.
“We’re breaking the curse,” Jamie said.
I put my hands on my hips. “Do your parents know about this?”
“My mom said it was a bunch of nonsense and I wasn’t supposed to listen to Mr. Davidson anymore.” Jame scowled so hard I thought her lips would fall off.
“Smart lady, your mother. Come along, we’re going to get you back home.”
“Please, Miss Laura Jane, don’t tell my mom I was out here.”
“Well, then you tell me what’s happened to my Mittens.”
“Miss Laura Jane, we haven’t touched your cat,” Samson said.
I tutted. “Now, if you think I’m going to let you kids wander around in the dark doing whatever you please, you are wrong. Let’s go, back home, hurry up.”
“Miss Laura Jane, my mom will kill me!”
“And my dad’s already on my case for sneaking out. You can’t tell them! We don’t know where your cat went, but we didn’t do it.”
Tut tut tut. I don’t have time for children who sneak around and steal pets, no sir. If my ankle was working right I’d have marched those kids home without another word and that would have been the last of that.
“What if we helped you look for Mittens?”
“Yeah, we can look around after school and make flyers.” Samson was nodding like a woodpecker. “It’s been a week, right? Mr. Beatty’s dog was gone for longer than that, and someone still found her.”
Hold on just a minute.
“We could go down to the creek tomorrow to see if she didn’t get stuck down there like Madison’s cat. Kids in our class lose their pets all the time, and they always get them back.”
Now, doesn’t that sound like it’s meant to be my fault my Mittens was kidnapped? I wasn’t having any of that.
“You don’t need to go looking for nothing,” I said. “You’re the ones who lost my precious in the first place. I know what you do with your pets, Jaime Miller, and it’s no piddling curse. Now, we are going to march right on home, and we’re going to have a chat with your parents. I said march, not start yammering on. I saw you open your mouth, Jaime. Let’s go.”
Samson Malone hauled me up, and he didn’t say a word when I elbowed him in the neck—only wheezed a little. Jaime picked up the blasted turtle, and we limped back a mile around the gate to the neighborhood in silence.
My ankle was throbbing something fierce when we made it back to the street. Save from a lone street lamp and a light on in the back of Mr. Davidson’s house, the place was desolate. I near about had to pull those kids up the porch stairs, and I pounded a few times on the door.
“If you kids apologize now I’ll tell your parents I just found you out in the yard, not running around Arthur’s field all alone.” I gave Jaime Miller my sweetest smile, but she just scowled in return. Well then. They’d made their choice.
“Miss Laura Jane?”
I about had a heart attack.
There was Mr. Davidson in the road with my Mittens in his arms, mewling and squirming like an angry fish.
“What in the world?”
“It’s Mittens!” Samson shouted.
A light flipped on inside the Miller house.
“I found her around back when I let my Whiskers out. Seemed real scared and covered in mites. I gave her a bath, but she’ll need another and a trip to the vet, like as not. Looks like she got bit by something out there.” He loosened his grip, and my Mittens shot up the porch steps and tangled herself in my skirt.
I turned right round to Jaime then, but the door opened. Her mother appeared wearing an old night gown and a squint. “Jaime Anabelle Miller, where have you been? And with Samson too? Do you know what time it is?” She turned her squint on me. “What are you doing here, Miss Laura Jane?”
I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.
“I want some answers now, young lady.”
“Missus Miller, it was my fault.” Five pairs of eyes were on me now, and only one was the familiar pair of yellow lamps I was used to. My back was flooding with sweat. “I dragged them out here to search for my Mittens, and look, we found her. You can’t mean to punish the kids for what I did, can you?”
“Oh, I think I can do whatever I please with my child, Miss Laura Jane. You’ve caused more than enough trouble around here. I want you to take your cat and your meddling and get off my porch. Don’t you ever let me catch you here again, you understand?” She dragged Jaime in by the wrist. Samson too, and the next I knew the door was slamming in my face.
I didn’t know whether to fume or fuss, so I just stared.
“You did all you could, Miss Laura Jane.”
I’d plum forgotten Mr. Davidson was still there. Did all I could and then some, I told him. No one in this neighborhood cares more about the kids than me, and he’s not to forget it. That goes for the cashier at the Quickmart, too. Looked real surprised when I said that, he did.
I marched right home. Miss Mittens curled up in bed with me, mewling and purring and rubbing my legs. I tucked her under a blanket and she snuggled right in.
“Those kids shouldn’t have been out so late anyway. Right, Mittens?”
Her ears twitched.
“None of my doing, was it?”
I snapped off the light.
Maybe in the morning I’ll wander down to that field. See if I can’t help finish up a good grass circle for the kids. I know it’s silly, but it’s the least an old lady like me can do. I’m just tired of cleaning up Jaime’s messes. Nothing more.
Last Edited: 5.13.2021 | Return to Blog Index