THE TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
She opened the door quickly and her dearest friend rushed in, bringing part of the blizzard through the entryway, and leaving slush on the floor.
“Good Heavens! Why in the world are you out in this mess?!”
While removing her coat, her friend looked left, and then right, and whispered, “I simply HAD to tell you this in person! I couldn’t risk nosey old Mildred listening in on the phone!”
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
I looked through the window and sighed. April, and here we were in the middle of a blizzard.
Someone rapped their knuckles on my front door. I opened it and a gust of icy wind swept through the hallway. Joan fell through the door, her coat caked thick with snow even after the short walk from her house, and shrieked that she had some news. I didn’t react much. I was fond of her, but she could whip up the slightest tale into War and Peace. In truth, many of the locals found her weird, but I didn’t mind her quirks because I’d known her since we were children and deep down her heart was kind. I was possibly the only person in our little town who she looked on as a friend.
“You haven’t read the paper?”
“Not yet. That idiot of a paper boy left it on the front step and it’s soaked in snow. It’s drying out by the fire.”
“They found Mark Robertson dead. Said he’d blown his brains out. On that patch of wasteland by the school.”
“Yes.” She leaned towards me. “I couldn’t tell you on the phone because you never know who’s listening. Because I know the truth. She killed him.”
“You mean Mildred? His wife?”
“There’s never been any love in that house, I can assure you.”
“Maybe not, but what makes you think she killed him?”
“I saw them. From my house.”
“I just happened to be looking out of the window and I saw them both getting into their car.”
“What’s so strange about that?”
“It was just before the paper said it happened. So he wasn’t alone, you see. He was with her.”
I still didn’t really react. We locals lived in our tiny world and we all got bored at times and longed for a bit of excitement, especially when the weather made you a prisoner in your own house.
“How do you know it was just before it happened? Did you check the time?”
She thought for a moment and nodded. “I wondered where they might be going at that time of day on a Sunday. Especially in this weather.”
I asked her if she wanted a cup of tea. I have no idea why I did it. Perhaps I was buying time to take everything in.
She ignored my offer. “What should I do, Elizabeth? Should I go to the police?”
I imagined Fred at his counter, staring through his spectacles with his customary cynical gaze. Then I thought of what the locals might do if Fred made her accusation public. He wasn’t renowned for his discretion.
“Even if you saw them in their car, that doesn’t prove anything.”
“But if she found out it was me, who knows what she might do? The paper didn’t say they’d found the gun. Perhaps she still has it.”
And I suddenly felt sorry for her, as she sat there fingering the row of beads around her neck. I realised how lonely she must sometimes be, when everyone kept their distance from her because she had no social graces and she often said the wrong thing and played clumsy practical jokes. But deep down it was more than that, I think. She spooked them.
“Maybe you should sleep on it,” I said. “There’s no point stirring up a hornet’s nest unless you’re really sure.”
She looked doubtful. “But Mildred is so nasty,” she replied, scrunching up her eyes. “Her heart is cold and spiteful. I hate to think of her getting away scot free.”
She was right; Mildred was the worst type of gossip, motivated by malice more than boredom. But she was good at spreading her poison, and people were keen not to cross her so they wouldn’t be her next victim.
“Why not sleep on it?” I repeated, softly. And I patted her hand.
“Maybe you’re right.” She sighed. “Well, I’d better be getting back before it gets even deeper.”
And as she stepped out into a street where mountains of snow had obliterated all colour, I imagined I saw a sparkle in her eyes and a strange little smile on her lips.
Then she turned around and suddenly fell serious. “The snow can be like a cage sometimes,” she said, before fading into the flurry.
I poured myself that cup of tea and took the newspaper from the fireplace. It was dry enough to read now, although the pages had all crinkled up.
I looked at the front page. Nothing. Surely in our sleepy community, this would be front page news in the local rag. Slowly I scoured through the rest of the paper, page by page. Nothing.
I sat down for a moment and thought. Then I went over to the phone.
“Yes?” I was pretty sure I recognised the voice as Mark’s.
“Mark? Are you alright?”
“Of course I’m alright. Who is that?”
I slammed the phone down. I felt stupid and embarrassed. I hoped to God he hadn’t recognised my voice.
I picked up my cup of tea and glanced again at the front page. Then I noticed the date. April the First.
I let out an involuntary laugh. No wonder she spooked the whole town.