When I’d finished my lunch in the back office, there was a lull between customers. “Do you have a minute?” I asked as I joined my sister in the shop, thinking now would be a good time to discuss Mom.
Margaret looked up from her crocheting. “Sure. What do you need?” I couldn’t remember Margaret ever being this agreeable.
I sat down on the stool by the cash register. Anything to do with our mother drains me physically and I discovered I think better when I’m sitting. Everyone else needs to stand; it’s the opposite for me.
“When’s the last time you were by to see her?” I asked.
Margaret’s smile disappeared. “Sunday afternoon I went over and I took her out for a while.”
Mom’s symptoms appeared more pronounced to me after the nurse had pointed them out. “How was she?”
Margaret considered the question and lifted one shoulder in a halfhearted shrug. “In a word—confused. We walked around a bit, because I thought the fresh air would do her good. I said you’d been checking out a few new facilities. Afterward she seemed to think I was looking at these places.” Margaret hesitated. “When I brought her back to her room, she gave me the biggest smile and said, ‘Look, this place has furniture just like mine.’”
If it wasn’t so sad I might have laughed.
“I saw Mom on Tuesday, and she didn’t remember Dad had died,” I told my sister. I’d had to fight back tears. It’d nearly broken my heart to tell my mother that our father had died four years ago. At first she refused to believe me and then, after a few minutes, she’d started asking about other people. Like her sister, who was gone, too. She and Mom had always been close. Then she wanted to know about a favorite neighbor. After a while, Mom just sat and stared at the wall. I had no idea how to comfort her, so I left, my stomach in one giant knot.
“This memory loss isn’t all that recent,” Margaret commented. “I can’t say I see that much difference.”
I frowned. Before Dad died, Mom was as mentally fit as anyone I knew.
“Dad was aware that she was losing her memory, but he didn’t say anything to you.”
I stared at her in shock. And yet, I suppose it made sense that my father would share his concerns with my sister and not me. I’d been recovering from my second brain tumor and undergoing an ordeal that would forever mark me. It was just like my father to spare me any additional worry. Naturally, he would’ve discussed his apprehensions with Margaret.
“In the beginning, after Dad died, the decline in Mom wasn’t all that noticeable,” I said. “To me, anyway.” I was still living at home. She seemed lost and grieving but that was to be expected after the death of her husband.
“Dad was her brain,” Margaret said matter-of-factly. “For a while, after you opened the yarn shop, Matt and I thought about having her move in with us so I could keep an eye on her.”
“You talked to Mom about this?”
Margaret nodded. “She wouldn’t hear of it. Nevertheless, we didn’t like the idea of her living alone.”
That caught my attention. Since I’d lived with my mother until I started my business, it was no wonder Margaret had felt so angry with me. My sister saw the fact that I’d launched my own life as an abandonment of our mother. I longed to explain the situation from my point of view so Margaret would appreciate my need for independence. But I couldn’t think of any way to do that without sounding defensive. Or selfish…
“Last year, her health took a turn for the worse,” I said, returning to the subject of Mom’s condition. “And everything started to fall apart for her.”
“Now the doctor’s taken her off the medication, too,” Margaret said.
“The one that helped her memory,” I murmured.
Margaret shrugged, not looking at me. She straightened the yarn on the worsted weight shelves, making busy work, I realized, because she didn’t really want to talk about this. Then, bluntly and to my complete surprise, she said, “Mom’s ready to die, you know.”
An immediate protest came to my lips but I managed to swallow it, although I couldn’t hold back the tears.
“I don’t think it’ll be much longer.”
“No!” Every adult faces the loss of his or her parents sooner or later. It comes with the territory, as Brad once put it. But I didn’t feel ready to deal with Mom’s death four years after Dad. Not so soon, I prayed, pleading silently with God, willing to bargain. Dad had been gone nearly four years; sometimes it seemed like only yesterday and at other times it felt like eons ago.
“Did you find a new place for Mom yet?” Margaret asked. “Because I want to talk to the administrator when you do.”
I nodded. “I meant to tell you. A memory care facility. It’s one the nurse at the assisted living center recommended.” Brad and I had gone there late Monday afternoon and were impressed with how kind the staff was. We had an appointment later in the week to meet with the administrator.
“Matt and I can help with the move,” Margaret assured me. “We’ll rent a truck. There isn’t much furniture anymore….”
It went without saying that this would likely be our mother’s last home.
The bell above the door chimed and I looked hurriedly away, wiping the tears from my cheeks. The last thing my customers needed was to find the store’s proprietor weeping.
Before I could turn back, Margaret let out a bellow of welcome. “Detective Johnson! This is a pleasant surprise.”
My sister was nearly animated with delight. I’d heard her mention Detective Johnson many times. Before Danny Chesterfield had been brought in for the lineup, Johnson’s name had been followed by murmurs of disgust and an occasional swearword. Ever since Julia had identified her attacker, the detective walked on water. Margaret believed in the system again, believed that justice would be served. Soon the world would be made right once more.
“Hello, Mrs. Langley,” the detective said with a cursory glance around the shop. He seemed uncomfortable in an environment generally reserved for women—although plenty of men enjoy knitting and crocheting, too.
“Have you met my sister?” Margaret asked and all but dragged me forward to meet her hero. “This is Lydia Goetz.”
“Nice to meet you.” He was a nice-looking man in his forties, wearing a well-cut suit, his hair slightly on the long side. I vaguely remembered Colette saying she’d heard of the man assigned to investigate the carjacking. Apparently, her husband had known him.
“Can I do anything for you?” Margaret asked. “Would you like some coffee? Tea? Knitting lessons?” This might have been confused with flirting had it come from anyone else. My sister is far too abrupt to flirt; I doubt she even knows how.
“Nothing, thanks.” The detective stood there awkwardly, gazing down at the floor for a moment. He raised his head. “I felt I should let you know we took everything we had on Chesterfield to the prosecutor.”
“You’re going to arrest him now, right? That’s how it works, doesn’t it?” Margaret asked.
I detected a change in her voice. It was almost as if the anger was back, just below the surface, ready to explode given any provocation.
“Normally, yes, but Chesterfield came up with a valid alibi.”
“It’s a lie!” she burst out.
Detective Johnson nodded. “We think so, too. However, we can’t prove it.”
“But Julia identified him.”
“It isn’t enough,” the detective said. “The prosecutor said he can’t make a case. I’m sorry. We can’t charge Chesterfield.”
“So you aren’t making an arrest?”
He shook his head sadly. “I know you’re upset.”
Margaret didn’t bother to acknowledge his statement. Instead she wanted the details. “How did this happen?” Her voice was nearly devoid of emotion, which told me how dangerously furious she was.
Margaret was too angry to hold still and started pacing. “I can’t believe this!”
I walked over to my sister and put my hand on her shoulder, trying to offer comfort where there was none to be had.
“You mean to say Danny Chesterfield’s free to hurt someone else’s daughter?” she demanded, not giving the detective a chance to answer her previous question.
He nodded, his expression grim. “We did everything we could.”
Margaret stared straight ahead. “I see.”
“He’ll be caught sooner or later,” the detective told Margaret. “It’s only a matter of time. Again, I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
Margaret looked at him coldly.
“The problem is that Danny Chesterfield’s all too familiar with the legal system. He knows how to work it. He’s a career criminal with a rap sheet that looks like a spoiled kid’s Christmas list.”
“That’s supposed to reassure me?”
“No. I feel bad about this, Mrs. Langley.” I had the definite impression that he’d rather be anyplace than here.
I admired his courage in coming to talk to Margaret personally rather than telling her this over the phone. Facing my sister couldn’t have been easy, especially when he had to deliver such distressing news.
My inclination was to console Margaret as best I could. One glance at the hardness that stole over her face told me I’d do well to keep my distance. My sister wasn’t in the mood for consolation.
“I appreciate your stopping by,” I said politely when it became apparent that she had nothing more to say.
Detective Johnson had walked to the door when he noticed Whiskers, warming himself in the shop window. He paused, then went over to my cat and scratched his ears, forever endearing himself. Whiskers stretched his lean body to its full length and yawned loudly. With a final nod over his shoulder, the detective left.
Margaret’s confidence that Julia’s ordeal was almost over had been destroyed. “What now?” she asked in a hoarse whisper. “How am I supposed to tell Julia?”
“Do you have to mention it?” I asked.
“She’ll know.” Margaret still hadn’t moved. “She’ll find out.”
I had the urge to take her by the hand and lead her to the office, where I’d force her to drink a cup of heavily sugared coffee. She seemed to be in some form of shock, an anger-induced torment that frightened me. I’d seen Margaret angry before but never like this.
“I want another detective assigned to the case.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said sharply.
“A woman this time,” she added, ignoring my outburst.
“The prosecutor could be a woman,” I said in an attempt to reason with her.
“I doubt it,” Margaret said contemptuously. “Only a man would do something this stupid.”
“Margaret!” She didn’t seem to recognize how outlandish she sounded.