When Mama Bear and her pair of cubs returned from the store that rainy afternoon, there was nothing unusual about the neighborhood cul-de-sac.
Inside she was grizzled with the knowledge of what she’d done. The feel of the short knife left a burning impression in her hand. She felt bad in the sense that she had taken a life, though no part of her felt that Chester’s life could be considered human. Not after what he did.
Twenty-four hours had passed since her trespass. Since she’d returned from the store.
The cubs were still enjoying the toy they picked out. A tunnel of all things.
She stood in the kitchen, pouring a third cup of coffee. The echoes of laughter wafted from the playroom downstairs. The cubs were playing time-traveler with their new tunnel. It was little more than a giant slinky-like wire wrapped in a nylon sheet and they loved it.
“See Mama Bear, I go in now-” Cub 1 had bragged, and crawled into the 6-foot tunnel. He reappeared at the other end, “And come out later!”
That made her laugh.
The cubs always made her laugh. They had always blossomed in her attention and she took great joy in watching them grow.
Mama Bear took her coffee back to the front window and stopped. Her hand was at the seam of the curtains again. She talked herself out of peeking. What if someone saw her checking outside for Police cars? Instead, she walked the length of her living room, sipping. Meandering. Wondering if she’d made the right choice.
Not about Chester. That was a no-brainer. He acted selfishly, she reacted defensively. It was done. Over. Nothing could ever change what happened. All that was left was rebuilding. A major part of that was not getting caught.
She wondered about moving the body. About hiding it. But all of that just felt wrong. That’s what guilty people did and she was many things but not guilty. Maybe she should have been. And she wondered about that, too.
She was so deep in her wonderings that her front door was open before she realized it. She went to close it, but her neighbor across the street was outside, sitting on his porch. He spotted her and waved. “Hey, Claire!”
She took a deep breath and stepped outside. May as well check the mail, even though it was Sunday.
“Hi, Morgan,” she walked down the damp drive towards the cluster of mailboxes with her eyes averted. Morgan was chatty and she’d like to avoid the inevitable as long as possible.
It didn’t work. Morgan met her at the mailboxes. He was in his fifties, solid and unusually somber.
“Did you hear anything?”
“About what?” She opened her mailbox. It was empty of course.
Morgan waited for her to make eye contact. “About Chester.”
Her stomach tightened. “What about him?”
“I don’t know. I was hoping you knew.”
She shook her head, turning back towards her house. Morgan walked beside her, obviously missing the hint. She wasn’t going to ask why he was asking. She wasn’t.
But the silence was awkward. Would her reticence be considered “strange”?
“Why are you asking?”
Morgan’s eyes seemed to gleam. “You haven’t seen them?”
But then she found the answer. On the other side of her garage, in front of Chester’s house, was a police car.
They found him. Already. But he lived alone?
“The Police. They’ve been there a while. Won’t tell me anything.”
“Then ask Chester.” That’s what a good neighbor would say, right? Shit-shit-shit.
“He’s not texting back.”
She was already at her front door, holding the knob. She opened it and set one foot inside: the universal hint. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
“I know you don’t like him, but aren’t you at least concerned about why 2 cruisers have been parked in front of the house for over two hours? They put out police tape.”
That made her want to run. “Who said I didn’t like him?”
Morgan blinked. “Well … I assumed. You did scream at him in front of the entire neighborhood.”
“A strange man invited my kids into his house!”
“Hey, I’m not defending him. I’m worried.”
She took another deep breath. This was not going well. “I’m sorry. Of course. It’s me- I’m stressed out.”
Both of the cubs appeared in the doorway behind her. They were holding fresh cups of juice.
Morgan nodded, “Well, I’ll let you get back to it.”
“Hey, text me when you hear?”
Morgan didn’t acknowledge her request. He walked back to his house across the street and went inside.
“Mama, we wanna movie,” Cub 2 garbled around the cracker he was eating.
“Which one would you like?” She walked inside with her cubs, closed the door, and locked it tight.
“The dragon one,” Cub 2 grinned.
“You got it!” She smiled calmly, but inside she was panicking.
Why had she said “didn’t” to Morgan? Speaking in the past-tense was bad. She doesn’t like Chester, not didn’t.
Had Morgan caught it? Did he walk back to his house a little too fast?
Mama Bear turned on the TV, opened the streaming app, and started the movie. The cubs made themselves comfy on the couch.
She went back to the kitchen and dumped the coffee down the drain. It was turning her stomach.
It was all she could do not to scream at the top of her lungs because in her heart of hearts she knew that nothing could stop what was coming.