Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cape Noir

The following story is a response to Steve Weddle's "Noir at the Beach House" challenge.


Sunshine and surf. Clam plates and scallops. Antiques and artisans. That's what tourists see when visiting the Cape.

Alcoholism and drugs. Unemployment and poverty. Domestic violence and break-ins. That's year-round existence for the locals who barely manage to keep from being dragged out to sea.

There's no off-season for misery.

My mother moved here because she remembered good times on the Cape. As a tourist. As a kid. As someone who came to play for a week and then left.

Even Hell is probably tolerable in short doses.


Flushing the toilet caused the bathroom door to rattle. "I'll be out in a minute, Ma."

The hot water ran brown but at least it ran. The bar of soap was etched with the name of a hotel where my mother cleaned rooms probably fifteen years ago. There was no towel.

After wiping my hands on my pants, I escaped the bathroom, but not the seediness.

Ma lived in a motel that had peaked in the mid-fifties and now subsisted on weekly residents like Ma whose rent was paid by the state. Neither the motel nor the state bothered to come in and clean. Nor did my mother.

Although I couldn't see the details in the gloom, I couldn't miss the smell, or the whine in my mother's voice.

"Do you think I could borrow some money? I'll pay you back."

"You're my mother. I don't expect you to pay me back."

"You're a good boy, Davey."

The diminutive didn't make me feel like a kid again, didn't flash me back to carefree days. My mother and I had been through too much together, and whatever might have been between us was long worn away.

A shaking hand emerged into the murkiness of a dirty twenty-watt bulb. "A good boy."

I wasn't, of course, moving off-Cape as soon as I could. I never exactly made plain my forwarding address. Never informed my mother I'd married. Never shared with Ma the news of my three children.

As to my children, once they were old enough to understand the lie, they'd each been told my mother was dead. It wasn't too much of a lie at that.

Of course now the oldest was old enough to want to visit her grave.

The shaking hand tore the outstretched money from my grip.

Strong when she wanted to be.

"Did you bring me anything else?"

I thought about asking if she meant flowers, but in the end simply handed her the small paper bag.

I heard the pint of bourbon shush from its wrapper. Heard the bag crumble and hit the ground. Heard the cap turn and then her throat working.

I retrieved, straightened, and folded the bag. Slid it into my rear pocket.

Smacking her lips, Ma thanked me: "You should visit more often."

"My schedule is pretty tight. I'm lucky I get to the Cape twice a year."

"Maybe you could bring me more when you do."

"That's a thought. How's the bourbon?"

"Nothing beats a good bourbon."

"Hmm." The best thing about bourbon was that the taste masked the addition of crushed pills. Over the counter, nothing fancy, but mixed with the alcohol they'd be enough to do the job. "I received a promotion at work."

"Well, that's good. Maybe you'll be able to visit me more often."

"The job comes with additional responsibilities." My eyes adjusting to the darkness, I could see my mother clutching the pint to her chest. My chest felt lightened by the words spilling out of my mouth. "Wouldn't you like me to settle down and start a family?"

"You don't need a family. You're got one. Me."

"Don't you want grandchildren?"

"Why would I?"

Not knowing how to answer that, I approached the truth of my real life from a different angle. "I've found someone who makes me happy."

"No. She just hasn't showed her true colors yet." Ma shook her head. "She will. The honeymoon always ends."

"I don't think it's going to be like that."

"Mark my words." Ma ended on a slur.

Unable to stop myself, I told her about the house and neighborhood where I lived, my wife and our children.


The pills and booze were doing their thing. Too late now for thoughts of reconciliation. Too late now for second thoughts. Too late now for any thoughts at all. "Why don't I let you go then? Promise you'll lock the door behind me before you fall asleep."


I knew better than to trust her. "Come here so you can lock the door as soon as I go. It will only take a second, and then you can lay down again."

She staggered to her feet and across the room as I backed towards the door and away from the skeleton.

"Lock it behind me."


"Bye, Ma." I opened the door and stepped outside, threw up an arm to shield my eyes from the sun.

I heard the bolt slide home. That's when I remembered the empty pill bottle I'd meant to leave behind. Being on the Cape, I guess my brain had taken a little vacation. This was the place for it.

Lowering my arm, I blinked until I could see again.

The cops would wonder where the pills came from or they wouldn't.

Sunshine and clam plates. Domestic violence and drugs.

I set my sights for home.

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