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Disclaimer: Implied spousal abuse and possible child abuse.
Lisa Criss Griffin
Overgrown rhododendrons camouflaged the front porch swing of the old home nestled in the forested dead-end lot. Eva had lived here for most of her seventy-two years. Neighbors came for a while, then left as they moved on into more upscale areas. But she wasn’t going anywhere. This was her home. It was paid for, and she was generally well liked. It was a good neighborhood. Sometimes she still missed her husband, but Chester the Cat enjoyed a good conversation and had kept her company since her retirement. Lordy, the things she had told Chester….
Rain pattered gently on the metal roof of the porch as dusk approached. The smell of the fine peach brandy in Eva’s snifter wafted upwards, enticing her to take a sip before relaxing on the comfortable old swing. Chester gazed out from behind the window screen, watching her enviously. A man’s voice raised in anger pierced the evening air, followed by the sound of a solid slap.
Despite the warm temperature, goosebumps rose on Eva’s arms. A wave of rage shuddered through her sturdy frame. Ole Nasty Nate was at it again. The man was insufferable and cruel to his family. None of the neighbors liked him, and with good reason. She suspected they didn’t know the half of it. But she sure did. She had heard a lot from Nate Tacey’s foul mouth, sitting unseen on her porch swing next door. Just the other day, he had yelled at little Susie Mallory, causing her to wreck as she turned away on her bike. Terrified, the girl limped towards Eva’s house.
“Hey, come here, you little snot! You can’t leave your bike in the road and cut through my yard!”
“Noooo, leave me alone!”
The sound of material ripping announced that Nate had made a grab for the little girl. A terrified shriek was quickly muffled.
“So, Susie-girl. How are you going to pay back your Uncle Nate for your trespassing? I could call the cops and have you arrested, you know.”
The muffled sound of sobbing brought Eva to her feet.
“Or we could play…Doctor. You can go to jail, Susie-girl, or play….”
“Susie? Susie Mallory? It is about time you got here. You are late. I thought you might have forgotten to come visit me.”
Eva stepped off the porch and strode towards the crying child. Nate stepped back, his face quickly mirroring concern.
“She fell off her bike, Ms. Eva. I was helping her to your house. I think she hurt her ankle and tore her shirt. She is upset. Thank goodness you are home.”
Eva’s eyes narrowed as she pulled Susie behind her.
“Go on up to the house and get a cookie from the kitchen table, honey. I’ll be there in a moment.”
Susie’s small face was pale as she limped away as fast as she could go. Eva drilled Nate with her steely blue eyes.
“You don’t fool me, mister. If you so much as look at that child again, I’ll call the authorities.”
Nasty Nate laughed sardonically, placing his beefy fists on his hips.
“And tell them what? The cops won’t do anything, and neither will you. Dumb old hag.”
“You are trespassing on my property, Mr. Tacey. I suggest you leave before I call the cops. And you don’t want to play games with me. I guarantee you won’t like it.”
Nate looked Eva up and down, snorting his derision as he backed away. He turned and retreated to his house. She stood there watching, trying not to flinch when his front door slammed. He had gone too far. Something had to be done about that monstrous man.
Eva washed the dirt and tears from Susie’s frightened face, and wrapped her ankle before calling her parents to come pick her up.
“Always remember, Susie, policemen protect children…they don’t take children to jail for cutting through someone else’s yard. They do, however, take bullies who terrorize their neighbors off to jail. And I think we can both agree that Ole Nasty Nate is a bully!”
Susie giggled at Eva’s nickname for Mr. Tacey, a cookie crumb falling from her lips as she grinned. Her mother arrived and took her home, thanking Eva for taking care of her daughter. Eva smiled benignly, replying that good neighbors look out for each other. Chester the Cat twirled his fluffy tail around her leg as she watched her visitors leave.
“Yes, I know you agree, Chester. That horrible man has gone too far. Something has to be done.”
“Brrrrouw?” Chester asked as he looked up at her.
“Exactly. Have I ever told you what a brilliant cat you are? I have? I hear that tuna is good for the brain. Should I get you some tuna, Chester?”
Chester meowed his opinion emphatically, weaving around Eva’s legs as the can opener began to hum. Eva forked the tuna onto a small china plate and placed it on the floor. The aroma of fresh fish filled the kitchen.
“You know what, Chester?”
Chester looked up at her, chewing his latest bite of tuna before he refocused on the plate in front of him.
“I think I will see if I can find that wonderful old recipe I have for brownies. It has been quite a while since I’ve made them. Only you will have to stay out of them, my friend. Chocolate is bad for cats.”
Chester ate the last of the tuna and started licking the plate, silently wondering if tuna cookies would be as good as he imagined them to be.
Two weeks later, Nate Tacey’s wife reported him missing. She knocked on Eva’s door, the massive bruise on her face still slightly visible under her makeup.
“Excuse me, Ms. Eva. Have you seen my husband Nate? He stormed out of the house a week ago and never came home. I am worried about him. He always threatens to leave me, but this is the first time he hasn’t come home. I don’t know what to do.”
“Oh my! That is worrisome. You might want to let the police know about it.”
“Yes, ma’am. Could I use your phone? Nate never allowed me to have one.”
“Yes, of course. He is awfully mean to you, dearie. Are you sure you want him to come back?”
“Well, yes…no…oh, I don’t know.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you any further. Let’s make that call…it is certainly the right thing to do.”
The police came and took Mrs. Tacey’s statement, assuring her they would let her know when they had any information regarding her husband’s whereabouts. She went home, thoroughly exhausted.
The neighborhood felt much friendlier as the weeks progressed without the wretched presence of Ole Nasty Nate Tacey. Children returned to playing outside, and adults lounged contentedly on their front porches in the evenings. Even Mrs. Tacey attended a barbecue, looking happier than she had in a long time. Eventually, the neighborhood felt like the safe, pleasant place it had been for decades.
Eva tapped a pencil on her notepad, making a shopping list. Chester jumped up on the couch beside her, sat down, and cocked his fuzzy head.
“Yes, I know. We need some garden lime for the backyard. And a few nails for the shiplap fence. It wouldn’t do to have some diggy dogs break in and destroy all my hard work back there in the flowerbeds. Especially that new flowerbed in the far corner that went in after I made those special brownies for Ole Nasty Nate Tacey.”
Eva locked eyes with the cat.
“It was for the good of the neighborhood, you see.”
Chester stood up and stretched, his nails visible at the tips of his velvety paws. Eva reached out and stroked him gently. The cat purred noisily, enjoying the attention.
“Just like it was good for the neighborhood all those years ago, when my Ralph disappeared,” Eva reminisced, “and later on, that hateful floozy down the street he ran around with behind my back. Funny how they all loved those brownies…. Yep, good neighborhoods are made up of good people, aren’t they, Chester?”
Chester the Cat looked up at her and licked his lips, certain there was tuna in his near future. Lordy, the things Ms. Eva told him….
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