|Clare Boothe Luce|
Carla, who lives alone in Toronto, sees a woman and a young boy walking along the side of a highway in rural Ontario. She stops to pick them up and ends up bringing them home to live with her temporarily, to rescue them from a violent home situation. The woman, Bettany, turns out to have a volatile temper and little motivation to get on with life. The boy, Michael, is worried that they'll be kicked out. Carla is torn with wanting them to stay (she has really connected with Michael) and wanting them out of her house (Bettany is clearly a freeloader). Bettany recently told Carla that she is moving out to share a house with Ben, a man she met in the park.
The following Friday, Bettany loaded her few things into Ben's car, buckled Michael into the back seat and left.
The first few hours of having the house to myself were like a vacation. Not that she and Michael were really loud or rambunctious, but the quiet that descended was blissful. I took a couple of hours going top to bottom in the house, cleaning up all the flotsam and jetsam of their stay. Sheets and towels, things put in the wrong places (despite numerous reminders about where they belonged). A load of dishes.
I gathered a few items that had been left behind into a shopping bag and stashed it on the back porch: a pair of Bettany's socks, a colouring book, Michael's pyjama bottoms, a hairbrush. I wasn't sure when -- or even if -- I'd ever see them again. Bettany hadn't given me a forwarding address, said she'd send me a postcard or something.
I worried about them, but not as much as I had expected. Mostly, I was concerned for Michael's sake: what kind of life would he have, growing up around the chaos that seemed to surround his mother? As much as I cared about Bettany's situation, I couldn't help feeling relieved that she was no longer my problem.
Once I had restored order to the house, I settled down to making a batch of pesto. I didn't have much in the way of a garden, but it was enough to grow basil, and I was eager to preserve as much of it as I could before the frost came.
So life resumed its normal cadence, and I reclaimed my space. What a pleasure to come home to an empty house! I know a lot of people feel lonely without housemates, or even a pet, but I am not one of them. I have a healthy social life and a very busy work life, so my home has been my sanctuary. I saw then that inviting Bettany and Michael into that space was a mistake. I should have just taken them to a shelter or something.
Ah, well. Live and learn.
The Wednesday after they had moved out, there was a knock at my front door at seven in the evening. Crap, I thought. It didn't even last a week. I didn't exactly run for the door. Actually, I paused and took a deep breath, looked around at my private space, and sighed.
But when I opened the door, I was surprised to see two men in business clothes. Jehovah's Witnesses, maybe?
I started to tell them that I was not interested, but one of them held up an ID card with a police badge.
"Are you Carla Lamontagne?"
What the hell?
Not surprisingly, they were looking for Bettany. The man whose rotting corpse had been found two weeks after his death had been her husband, Jim, just as I had first thought when I read the newspaper article.
I had been seen with Bettany and Michael at the restaurant, as well as by Bettany's sister Pam, about the time of Jim's death. It had taken them this long to connect some dots and subpoena the credit card records to track us -- me -- down.
My hands shook as I brought coffee and water to drink. I could imagine how I looked to them. Guilty as heck. Maybe I was one of those people who supported an underground railroad for victims of domestic abuse, for all they knew.
They couldn't believe that I'd never met her before that day, or that I didn't know where she'd gone (aside from being with someone named Ben who lived on Morningside) and had no way to contact her. It wasn't until they asked to have a look around that I remembered the bag of odds and ends on the porch. I gave it to one of the officers as the other walked about.
As they were leaving I remembered something. "Wait," I said. "I heard Carla talking to Pam on the phone a week ago, maybe two. From my end it sounded like Jim was trying to get in touch with her. Like he was still alive."
"We'll check your phone records," the officer assured me, "but Pam hasn't had a phone for the past month. Couldn't pay her bills. She may have called from a neighbour's phone. We'll be in touch."
"No good deed goes unpunished," according to Clare Boothe Luce. I had to agree.