|You Just Never Know
2004 by Susan Bowmer
This story is fiction, but the character of Gordon is based on a man I met while working in Nashville. The real man has all of the problems I described and the company is as described, with “the heat, dirt and generally intolerable conditions.” The Amanda character is every overly protective mother on the planet, wanting what it best for her child and doing whatever she can to get it for him. The plot is strictly fiction.
Amanda Jenkins taste-tested the mashed potatoes and added a dash of seasoning to the instant gravy, flipped the pork chops and turned down the heat under the corn as she heard her son Gordon’s car pull into the driveway.
Thirty-seven year old Gordon had moved back home after the death of his father, twelve years earlier. Amanda had welcomed him back, seeing no purpose in having two empty, lonely homes for the two of them to return to each night after work. Their arrangement was that she did the domestic chores and he paid a nominal amount of rent as well as half the bills and buying the groceries. Their arrangement had raised a few eyebrows among friends and neighbors, but it suited the two of them and that was all Amanda cared about. On the first of each month, Gordon handed Amanda his “rent money,” which she immediately dropped into a savings account.
At first she had thought the two of them might spend the money on a lavish vacation somewhere, but her health was failing and his had never been any good, so that was not likely to happen. Instead, Amanda just let the money sit in the bank, waiting the day when she would no longer be alive.
Amanda didn’t mind letting the money sit in the bank, despite the fact inflation was always outstripping the tiny amount of interest the account earned. It would be interesting to know what Gordon would do with it. Maybe take a lavish vacation. Not very likely, but then again, you just never know.
Besides, it was could to have a sizable amount for an emergency fund because you just never know. Gordon’s step as he came into the cluttered, busy kitchen was lighter than usual and Amanda was pleased to see a beautiful smile on his face.
“Good day?” she asked.
“Almost perfect,” he said, giving her a big hug and planting a kiss on her forehead.
Amanda smiled and wondered just how perfect a day at Ross Technologies could possibly have been. On her one and only visit there, she had been appalled by the heat, dirt and generally intolerable conditions, but the job was not too demanding and Gordon had held it for nearly a year, not an easy feat for a man with a hunched back whose face often appeared to be contorted with pain and whose speech was frequently slurred.
“There was a new lady hired today and they asked me to train her!”
Amanda felt her smile stiffen as she turned back to the stove and stabbed the pork chops as if to make sure they were done.
“Was she nice?” she asked, not looking at him.
“She was an angel. She’s tiny and you know how hard it is for short people to work there, so I got her some boxes to stand on and that helped. She smelled real nice and looked so pretty. She said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘I really appreciate that’ over just about every little thing. And she smiled a lot, just like you.”
Amanda turned to him wondering if her current smile would convince anybody about anything.
“Better get ready for supper. I don’t want the pork chops to dry out.”
“The only thing that would have made this day totally perfect would have been having you there.”
He winked at her and left to change clothes and get cleaned up for supper.
Amanda had served up the plates and placed them on the table when Gordon came back into the room.
Throughout the meal, he never stopped smiling and talking about his new friend. Amanda learned the woman’s name was Sarah and she had just moved to Nashville from Louisville and was single and younger than Gordon.
“When it was time for lunch, I started to get mine out of the fridge, but she asked me to recommend someplace for her to go and when I did, she asked me to go with her. It was almost like a date.”
Amanda felt a stab of pain realizing her son was fighting for the right to be normal, have dates, fall in love and get his heart trampled just like everybody else. She thought briefly of the last few women Gordon had “loved.” Pity dates on both sides, so far as she could tell. The women were fairly jaded and thought going out with a hunchback with slurred speech and a contorted expression was one step up from staying at home. He had few friends and even at work was generally alone. Who was she to want to throw herself between her son and this new woman, who would, probably sooner rather than later, break his heart?
His mother, that’s who! But, she was getting old and would not be around forever, so maybe it was time for Gordon to find a woman.
Having a friend to eat lunch with would probably be the high point of his day.
Gordon rambled on about Sarah through the meal and into the dessert and coffee.
After the dishes were washed, dried and put away, the two of them settled into the nightly ritual of watching television in the living room.
Gordon compared every woman on every show was compared to the lovely Sarah. All were found wanting in some major way.
“What an airhead! Sarah’s smart!”
“Can’t that girl do something with her hair? Sarah’s looks so soft and pretty!”
“Look at those teeth! Sarah’s are straight and so white!”
Amanda found herself wishing she could meet Sarah about the time Gordon suggested she drive into town the next day to have lunch with the two of them.
“You know I hate to drive. And, the traffic is so horrible. All those one-way streets and construction zones. I almost always get lost.”
“Then may I bring her home for dinner?”
His childlike enthusiasm was like a knife in Amada’s heart.
She glanced nervously around the shabby room.
“Are you sure you want to? I mean, the place suits us, but what would an outsider think?”
“That I have the best mother in the world who just happens to be the best cook in town.”
“Oh, all right,” Amanda said. “When do you want her to come over?”
It was both a question and a statement.
Again Amanda glanced around the room, mentally listing all of the cleaning and patching that would need to be done in less than twenty-four hours. There was nothing fancy in the fridge, freezer or pantry, but she knew that would not bother Gordon.
“Okay. I’ll have to go to the store. Is there anything special you want me to fix for dinner?”
“That’s not very special.”
“It is the way you make it.”
“A bottle of Prego, a bit of sausage, some ground beef, noodles, and a couple kinds of cheese.”
“And a salad and some garlic bread. Maybe a batch of your special brownies for dessert?”
Amanda nodded and laughed.
“If that’s what you want.”
The house had been cleaned within an inch of its life by the time Gordon arrived with Sarah the following night. The aroma of the fresh spices and herbs baking in the bread and lasagna filled the house.
“So, you’re the famous Sarah,” Amanda said, holding out her right hand and studying the slim, petite blond.
“She’s a heart breaker,” Amanda thought. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Gordon led Sarah through the house, giving he the tour as though the place were a museum. He explained each of the photographs and paintings on the walls and told the histories of practically every object in every room.
Sarah seemed to be listening intently and the small smile never left her lips. Over dinner, the girl explained her move from Louisville to Nashville.
“I got married too young. I really had no idea what I wanted, except to be married. Sounds pretty stupid now, but then it made sense. Anyway, you know how sometimes you just want to get away and make a fresh start someplace else?”
She glanced around the room, as if suddenly realizing that Amanda had lived in the same house for a very long time.
“Well, maybe you don’t,” Sarah said quickly. “I really envy people who can settle down and stay put for a long time. I’m not sure I could ever do that. The world is just so big and wherever anyone is at any given moment is just one tiny, little spot. I don’t know if I’ll ever settle down.”
The way she said “settle down” made it sound less like a deliberate planting of roots than of accepting a lower level of life than one should have tried to get.
Realizing she was just putting her foot in her mouth, Sarah changed to conversation to the “really delicious food.”
After dinner, Sarah insisted on helping with the dishes and then said she’d have to leave shortly.
Amanda felt a bittersweet twinge as the girl left. Glad that the woman was gone and sad because she knew that sooner or later Sarah would be leaving for good.
But, Gordon was happy and that was the important part.
“I got to be with my mother and my Sarah,” he said. “A totally perfect day.”
The weeks passed and every morning Gordon would talk excitedly about what he and Amanda would be doing that day, where they would go for lunch, who would drive, what they would eat and whose turn it was to provide snacks for their breaks.
He passed along stories about Sarah’s mixed terrier, Lulubell.
“That dog will eat everything!” Gordon said. “The other day he devoured a whole roll of toilet paper! Can you imagine? But he’d do anything to protect Sarah. I think he’d even die for her.”
Wednesday became “Sarah’s Night” in the Jenkins’ household with the young woman joining them for supper and then board or card games. She fit smoothly into the little family, soon becoming like a daughter to Amanda.
She loved Amanda’s brownies and the woman made a batch at least once each week for Sarah.
The inevitable breakup arrived rather unceremoniously one Wednesday night when Gordon came home from work alone.
“Where’s Sarah?” Amanda asked.
“We aren’t together any more,” Gordon said briskly.
Although he continued speaking, Amanda found she did not hear a word he said. Her mind raced with thoughts of how to get even with Sarah. The woman had come into their lives, totally disrupted everything, caused Amanda no end of worry and then tromped on her son’s heart just as Amanda had expected!
She would do something about this! Find a way to hurt Sarah the Slut!
Her eyes rested on the dinner for three she had ever so carefully prepared. Roast beef, parsley potatoes, yellow squash, a beautiful salad, fresh rolls from the bakery, and even Sarah’s favorite brownies for dessert.
“The brownies!” Amanda thought. “Perfect!”
She began dishing up the dinner, still oblivious to Gordon’s chatter, which now sounded like bees droning on and on with no meaning in their sound. She was so preoccupied with her plan that she was suddenly aware that she and Gordon had finished eating and were washing the dishes without her being conscious of anything in between.
“No matter,” Amanda thought. “Nothing important could have happened, or I would remember it.”
Amanda arose early the next morning and had a fresh batch of brownies already cooling on the table when Gordon came down for breakfast.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“A little present for Sarah,” she said. “She always raved about my brownies and I guess she won’t be coming around here anymore, so I thought I’d make them as a going away gift. They are just for her though, so tell her not to give them away and don’t you eat any either!”
Gordon looked surprised, but nodded in agreement.
After work, Gordon told Amanda how surprised Sarah was with the gift and how she had put the brownies in the fridge to take home and enjoy that night.
“Good,” Amanda said, serving dinner.
“She said they were so good she didn’t want to eat them in front of anyone else. She’s like that. I remember one time she brought in a new kind of candy bar she liked and she cut it into tiny pieces, so everyone could have a taste. She’s a real nice girl.”
“Still smitten,” Amanda thought. “Well, you never know.”
Sarah did not show up or call in for work the next day. Gordon was concerned and called her apartment but got no response.
“No call, no show, no job,” the manager said firmly.
After work, Gordon wanted to stop by Sarah’s apartment but realized he had no idea where she lived.
“Maybe she went home to her ex-husband,” Amanda suggested.
“Not likely,” Gordon said. “Besides, he moved to Europe or Connecticut or someplace.”
The next day, Gordon dragged himself off to work, and Amanda thought he was dreading the drudgery of a day without Sarah. His job sucked and that was putting it politely. The heat, the dirt, the condensing coworkers. Frankly, Amanda did not know how her son could stand it.
When he came home, she was surprised to see the light back in his face.
More surprising was the fact he brought home the dish in which she had sent Sarah’s brownies.
“Sarah’s dog died,” Gordon said, putting the dish on the table. “Did you know chocolate can be fatal to dogs? Sarah didn’t know that either and, when she got home, she put the brownies on the coffee table while she took a shower and changed clothes. When she got back to the living room, the dog was having convulsions and the brownies were gone! She drove as fast as she could to get Lulubell to the vet, but it was too late.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Amanda exclaimed, fanning herself with the only thing handy, a potholder.
“That’s why she wasn’t at work yesterday. She said she was just too upset to think about anything and then she got on the phone with her family and they came down and got her and Lulubelle and took them back to Louisville and buried the dog and she just totally forgot all about work or anything else!”
“They buried the dog?” Amanda asked.
“Yeah, at her parents’ house.”
Gordon went on talking and once again Amanda was so focused on her own thoughts that she did not hear a word he said.
“The dog ate the brownies. The dog died. The dog is not only buried, she’s buried over 150 miles away in another state,” Amanda thought. “Perfect!”
The doorbell rang and Amanda wiped her hands on a dishtowel before answering the door.
Two men in business suits stood on the front porch, holding up police identification. Parked on the road were two police cars with lights turned on and sirens turned off. In the backseat of the second squad car was Sarah, pretty as ever but looking quite confused. An officer opened the door for her and helped her from the vehicle and up the sidewalk to the porch where Amanda stood.
Amanda was aware of a baffled Gordon standing behind her.
The two women studied one another for a moment, completely oblivious to the people around them.
“Why, Mrs. Jenkins? Why did you poison the brownies? I thought you liked me.”
“I did. But you broke my son’s heart.”
Sarah turned shocked eyes to Gordon.
“Didn’t you tell her why we broke up?”
“Yes, I did. Wednesday night. Don’t you remember, Mom? I told you all about Charlotte. The new girl at work. They had me train her. I told you all about her right after I told you Sarah wouldn’t be coming over any more.”
“I thought Lulubell died from the chocolate, but the vet was suspicious and ran some tests. He got the results and left a message on my answering machine. It turns out the brownies were poisoned! He tried to reach me at work--worried that I might have eaten some of the brownies--but you know how they are! They never give anyone any messages!”
One of the detectives began reading Amanda her rights. She waved him away and turned to Gordon.
“The house will be yours, as well as both cars. There’s a sizable amount in a savings account in both our names. Use the money for whatever you wish. I was going to surprise you with it after I died.
“You may call our lawyer and tell him to meet us as the police station. There won’t be a trial. I’ll just plead guilty and go to jail. Right now, I guess. Oh, be sure to turn off the stove and oven.”
Amanda strode out to the police car, dimly aware that all the neighbors had come out to watch and a TV news crew was filming her every move.
Gordon ran to block Amanda from the police car.
“Find someone, fall in love, have lots and lots of babies,” Amanda said.
She knew Gordon wasn’t likely to do any of those things. Not with his shyness and handicaps. As of this moment, his life would be turned upside down because of her. The high point of his month would be driving out to the prison to visit her.
“But, then again, maybe he would have a stab at a normal life,” Amanda thought. “There had been Sarah and now there was this Charlotte person. He was holding down a job, even though it was at Ross Technologies. Maybe her Gordon could have a normal life after all.”
You just never know.
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