This story began when a friend told me about her daughter’s new pet, an animal the daughter wasn’t looking after properly. It started life as flash fiction for Maureen Jenning’s course on creativity, then grew into a longer story.
Published in Crimespree Magazine, Summer Issue 2013 and reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014. Also reprinted in the 2014 Bloody Words program book, the final year for Canada’s national crime fiction conference.
Winner of the Bony Pete Award for Best Short Story, 2012.
In this excerpt, Margaret visits her daughter, Jennifer and discovers that she’s waiting for her drug dealer boyfriend, Paul’s return.
“I’m worried about your iguana,” Margaret said. “It seems to be in pain. It can’t move its leg properly. Why don’t I take it to my vet and let him take a look?”
“I’ll pay for the vet.”
Margaret shouldn’t have mentioned money. The social workers had warned her never to mention money in front of Jennifer.
“How much would you pay? How much have you got with you?” Jennifer’s eyes shone with a frightening hunger.
Margaret fumbled in her purse for her wallet. “Here’s fifty dollars. That’s all I have with me.”
“Fifty bucks? That’s it?” Jennifer snatched the bills and shoved them into the waistband of her sweatpants. “That’s no help.”
“When was the last time you ate something?”
“I’m fine. Leave me alone.” Jennifer bounced off the sofa and ran over to the window. She parted the dusty slats of the venetian blind with her fingers to look out. “God, Paul, where are you? You said you’d be back right away.”
How could Paul have such a hold on her daughter? He was years older, sickly thin from his life on the streets. He reminded Margaret of a furtive wet mole.
“How long has he been gone?” she asked.
“All night.” Jennifer chewed her thumb the way she used to in grade school. “He told me to sit tight and keep the door locked. That he’d take care of the problem.”
“Business.” She looked at Margaret. “If you really want to help, give me fifty thousand dollars.”
“What! Paul owes someone fifty thousand dollars? What happened?”
“He screwed up, OK? Happy now? Quit asking me questions. Since you don’t want to help me, get out.”
“Jenny, please. I don’t have fifty thousand dollars to give you. Even if I did, we both know it wouldn’t change anything. There will always be a next time with Paul. And a time after that.”
“Well, this time he’s dead. And I’m dead, too.”