Bobby Williams lingered before the bathroom mirror, hungover and oblivious to the filthy toilet and laundry falling out the hamper by the door. Rather than cleaning the bathroom as he promised Nettie he would, he rifled through the medicine chest for a few of her percocets.
He heard someone banging on the Wilsons’ front door. He looked out the window and saw Mrs. Mendenhall, the old widow who lived across the street with her son. She rarely came out of her house, which made her sudden appearance on the Wilsons’ porch at 7 a.m., no less, very odd. Habig Road was never so lively that early on a Saturday morning.
Nettie called out from the bedroom, asking him to start a load of laundry. He said he would after he made himself some toast. He was feeding a couple of slices of pumpernickel into the toaster when he heard he heard a knock at his own front door. He answered the door to find Mrs. Mendenhall standing there, as gray and disheveled as she could be.
“Mr. Lawrence? Oh, thank goodness…I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Mrs. Mendenhall sputtered. She started to walk in, but caught herself. Oh goodness, where are my manners? I hate to impose, but its very impor…”
“Oh, yes ma’am, come in,” Bobby said, summoning the manners drilled into his head prior to discovering drug abuse so many years before.
Bobby took the lady’s right arm and led her inside to the threadbare living room couch. She was trembling as if she had seen the Devil himself. The dirty laundry strewn about the room and the ashtrays full of butts and roaches did little to help to ease her suffering.
Nettie heard the pounding and came into the living room to see what was happening. She knew Mrs. Mendenhall well enough to call her Lillith, as they occasionally swapped gardening tips while retrieving their morning newspapers.
“Lillith, hon, are you okay?” Nettie asked as she sat down on the couch and slid an arm around her neighbor. Nettie was a little embarrassed by the condition of the house, but her guest’s state temporarily mediated any resentment of Bobby, who had darted back into the filthy bathroom to find some tissues.
“Oh Nettie, I dont know what I’m going to do,” Lillith moaned. “I’m just too old. I-I-I can’t protect him any longer; he’s no angel, but he’s all I’ve got…”
“What? Is Tommy in some trouble?” Nettie asked. “Is he hurt, or in jail?”
“Oh, no, I wish it were just that,” Lillith said, “I could handle that. No, it’s very complicated. I, uh, I’m just too old. I mean, it was an accident. He didn’t mean to do it, but she’s just oh God, what am I going to do?
Bobby handed the Kleenex box to the frightened mother and looked at Nettie. They were both thinking the same thing: Tommy got drunk and did something to that redhead they had seen coming and going from the Mendenhalls’ house. Tommy fought with the girl at all hours of the day and night, often taking their disagreements into Mrs. Mendenhall’s driveway or front yard.
“Mrs. Mendenhall, where is your son right now?” Bobby asked.
Lillith looked up and wiped away a few of her tears. “I don’t know…its out of my hands, your hands…oh God, what am I going to do?” she wailed. She leaned back into Netties arms and began to sob again. Nettie stroked Lillith’s long, silvery hair.
Bobby, feeling like he needed to do something, grabbed his denim jacket. “I’m goin’ over there to see if I can find Tommy,” he said. Nettie nodded in agreement, but Lillith started to stammer something as Bobby walked out the door. Nettie got up and went into the kitchen to make Lillith a cup of coffee.
It was a sunny mid-September day, but when Bobby stepped off his porch an ice-cold chill rattled every bone in his body. He stopped for a second to catch his breath. The feeling left as quickly as it came.
Bobby walked up to the Mendenhalls’ side door. He knocked a couple of times and there was no answer. He looked in the window, which revealed steps down into the basement and more steps up into the kitchen. The basement was too dark to see anything from outside. He looked up into the kitchen. Just above the steps, under the big, rectangular oak table badly in need of stripping and refinishing, was the red, flowery hem of a housecoat and a pair of sensible shoes pointing straight up.
Bobby ran back home. He burst in his front door, but Mrs. Mendenhall was nowhere to be found.
“Mrs. Mendenhall? Lillith?” he called out as he looked around.
Nettie emerged from the kitchen with a cup of coffee.
”Where is she? Where’d she go?” Bobby asked. “She in the bathroom?”
Nettie looked puzzled. “Uh, I don’t know, hon. I went to get her some coffee but she was gone when I came back in here. I figured she went over there with you.”
“Naw, she ain’t with me,” Bobby said, “but somethin’s wrong over there. Somebody’s out on the kitchen floor and the doors locked.”
“Is it Tommy?” Nettie asked.
Bobby shook his head.
“Not unless he started wearin’ his mom’s clothes. Where the Hell did she go?”
Nettie grabbed her cell phone.