Is it Revenge or Justice?
As she left work on Friday, she reminded her co-workers that she would be on vacation the next week. The usual, “have a great time!”, “enjoy!” was the chorus she heard as she walked out the door. Then she was gone. Mary Margaret, or Mary, as her co-workers would call her, stopped at her banks’ ATM on the way home.
The weekend was spent as it was almost every weekend. Grocery shopping, doing the laundry, walking the dog and cleaning house. She went to see a movie on Saturday afternoon, hoping it would be worth the almost $14.00 it took to get in, but it wasn’t. “Oh well,” she said to herself, “maybe next time.”
Sunday morning, as she woke up, she was determined to make the most of the day. She went into the kitchen, poured herself a glass of juice and proceeded to make some toast. She turned on the local news station, listened for a few minutes and then turned it off. “So depressing and full of lies.”, she muttered under her breath. After finishing her toast, topped with her favorite strawberry jam, she put the plate in the sink and went to get a shower and dressed. It was going to be a busy day. Mary Margaret went to church. Just like every Sunday for the last 20 years. She wasn’t really religious and mainly went because she liked to think about the sermons preached. She liked to imagine how much time the Pastor put into writing his sermon. She could tell almost immediately if he had thought about it or had gotten busy and used one of the “emergency sermons”. The sermons that had ties to local current events were pretty entertaining. National and local news, usually bad, would fire up the Pastor and he would try his best to motivate the church members to take action. On those occasions where he would have to use one of the “Emergency Sermons”, you could tell because it was basically a message of “Trust in the Lord”, “Get Saved”, “What is a Good Christian?” or something generic.
After her shower, Mary got busy packing her weekender bag. It was big enough to hold everything she was going to need for the next few days and small enough not to be really noticeable to anyone she would pass on the street. They would think it was a large gym bag, which was exactly what she wanted them to think. Mary Margaret smiled to herself. She was anticipating the look on the face of the person she was going to visit.
Mary Margaret loaded up her car with her weekender bag, a cooler filled with sandwich meat, jam and bottled water. Utensils, paper plates, napkins and the dogs’ food and bowls were there too. A grocery bag with chips and pretzels, bread, some powdered donuts and muffins. The basic junk food. Just like someone who was taking a road trip would have with them. She already had tissues and maps in her car when she decided that maybe she should take some toilet paper with her. “Those rest areas sometimes are a little too far apart!”, she said to herself. Tomorrow morning couldn’t come soon enough!
The next morning Mary went out and checked her car. She wanted to make sure everything would go as planned. Once the car was ready, Mary Margaret went back inside and got her dog, Buddy. Buddy was a big dog and he looked mean. He wasn’t but he was enough to make people think twice before they approached her. Mary liked this about him. He made her feel safe and gave her the confidence to do things by herself. Before they walked out the door, Mary Margaret put her cell phone on the kitchen counter. “Let’s go!”, she said to Buddy and they left. There would be no electronic trail this week.
Mary Margaret drove over to the vet’s office. She got Buddy out of the car and went inside. As she put his things on the counter, she said, “I’m only going to be away for the day, but I didn’t want to leave him at home alone for so long. I’ll pick him up tomorrow after 5.” Mary bent down and gave Buddy a hug. “I’ll be back soon! You be a good boy, okay? I love you Buddy Man! You’re the best!” And with that, she handed the lease to the assistant and walked away.
Mary Margaret had been very careful in mapping out her road trip. She had gone to the local library to research the way to the destination, not that she needed it. She analyzed the roads, searched for back roads and exits. She wanted to familiarize herself with every possible avenue to get where she was going as well as to have a larger, more public destination, as a back-up. She wanted to ensure that if she were stopped for any reason, she had an answer for any question that may be asked of her.
Mary Margaret turned right on the expressway and headed East. The drive wasn’t really that far away inasmuch as drives go. Mary Margaret had taken further drives; some took days to get to their destination. This one was only a five-hour drive. She planned it out so she would arrive in the city around rush hour, checking into the hotel along with a number of other travelers that afternoon and then check out the next morning, just like other business people, only her business was personal. She wanted to blend in as much as possible. Mary Margaret turned on the radio and started thinking about what she was about to do. Had she planned for everything, she wondered.
The drive was quicker than she planned. No traffic to slow her down. Mary arrived in just over 4 hours to her destination. She took the opportunity to drive around the city, trying to remember various landmarks. She drove by her old house. It looked smaller than she had remembered. It was still in a decent neighborhood. She saw children out playing in the street. She slowed down as she went by them, didn’t want to hurt anyone by accident. After getting a good look at the neighborhood, she made her way to the hotel and checked-in. She didn’t leave the room afterwards. She made herself a sandwich from her travel pack and settled in for the evening.
Morning came shining through the window and woke her up. She hadn’t realized exactly when she fell asleep. Mary had been going over and over her plan in her mind. She wondered if she would be able to go through with it. Thinking about it for years had given her false courage, as she called it. “Until you’re face to face with what you want to do – HAVE TO DO, it’s easy to say you can do it. It’s only when you are there, in the moment, no turning back, will you understand and know if you have the courage to do it.”
“Oh yes. This IS a surprise!” How would he react when he realized exactly who she was and question why was she there? Then, as the moments proceeded, after his mind began processing the years that have gone by, would his elderly smile fade from his face and the slow knowledge of a day of reckoning would appear. By this time, she would have already been invited into the living room of his home, put down her purse and pulled off her gloves. “Oh yes. It IS good to finally catch up with you again, Mr. Johnson! Please! Sit down and let’s talk!” Mary Margaret took a deep breath, knocked on the door and waited for it to open.
The years hadn’t been good to Mr. Johnson. Etched in his face were the results of bad decisions. He looked many years older than his 70 on this planet. Hard living, drinking, smoking, no exercise and generally not taking care of himself was apparent. He was still able to get around, albeit slower than most his age. His hands were crippled with the signs of arthritis. His once glossy dark brown hair, was now grey and greasy. He didn’t stand as tall as he did back then. Mary Margaret wasn’t sure if it was because he wasn’t that tall in the first place or if it was because she was so young, that anyone older than herself seemed so big and tall. Or it could have been because the monster he was in her mind, couldn’t have possibly been the same size as any other man. But it didn’t matter either way. Mr. Johnson was a monster and there was no doubt about it.
“I don’t know if you remember me or not, Mr. Johnson, but I use to live right around the corner from here. I was in the neighborhood and wanted to stop by and visit you.”
“Hello! Come on in!” Joe Johnson wasn’t really sure who she was but since he very rarely got a visitor, he was anxious to have anyone over. He stepped back and opened the door wider. Mary Margaret walked in the house.
“Thank you! We use to live over on Glendale Lane. When I was a little girl, my sister and I would play with your grandchildren. We had a chain linked fence in the backyard, and we could see your backyard from our backyard. People didn’t have those wooden fences like they do now. Do you remember my sister, Mr. Johnson? Her name was Faith Marie. I’m Mary Margaret.” Mary Margaret paused for to give him the time to remember. She went over and sat down on the couch.
“Faith was a year older than me.”, she continued. “Everyone said she was a beauty. Big blue eyes, long blond hair. Tall for her age and well developed. Some people even thought she was older than she was, but you knew how old we were, didn’t you? Because we were the same ages as your grandkids, weren’t we? I was 9 and she was 10, remember? Sure, you do! Because you saw us almost every day! But we’ll come back to that later, okay?”
Old man Johnson moved slowly over to the chair opposite her and sat down. He started to say something, paused and then closed his mouth. Mary Margaret wasn’t sure if it was because he couldn’t remember, if he did and was going to try and make an excuse, or if he realized that this wasn’t so much as a social call as he first thought. She sat quietly on the couch, waiting. Waiting for him to say something. The rage and anger in her continued to fester. Would she be able to complete her task? Should she “forgive and forget”? What would her father say to her? What about her sister? When she thought about her Faith Marie and what this man had done to her, how he killed her soul, how she was never the same after that day, she snapped back to reality. “He must be punished!”, she said to herself.
Joe Johnson took a deep breath. Tears welt up in his eyes. Then they disappeared. He reached over to the end table and picked up a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He slowly took one out and with shaky hands, placed it in his mouth. With the other hand he lit the cigarette. With what seemed to be great effort, he took a deep breath, held it for a moment and then exhaled.
He said, “I’ve wondered about you all. Which one would come back to see me? For years, I thought it would be your father. I checked my truck every morning for years. I knew he hated me for what I did to his daughter, your sister. After a year or two, I heard that your family had moved out of the country, so I stopped checking it.”
Johnson took another deep breath. “When I figured she was about 19 or 20 years old, I started worrying again. This time, I thought she’d come back. To confront me. To hurt me or something. After a few years of nothing, I relaxed. I guessed she had moved on with her life and maybe forgot about me.” He took another draw on his cigarette. “I guess I’d forgotten about you.”
“I guess you did.” Mary Margaret replied, and then she sighed. “Can I get us some water? I think we’ll be talking a lot, because I want to understand.” And she smiled. Her anger from just a few moments ago, was gone. Her face had softened.
Johnson looked up at her, standing there. She was rather pretty. For a moment he thought maybe he had selected the wrong girl, Mary Margaret was prettier than her sister. At first, he was worried, but now…now he thought she just wanted to yell at him for something she’d hidden for years. He smiled back at her with yellow smoked stained teeth. “Okay. I’m sure you remember where the kitchen is at.”
Mary Margaret went to the kitchen. It really was like she remembered it. She found the glasses and put water in them from the faucet by the sink.
Mary Margaret reached into her pocket and felt the bag containing the remains of a batch of Angel’s Trumpet flowers. Angel’s Trumpet is a poisonous flower that, when ingested, will cause death. She had taken great care in growing this particular flower…it had been noticed by her neighbors and commented on. It is a beautiful flower, they are woody-stemmed bushes with pendulous flowers that hang like bells. They are prized as decorative additions to the garden because of their elegant flowers. The catch is that all parts of these plants contain dangerous levels of poison and may be fatal if ingested by humans or animals. Mary Margaret had been growing these flowers in her gardens for years. She wanted to ensure that if anyone ever asked, that they would be informed that the reason for the addition to her garden was because of their beautiful addition to the yard.
So, Mary Margaret had cultivated these flowers. She nursed them. She loved them. She took care of them as if they were her children. When the time came, she plucked a dozen of them, took them into her kitchen and ground them down to a dust. She wanted to be able to mix them with water for their full effect.
Mary sighed and took a deep breath. She felt the plastic bag there. She knew the remains of the flower were tucked snugly there. All she had to do was mix it in the water. Her fingers curled around the bag.
“What’s taking so long?”, Johnson called from the other room.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I was lost in thought. I remember all the good times we had here with your grandchildren. Do you still see them?” Mary asked, knowing the answer.
“Not for years.” Johnson responded. He didn’t want to elaborate. He had hoped that she didn’t know what had happened after the “incident” as he liked to call it. Johnson still blamed the young girl for all the troubles in his life. He refused to acknowledge that it was him who attacked her. She was the one who enticed him. With her big blue eyes, young taunt body. Sure, she was only a child, but her eyes were the eyes of a woman. When he was in jail, he consoled himself with the other inmates. They too, felt that they had been deceived by the young girls - 14, 13, 10 year olds…when a girl develops, they believe they aren’t responsible for what happens. At least, that is what they told themselves. But that was then. Today, Johnson had the other girl, the youngest, in his kitchen, making HIM something to drink. He smirked to himself.
Mary returned with 2 glasses of water. Johnson took the closest one to him and pretty much, gulped it down. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s come over me. Could you get me another one?”, he said. Not that he was that thirsty, but he like the way she looked when she walked away. Small waist, tight firm buttocks. “Yeah,” he thought to himself. “I wish it would have been her. It would have been worth the trouble.”
Mary smiled sweetly. She took the glass out of his hand and turned towards the kitchen.
It was all Mary Margaret could do, NOT to explode. The anger, frustration, the HATRED, she felt was right there…right inside her mouth. Mary Margaret thought she was about to choke. But she had to stay calm. She HAD to remain indifferent. She HAD to look like she didn’t know what he had done. That was the only way to get justice for Faith Marie. And she knew, deep in her heart, that she would make things as right as she could for her. Mary Margaret had to take action. She had to make it right!
“Wow.” She thought to herself. “This may be easier than I thought. But what about the pain? Shouldn’t I make him suffer? Shouldn’t he PAY for the damage he did to her? I need to….have to…tell him the real reason I’m here.”…
Mary returned a few moments later. She handed Johnson the second glass of water. She had added ice to it. And a double dose of Angel Trumpet powder.
Johnson took the 2nd glass of water. It has a taste to it. It wasn’t bitter, but it wasn’t sweet either. It just didn’t taste like water. But it was good. He liked it.
She sat down across from Mr. Johnson. She smiled, somewhat demurely...
“You know, Mr. Johnson…” she began…”I was so young when we moved away. I vaguely remember something happening between you and my sister, Faith, but I’m not too sure what that was. Could you explain it to me?”
Johnson sat up a little straighter. He ran his hand over his receding hairline, swiped his tongue over his rotten teeth, and smiled. It was all Mary Margaret could do not to throw up.
“Well, you know…Faith was always a bit promiscuous. She’d prance around here like she owned the world. Sticking her chest out, smiling with that cute little girl smile…batting those baby blues…I remember her dancing out in your backyard. Then she’d start twirling, doing those cheers, jumping up and down. She was tempting me!” He exclaimed. “Sure, they said she was on 10 years old, but I knew! I knew she was older. So when she came into my house, MY HOUSE!, and wanted me to ‘buy Halloween candy!’, I KNEW she wanted me. So I made my move. The next thing I remember, she had hit me over the head with a vase! A VASE! A vase that I had given Madelaine on our 35th anniversary. What the HELL? WHO did she think she was? And she ran out the door. So I grabbed a beer out of the fridge and went to watch a baseball game. Madelaine could clean up the mess later.”
As Johnson finished the glass (Mary knew he wouldn’t listen to her), he handed it back to her for a refill. “Get me another!”, he ordered. “I like it!”
“Oh, Mr. Johnson, I think you’ve had enough! It’s not good for you.’ She replied.
“Why not?” Johnson said.
“Well, while I appreciate your side” Mary paused…”Actually, I don’t. You see UNCLE JOE,” she said with loathing…”I remember EVERYTHING. I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday. I remember Faith Marie running into our house. I remember the tears. I remember the fear in her eyes. I remember, YES REMEMBER, LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY – the Police Station, the HOSPITAL, the cries of my sister. I remember the smells, the voices, ALL OF IT. LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY! So, you – YOU don’t get to twist the truth. And now,” she said with her voice softening…”now, you get to pay the price for what you did.”
“Do you know why I am here, Mr. Johnson?”, Mary Margaret began. “I’m here to resolve some issues. You see, you changed my life. You changed my family’s lives. Your actions have had consequences. Serious, life changing consequences. Those were consequences that trickled down over three generations. You destroyed my family. My father suffered, my mother suffered, I suffered and Faith Marie, - my sister! - May God Rest her Soul, suffered the most. Even her children suffered from your actions! And they never met you. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”, Mary paused to catch her breath. “And please, don’t try and tell me that it was an accident. Don’t tell me that you suffered and that your family suffered. For two reasons – one, I don’t care. And two, your suffering and your family’s suffering can not even begin to compare to ours. I know your wife divorced you. I know your kids kept your grandchildren away from you afterwards. I know you went to jail – for six months! Big deal! But those were the days when people would say, “Don’t think about it. Block it from your mind and you’ll be okay. You’re still ALIVE!” Well, yes, my family was alive, but you killed so much of what was inside of us. So now that I’m here, to face you, to render judgement on you, what do you have to say for yourself now, Mr. Johnson? What do you say?”
Joe Johnson realized, maybe a bit too late, that yes – he had chosen the wrong sister. He abused the weaker one, the one who couldn’t, or wouldn’t fight back. But the fighter, the one who would seek revenge – she was standing in his living room…and he didn’t know what she was about to do. And she was angry. She was there for the revenge. It had been building for years. And now it was about to be unleashed on him. In full fury. Joe Johnson realized at that moment, that he was in trouble. Serious trouble. Deadly, serious trouble.
Mary Margaret pulled herself together. She took a few deep breaths.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Johnson. I’m here to talk to you.”, she lied.
“So you think a 9-10-year-old girl was a vixen?” she began. “I know, you know…” she began…”You know what? I’m done. I’m tired of worrying about how many others there were. I’m tired of thinking about how you need to pay for your actions. I’m tired of thinking of whatever lame-ass excuse you may try to come up with for your actions. I’M DONE. SO, let ME tell you what is gong to happen. And I’m going to tell you something else. I’m going to tell you how little I care about you.”
Joe Johnson knew he was in trouble. “Let me explain…”, he began.
“Nope. Not gonna hear it.”, Mary Margaret cut him off.
“You basically murdered my sister that day. The damage you inflicted was permanent. She never recovered. She tried. She tried hard. She did everything she could to overcome what you did to her. But nothing ever worked. The spark in her eyes, the light? Her beautiful shine in her eyes? That was gone that day. You totally fucked her up. It took years, many, many years…but it finally killed her. And now, it’s time for you to pay for what you did.”
Mary Margaret sat down on the couch. Joe Johnson sat back in his chair. His eyes were heavy. His heart felt a little funny. It was hard to breathe. It was like his heart was racing, but he hadn’t done anything. His fingertips were going numb. “What the hell is happening to me?”, he thought.
“How are you feeling, Joe?” Mary Margaret asked. Her tone was flat. Almost like she was concerned, but not really.
Joe took a deep breath. It didn’t seem to help.
“You see, Joe. Can I call you Joe?” she began. Without pausing, she continued, “Anyway, over the years, I’ve taken an interest in gardening. You know, pretty flowers in the yard. That sort of thing. But over time, I came to understand that although pretty, flowers, at least certain ones, can be deadly. And you…have not only ingested one of them… you asked for seconds! Thank you for that, by the way.” Mary said.
“What I’ve found interesting, is that the flower you’ve ingested is called “Angel’s Trumpet”. It looks innocent, but in reality…it’ll kill you. There is no way to get around it. You’d have to have gone to the hospital a long time ago.
Can you feel it? Is it hard to breathe? How about that pressure on your chest? Does it hurt? Do you want to cry?”
“I think I’m trying to be polite here, but I really don’t care. You killed my sister that day – it just took years for her to actually die. So, I’m here to make things right.”
Mary Margaret got up off the couch. She picked up the glasses and went into the kitchen.
She carefully washed them in the sink, dried them and then put them away in the cupboard. Joe Johnson couldn’t move from the chair. There was a bit of drool on his chin…his eyes looked frantic. He couldn’t raise his arms. Everything was heavy. In his mind, he could think, rationalize…but although his mind willed him to move, his body wasn’t having any of it. He just sat there.
Once Mary Margaret was done in the kitchen, she returned to the living room. She took a rag and wiped down everything she had touched…the coffee table, the doorknob, even the front of the door where she knocked…and then she turned to Johnson.
“I’ve thought about staying here and watching you die…but that wouldn’t give me any satisfaction. I want you to die alone, without anyone here to help you, anyone here to care about you. I want you to die here alone. Scared. Knowing that you’re going to burn in Hell for what you’ve done. There will be no redemption, no salvation, no forgiveness. Just you. You and your memories. I hope it burns, because that’s what you deserve.”
Mary Margaret reached over and picked up her purse. She took her gloves out of and put them on. She wondered if she should say more to him. His last moments..something profound for him to think about as he gasps for breath. She looked back at Johnson, trying hard to breathe…and she turned towards the door.
“Fuck You. Fuck You and All You Are. May You Never Find Peace.” She said and walked away. She reached the door and walked out.
As she got to her car she thought about what she had done. What was this feeling she was having? Was this remorse? Was it guilt? No, she said to herself as she shook her head and smiled. It dawned on her that the word she was looking for was relief. “I should have done this years ago.”, was all she said.
Joe Johnson died that day. While not a total surprise due to his age and health issues, the coroner thought it was a bit unusual. But not enough to do anything about it.
A few days later, Johnson’s death was noted in the newspaper. No one claimed the body. He was buried in a pauper’s grave. No one came. No one cared.
© 2019 Wendy Wicker