Excerpt from “The Mercy Kill”
I was fifteen and staring hard down the long barrel of summer. My dad had just left my mom for another woman, and this hit me like a bag of bricks. It was proof positive that I didn’t know, couldn’t know, anyone. Not really. Not on the inside.
Every night after dinner I’d shoot free throws in the driveway. My mom would come out the front door trailing Rex—a dog we’d owned for at least ten years, since the days when my parents’ marriage was solid. “Joe, doll,” she’d say, “please remember to open the garage when you play ball.” She’d thumb toward a cracked window on the garage door, one of several I’d broken shooting baskets that summer. “I’ll have to ask John Parsons to fix that.” John Parsons lived five doors down, and my mom walked with him and his dogs religiously, every night as soon as the dishes were done. She had since March, when my dad moved out.
My dad was never much of a honey-doer, so our place had always looked sort of neglected. Now it was worse. Recently, though, John Parsons had offered to help my mom around the house. “Anything you need, Mary Anne,” he’d told her. “You call me.” And when the battery in her VW Rabbit died, she called him. When the garage door went off the rails, she called him.
As my mom and Rex walked up John’s driveway, he and his two fat beagle-mixes would be waiting on the porch. From there they’d head down to the ball fields at the elementary. When she’d come home an hour or more later, I’d still be shooting baskets, though it was too dark to see the rim. “Oh, boy,” she’d say, smiling as she let Rex loose in the front yard. “Didn’t we have fun?”
I’d drop the ball in the corner of the garage by the rake and the shovel, neither of which had been used in a long, long time. I’d shut the garage door, which, thanks to John, now went up and down ten times smoother than my jump shot. And I’d follow my mom and Rex inside, a little bit happy because she seemed so happy, and a little bit grateful because John had reached out to her, to us.
What I didn’t know, couldn’t know, was that my mom and John Parsons would walk the dogs together nearly every night for three years. And they’d keep doing it even after John was charged with murder.