by Michaela von Schweinitz , 2627 words

Nice to meet you Ms. Smyth.” Langdon, the burly logger, smiled and offered Alice his elbow. He was a stranger who appeared out of nowhere, yet he seemed to understand her. Without hesitation Alice put her hand on his arm and together they walked towards the house as if it was theirs. It was the very house in which police cadet Dwayne Schwartz had hidden the firearm he had taken away from Willoughby. Going up the steps Alice leaned a bit more on Langdon’s arm. Feeling his strength and steadiness, Alice allowed herself to depend on the security he seemed to offer.

Inside the house they headed for the living room where Alice wanted to sit down and get to know Langdon. As she passed a mirror hanging in the hall way, she got a glimpse of her reflection and stopped. Her hand slipped off of Langdon’s arm who continued towards the sofa. Alice did not pay attention to Langdon who had reached the sofa and bent down to retrieve the rifle. She seemed frozen in place staring into the scared eyes of her reflection. Alice did not like this doubtful look, undermining her newly discovered feelings for Langdon, questioning her taste in men. Alice turned away to see Langdon returning from the living room with a rifle. Is he going hunting with his friends, leaving her already? Behind her she could see the open door in the reflection of the mirror. She did not care about the commotion outside, only for the tender feelings inside of her.

Amy had seen Alice enter the house. Thinking Alice was safe inside Amy turned her attention to her daughter Meghan. Was Meghan unaware of the danger she put herself in by getting so close to Willoughby?

“This is all your fault.” Amy hissed and gave Phyllis a start who hadn’t noticed her daughter coming up behind her. Feeling guilty, Phyllis didn’t respond. What was there to say? How could she ever right the wrong she had done to her daughter? She wondered, if given a chance, would Willoughby had been a good husband to her daughter Amy? A good father to her granddaughters?

Amy was right. It was all her fault that Meghan grew up without a father and that Alice got lost. Phyllis should have taken better care of Amy, keeping her close, making her feel trusted and safe. Instead, Ted had convinced her that she did the right thing. Denying her other granddaughter. Pretending she didn’t exist. How could she have done such a thing? Looking back Phyllis couldn’t make sense of what so many years ago seemed to have been her only option. It hadn’t felt as if she even had a choice. How could she have lost control over her own life without even realizing it? As these thoughts raced through Phyllis’s head the situation on the lawn spun out of control.

“This is all your fault!” This time Amy yelled her accusation. Meghan looked up in time to see her mother sprinting towards her with a vengeance. She let go off Willoughby to guard herself. But Meghan was not who Amy was going for. Amy’s fists rained down on Willoughby hitting him on his head and back. He recoiled and Amy shook him as she screamed guttural sounds of pain and anger. For years Amy thought Meghan’s father was dead. Since he’d shown up alive, all she wished for was that he was dead. How could a man she once loved be so menacing, cruel and full of hate towards her and her family? What had she ever done to him? Amy had thought about how her life could have been if she had him by her side. Now she knew her life would have been a nightmare. The very nightmare she was experiencing right now. Now, it was too late to go back to ignorance. To believing that running the diner together with her mother and her daughter was all she wanted. To thinking that this was the life she chose and that this was what happiness meant. She had given Meghan all her love and now she knew it wasn’t enough. She had felt the emptiness in her heart and understood that it wasn’t her heart that gave her trouble. Her heart was big and it knew what was missing. Her heart had been craving, not fortune, but to love and care for her twin daughters. She wasn’t sick. This man was sick and Amy wanted nothing more than for Willoughby to disappear from her life. To leave her and her daughters alone. It made her sick that he didn’t seem to mind the beating. He didn’t seem to feel anything. He didn’t even defend himself. Amy’s fury grew with every hit she landed. Her body found a valve and finally released all its tension. This was an exercise of healing. An exorcism in that each blow lightened the burden that Amy had felt as a mother. The burden wasn’t the child she had. The secret her mother kept from her was the burden. The lies they told her about the day she gave birth to her twin daughters. That burden she unloaded, one hit after another.

Meghan had struggled to get to her feet and away from her mother. She didn’t recognize this woman who had never laid a hand on her. Where did she get her strength, Meghan wondered. Her mother, as she knew her, had never worked out. The only thing she ever saw her mother lift was a paper receipt, pushing it on the food order spike. Meghan wanted to pull her mother away from the man who obviously felt deserving of her beating. But she fought against her compulsion to help. Was it her duty as a daughter to keep her mother from expressing her feelings? Who was she to interfere in this relationship which unfolded in front of the entire town. She was an English Major, not a therapist. Meghan decided to stay out of this. Nobody was expecting her to do anything anyway. Dr. Schwartz, Dwayne, Ted and Phyllis, everyone around was staring at Amy. Nobody moved in on Willoughby. If it was anyone’s duty it would be the police. With the thought of calling the police, Meghan noticed Officer Pfeffer. He had already arrived at the scene, weapon drawn. But like everyone else he didn’t move. Why was everyone acting as if this was nothing more than a school fight? Somebody has to do something, Meghan thought, when a shot rang out. The echo reverberated through everyone’s head.

Dwayne had seen Alice enter the house. Only now he made the connection to Willoughby’s rifle he had hidden under the sofa. She must have found it. Damn, what did she do with it? Dwayne sprinted towards the house and was the first to enter with Meghan close behind him. He stopped cold in the hallway and Meghan had to push him out of the way to see what was going on. Alice, rifle in hand, had her back turned towards them. Meghan’s heart skipped a beat and her eyes widened when Alice began to turn. Before her stood a young woman looking like her with a smile Meghan recognized from her mirror at home. A smile she gave herself whenever she felt good about herself. Meghan was clear about one thing; this was not a mirror she was looking into. These were the eyes of her sister Alice. But what made her smile? This smile was not the grin of a crazy person and no blood was anywhere. Well, there was a tiny drop of blood on Alice’s cheek. While Meghan took all this in, Dwayne took the rifle out of Alice’s hand.

“I killed her,” Alice said with the satisfaction of someone having done a good job.

“Who did you kill?” Officer Pfeffer, a bit out of breath, had caught up with them.

“Her!” Alice pointed over her shoulder. “She wasn’t worth keeping around.”

“She shot into the mirror, Officer.” Dwayne explained holding the rifle up. Officer Pfeffer acknowledged him with a nod as the glass shards crunched under his boots. While Officer Pfeffer searched for the projectile, Dwayne couldn’t take his eyes off of the twins.
Meghan spoke to her sister in a low voice. “Hey sis, good to see you.” Her heart opened up a bit more with every step she made towards Alice. This is what it feels like to have a sister, Meghan thought and tears rolled down her cheek.

When she was close enough to reach her, it was Alice who raised her hand and caught a tear from Meghan’s cheek. Meghan felt the tenderness of her touch and watched Alice put the salty fingertip in her mouth. Now Meghan reached for Alice’s cheek, wiped the drop of blood off and put it in her mouth. Alice smiled. “Sisters forever.”

The hallway darkened. Dr. Schwartz, followed by Ted, appeared in the doorway and blocked the daylight. When he saw Dwayne with the rifle in his hand Dr. Schwartz stepped forward which gave Ted a full view of the scene. With Meghan and Alice unharmed and Officer Pfeffer at work saving tracks, Ted shifted his focus to Dwayne. What was he doing with the rifle? Ted couldn’t make sense of Dwayne’s expression as he was facing Dr. Schwartz. What did the doctor want from Dwayne? Then he heard Dr. Schwartz say “My son.” Ted knew little about the doctor but he knew that Dwayne had an inferiority complex. Seeing him straighten his shoulders and tighten his grip on the rifle, Ted feared Dwayne might do something stupid. Yet, Dr. Schwartz had more to say. “I know I should have said this more often. I hope it’s not too late for you to hear: I’m proud of you son.” Dr. Schwarz grabbed Dwayne’s shoulders in an awkward mix of clapping him on his back and giving him a hug.

Confused by his father’s affection Dwayne became aware of the rifle between them. As he moved his arm to the side, he felt its weight lifted. Ted had taken the rifle out of his hand. Dwayne didn’t know what else to do and so he patted his father’s back. Encouraged Dr. Schwartz pulled him into a bear hug.

Despite the gun shot Phyllis didn’t move. She was too old for this, she decided. She finally gave in to the fact that she had lost control over her life. What kind of life had this been? A false life, a make-believe-everything-is-okay life. She had failed.

Her daughter Amy was still beating Willoughby like the scumbag he was. But Phyllis remained standing still on the lawn. She was unable to do anything about the things that were going on in her mind. But then she saw Ted coming out of the house with the rifle. Phyllis had an idea that brought her back to life. While Amy seemed not yet finished with Willoughby, Phyllis wanted this to end. She approached Ted who was studying the rifle in his hand. That’s when Phyllis recognized the weapon. “Ted, isn’t this your old rifle?”

Ted seemed surprised but nodded. “I think so too.”

“It’s such a beautiful piece. I thought you had taken it to an auction or something.”

“Did I? I don’t remember. It feels weird to hold it after all these years.”

“Let me see.” Phyllis asked for the rifle and Ted put it in her hands. She weighed it and sniffed the smell of the shot fired. To Ted’s surprise she handled the rifle as if it had always been hers. Phyllis checked if any ammunition remained in the magazine. Indeed, there was. “Great,” talking to Ted over her shoulder Phyllis rested the butt of the rifle on her hip. “Let’s see if we can put this to good use.”

Ted couldn’t help but think of Annie Oakley. He fell in love with Phyllis all over again. She was a woman who took matters into her own hands.

Phyllis lifted the weapon and fired.

She had aimed into the gras before her feet. “Stop this nonsense right this second!” she yelled. “Or I’ll shoot you. Both!”

Another shot brought Amy back to her senses and on to her feet.

Stepping away from Willoughby she yelled, “By all means, shoot the bastard!” Her face red and swollen from the rage that coursed through her body.

“Nobody is shooting anyone.” Officer Pfeffer voice boomed from the house. With Dwayne on his heels, he was marching towards Ted and Phyllis and declared, “I need this. Thank you.” He took the rifle from Phyllis and handed it to his cadet Dwayne. “Make sure nobody gets their hands on it.” With that he left Dwayne to handle the evidence and marched over to Willoughby. “Stay down. You are under arrest. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Officer Pfeffer had always wanted to say the Miranda Warning. He knew it by heart. Willoughby didn’t move. Was he dead? Officer Pfeffer stepped closer. “Did you hear what I said?” A slight nod confirmed that he was still alive. “Put your hands behind your back.” As Willoughby complied, Officer Pfeffer kneeled on his back and shackled him. “Now get up.” Grabbing his arm to get him on his feet Officer Pfeffer felt he had it all under control. The people of this town could see that he was in charge and that nothing got past him. “That’s all for today. Now go home, folks.” To his surprise the people didn’t follow his order. Instead, they came out of their homes and closed in on him and his prisoner.

Phyllis announced, “This is a fundraiser, people are welcome to stay as long as they like.” Amy wanted to know, “Where are you going to keep him?” Alice and Meghan, elbows hooked and giggling, came out of the house and joined their family. Everyone was taking stock of the similarities between them. Their youth and beauty were without question the most obvious assets the two had in common. Amy couldn’t believe the change she saw in Alice. Her face had the glow of a woman in love. Meghan leaning on Alice’s shoulder, suppressed another giggle coming up. She raised her voice and declared, “Mom, Alice wants to tell you something.” Meghan’s lost twin had been looking for her family all her life. Now that she found them everyone wanted to hear what Alice had to say. But when Alice opened her mouth, her words made no sense.

“I am going to marry Langdon and have my own family.”

Worried about the new development, Amy stepped closer to Alice. “May I ask who Langdon is?”

Was it possible that Alice’s smile could illuminate her face even more? With a shrug of her free shoulder Alice stated with pride, “He’s from Alaska. That’s where he’ll take me. Isn’t he gorgeous?” And with that she leaned her head on Langdon’s shoulder. Only she knew he was there. Alice could feel his arm around her making her feel safe and loved. Meghan raised an eyebrow towards her mom and nodded in Willoughby’s direction. Amy understood this to mean that Alice and Willoughby both were hopeless nutcases.

“Of course, you have my blessings, Alice.” Amy opened her arms to give her daughter a hug. From behind her she heard a sniffle and a cough and then Willoughby Smyth’s voice. “You have my fucking blessings too. But, Langdon,” Willoughby shrugged his shoulders, arms behind his back “Buddy, you have to pay for the wedding.”