The Skull in the Drawer

The Skull in the Drawer

A Story by Brea
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Just a typical day for your average mom.

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SKULL IN THE DRAWER

By Brea Viragh

 

 

Fortunately, the skull was there after all, under a sweatshirt in the exact same place she left it. Maggie Bracewell wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead.  The dream had been nothing more than that-a dream. 

She’d found it impossible to sleep. Just as she did every night, she would lie there with her mind full and her thoughts nipping at each other. Her left foot itched, her right hip ached, and surely she could fall asleep if only she positioned her head exactly so.

That was just the beginning. Then dreams came, often sublime, unnatural colors and nightmarish images. Not necessarily bad but far from the fantasies of naked Channing Tatum that she yearned for.

At least the head was there.

Maggie picked the tiny shrunken thing up from its place among the old college shirts, wiping the mangled strands of hair away from a hideously puckered face. The scent of embalming fluid and detergent hit her and knocked any lingering remnants of sleep to the side as she cradled the grapefruit-sized bundle.

The skull, a present from her mother on a spur of the moment vacation to the Amazon, had been the highlight of many Halloween parties for the past fifteen years. 

Oh yes, it’s real. Want to touch it?

She always told her daughter that the head brought good luck.  In fact, Maggie found just the opposite to be true, but sentimentality kept her from tossing the thing in the garbage. That and what she kept hidden in the hollowed depths.

     She placed the skull, affectionately known as Norman, back in the drawer between UCLA and Berkley. Although Maggie was infinitely proud of her little shrunken bad luck charm, there was no need for it to be out in the open staring at her. Norman was the stuff of bad dreams among the festoons of acquired vacation paraphernalia on her dresser.

Maggie crawled back into bed, the covers coming up over her head and her mind satisfied that all was well. Then the doorbell rang.

“You have to be kidding me.”

     Begrudgingly, she glanced again at the clock, frustration swelling and threatening to burst. Those red numbers blinked a blinding seven a.m. and through the curtains the deep blue of the night sky had begun to lighten. Soon the clouds would cluster on the horizon in their elated elevations as the day began and work beckoned.

     With a growl she swung her legs over the side of the bed and pulled a robe over the indecent sleep wear. The shrill tinkling sounded again, a second and third time.

     “Hold your damn horses!” Maggie shouted as she padded down the hallway. It took longer than expected to maneuver the stairs and reach the front door.

     There was Bruce, standing in the budding shadows of the verandah and watching the play of emotions across her face.

He blinked in surprise. “Maggie! I swear, girl, you never look so beautiful as you do in the morning.”

     She grabbed the white paper-wrapped package from his hands and opened the door a tad wider for him to step through.  “Just because you pepper your house calls with flattery doesn’t mean you get a larger tip, Bruce.  Come on in- I’ll get my wallet.”  

     The butcher closed the door and followed her down the long, narrow hallway toward the galley kitchen.

     “I know I said I enjoyed the perks of delivery, but I for one did not realize you’d be coming at the butt crack of dawn, buddy.”

     Maggie shrugged out of the last dregs of drowsy and considered her kitchen drawers. Which one held her money, again? The words ‘neat’ and ‘organized’ were certainly never used in conjunction with her name.

     “You know me, girl.” Bruce smiled. “Always willing to please.”

     “Yeah? Well next time it would please me if you came about two hours later.”

     “Aw, don’t tell me you were sleeping.”

     “Not sure what else you would want to do at seven in the morning, but if you have any better ideas I would love to hear them.”

Maggie crossed to the coffee maker and pressed a button, listening to the chugs and grunts as the mechanical miracle began to heat its brew.

     She gestured. “Can I offer you something?”

     “You betcha. I never turn down an offer of coffee from a handsome woman,” Bruce said with a wink. He’d dressed to impress in a starched white shirt and neatly pressed khakis. The buttons stretched to their limits over a belly that had seen its fair share of second helpings.

     Maggie grimaced. “Spare me until I’ve had my first cup, will you?”

     Bruce pulled a chair out from under the table and folded his frame against the wood, crossing his leg discreetly. They waited in relative silence as the pot bubbled and filled.

Maggie brought two mismatched porcelain cups down from the highest shelf and poured them full. “Here. Take this and give me a minute to compose myself.” She drew the lapels of her robe closer.

     “Thanks. How’s that daughter of yours?” Bruce asked in the way of friendly conversation.

     “The same as usual. Going through those rebellious teenage years.”

     “Still seeing the Stratton boy?”

     Maggie sighed. “Unfortunately.”

 “I’m tellin’ you, in nine months you’ll be having a grandbaby whether you believe me or not,” Bruce replied.

     She had taken a sip of coffee, which proceed to vacate her mouth in a most unpleasant manner when he spoke. Her lips prepared to sputter indignantly at the statement although no words formed.

     Bruce wiped the mess from his face with a tissue, clenched tightly in his gloved hands.

     “You might not want to think it’s true, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes!  Lacy and Ted Stratton have been down at the river past couple months, almost every night.”  He looked pleased with himself and sipped knowingly from his mug.

Maggie hated those kinds of people, so secure in their knowledge of other’s life and secretly thrilled that the unsuspecting person had no clue.  In that moment, she wanted to land a good solid punch on his cheek despite the incredible discounts he gave her on local grain-fed beef and pork. Then she remembered the fat chops on the counter and restrained herself.

     “You must be joking.  My daughter is only fourteen!” To cover her shock, she took a gulp of java, determined not to choke again. The scalding liquid burned a trail down her throat to her gut but she kept it down.  “She’s too smart to do anything like that.  Do fourteen year olds even have a sex drive?”

     Bruce stared at her with those large brown eyes.  “Is that a rhetorical question?” Leather soled shoes tapped under the table, a nervous habit. “Bathroom break.”

     “It’s the first door on the…oh, there he goes.”

     Astonished into compliance, Maggie watched in silence as the pear shaped man hustled as fast as his legs could carry him.

     She was glad for the excuse to break down for a moment, unleashing a tidal wave of pent up irritation. Sitting at the table alone with her thoughts, most of which were unpleasant, Maggie found her fist clenching of its own accord and slamming down on the woodfollowed by a string of curse words.

     “Lacy is not having sex. I refuse to believe a word!”

First came to mind an image of Maggie with her favorite cooking pan, bringing it down on her daughter’s head and knocking the hormones out of her.  Then she imagined how nice it would be to move to India and forget about all the s**t.

     “And how dare he come into my house and tell me about my daughter. Nine months, hogwash.”

     She was still thinking about the potential call from Child Protective Services when Bruce returned a short while later, holding her shrunken head and a pair of lace panties in neon yellow. 

“Maggie, I knew you were a freak but I never imaged this!”

     She sprung to action on spring loaded calves, brows drawn togethr. “What do you think you’re doing with that?”

     “Funny thing, Mags.” Bruce tossed the head back and forth between those kid skin lined palms. “There’s so much talk in the air. Small towns, you know.”

     “Give that back!” She sprung for the head and knocked against the counter when Bruce stepped adeptly to the side.

     “Your daughter has been sayin’ some pretty strange things, you know. Things about skulls and dollars and family fortune. Now I hear all this nonsense from Ted and suddenly it doesn’t sound like just tall tales anymore.”

     Maggie fought to control her gaze. “What about them? Teenagers like to make up stories. It was a bedtime story my mother used to tell Lacy and nothing more.”

     “I know that. Trust me, I’ve got two teens at home. Sometimes I can’t believe the words that come out of their mouths.” Bruce chuckled and kept the shrunken head at a convenient arm’s length. “But this time I don’t think I can brush it off as false. If you know what I mean.”

     “Of course there had to be more to this visit than meat. With prices too good to be true.” She could have kicked herself.

     Focus, Maggie reprimanded. You can never let them see you sweat. She swiped her hands beneath her armpits to remove said perspiration and set Bruce with a fixed glare that was practiced over years of single parenthood and potent enough to peel paint.

     Bruce used his free hand to swing the lace thong in wide lasso that belonged in a spaghetti western instead of the aging kitchen. “Oh no, the discounts are because of that fine a*s, which I assume looks as good as honey glazed with undies like this.”

     Her body bent awkwardly as she strove to keep her buns from that lecherous view. She tried to concentrate on what needed to be done to get that shrunken head back in her drawer and out of Bruce’s mind. Of course, once the man caught a whiff of her mother’s famed inheritance there would be no stopping him.

     Stories always abounded when the rich left a legacy, especially one where the bank records were not easily traced. Maggie knew the truth, had kept it in her back pocket for a decade even as she used the funds to replenish her account from time to time.

     She locked eyes with Norman’s double X stitching and promised to keep him safe.

     “Underwear aside, you had no business traipsing through my house.” The reprimand was sharp.

     Bruce shook his head. “I need the cash and you have it. Simple as that.”

     Maggie looked for something, anything she could use to catch him off guard. The closest item to her just happened to be those fat lamb chops. She took a chance and Frisbee-flung the white package across space.

     It slapped Bruce square in the chest before falling to the linoleum with a plop.

     “Turning against me isn’t going to help,” he told her. “I’ve gotten what I came for and I’ll be on my way shortly. Damn, this is good coffee.”

     Bruce drained the dregs of the cup and nearly lapped at the rim, knowing full well he had the girth and weight needed to keep Maggie from reacquiring her prized possession.

     “You can’t take it from me. I won’t let you.”

     Where was that damned frying pan now?

     “Sorry Mags. I already have. And I can assure you this money is going to a good cause. My business has been failing and I’ve got two boys approaching college age.”

“How can your business fail? Everyone loves your product!”

“Alright, fine, its gambling debts. But it doesn’t matter anymore thanks to this windfall! I don’t know how you managed to stuff so much into this tiny package, but I thank you for it.”

     Maggie remembered her mother’s last words, the ones she hadn’t told Lacy for fear of what she would think of the old woman. There were secrets in their family. Those skeletons left in closets until they were nothing more than ash.

     “Maggie Rose,” the elder Mrs. Bracewell had said, “I left it with him.”

     “Left what with who, Mamma?”

     “Everything you’ll need to get by. I took it out years ago and put it where no one could find it. He’s watched over it all this time.”

     Then the old woman had chuckled with breath released from her body like the shifting of boulders. Maggie could have sworn she saw dust in the air as it sparkled in the light of the sun.

     She’d been thirty, disappointed with the way her life turned out and raising a child on her own. Money problems took her from worried to depressed and kept her mired there in the doldrums.

     “Momma, you aren’t making sense.” Maggie fought the urge to scream. “Can you please just tell me where the rest of your accounts are? I haven’t been able to make heads or tails of your bank statements, the bond certificates are gone, and it’s starting to freak me out a bit, I’ll be honest with you.”

     Mrs. Bracewell’s empathy still clung to her in those dying moments. With the last of her strength she lifted a hand from the sheet and set it down heavily on Maggie’s own. “You go talk to Norman. He will set you straight.”

     It was only the beginning of what Maggie considered a beautiful friendship. One that had seen her through those dark times after her mother’s passing and helped ease the financial burdens in the months to come.

     Of course, Norman turned out to be a fickle friend, bestowing as much monetary security as unfortunate events. She cashed in a single antique bond and paid off the car loan only to hit a deer the following week. Moved into a new house without a mortgage to find out the inspection missed a faulty roof and termite damage.

     “Now, if you will just sit down, I’ll be on my way.” Bruce bestowed her with a wink. “Rest assured I’ll put this money to good use. Much better than moldering away inside this nasty thing.”

     Bruce turned the face toward him and shuddered. “How do you even sleep at night, girl? Damn!”

     Maggie weighed her options then before a sweet voice interrupted her thoughts.

     “Mom?”

     Lacy stood in the doorway rubbing sleep from her eyes. “What’s going on?”

     Bruce clucked his tongue. “Now this really is unfortunate.”

     Her daughter’s arrival galvanized Maggie into action. “Lacy, run!” She demanded.

     Bruce focused his attention on the newcomer as gears clicked and whirred to life in his head, wondering just what he had to do to sneak out of the house unfettered without risking a second life.

     “What?” The teen stood in the doorway without the foggiest recollection of what was asked of her.

     Bruce took two large steps forward just as Maggie swung around for the kitchen chair. Without thinking, she lunged ahead and slammed the wood down on his shoulders. The legs cracked with a brittleness she would expect of kindling and not her grandmothers antique dining set.

     “What do you think you’re doing?” Bruce whirled, his attention back on Maggie as Lacy began to scream. The attack only agitated him instead of bringing him to his knees.

     “You give me back my head!” Maggie braced herself for impact as Bruce swiped his arm in a discus arc. The beefy part of his bicep slapped her shoulder and sent Maggie careening into the counter.

     “The money is mine!” He raged.

     Lacy continued to shriek in shock as the two heavyweights went about trying to best the other. Maggie sent an apology to the coffee gods for what she was about to do and ripped the appliance from the wall.

     Channeling her inner Amazon, she brought the entire conglomeration down on Bruce’s head and watched him, at last, crumple to the ground.

     “Lacy,” she gasped, “that’s enough.”

     The girl’s howling ceased with the finality of a snoozed alarm clock the moment Maggie crossed the room to place a hand on her shoulder. “Stop your screaming.”

     “Oh my god. Oh my God!” Lacy could not catch her breath.

     “Not god. Bruce. And Norman.”

     “Is he dead?”

     “Possibly.” Maggie let her head fall back on her shoulders and once more closed the gaping edges of her robe.

     “What is your butcher doing possibly dead on the kitchen floor?” Glistening eyes begged for an honest answer.

     “Just go upstairs and get my bag. The big one.”

***

     The surprise from her impromptu attack had not yet reached the conscious part of Maggie’s brain as she ran on autopilot. Grabbing Lacy by the hand and dragging the suitcase on wheels with the other, Maggie navigated the slight stone path down to the picket fence and ignored the scratches of the flowering lilacs.

     She was not sure if she remembered everything they needed to start over. Hell, it wasn’t exactly a plan-able occasion.

     She hustled her daughter into the passenger seat of the old blue Peugot and went about the arduous task of lifting the suitcase into the trunk.

     “Bruce, I swear, if I had the means you would be in five bags instead of one,” she threatened the cotton as muscles bunched and sweat poured anew.

     The weather reporters had been right for once. It was a hot one with temperatures promising to reach the upper eighties despite the early hour.

     She would have abandoned the comatose butcher had she been a lesser woman. However, she refused to be implicated in a crime that was, in her mind, not her fault.

     Once the suitcase was loosely filed in the trunk and her heart threatened to burst from exertion, Maggie slammed the lid shut and returned to the driver’s side.

     The engine reluctantly rolled over, gears grinding together. Wheels rolled over loose sand and gravel to eventually churn free on open asphalt. Mother and daughter surged from the driveway in a grey cloud of smoke and, with a final backfire, peeled down the street.

Maggie took the first fork in the road without a care as to her direction.

The hum of the car engine was a steady pulse in the background along with the thump-thump of the tires along the uneven road.  Lacy huddled in the seat next to her, sobbing quietly. Her face, sodden and tear stained with nose running, sought her mother’s immediately.

     “Momma, what are we going to do?”

     “Didn’t I tell you to shut up for a minute so I could think?” 

Lacy had always been prone to drama since the day she’d burst squalling from the womb. Maggie tried to focus on that instead of the pool of blood where she’d hit Bruce. She recalled, with a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach, the convergence of glass pot and sensitive mortal flesh. The hitching of his chest until it lay still.

At least she assumed it was still. So hard to tell on a man that size and she hadn’t exactly stopped to check for a pulse.

This was how crazy people felt, she mused. Life switched from bad to worse in a matter of seconds although she’d remembered the important things: the bags packed with whatever belongings they could grab within minutes, Bruce stuffed discretely in an old suitcase of her mother’s, rattling along in the trunk. And money, of course.

Maggie spared a moment to pat the bulge in her coat pocket as the reassuring weight of Norman registered.

Wherever they were headed they needed to get there quickly. Didn’t she say that India would be a nice place to live?  Did they have baggage checks there?

     “What about Ted?” Lacy asked wetly.

     “Forget about Ted; he’s the one that got us into this mess in the first place. Him and his big mouth.”

     Lacy stared at her with red rimmed eyes.  Maggie couldn’t tell what she was thinking, or how she felt.  How would a little girl feel being betrayed by the person who claimed to love you? 

“I’m sorry, Mom.  I’m so sorry!  I didn’t know he was going to tell anyone about the story.”

     Maggie reached a hand out, running it over the strands of hair so like her own in color and texture.  “I should have told you everything from the beginning, sweetie, instead of letting you think it was a fairy tale.  The money, your Grandmother-I just didn’t think you were ready to hear the truth.”

     “Maybe I wasn’t,” Lacy replied, sniffling.  “But I am now.  I’m still a little shocked about Bruce, though.  I mean, who would have suspected…”

     “Hush. I don’t want to hear another word.”  Maggie turned the radio on, switching through stations until she landed on the golden oldies, The Chordettes belting out their need for the Sandman to bring sweet dreams. 

     Hopefully the miles would convey clarity and a respectable distance from the would-be crime on her kitchen floor. Perhaps Maggie would eventually get to a place where she didn’t have to think about Bruce at all.

“This is crazy,” she murmured.

“What I want to know,” Norman piped up from her pocket, “is what he was doing in your underwear drawer in the first place?”

 

THE END


© 2016 Brea



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Brea
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AUU
Quirky little story.

I thought it was well written, but I didn't really understand Bruce's motivation. He seemed antagonistic for the sake of having an antagonist.



Posted 1 Year Ago



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Added on May 27, 2016
Last Updated on May 27, 2016
Tags: skull, shrunken head, money, adventure, butcher

Author

Brea
Brea

Floyd, VA



About
I am a poet, short story author, and aspiring novelist. When not writing, I'm likely binge watching HGTV, planning my next home renovation project, or annoying others by threatening to put them in my .. more..

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