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Home Alone


Harry Buschman

"That's the Boyle place over there. If you look sharp ... back there at the corner of the house you can see the old lady on her knees by the dahlias? That's old Lady Boyle."

"She's lived alone in that place for nearly forty years except for the woman who comes in every afternoon to cook her supper. Sometimes you see her wandering around down town -- in the yard goods store or the post office, looking at people close up, as though she was looking for somebody, other times you'll see her out there in her garden. But mostly she's inside, alone, doing God knows what."

"She's lived in Twin Oaks all her life -- grew up here. So have a lot of folks I grant you, but there's something about Mrs. Boyle - something that makes her special. I guess it's what she once was and what she is now that makes her different from most old ladies around town."

"The big thing in her life was her wedding. It was probably the one day in her life when everything came together, her one and only chance to break away from that house where she grew up with only Ben Boyle for company. A little girl needs a mother, just the way a little boy needs a father."

"The wedding of Loreen Boyle to Parker Stanley was the big event of the year. I remember it was on a warm June Saturday afternoon in that same garden she's working in now. I'm sure there wasn't a man or woman in Twin Oaks who didn't know about it, and since the reception was outdoors, most of us showed up. The Boyles didn't send out invitations because everybody was going to be there anyway -- whether they were asked or not."

"We all knew the Boyles of course. Loreen's father, Ben, was a former mayor of Twin Oaks, a most outgoing man, but with absolutely no sense of responsibility. He thought enough of Parker Stanley to hire him for his commercial real estate man right out of college. Parker was a loud-mouth. A sandy haired devious young man with a secret up his sleeve and an unpleasant habit of avoiding your eye when he spoke to you, or anyone else for that matter -- even Loreen. He had a violent explosive laugh like the bark of a large dog, people would turn to see what was wrong only to discover Parker laughing with his arm around someone's shoulder and a drink in his hand."

"There must have been a courtship of sorts between Loreen and Parker, but it's hard to imagine any loving affection rooting itself in such barren ground; they were a most unlikely couple. It was all Ben's doing of course. Loreen wasn't getting any younger and Ben felt weighed down being a father -- it kept him from his first love. The track. He followed the horses as much as he could. Saratoga -- Pimlico -- he was never a big winner, but never so much a loser that he despaired of winning. Ben was sure Parker Stanley could handle the real estate business while he was away, and he could take charge of Loreen too. He was a take charge guy, after all -- the kind of man Loreen needed. Yes, Ben decided, Loreen needed a man -- someone to show her what life was all about. She was too literary, for one thing, and too willing to spend her days tending to the sick and needy in Twin Oaks. Besides, where was his grandson? If she didn't get a move on, the Boyles were done for."

"Ben's efforts on behalf of the union between Parker and Loreen eventually paid off, but only after five solid months of full time campaigning on his part. He praised the virtues of Loreen to Parker and his to her. He used subterfuge to get Parker over for supper and under the pretext of a splitting headache or a call from the office requiring his personal attention he would leave them alone. It was like trying to start a fire in the rain -- it took his full attention and lots of kindling."

"Loreen was not an easy sell. Parker was, if not a ladies man, at least one who rarely let a skirt swish by without an appraising glance and a low whistle. Loreen was a quiet, gentle woman, concerned with the plight of the underprivileged -- not the kind of woman a loud-mouthed salesman like Parker could have fun with. She wore her straight black hair tied in a bun that looked like a cannon ball at the base of her skull. Her expression was faraway, as though there was something of a delicate nature she wanted to tell you about but couldn't quite put it into words. She was taller than was fashionable in those days, and when she sang in the church choir it looked as though she was standing on a stool."

"She and Parker were rarely seen together in public, the Mayor's New Year's Ball doesn't count because everyone went to that. Parker drank a lot more than was good for him that evening, his explosive laugh could be heard cannonading across the room. His eyes looked feverish and his movements were erratic. He moved in fits and starts and darted from one captive listener to another like a backfield runner. Loreen ignored him completely and instead, spent the evening chatting with the women, sipping sweet port and fending off politely veiled inquiries concerning her nuptial plans for the future."

"After the wedding the couple honeymooned at a place called Cuddystone Light, up in Maine. There wasn't a more remote and barren place in New England. They were probably the only two people there. I suppose it would have been ideal for some couples on their honeymoon, but I don't think it did much for Loreen and Parker, I'm sure he would have had a better time in a big city like Bangor or Portland, while Loreen would have been happy to stay in the thrift shop back home. After one week they came home to Twin Oaks looking pale and shaken like people do when they're released from the hospital."

"Loreen quickly buried herself in her charities and Parker was now a partner in his father-in-law's real estate business and he spent a lot of time on the road. Old Ben, free at last, gave his full attention to the horses, and although he did no better with them than he did before, he didn't feel guilty about ignoring Loreen. Parker spent more and more time away from home and Loreen found herself more alone than she ever was. There's only so many needy people in Twin Oaks and when she finished her rounds and passed out all her food checks and second hand clothes, there wasn't much else to do. She would eat alone. Maybe Parker would call to say he wouldn't be home until whenever, and old Ben would be off to the races."

"A lot of women said, "I told you so," and many of them predicted an ominous end to the marriage. Parker was an outsider from down Boston way in the first place, and people from Maine look at any man south of Portsmouth, New Hampshire with a jaundiced eye."

"It was the clerk who found Parker floating face down in the motel pool -- it was late and he went out there to turn off the lights. 'Gave me a turn, it did,' he said to the police later. Something told him the man was dead, so he turned the lights off and went back in to call the police. Two patrol cars showed up with two policemen in each. The four of them with the clerk went out to the pool, the clerk found the pool strainer and they pushed the body over to the ladder and turned it over."

"It's Mr. Kelly," the clerk said. "He and his wife checked in late this afternoon."

"They went to Mr. Kelly's room and of course Mrs. Kelly wasn't there -- wasn't a trace of her. Kelly's car was missing too."

"Even before the police located the car they found 'Mrs. Kelly.' Her name was Patti, Patti Denver, one of the appraisers in Boyle's Real Estate -- that's the way it goes I guess. She panicked and left in such a hurry she neglected to take her purse with her. She was a very impulsive girl, (Porter liked them that way)."

"There was never any doubt as to how Parker died -- it had to be accidental. Even before the autopsy the police found a grapefruit sized lump on the back of his head. Patti told the police that she and Parker had polished off two fifths of Piper Heidsick that afternoon and were thinking of driving into town for dinner. Neither of them was sober enough to drive a car and it was Parker's idea to sober up in the swimming pool. When he didn't come back, Patti decided to look for him."

"Word of the scandal went through Twin Oaks like wildfire. It started at the car wash, jumped to the barber shop, then to the post office. By the end of the day there wasn't a soul in town who didn't have an opinion. Some men said they knew the woman's reputation was ... well pretty shady, if you know what I mean. Even the Latin American fruit pickers over at the orchard had a theory."

"Although the death of Parker Stanley was sordid and stained, there was the necessity of a funeral. I'm told it was Loreen's decision to have it at home, and in some ways I think this was why it drew such a crowd. The men went expecting to see some kind of spectacle -- something they could talk about in the hardware store during the long winter. It would not have surprised some of them if Loreen had Parker laid out face down in the casket. The women went hoping to confirm the fact that all men are degenerate beasts and also to check out the Boyle house; none of them had ever been inside. No woman is completely sure of another woman until she sees what kind of a housekeeper she is. The funeral began without a hitch. There were no scenes and Loreen maintained a degree of composure that bordered on the apathetic."

"The Evangelical preacher who married them, officiated at the wake. He was set to deliver an uplifting sermon of great moral and spiritual strength, but Loreen's stoicism threw him off. He quickly realized she needed no spiritual support or moral underpinning -- she was just as unconcerned with Parker dead as she had been with him alive. The preacher had two standard sermons, the theme of one was the 'waiting for us on the other side' text, and the other was the 'how much we're all going to miss him' angle. Neither applied in Parker's case so the preacher used the old sure-fire 'for everything there is a season ... etc, etc.' "

"At that point Loreen stood up and said, 'I killed the bastard!' "

"The preacher's homily hovered in mid-air like a soap bubble. People turned to each other to see if they heard correctly. There was a polite clearing of throats and an uncomfortable shifting of rear ends on the rented folding chairs."

"Loreen, having dropped her bombshell, gathered her skirts about her and sat down calmly and nodded to the preacher to continue. She obviously had nothing further to say and had no intention of explaining what she had already said. The preacher quickly closed his book of homilies when Loreen stood up and made her announcement, and now he couldn't find his place -- but more than that, his will to continue had been blown out like a penny candle."

"Nobody could bring themselves to believe Loreen for a minute. Most of us thought we misunderstood her. Perhaps she meant to say -- 'she killed the bastard,' or maybe 'who killed the bastard.' Loreen couldn't do a thing like that, and as the days went by the tide went out. But like all tides, it was bound to come back in again. Many of us called her innocent one day, and guilty the next. It was hard to look at her without wondering did she or didn't she. Anyway, the police never investigated. Had their minds made up I guess -- accidental. Hit his head on the side of the pool, being drunk and all."

"I've wondered all these years what life must be like for Loreen. I always meant to have a chat with old Ben Boyle about it while he was alive, but I could never seem to bring it up. If she did it, did the thought of it weigh on her conscience, could she sing in the choir -- minister to the sick? And if she didn't do it -- shame on me and the rest of us for thinking she might have."

"Well, that's the Boyle's place if you're interested. Mr. Stanley's anxious to find a buyer. Soon as he gets one Loreen will be out and on her way to Bide-a-wee Home. It's a solid old house, needs some work of course -- how much I really don't know. I was only inside that night of the wake."

"By the way, did I introduce you to Mr. Stanley before we came out here? No? I must be getting senile. Mr. Stanley's our President -- Gordon Stanley, Loreen's son."

©Harry Buschman 2003

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