19 September 2011

The Dead Body I Didn't Find

I was living in Monterey, California. Yeah, life was rough. With a view of Monterey Bay from my front porch, the typical California lifestyle that you can’t really appreciate until you leave it.
Never look up photos of this.
One evening, right after Halloween it was, I was walking my two dogs around the blocks that step up from the bay's edge and give every street full of houses a view of paradise. 

I was half a block over from my street, which ran level along the hill, and half a block up on the cross-street that climbed to the next block. Suddenly the dogs went blood-crazy. 

I'd heard of dogs going blood crazy, but never seen it. It was like: 

We got us a sniff of a dead squirrel rotting away here somewheres and by! god! we! will! find it!

But it was magnified to Cujo proportions. Or 200 dead squirrel proportions, if that helps you imagine it. Those dogs’ eyes showed more white than iris. They were nothing you wanted to be on the other end of a leash with.

So, two sets of steps like this.
One leading up to the other.
 I looked up the steep steps to the house above us. That’s where the dogs were focused. I didn't see anything. 

The stairs along that street scale the steep slope to the houses and break into two flights. I could only see to the top of the lower flight. 

Meanwhile, the dogs were inhaling the concrete. I hauled their asses home, my arms aching from pulling them. It took them a while to get their hackles down, too. Very strange.

The description I’ve given, of these perpendicular streets--mine and the one on the side street--was important to set the scene for what must have happened next.

As is common in California, the two streets that formed the top and bottom of the block shared an alley that ran between them, onto which opened the garage behind every house on both streets. So each morning a string of cars would come out of the garages, go down the alley, pause at the end, and turn right to head down to town.

As I paused at the mouth of the alley, I must have seen the Halloween dummy that sprawled on the top stairs of the house that faced the alley. Do I remember seeing the dummy? Vaguely... yes. Okay, no, not really. I don't.

Not to put too fine a point on it.
I later told myself that I must have noticed it. I came down that alley all three mornings that the dummy lay there. So had dozens of others just like me, on their way to work, thinking about whatever. 

Understand: This is a very sheltered community. Everyone is Jimmy Stewart and owns the corner pharmacy. Everyone gets into the holidays, "for the kids," and they decorate like crazy, and, quite often, they put out Halloween dummies.

Mid-afternoon of the third day, the letter carrier discovered
that this dummy wasn't a dummy, as I'm sure you've guessed.

She was an elderly lady, 80 years old. She lived in that house and had since the 40s. She'd been married 60-plus years to the man who killed her--her husband, age 82. His body lay around the corner and next to the house, where he had shot himself after shooting her.

Mrs. M had been playing cards that night at my next-door neighbor's house. Four old friends playing there every week together, god knows how many years. Mrs. M walked home afterwards on a clear, beautiful October night in coastal California. It was just half a block uphill to her steps. Mrs. M's husband--presumably watching her--let her climb those steep stairs, and when she got to the top he shot her.

Mrs. M, after the 60-plus years with her husband and the father of her children, had just the night before told him she wanted a divorce.

That's the end of the story, really, for the main characters, of which I am not one. I’m not even a minor character. Would I have been if I’d seen her and recognized that she was dead--and been the one to find her? Not really. Anyway, she's the dead body I didn't find.

There were newspaper articles with half a dozen neighbors explaining that they thought she was a Halloween dummy. There were tearful stories, recounted by their adult children, of the couple's decades-long, abusive marriage.

After a few rains in November, my dogs stopped being drawn to the stairs beneath where Mrs. M had lain. My eyes eventually stopped being drawn to the top steps as I drove out of the alley. Mrs. M’s family dropped into the background; they presumably went on with their lives.  

60-plus years of marriage, though. Isn't that something?