Autumn Joy

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Patricia Fish


I knew my friend Mattie’s new boyfriend was out to kill her the moment I saw her garden.

Which is obviously ahead of myself and for sure there were other signs of Jeremy Reed’s evil intent besides that bizarre garden.

“He’s great, Janey. I want to tell you all about him when we have time.”

I squinted my eyes in Mattie’s direction the day she told me about her new friend Jeremy who, she let it slip, was only 32.

Mattie had to know there was no need for my comment. Mattie was 61. A very handsome 61-year-old lady to be sure. But 61 is not 32.

It’d been three years since Mattie’s husband, Alfred, died. He didn’t leave a huge estate but left Mattie quite comfortable.

I am a widow and have been so for almost ten years. My husband left me quite well off also. After Al died, Mattie and I were both widows and as those things tend to do, it caused us to grow closer. Since Mattie no longer had a living husband and all the obligations that come with this, we could spend more time engaging in leisurely activities we both enjoyed.

If I was angry at Mattie for being so silly as falling for this young stud-muffin, I was doubly furious that she was so obtuse as to not see how the fellow was only after her dough. If Mattie failed to see this I sure would have had a difficult time convincing her that Jeremy Reed was out to kill her. Alas I couldn’t have correctly ascertained this fact until Mattie was half-dead in a coma and I finally had a chance to see her new garden.

Though I had my first clue when Mattie told me that she and Jeremy were selling her house and were going to buy a small cottage out by Martin Lake “together”.

“What do you mean, ‘together’?” I griped.

“Now hold on, Janey. It’s not what you think,” Mattie said, but I changed the subject. The truth was that Mattie was certainly old enough to decide such things and I was no one to judge how she handled her money.

I only met Jeremy once before Mattie was rushed to the hospital. That time Jeremy shook my hand after Mattie introduced us and gave a friendly hello. He was tall and muscular. One could tell he worked out in some fashion. I had just stopped by Mattie’s new house to drop off the flyer for a cruise I was interested in when Jeremy popped his head out of the door. Mattie was forced to introduce us but she quickly suggested that Jeremy should go inside and continue the unpacking.

I was more than a bit annoyed when Mattie demurred from a beautiful trip to the Bahamas that I so wanted to take. She had to be home that week as tender love bits “needed” her.

It was Jeremy himself who phoned me that Mattie had to be rushed to the hospital. “She’s not breathing,” he shouted but his speech sounded slurred. I spoke no more but slammed down the phone then rushed to the hospital to see how my friend was doing.

“She’s suffered a severe bee allergy reaction,” the doctors told me. I asked for clarification because I thought the good physician was telling me that my friend was in a deep coma due to a bee sting.

“It seems there was some delay in getting help for Mattie. She was stung by very many bees it would seem. Mattie is allergic to bee stings and has a medic-alert bracelet in her pocketbook stating this.”

“What was the delay in getting help?” I asked.

The doctor shrugged then nodded his head in a direction over my shoulder. I whirled around and saw Jeremy coming out of the hospital entrance.

I spent several hours at my friend’s bedside. Mattie was breathing with the help of a machine. The ICU nurses told me her prognosis was guarded but hopeful.

“She also has asthma which contributed to the problem,” the charge nurse whispered. “But we think she’ll pull through. What, did she walk into a hive of bees?”

This I did not know but I could see that Mattie was bloated and red from what had to be many angry stings. So her new honey babe arranged for Mattie to get stung by a bevy of bees then delayed getting help as long as he could? I would have bet the hunk of love knew Mattie was allergic to bee venom and likely knew that it would take a hive to kill her. He finally got help but too early as Mattie had not died yet.

I gritted my teeth the whole drive over to Mattie’s cottage. The nurses told me that Jeremy had yet to bring in some decent bedclothes for Mattie, so I decided to drive over to her love nest and get some for her. Then I had no idea how Jeremy plotted this near-death but I was sure he was behind it. After I saw Mattie’s new garden I could understand the diabolical plan Jeremy put into place. It was a sort of genius at that and I knew I would never convince Mattie of this, much less the police.

For Mattie’s new “garden”, using the word loosely, was filled with over a hundred Autumn Joy.

Autumn Joy are pretty plants which bloom in the fall, naturally. They are semi-succulent and grow well in most soils. I liked Autumn Joy and always had a small stand of them somewhere in my garden. But a hundred of them?

Bees love Autumn Joy like no other plant on the planet. Bees lay themselves splat in the flowers of the Autumn Joy as if an alcoholic on the sidewalk after being kicked out of a bar. That many Autumn Joy in full bloom would attract enough bees to kill an elephant.

I didn’t kill Jeremy Reed in a premeditated fashion. At least that’s what I told myself after I struck Jeremy on the back of the head with a pick-ax. He was wandering around the garden, likely looking for me; I may have made some noise in my research. The pick-ax was leaning against the tree and opportunity was upon me. Mattie is such a slow learner, I despaired she’d either be poor or dead by the time this creep got done with her. I tossed the pick-ax in the lake and drove off quietly. I decided to go back to the hospital and hope that the nurses hadn’t noticed I’d been gone or would think I’d just been down the cafeteria for a break. I’d certainly deny ever having left the hospital that night. With the kind of attorney my means could allow, I figured I might get away with it. And I’d saved my friend Mattie a lot of grief as well. We still might be able to go on that trip to the Bahamas.

To my surprise Mattie began to stir about ten minutes after I returned to her bedside.

“Janey?”

“Where’s Jeremy?” she croaked, her voice hoarse from the throat tube. I reached for the buzzer to summon a nurse but Mattie stopped me.

I shrugged. “Don’t you worry, he’ll be here. He was here earlier, all night, the nurses told me.”

It served no good purpose for me to speak disparagingly of Jeremy at this point.

Mattie sipped a drink of water, almost painfully, then leaned back in the bed.

“He’s a good boy, Janey. I’m afraid I didn’t tell you the whole truth about Jeremy.”

I didn’t say a word. Best to leave Mattie struggle with it all.

“Janey, Jeremy isn’t my boyfriend. He’s my son.”

Mattie struggled to take another sip of water and I got up to help her. I thought she’d said Jeremy was her son but I figured the water would get the croak out of her voice.

“I gave him up for adoption over thirty years ago. I never even told Alfred about him. But with Alfred gone and since we never had any children…” Mattie faded off, then leaned back onto her pillow to rest from the strain.

“You see,” Mattie said, pulling herself a bit up on the bed, “Jeremy is retarded. I knew he was retarded when I gave him up for adoption. But Janey, he does all right for himself. He lived in a group home for the retarded before I bought the cottage. He does landscaping and he loves to work in the garden.”

I didn’t say a word but busied myself helping Mattie take another sip of water.

“How about all of those Autumn Joy!” Mattie suddenly exclaimed and even laughed a bit. I sat stunned.

“He didn’t know, Janey. He ordered them all out of a catalogue. He saw a picture of them and liked them so much that he tried to order them himself. To surprise me. Only he doesn’t speak so clear, Janey. He has a little bit of a slur. When all of those Autumn Joy were delivered I couldn’t bear to hurt his feelings. So I planted them all.” Mattie laughed at the memory.

“He had trouble using my cell phone, Janey. He understands a regular phone but he was upset and could hardly speak. It’s why there was a delay in getting an ambulance. We’ll have to work on this in the future but I’m so proud of him, Janey. I was going to tell you everything but I was still trying to get used to it all myself. Having Jeremy around has been wonderful, Janey, and I know you’ll be happy for me.”

My skin was clammy and my hands were shaking as I listened to the words of my friend.

“Jeremy is all right, isn’t he, Janey?”

pencil

E-mail: Patfish1[at]aol.com.

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