There were three of us when we started. Two of us were professional thieves; he was the amateur. I had asked him along because we needed a third; he needed his cut; and I thought the crime to be a sure-thing. But he died in the caper, and for that, I felt terrible.
I knew his sick mother, and she knew me well enough to invite me in early the following morning, when I knocked.
“Come in,” she said, and then “Kincaid’s sleeping late. Please, have a cup of tea.”
She was at ease, the way I wanted to remember her. She obviously had yet to hear of her son’s tragic and untimely demise. Shock and grief had yet to take over the rest of her days. If I hadn’t come to deliver such painful news, we would have had a nice cup of tea over conversation, but the possibility of that all ceased when I roped her son along in my tragic scheme.
I sat and began with small talk. I never got round to mentioning the news that her son was dead. I hesitated to explain how I was responsible for her son’s death. I never told that I knew of her illness; nor did I ever get it out that she could now spend what was needed for her medicine from my share of a very successful crime.
Wouldn’t it be easier, I remember thinking, if she were already grieving. All I could muster was the sort of chit-chat that comes and goes like the afternoon breeze…that is until I heard someone stir in the next room. The door opened and Kincaid appeared in the flesh.
He came directly to his mother’s side and gave her cheek a kiss. He pulled a chair. He never glanced at or greeted me; he seemed only in the presence of mother and she in the presence of her only son. I became like a ghost in a room. I left.
I felt a two-fold terror as I retreated.
How could he appear like that before us? Had I seen Kincaid after death? Was he now telling mother (whom I loved, I confess, as mother too) how I had gotten him to come along? Would she hear that it was I, the professional, who lost my nerve? That I, the professional, was the one who choked during the crime calling out Kincaid’s name in the escape before they had chased him over the bank?
Was she going to die a sooner death because I had lost all nerve again and hadn’t admitted to her that I used her son, and I could pay to heal her for a time with my share?
The next morning I knocked again at the door of mother, but there was no answer. I shimmied inside but found her dead. I wept.
Soon my thief’s instincts overcame me. I slipped outside.
Returning home brought a surprise. The door opened too easily, and mother was inside in the flesh. It was mother, sure enough, but, younger? We again had tea. I again had no nerve to speak about anything real. She appeared to me so radiant, as if her sickness had never taken hold. She spoke of Kincaid so utterly that you wouldn’t question his authenticity. Was her boy alive for her only, never to die again? I don’t know.
She soon assured me she had to go. While she passed in front of my mirror, she made nomotion to notice me almost jumping into a place where I could see if she showed a reflection…mother was nice that way.
I wanted to touch her to feel, had she warmth? But how does one, in such a situation, approach that?
I was alone.