Let Me Tell You a Story

David Mallory never meant to kill anyone until he did. Then he liked it. A lot. Pretty soon it came as naturally as throwing a fastball, which he did as well, with stunning talent. David was a “damn fine ball player,” his dad, Benjamin, would say proudly. His mother never went to a game after his first few years of T-ball—how could she? Mrs. Dolores Mallory was dead. Still buried deep under the rocks of a river where search teams would never find her in a million years, and by then the woman would be nothing but dust and bone char and eventually, like all of us, a simple carbon. A fossil. Fact was, David’s dad killed her and nobody but David would ever know.

David Mallory was like the other boys, only bigger. He didn’t test well and was held back a year, repeating the second grade—making him easy to spot in class photos as the tall boy, the one who seemed big for his age, always positioned in the back row, his tilted, awkward smirk bent across a freckled face. Benjamin told the teachers that David got his looks from him, his brains from his mother, and his bad manners from the family dog. It was Benjamin Mallory’s strained attempt at charm. Benjamin was forever reading self-improvement books and carried a well-thumbed paperback of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People in his back pocket for ready reference.

Benjamin was forty when David was born. Now nearly fifty-two, thin-framed with striking blue eyes, he kept his straight, black hair pulled into a ponytail. He wore faded, blue denim and kept a good luck piece—a thick, flat, hammered silver and turquoise bracelet he picked up from a broke Indian in New Mexico. He often told people it was genuine Comanche. He said it with such authority and his eyes were so sky blue that they believed him.

Dolly was always on him about how he should’ve gone into sales and made some real money so she wouldn’t have to work so damn hard. Benjamin had fallen prey to the easy grind of managing the paperwork for various municipal departments. He was particularly keen on time spent with the police department, often stopping by the bulletin board pinned with wanted posters. He studied the FBI sheets—who knows? Maybe he’d collect on the reward, although the chances of a high-profile criminal passing through their town was remote. Still, there was an element out there. Benjamin had talked to a few officers who gave him the head’s up about a surge of illegal pot farms attracting questionable characters. Benjamin Mallory learned a lot from the FBI postings.

Over the past few years, Benjamin and Dolly had fallen into the fits and starts of complaining too often, drinking too much. Dolly, after she’d polished off a few, had a tongue with snap to it: “God knows if I had a dollar for one of your got-damn promises, I’d be rich and good looking.”

It used to be different. When they first met, and on warm nights, Benjamin would pick her up and they’d drive out the winding, fire roads to remote clearings. Benjamin had volunteered for fire crews: he knew the terrain. A few beers later, he and Dolly were in the back of his flatbed truck, sweaty and naked. Afterwards, the two would lie there, smoking, and finishing what was left of the malt liquor, listening to the woods come alive, the only light coming from the truck’s radio dials, and the embers from Dolly’s cigarettes. It was black out in the thickly forested timbers. And blacker still when time and circumstance roughed the two of them up, eating away until nothing was left.

David could remember when his mother went missing. It was a Tuesday. The school cafeteria always served tamales on Tuesdays. That morning his mom had flipped him a few dollars, waved goodbye as she walked out the front door, and drove off in the dented, white Ford Escort to her cashier job down at Big Super, the local market. She never even got to work. David’s dad was already home when he came in after school. As that October afternoon stretched into evening, David watched the house fill and empty with cops. One of them held a tight leash on a big, panting German Shepard. David was allowed to pet the clipped, shiny black and tan coat. He always wanted a dog.

Gradually time slid away for Dolores Mallory. The state of California had better ways to spend the taxpayers’ money; with well-tended marijuana farms dotting the national forests and a record fire season burning through the northwest, priorities didn’t include Dolores Mallory. She was gone, and filed as such. Case closed. Time passed.

There were few surprises to the routine of the Mallory household, except for one. In late June, when summer was catching its stride, dry pine needles littered the ground, and the temperate nights were beginning to hold a brighter heat, the Mallory men sat at the kitchen table. The screen door was open, hoping for a breeze. Crickets strummed in a lusty, high-pitched search for mates.

“Ever wondered what happened to your mother? I mean, what was it, just a few years ago?” Benjamin asked, sounding like maybe they were just chatting about a family vacation.

“Mom left, you told me she was tired of living with us.”

“She was. Well, kind of, more or less.”

David grabbed a handful of vanilla wafers. He dipped one in his milk.

“So let’s say I have a secret, can I trust you with it? I mean a big secret.” Benjamin motioned by spreading out his arms wide. David nodded yes.

“Mom didn’t leave us,” Benjamin said, looking straight at David Mallory.

“I think I know.” David assumed a calm, icy stare.

Benjamin shifted in his chair. “You know that maybe I had to let her go.”

“You killed her. I figured as much.” David used a cloth napkin to wipe his mouth, and then neatly folded it, the result of Benjamin’s constant suppertime reminders about table manners. The television blared from the living room.

“You figured as much?”

“Like that ranger who died in Yosemite. I saw you talking to him. I could tell you were upset with him trying to move our campsite.”

Benjamin continued past David’s ranger memory. “Like I said, she had a hard time with life. Better that I helped her.”

David didn’t flinch. He locked into his dad’s blue eyes.

“The reason I’m telling you this now is . . . well, I think you’re old enough. I was your age when my father explained a few things to me about something he had done, something bad, but he had his reasons, least that’s what he told me and I had to believe him.”

“Would you believe me if I told you something, ‘mean cuz I’m your son?”

“Cuts both ways, doesn’t it. Least in my book it does. And in this one here, too.”

Benjamin pulled out his worn Carnegie paperback and put it on the table.

“When we were down that summer at the beach, there was that kid out in the surf with me, and I had that big rubber raft we had rented. I pulled him under it—just wanted to see what it was like.”

Benjamin put his hand out across the table. David took it, feeling the warm skin.

The orchestra of crickets chirped louder.

David broke the shared silence. “Do you think something’s wrong with us?”

“Whaddaya mean?”

“Well, like killing.”

“Maybe, but everyone is—well, you’ll see soon enough. Everyone’s built differently. We just happen to be Mallory men.”

“So like maybe this is part of who we are?”

“Think of us like . . . like my old Dodge: lots of trucks out there, ours just runs on its own mind. No other truck like it. See what I mean? Or like you being able to throw the ball, nobody out there like you neither.

“Want to know how I did it?”  Benjamin asked.

David nodded.

“Ready? Big word: Diethyl Ether.”

“What’s it do?”
“Starts your car, and can make you sleep; kind of stuff you get at a hospital, but not this exactly.”

“Mom went to sleep?”

“Yep,” Benjamin said. “Speaking of which, you got a big game. Time for you to get some shut eye. Bring the heater tomorrow.”

“You know it.”

David got up, then turned. “Dad, after mom went to sleep, what’d you do with her?”

“Put her out of her misery and buried her.”
“No, like, how’d you kill her?”

“That’s between me and your mom. Now get to bed.”

David shrugged his shoulders. “Thought I’d ask.” He turned and trotted off to his bedroom.

“Brush your teeth,” Benjamin reminded him, much like he did every night.


The yellow nightlight flicked on in David’s bedroom. It wasn’t easy being a single parent.