A Shorter Excerpt from AS FROM A TALENTED ANIMAL by Carley Eason Evans

AS FROM A TALENTED ANIMAL

Carley Eason Evans

2014 Copyright All Rights Reserved

17 – Hazel Mock

My interview with Mrs. Mock was one of the strangest I’ve done in my career — a career that spans twenty or so years now. She didn’t want to meet with me at first; didn’t want me in her home. Once I convinced her to let me inside, she showed me what I came to see. My interview developed over time — after she showed me the way into her basement, pointing, “The collection’s down there, but it’s boxed up. I always hated those things. Wish I could have talked George into keeping them in the attic instead of the basement. You know, Mr. Peterson, I had to move my washer and dryer into the kitchen ‘cause I couldn’t stand to be down there with those dead things.”
“I can certainly understand that, Mrs. Mock.”
“Oh, call me Hazel, Mr. Peterson.”
“Well then Hazel, you must call me Max.”
“Oh no,” she said, blushing, “I can’t do that.”
“Why not?”
“‘Cause you’re a professional,” she explained. “You deserve your title of respect.”
I remember I raised my eyebrows. I actually felt them lift. Then the now elderly woman pointed again to the dark wooden staircase leading into the basement. She pulled a string to turn on the overhead bare-bulbed light, and said, “Right down there. You can’t miss ‘em.”
When I came back up, she must have noticed my dismay. Hazel Mock offered me a cup of black tea and I took her gesture of kindness to mean she might allow me an interview. I nodded, said, “Please ma’am.”
“Well, I guess you’d better sit down then,” she said, pointing to the lumpy couch near the front window. “I got some cookies, if you’d like.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said. As she stepped from the living room into the kitchen, I added, “That’s quite a collection down there.”
She turned, looked at me, “I don’t want to talk about those dead things.”
“Okay,” I said. “Perhaps we can talk a little about your twins.”
“Maybe,” she said and disappeared behind the wall separating the two areas of the house. I stood up, followed her into the kitchen. She turned, looked at me, said, “I thought I put you on the couch.”
I blushed. “Yes, ma’am, you did. I —.”
“Call me Hazel,” she said.
“Yes, Hazel you did. I thought we could talk while you make the tea.”
She put a silver kettle on the stovetop and turned on the gas — the pilot failed to catch. She took a wooden match, struck it and lit the eye — blue flames shot around the black circle as if to wink at us. “There,” she said, then looked at me. “Damn house is falling apart.”
I glanced around her kitchen. The windows were dirty; a few dishes were piled in the sink. Clean clothes were stacked neatly atop the washer with dirty ones heaped on the floor in front of the dryer. A broom lay across the floor at a back door as if it had fallen and she hadn’t bothered to pick it up. I ventured, “You’re not like Richard.”
“What?” she asked, then said, “Oh, you mean I’m not a neat-freak like my second-born?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“No, I’m not. I’m more like Michael — or should I say, Michael’s more like me. Rich and I are like strangers. I never connected to my son. I wanted to, believe me. But Rich was not — how do I say it? He was not accessible.”
“Accessible?”
The kettle slowly began to whistle. She ignored it.
“Rich was always sure I was going to be mean to him; he anticipated it. Even if my intentions were kind, Rich would see them as mean. If I asked him to take out the trash, I was accusing him of not taking out the trash. If I asked him to feed the dog, then Rich took that to mean I thought he was trying to starve the dog. If I told Rich he ought to do his homework before watching a t.v. program he liked, he would take that to mean he shouldn’t enjoy that t.v. program. Oh god, I could go on and on.”
The kettle was now fully whistling and she turned off the gas. She took a ragged dishcloth and picked up the hot kettle from the eye. Hazel Mock poured the boiling water over the tea bag in a clean white mug.
“Aren’t you having a cup?” I asked.
“Oh no,” she said. “I don’t drink tea.”
“Why not?” I don’t know why I asked her this, but I remember I did.
Hazel Mock looked at me, said, “It makes me mean.” Then she smiled and goosebumps leaped across my forearms. She asked, “Do you take sugar? Cream?”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, “cream.”
“You a Brit?”
“No ma’am,” I responded. “I just like cream in black tea.”
She put half ’n half in my tea, just enough, and handed me the hot mug. Then she gestured for me to sit at the small kitchen table which was pushed up close to a window. On one side was a narrow bench while on the other side were two small chairs. I sat on the bench as she sat in the first chair across from me. I sipped the hot tea. Then I asked, “So Richard tells me Mr. Mock beat him.”
“Yes, Rich always tells everyone that.”
“Is it true?”
“Is it true?” And Hazel laughed, tears forming in her eyes. “George beat me. That’s true, but oddly enough he never laid a hand on either of our children, Mr. Peterson.”
“Your husband beat you?” I asked.
“Whenever George was angry at someone else or something else, he got angry at me.” She sighed, added, “And if the anger he felt was because of Rich, then the beating was particularly severe, shall we say.”
“So, he did hate his son?”
Hazel stared at me. “Mr. Peterson, we both hated our son.”

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