When I was very young, my parents bought an old, rundown farm in central Virginia. Neither of them were farmers, grew up farming or had any intention of planting crops. They simply liked the house and, since it was a steal, they saw the land as a good investment.
From time to time, we’d get mail for a lady named Helen Grey. Dad would write NOT AT THIS ADDRESS ANYMORE on the envelopes and leave them in the box.
After a while, my mother said, “Why don’t you ask the mailman to put in a card or whatever at the post office, so we don’t have to keep sending her mail back to everybody?”
So my father talked to the mailman.
The mailman said, “What returns? I thought that woman lived with you?” But he promised to fix it, anyhow.
Helen’s mail stopped coming. We thought that was that.
One day, however, Dad was poking through the worst of the outbuildings at the back edge of the property. He found a woman living there. She said her name was Helen.
“We’ve been getting your mail for years,” Dad said. “Finally had to put in a card or whatever.”
“Oh, I still get it,” she said. “That mailman’s a lazy son-of-a-bitch. He never took care of that business for you. I just started sneaking to the mailbox before you went out to check. I used to go at night, when it was dark, and take the envelopes with your messages on them.”
“Oh,” Dad said.
He asked why she was living there. She said she killed her husband. He used to beat her and never loved her and she hit him with his own lead mallet until the shape was gone from the head. The way the Judges were out here, she’d be going away for sure. She liked her house and she liked her freedom, so she hid herself away and they never came after her.
“Hope you don’t mind,” she said.
“I don’t think I do,” he told her.
Dad started visiting her, bringing her real food and water and everyday things a woman needs. Eventually, he fell in love with her.
Two days before Christmas, the year I was six, he brought her to the house to meet my mother. He explained the situation and, like a jackass, thought she’d understand. Mom lost her mind. She screamed at Dad. Then she screamed at Helen. Helen backed up into a corner of the living room and starting blinking her eyes and shaking and saying, “No, no, no…” And when Mom grabbed her, Helen picked up the hammer Dad had used to knock together the Christmas tree stand and swung it at Mom until I had to run away.
They put Mom in the outbuilding and Dad told me never to go there. “You still have a Mom,” he said, “but this is your Mom, now.”
Helen shook my hand. She said she’d always wanted a son, but couldn’t have one herself. She made me sandwiches with marshmallow cream. She took me for walks as far as the tracks.
Nobody ever asked about it and that’s why my mother is not my Mom.
BIO: Walter Conley has written for comics, children’s entertainment and film. His crime fiction has appeared at such online venues as A Twist of Noir, Opi8 and Blue Murder Magazine. You can reach him at email@example.com.