First Friday Fiction: The Mystery of the Yellow Mustang

“That yellow car is in that neighbor’s driveway again,” Dorothy Dimmerton observed one morning.

“So what, Mom?” Johnny asked, yawning between bites of cereal. “Maybe he’s bought a new car.”

Dorothy shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she said. “That car was parked there one morning last month, and then it was gone for three weeks. Now it’s back. I think something funny is happening next door.”

Johnny yawned again. “Maybe he test-drove it last month and kept it overnight, and now he’s finally bought it,” he suggested.

“I looked for a sticker in the window or for a temporary paper plate. No, that car belongs to someone else, and I’m guessing that whoever she is spent the night at his place.”

“Welcome to the twenty-first century, Mom,” Johnny said. “What the two of them do in his house is their business, not ours.”

Dorothy cleared her throat, and then said nothing else. However, she resolved that she would keep an eye on that neighbor’s house and driveway until she had solved the mystery of this yellow car.

Dorothy Dimmerton had spent most of her life on army bases. Her father had been a soldier. Her husband had been a soldier. They had needed her help to keep their houses on base tidy and efficient. Dorothy followed the same pattern of tidiness and efficiency today. The problem was, nobody really needed her. Johnny didn’t care how the house or the yard looked. That neighbor next door obviously didn’t care either. All Johnny needed was a bedroom where he could sleep or play video games or watch movies when he wasn’t at work flipping hamburgers. He even bought his own breakfasts. Dorothy kept the door to Johnny’s room closed so she didn’t have to see its disorder.

Johnny might not need her, but the house needed her. It wouldn’t clean itself, as Dorothy’s mother had frequently said when Dorothy was a girl. The lawn needed her—it relied on her to water it every day and to mow and trim it once or twice a week. The deck behind the house needed her—every day she had to blow leaves and other debris off the deck. That neighbor next door seemed content just to run a mower over his grass every week or so. She didn’t know what kind of job he had or who his family or friends might be. So far as she was concerned, he was useless, taking up space in the world for no good purpose.

Now that she was watching, she saw that yellow car in his driveway every morning except for weekends. She didn’t know what time of night it arrived—early to bed and early to rise was one of her mottos. She did sometimes see the driver when she left in the morning. She was young and slender, well-dressed, but Dorothy tried not to stare at her while Dorothy pulled weeds or raked leaves or moved the sprinkler from one place to another.

Then, one Saturday, she was able to declare triumphantly, “I finally saw her face!”

“Whose face?” Johnny asked as he poured milk on his cereal.

“The driver of the yellow car. Usually she isn’t here over the weekend, but the car is there this morning. Right after I started the mower, I looked up, and she was staring out the window at me.”

“Yeah, what time was that? Seven o’clock? Six-thirty?” Johnny deliberately yawned as he asked.

“You know I have to get the work done early, before it gets too hot outside,” Dorothy answered, “but you’re missing the point. I know who she is now…boy, are you going to be surprised!”

“Surprise me, then,” Johnny told her.

“She’s the woman who murdered her husband last spring.” When Johnny didn’t react, she said, “Don’t you remember? It was on the TV news.”

Johnny thought for a minute before he said, “Yes, Mom, I remember. But you’ve got the story wrong. She didn’t murder her husband. A girlfriend he had on the side killed him.”

“Maybe,” she sneered. “Maybe they worked together.” Dorothy shook her head and snarled, “I wonder if he knows that he’s sleeping with a murderer.”

“Who says that they’re sleeping together?” Johnny asked. “Maybe Tom’s letting her use a spare bedroom.”

“I’ve seen her,” Dorothy retorted. “I doubt it. I doubt it very much.”

Every morning but on Saturdays, the suspicious woman would leave that neighbor’s house and drive off in her yellow car. A few minutes later, that neighbor would lock the front door, get in his own car, and drive away. Dorothy fumed at their effrontery. Didn’t they know that they were bringing their filth into a nice, respectable neighborhood? Dorothy didn’t say a word to either of them. She didn’t even make eye contact with them. If she pushed the mower with a little more vigor as one of them came out the door, she doubted that they even noticed. Well, if they were going to ignore her, she could keep on ignoring them. She had no intention of lowering herself to their level by treating their malfeasance as normal behavior.

Summer ended and school began. Schoolchildren walked past Dorothy’s house on their way to the bus. She kept a careful eye on them, making sure that none of them set foot on her grass. Most mornings she was outside, blowing leaves off the deck, then gathering them into piles she could scoop into a bag and leave on the curb. After one such morning of diligent work, she glared at Johnny at the kitchen table and exclaimed, “I can’t understand how she can show her face in public like that!”

Johnny sighed. “Who are you talking about, Mom?”

“The whore who is living with that neighbor next door. The way she walks to her car, you’d think she owns the place.”

Again, Johnny sighed. “If you ever spoke with Tom, you’d know that there is more to the story than you have imagined in your dirty little mind.”

“I suppose you believe whatever he told you,” she snarled at Johnny.

“I do believe him, and you should too. After her husband was killed, Jessica went and stayed with her parents for a while. Then she tried to come back home, but she couldn’t bear to walk into her own house. Memories of the murder were too painful for her. For a while she tried living in a motel, but that was using up her money too fast.

“Tom and Jessica work at the same office. He found out what she was enduring, and he offered her a spare room in his house. They have separate rooms, even separate bathrooms. They both drive their own cars downtown so no one at work suspects anything is going on between them. The main reason they do that, though, is that—really—nothing is going on between them.”

Dorothy paused. Perhaps she was being too hard on that neighbor and his friend. Perhaps, in his own way, he was being helpful and useful to another person in this mixed-up world. Dorothy didn’t often consider the possibility that she could be wrong. Even now, a thought in the back of her head suggested that that neighbor had lied to Johnny to cover up his sin. She guessed that she would never know the truth. Not knowing, she felt no regret for the cold shoulder she was showing them.

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