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by Paul Alan Fahey

It was 1947 Los Angeles, and the beginning of a new year. Mildred perched on the edge of the hospital bed and held her daughter’s hand while her husband, in a chair opposite her, read aloud from the Times.

“The young woman’s nude body was discovered yesterday morning in a vacant lot on a busy street. So far no witnesses have come forward.” Richard stopped reading. He shook the paper as if emphasizing an unimpeachable
source. “I find that amazing, don’t you?”

“No," Mildred said. “Not anymore.” She looked down at her daughter. Poor Veda like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty waiting for the prince to kiss her and bring her back to life. “Don’t clutter up her mind with such rubbish.”

“Nicely put, Millie.” Richard frowned.


“Her body. Rubbish,” he said, and then smiled. "I made an association.Mildred knew Richard was doing what Dr. Hilliard had suggested. Talk to your daughter, let her know you’re there. That life goes on."

“We have to keep at it,” Richard said.

“But why the details of a murder case? I don’t like your version of shock therapy.” She got up and walked over to a chair where she’d left her purse and pulled out a strand of beads with a metal cross. Mildred held it out to him.

“This will help Veda more.”

“I’m done praying, Millie. Sitting in a corner nursing a round of Hail Marys and Our Fathers won’t do Veda a bit of good.”

Mildred turned away and walked back to the bed. She bent down and fussed with the cotton blanket. She wrapped it securely around her daughter’s feet.

“Do you think she’s warm enough? Should we ask the nurse for another . . . ?”

“She’s fine.”

“But she looks cold.”

“She’s not. Leave her be.” He dragged his chair closer to his daughter’s bedside. “I’m going to read some more, Veda.”

“Richard, please. It’s too unseemly.”

“It’s news, Millie, just news. Maybe it’ll spark some brain activity. We can’t be sure it won’t. Veda doesn’t want to hear about Mrs. Hamilton’s garden party or the plans for the L.A. freeway, do you, honey?” He held up the front page of the Times. “Look, Veda. Thirty-ninth and Norton. We’ve passed that intersection on our way downtown, remember? You can see the Hollywood land sign from there.” He turned a page and continued to read.

“Police officials speculate the woman was murdered elsewhere, given the lack of blood at the scene, then carried to the lot and carefully placed . . . as if it were a religious ritual.” He stopped reading. “You know, Millie, long ago people sacrificed animals, even humans, to the gods to change their fates. In some cultures, they still do. Makes a strange kind of sense, don’t you think?”

She shook her head no. “Not to me.” Mildred had her coat on and was waiting by the door. “I defrosted the chops before we left, but we’ll have to stop at Spencer’s for the asparagus and French bread. We could use a special meal tonight. What would you say to Hollandaise sauce, something fancy?”

“I’d say that’s quite a subject jump.” He followed her out.

Mildred looked at her watch. Richard was late. Just enough time to read Veda’s letter again. The hospital door opened and Richard came in, shaking the rain from his hat. He shoved his umbrella into the wastebasket, and then walked toward her, his eyes focused on the letter in her hand. “Reading it again, Millie? It won’t bring her back.” He pecked her cheek.

“You have to act, do something. Talk to her.”

Mildred knew Veda was gone. Nothing would bring her back, but reading Veda’s letters helped her remember her daughter’s voice, raving about the latest Bette Davis tear jerker or “the swellest swing band in town, honest Mom.”

Mildred folded the letter on its well-worn creases and returned it to her purse. Then she pulled out her rosary and blessed herself with the cross.Richard sat some distance from his daughter’s bed. “I’m here,” he said, and then he was silent.

Mildred walked over to him and touched his shoulder. “You’ve tried, darling. You did all you could.” She bent down and whispered in his ear. “Veda would be so proud of you. I'm sure she knows.” Mildred knew it was a lie 'what her Grandma called a boldfaced one' but what was the harm really?

“It wasn't in the papers,” he said.

“What wasn't?” She moved back from the bed a little, and followed Richard’s gaze to the pale, bloodless Christ hanging on a cross over Veda’s bed. “The ritual part. You know, positioning the body as a religious sacrifice. I doubt they'd release that kind of information. It's too critical to their investigation.”

“Maybe not,” she said, “but you said . . .”

“No, Millie, you don’t understand. I added that part myself. It was a sacrifice. I know it and they know it. They just didn’t report it.”

Mildred couldn’t believe what she was thinking. Were there no limits, no boundaries to a father’s love? She would have screamed then, but a sound coming from the bed stopped her.

Veda had opened her eyes and was staring right at her.

Paul Alan Fahey is a writer who resides on the Central California Coast. He is a five time winner of the Lillian Dean Writing Award. Recently his "how-to" articles have appeared at in Fiction Fix,and his work has appeared over the years in small lit mags like TheMacGuffin, Kaleidoscope and Byline. Contact Paul.