Sandra Benedetto: Black Spruce Beach (Part II)

This is a continuation of Black Spruce Beach (Part I)

Speechless, Enid watched Tom’s arm circle around the back of the woman standing next to him.

“This is Jenna.”

Enid heard an edge of defensiveness in his voice, but also a note of pride, which irritated her.

“Hello,” Enid replied.

“Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” Jenna beamed.

Enid supposed that Jenna was pretty in a decaying former prom queen kind of way. Her dark roots were showing and her pale blue eyes were outlined in bright blue eyeliner. She wore jeans and a low-cut top. She was not the kind of woman Enid would expect her son to find attractive; but he was a man, after all, and Enid knew well enough that men could be exasperatingly inscrutable in their desires.

“You’re welcome to stay for lunch. Your father should be up from his nap soon, and I imagine you have time since the last of the guests just left.”

Tom was quick to make their excuses, “We can’t today, Ma, we have some things to do in town.”

“Another time then.”

“We’d love to,” Jenna enthused, “This place is terrific.”

After Tom and Jenna left, Enid retrieved the marshmallow skewers from the front porch where the Flanagan boy had left them. At least one still had a sticky residue on it. She stood at the sink, scrubbing the skewers and wondering what Tom’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Darlene, was up to these days.

Over the next few weeks, Jenna became a regular fixture at the resort, when she wasn’t working. Enid would see Jenna and Tom walking along the beach at dusk, or playing tetherball, which seemed embarrassingly childish for people their age. By then Enid knew that Jenna was younger than Tom, but not by much. Like him, she was divorced, no kids. She worked a retail job in a mall about thirty miles from the resort and lived in an apartment in town with her dog. Tom had taken to staying there most nights. Enid knew better than to pry, but she gathered all of this information through careful observation and brief exchanges with her son when he returned to the house for a change of clothes or a cup of coffee.

One morning in early October, Enid overheard a troubling conversation between the two of them. She was approaching the laundry room at the chalet when she heard their voices. Without knowing exactly why, she decided not to make her presence known. She stood outside the brightly lit room, listening in the shadows.

” . . . be great . . . run this place . . . picture it . . . summer, and then in the off season . . . of course, we’ll have to . . . “, Jenna’s voice faded in and out, but Enid caught enough to know what she was plotting.

Tom said something inaudible, but his tone of voice implied that it was appeasing, tender. Enid heard the sound of them kissing, then Jenna giggling.

Blood rushed to Enid’s face. How dare that woman make plans for the resort? Her resort? How dare she bewitch Tom into complicity? She and Chuck hadn’t come all the way from Alaska to make a fresh start, and spend years building up a financially viable operation, only to have it stolen out from under them by some scheming, low-class harlot.

“Over my dead body,” Enid whispered to herself, as she retreated from the building before they could realize she was there.

It was only a few days after the laundry room conversation that another disturbing incident occurred. Enid opened the front door of the house early one morning to see whether more rain was coming their way. A dark object on the porch caught her eye. She leaned down, expecting to see a damp piece of wood or one of Tom’s dropped socks. As soon as she realized what it was she jumped back with a yelp. It was the lifeless, wet body of a drowned chipmunk.

Recovering quickly from the surprise, she went inside to get a dustbin and rubber gloves, then scooped up the carcass to take to the dumpster. The green receptacle was near the entrance of the resort, where a wooden sign with an engraved “Black Spruce Beach” pointed in the direction of the water. She dumped the soggy rodent in its shabby tomb, shuddering as she withdrew her dustbin, and dropped the heavy lid.

It wasn’t the sight of a dead animal that she found unsettling, but the mystery of how it had ended up on her porch. Tom was in charge of the traps. When he caught a chipmunk he’d tie the trap to a piling in the lake for a few hours. Afterwards, he’d dispose of the thing in the dumpster, like she’d done. Could another animal have retrieved it from the dumpster and dragged it there? She didn’t see how that was possible. How else could it have gotten there?

Enid was unable to shake these questions. As she absentmindedly ate a bowl of cream of wheat for breakfast, a thought occurred to her. What if someone left the chipmunk there on purpose, as a prank? Besides for Enid and Chuck, Tom and Jenna were the only ones around the resort this time of year. There was the occasional maintenance man, but none that had been on the property this week. Could it have been Tom? Maybe Jenna had a sick sense of humor that was rubbing off on him.

On second thought, what if it wasn’t a harmless prank, but something more sinister — a warning? She thought back to the conversation she’d overheard the other day, and something clicked. It made perfect sense. Jenna and Tom — her own son — were trying to scare her away so they could get their hands on the resort that much sooner. This was just the first phase of an elaborate plan. Today a dead chipmunk, tomorrow a haunted cabin, or dangerous neighbor. Well, two could play at that game.

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To be continued . . .

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