Jill Churchill

A Knife to Remember


Jane Jeffry threaded through all the parked cars on her street and pulled into her driveway, going very slowly and carefully to avoid falling into the pothole that was threatening to eat the whole driveway. She'd investigated the costs of a new driveway and decided the pothole would have to eat the whole block before she could afford such an extravagance.

“Wow!' she said to herself, staring at the sight of a large truck easing its way between her house and her neighbor Shelley's.

Shelley herself was standing on the little deck outside her kitchen door, likewise observing the strange phenomenon and looking ready and capable of stringing up the driver if he scraped her house. Jane pulled her ailing and ancient station wagon into her garage and went to join Shelley.

“Who'd have thought they'd start so early in the day?' Jane said.

“And be so efficient!' Shelley said. 'Jane, you should have seen them take out the fence between our yards. They popped the posts out like a line of clothespins. And they've already got the dog runs set up.'

“Which Willard will probably be terrified of. What's that particular truck for?'

“I don't know.”

Jane shivered. It was only the first Tuesday in October, but there was a chill in the air and the station wagon's heater had refused to work while she was driving her car pool. One more thing to start budgeting for! 'Let's go inside and watch from my back windows. Uh-oh,' she added as the big battleship gray Lincoln wallowed into her driveway behind them.

There was a nasty, scraping sound as the Lincoln fell into the pothole.

Cringing, Jane called out, 'Hi, Thelma,' as her mother-in-law, frowning furiously, emerged from the car.

Jane! What's happened here?'

“I'm outta here,' Shelley murmured.

Jane grabbed her friend's sleeve. 'Don't you dare desert me,' she hissed. Then, dragging Shelley along, she headed for her own house. 'Thelma, come in out of the cold!”

Thelma was still sputtering with vicarious indignation when they got into the kitchen. 'They're tearing up your whole yard! What happened to your fence? Have you called city hall?'

“Thelma, it's all right,' Jane assured the older woman, pouring each of them a cup of coffee. 'They're making a movie.”

Thelma scoffed. 'In your backyard? Come now, Jane!”

Jane set the cups, along with cream and sugar on a tray and led the way to the living room, where the large back windows overlooked the scene of chaos behind the house. 'Not in our yards, in the field behind us. They're using our backyards for the equipment.'

“That terrible field!' Thelma sniffed. 'I've always said that was dangerous, all that open land.'

“I know you've said that,' Jane responded. Almost every time you come here, she added mentally. 'But we like the field, don't we, Shelley? I'm glad the land developer went bankrupt before the division was finished and left that vacant land.”

Thelma had seated herself with her back to the window, but curiosity overcame her and she set her coffee aside to get up and look outside. 'But a movie. . why would somebody make a movie here, of all places?'

“It isn't a whole movie,' Shelley said. 'Just a few scenes. They'll only be here a few days. And they're paying the homeowners very generously and instal- ling brand-new fences for us when they're done.”

She caught herself and gave Jane a quick, chagrined look as if to say, Why am I apologizing?

Well, I think it's outrageous, disturbing your lives this way, just to make another film. Probably more of that Hollywood trash, anyway. There aren't enough good movies being made anymore.”

While Thelma Jeffry finished her coffee, she continued to rumble about how the world had gone to the dogs, and things weren't like that in her day, and how she feared for the next generation. She finished up her tirade with a bit about Madonna's sex book, on which she seemed curiously well informed. Eventually she got to the point of the visit.

“I just dropped by to bring you your check, Jane. I'd best be on my way. I'm giving a talk at my club luncheon today and I need to refresh myself on my notes.' She shrugged into her suit jacket and fished a large green check out of her purse to hand to Jane.

Jane's late (and progressively less lamented) husband Steve had been a partner in the Jeffry family's small chain of drugstores — along with his widowed mother and his brother Ted. In the early years of Jane and Steve's marriage, the business had hit a rough financial spot at about the same time as Jane received a tidy little inheritance from a great-aunt. She had put her money into the pharmacy. Because of her investment at a crucial time and her role as a partner's widow, Jane received a third share of the chain's monthly profits and always would.

Jane was entitled to the money, but Thelma always presented the check in person, and always managed to make it seem like charity on her part instead of Jane's due. And when possible, like today, she made the 'gift' in view of witnesses.

Jane folded the check, ostentatiously not looking at the amount, and put it in her jeans pocket. 'Thanks, Thelma,' she said through nearly gritted teeth.

“Why do you let her do that?' Shelley asked when Thelma had finally gone.

“Because I'm a wimp!' Jane said. 'I keep trying to see it from her viewpoint. Steve's been dead for almost two years now and is going to keep on being dead, if you know what I mean. He's not working for the pharmacies anymore and never will again. She probably resents having to give me a third, just as if he were still contributing to making the profits.”

Jane let her big shambling dog Willard out of the basement, where he'd been hiding from Thelma, and the women went back to the living room and dragged a pair of armchairs nearer the window to watch what was going on outside. The big truck they'd watched pull in was now unloading its cargo. A huge sturdy yellow tent was being set up in Jane's yard and a similar tent in light green was going up in Shelley's yard. Another enormous flatbed truck had pulled into the field and big flat building components were being unloaded. Sham buildings were springing up before their very eyes and workers swarmed everywhere.

“I take it you haven't yet told Thelma about your trip with Mel this weekend,' Shelley said, without looking away from the astonishing sight.

“God, no! I know I'm going to have to, but I just can't face it. I thought maybe Thursday.'

“Uh-huh. You figure she won't have time to call out the National Guard to throw up a cordon around your house before Friday morning?'

“Something like that.'

“So, when you do tell her, what are you going to say?”

Jane cleared her throat and gave it a practice run. ' 'Thelma, you remember Detective Van Dyne, don't you? Well, I wanted to let you know he and I are going to New York for the weekend. I'm leaving Mike in charge of Katie and Todd and he'll have a number where I can be reached if there's any emergency. Good-bye.' Then I hang up real fast before she can say anything.'

“And she'll call you back a millisecond later to read you the riot act.'

“I'm ready for it. I'll just explain that I'm nearly forty years old, a competent adult widow, entitled to make these decisions myself. My oldest son is a senior in high school, a responsible boy who will look after his brother and sister. And then when she calls me a slut, I'll hang up on her again.”

Shelley nodded. 'Sounds good to me. You think she really is going to hit the roof?'

“Oh, I'm sure of it. I think she's always resented the fact that I didn't throw myself into Steve's grave. The idea that I might have a sex life will make her head spin.' Jane paused. 'Actually, it makes my head spin. Want a

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