Julissa Forney sat in the rocker watching her grandmother in the bed next to her. It was odd to see the once active, now frail woman buried beneath the white Battenberg lace quilt; her shallow breaths revealing the last threads of her life. It seemed like only yesterday Margaret Forney had received the news that Cancer had taken over her body.
Julissa took comfort in the warmth of light cast through the window pane. As she rocked back and forth she thought about how her grandmother’s death would truly close a chapter in her life. Margaret was the last of Julissa’s family and the imminent parting overwhelmed her at times. If it wasn’t for her engagement to
Hospice moved Margaret home from the hospital earlier that week and the doctor explained that she would mostly sleep and may only be responsive at times. Julissa wanted to savor every
“How is she doing?” Sawyer asked as he entered the room.
“The same,” Julissa replied. “I’ve been swabbing her mouth with ice chips every so often and she wakes for a few minutes here and there.”
“You should eat,” Sawyer said, setting some take-out boxes on the night stand next to her. Julissa wasn’t sure if it was the smell of the food or the sound of Sawyer’s voice that roused Margaret from her sleep.
“Jules-“ Margaret began, clearing her throat. Julissa set down her food and moved over to the bed, lacing her fingers through her grandmother’s.
“I’m here,” she reassured her.
“My Bible—“ Margaret tried again to speak, however her voice cracked a bit before trailing off.
Thinking that Margaret wanted her to read to her from the Bible, Julissa got up and retrieved the tattered book from the dresser. Upon returning to her bedside, Margaret placed her hand over Julissa’s, stopping her from thumbing through the pages. She pulled the old Bible onto her lap and opened the front cover. Inside was a sealed envelope bearing Julissa’s name. Her hands shook as she passed the letter to her granddaughter. Then, as if that feat took all of her might, Margaret closed her eyes and began to rest again.
Clearing the boxes of food, Sawyer and Julissa made their way to the kitchen, allowing Margaret to rest for a bit. Across the table from each other, Sawyer sat quietly as Julissa pulled several pages from the envelope and began to read aloud. She never could have guessed what she was about to discover.
As I near the end of my days it occurs to me that you deserve to learn the truth about the past. My worst fear is that you will be blamed for my wrong-doings and I do not wish that upon you, especially now that you’re engaged to a member of law enforcement.
“Wrong doings?” Julissa asked out loud, glancing at Sawyer with a puzzled look.
“Law Enforcement?” Sawyer replied before giggling.
“What?” Julissa asked in confusion.
“Well, it’s just that it’s only the Sheriff and me. I mean,
“Sawyer,” Julissa sighed, shaking her head only slightly amused at his sometimes boyish behavior.
“Sorry. Continue,” Sawyer apologized.
I thank God that the numbering of my days has been made known to me so that I may take the opportunity to write out my confession. The guilt of this has torn me up for years. Yet it was also the driving force of that guilt that kept me going, enabling you to turn into the beautiful woman you have become.
I should first explain that your grandfather, the Reverend Henry Forney was not always a compassionate man. Yes, he was the pastor at the church. And yes, he was passionate about his beliefs. But Henry was also a firm believer in “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Unfortunately, I was not always spared that rod either. I don’t mean to speak ill of your grandfather, Julissa. After all, he was a man of God. But you have to understand, times were different then. Women weren’t to speak out of turn. I did not mourn at his funeral. I cried, all right. But they were tears of relief. I felt then as I do now that Henry’s heart attack was an answer to prayer. Of course, I never admitted that to anyone. Who would believe that the honored Reverend Forney was anything but gentle?
Julissa was shocked to read the words scrawled by her grandmother’s own hand. She had only ever heard wonderful stories of her grandfather and how much service he gave to the town of
Hank Jr., your father, was barely a teenager when he lost his
It came as no surprise to me when Hank got Kathleen, still in high school, pregnant. I suppose if there was anyone who gave a care about her, they may have brought some sort of charge against him. However your sweet mama was merely a child abandoned to foster care. I took her in. Looking back it probably wasn’t the smartest thing I had ever done, but I convinced Hank Jr. that marrying your mama was the proper thing to do. I guess I was worried about keeping up appearances. I can’t help but feel what he did to her was partly my fault.
“Is she taking the blame for your mother’s murder?” Sawyer asked.
“I would imagine,” Julissa began. “Growing up I heard the story a hundred times. My father had gotten himself drunk one night after losing his job at the plant. He and my mother had an argument and in his drunken rage he strangled her. The sheriff believed he jumped off the
Sawyer nodded. “I remember when I first moved to
“Well, this isn’t
Your mama was the sweetest, shiest girl I knew. As I’ve told you before, she was beautiful; had the fair skin of a porcelain doll. You actually take after her quite a bit. She was a gem and deserved to be treated like one. She loved you so much too. She held you and rocked you and sang to you. I’ll never forget her lovely voice. She also protected you. As soon as you began to cry, your mama would rush to your side to comfort you. She never said as much, but I knew what she was thinking, for the same thoughts had crossed my mind too. When Hank came home drunk, nothing more would set him off than the sound of your cries. Kathleen feared what he was capable of if she didn’t keep you settled down.
News of the local power plant lay-offs spread like wild fire. When your daddy didn’t come home for supper I knew he was down at the tavern drowning himself in his sorrows. One look at Kathleen’s face told me she knew the same to be true. I don’t know what time it was when he finally came home, but it was after midnight when I heard the yelling. Kathleen was begging him to get off of her. Thinking there was an intruder, I reached in the side drawer for the Reverend’s pistol and ran down the hallway to the bedroom to find your daddy on top of your mama, choking the life right out of her. I pleaded for him to stop and even tried to pull him off of her. But he was strong and his arm came at me fast, in spite of his drunken state. You were in the crib nearby and began to cry. I knew he had to be stopped.
I know what the Bible says about killing a man. But I also knew this cycle had to end. As he returned to Kathleen, raising his fist, I put 2 bullets in the back of his head. But it was too late. Your mother was no longer breathing.
I don’t know how I managed, except to say that my adrenaline pumped fire through my veins. I pulled the sheets off the bed and wrapped them around his body before dragging him down to the basement. I removed all of the meat from the ice chest and somehow managed to lift your father’s body into the freezer. I threw the gun in there as well and locked the freezer with a padlock.
I then returned to the bedroom and cleaned up the blood as best I could and moved the area rug over the stain on the floor. I rocked you back to sleep and then, I called the police. I told them what had happened, for the most part, replacing the part about the murder with a story that Hank had run off.
You were just a baby, instantly orphaned. If I confessed and went to jail, I feared you’d end up in the system just like your mother. I wanted only the best for you, Julissa.
Although is hasn’t worked in years, tell Sawyer the freezer is still in the basement, in the back corner behind stacks of boxes, and Hank’s body is still inside. The key to the padlock is in the jewelry box on my dresser.
I know what I did was wrong. I know that when I die I will have to answer to my maker and His judgment. I’ve made peace about that in my mind already. What I want more desperately than anything else is to know that you forgive me. I love you and have always loved you with every fiber of my being. Please, Julissa. Please forgive me.
Sawyer and Julissa sat in silence for a few minutes before either one finding words to speak.
“So, what do we do now?” Julissa asked. “Certainly you wouldn’t arrest my grandmother on her deathbed, right?”
Sawyer reached across the table, gently placing his hand over hers. “Your grandmother was acting in self-defense and was trying to protect you.”
“Yes,” Julissa said, holding back the tears.
“Your grandmother was a wonderful role model to you,” Sawyer continued.
“Yes,” Julissa confirmed again.
“Your grandmother raised you to be a beautiful, smart woman who’s been able to accomplish many things because of her encouragement and support.”
“Yes,” Julissa nodded.
Sawyer then took the sheets of paper from Julissa’s hands, folded them back up and returned them to the envelope. “Your grandmother deserves a proper burial. She deserves to be remembered for the kind, loving woman she was.”
“Yes,” Julissa agreed.
“Listen to me,” Sawyer said, bringing Julissa’s chin up to meet his gaze. “This letter was not found. In fact, it won’t be found until after your grandmother’s funeral. Understood?”
Julissa smiled through her tears. “Yes.”
Julissa climbed the stairs to the bedroom and returned the letter to the front of the Bible, placing it once again on the dresser. Standing in the presence of the greatest woman she’d ever come to know, Julissa soaked in the light wishing time could stand still for a brief moment. Silently acknowledging the suffering Margaret had likely endured for many years, Julissa couldn’t even begin to imagine the amount of courage and strength it took for her grandmother to do what she had to do. It gave new meaning to the sentiment she’d been taught repeatedly growing up, You can do hard things.
Julissa made her way over to the bed and sat next her grandmother. Lightly caressing the top of Margaret’s clasped hands Julissa was overcome with emotion and began weeping uncontrollably. Margaret reached her fingers up and laced them through the young woman’s and Julissa noticed her eyes were also moist. There were so many things Julissa wanted to say to her grandmother; so many questions she wanted answered. Yet, she couldn’t seem to find the words. Their eyes held each other in a gaze that seemed to suggest a deep love and understanding of one another.
“Thank you,” Julissa finally said. Margaret smiled and sighed quietly before closing her eyes for the last time.