Monday, August 1, 2011
The Mystery of the Woman in the Blue Car
Billie sat on the porch with her aunts, pulling the stiff green sleeve off an ear of corn. She tugged again and grabbed a few fingersful of the silky skein. Most of the fragile threads broke and stuck to the corn. The few pieces of silk she did manage to pull off floated on the breeze and littered the porch. Billie wasn't very good at this. She watched her aunts skillfully shuck the corn in a few quick motions. They made it look so easy. Billie clutched another ear in her hand and grabbed half of the green sleeves and pulled. Silk flew everywhere.
"There she is!" Kay yelled out.
The three aunts brushed their corn husks to the side and walked to the edge of the porch as a car approached. Billie waited for the visitor to pull into the driveway, but the car drove on. Her aunts didn't even wave.
"That's the third time today," Maxine said.
"Something's fishy about the whole thing," Susan said as she sat back in her chair and resumed shucking. Billie patiently picked at the threads stuck between the kernels of smooth Indiana corn. She hoped she was cleaning her ears well enough to be eaten. It was taking her much longer than it was her aunts and anyone could tell which ears were Billie's if they looked at the pile. Her corn looked like it had frizzy hair on a humid day. Guiltily, she vowed to eat her cobs herself rather than subject her aunts to the misery of all that corn and silk between their teeth.
"We've already talked to Jim about it," Maxine said. "He followed her. She went down to the firehouse, turned around, and drove back this way."
Billie couldn't follow this conversation. She knew her aunts sometimes talked in sister-speak that only they understood, but this seemed like something else. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, we've got a real mystery going on around here," Kay said.
"Yes," Maxine chimed in. "Did you see that woman in the blue car who just drove by?"
Billie nodded and furtively retrieved her ears of corn from the finished stack. She ran her fingers down the rows of kernels again, removing a few more threads of silk. "I saw the car. I didn't see who was in it."
"It's a woman. She drives by here several times a day," Maxine said.
"Every day," Kay added.
"Every day," Maxine confirmed.
Since Billie wasn't a country girl, she thought she must be missing something in this tale. "So?"
"Well, Billie, don't you think that's odd?" Maxine asked. "I mean, what purpose does she have to even be on this road? No one knows her. She doesn't have any business out here."
Billie's forehead furrowed. "You mean, you and your neighbors have talked about this?"
"Well, yes!" Susan said. "We all want to know what she's doing out here."
"Driving up and down the road -- " Kay said.
"Every day, Billie. Every day. For years now."
Now that they'd put it that way, Billie did think it was strange. There wasn't anything out on this road but a few farms with fields of corn. It wasn't a heavily trafficked road at all. It didn't connect any other roads. It was true that the only people who usually travelled down this way were on their way to visit one of the road's residents.
"Jim followed her?" Billie asked.
"Yes!" Maxine answered emphatically. "She goes the same way, down to the firehouse and back, four or five times a day. And what business does she have out here in the first place? She lives all the way out in Middletown."
Billie ripped the sleeve off another ear of corn. "How do you know that?"
"Jim followed her home," Susan said.
"Um...don't you think that's a little extreme?" Billie asked her aunts. "You're making a big deal out of her being out here, but you think it's okay to follow her all the way home?"
"Well, what's she doing out here? For all we know, she's watching our farms, ready to rob us."
"Or maybe she killed someone and she's coming out here to make sure no one has discovered the body," Kay added.
"Maybe she's looking for a lost dog or something," Billie offered.
"For years, Billie? It's been years!"
Billie put her ear in the basket of corn. "You've got a point."
"Maybe she's lost," Kay said. "Or maybe she has dementia and she keeps driving out here because this is all she remembers."
The three aunts sat in silence a moment, dreaming up possible scenarios and shucking the end of the corn. When they'd finished, Maxine rolled all of the discarded vegetation into the newspaper where they'd thrown it. Billie noticed that hers was the only chair with corn silk beneath it. Her aunts hadn't left a trace of their work around their chairs.
Maxine carried the basket of corn cobs into the house and started the water. She came back outside with a bucketful of green beans to snap. The three aunts grabbed a handful and set to work.
"She ought to be back by in about an hour," Kay said.
"I'm telling you, Billie, we have a real live mystery out here."