Oct/Nov 2000  •   Fiction

What Rosa Failed to Tell the Police

by Sydney Harth

Rosa readily answered every question the police asked her. Jed's feelings about the spa did not interest them, and she did not tell them Jed had said, "We should never have come here. This place hardly gives you enough calories to rub together in a bucket."

"You spoil everything for me, don't you?" she had answered.

The trip had been their son's idea. "Ma's putting on too much weight these days, and you have to get your diabetes under control. The spa I use is what you both need," Jasper kept saying, and he also offered to pay all the bills for a week. Jed still did not want to go, but Rosa could talk him into anything if she tried. She did not mention that ability to the police. It did not seem respectful to Jed's memory. No one had expected Jed to drop dead, of all things, and get everybody excited.

"Sometimes he takes a great notion," she said to the police when they finally came, "but on this trip he wasn't any worse than usual."

"Jed kept talking about death," she told the doctor who also turned up, "but he's been going on like that since he was forty." She said his talk did make her wory about his mind sometimes, and his doctor at home had told her to keep an eye on him and not to let him behave cranky.

He watched her, at home, as closely as she watched him, most closely at meal times, where either might cheat. He would get fussed at nothing, which made his blood pressure go up, and she did overeat because she had no diabetes, at least, and food was one of the few pleasures left an old woman. She did not tell the doctor or the police about any of that. Nor did she mention Jed's argument with her over breakfast that morning.

"Not my idea of 'luxury pampering,' like they promised in the brochure. Didn't they used to hand out meals this small on the poor farm?" Jed had asked.

"Not on fresh fruit trays, with muffins still warm from the oven. Jasper said the meals made him feel great," Rosa had said.

"Jasper's young. The young always feel good."

"A high class spa like this gives people what they need, which isn't always the same as what they want. It's costing Jasper enough, so let's have a good time."

"Jasper should have given us the cash. For what he's throwing away on this dump, we could have put up a gazebo in the back, and built a couple of new runs for those crazy dogs of yours that are always getting out."

"A gazebo where you could drink beer and snore all summer? That's not my idea of 'vibrant maturity,' which is what we're after, let me remind you. It's not your doctor's idea either," she had said.

Her eyes, while they talked, never left the blueberry muffin he twirled in his large red hand. If he popped it into his mouth whole, like he did the day before, she would have a few words to say.

"Lose a lot if you break these little buggers, and anyway, they aren't worth more than one bite. Considering what they give me to eat around here, I can't afford to lose a single crumb," he had answered her yesterday.

"You know I've wanted for years to visit an elegant spa, and now that Jasper's given us this dream present, can't you act less crude than you do at home? Jasper's well known here, with a fine reputation. You should walk into town if you want to stuff your face," she said with her eyes still fixed on the muffin in his hand.

"I might just do that."

"You can't now. It's almost time for our aqua-fitness class. Put down that muffin and let's go."

"Maybe I should take this muffin up to the room. In case I get hungry later."

"I don't think you're allowed. A sign said 'No Food in Rooms.'"

"Is this a prison camp, or what?"

"If you can take one, so can I." She picked up the last muffin on the plate, with calm deliberation, wrapped it in her napkin, and dropped it into the large plastic hold all she used as a purse. It seemed greedy to empty the plate like they did, and she hoped no one in the dining room was looking at them. That would not be fair to Jasper, who had a weight problem (still baby-fat she believed) and went there often. Jed did not care how he hurt Jasper. Just before they left, he had said to his son, "Jasper, if you weren't so fat, you could get married like everybody else. It's something you do." Jasper had laughed but Rosa knew he did not think the remark funny.

She did not quote Jed's so-called joke to the police or doctors, nor did she tell them how she decided on the spot to save the muffin once she took it. She hated starving alone when he started chomping at midnight.

Jed suddenly stuffed the blueberry muffin into his mouth. Whole. Without a word of warning. She watched him trying to chew it, saw the crumbs tumble out of his mouth, could almost feel his dentures shifting as they tried to cope with the load he had handed them. "You are disgusting," she had said, and hurried from the breakfast room while he stood rooted to the spot, forcing down his sweet with sweat running down his fat cheeks.

She did not repeat her final remark to the police and the doctor, but she did describe Jed forcing down the muffin, and she did make a point of saying, "Don't you think he might have choked?"

By then she had recovered some of her equilibrium. She told the doctor and the police, she hardly had had time to take care of what she called "my needs," before she heard Jed thundering down the hall, like an elephant escaped from the circus. She heard him fumbling with the key-card—he never could make those things work, but she had no trouble—and she hid against the wall to the left of the door. He might go looking for her, but she imagined he would simply stand by the door bellowing, "Rosa, Rosa," like a foghorn.

"Rosa, Rosa," he did boom out once he was inside the room, and, for fun, she admitted she had yelled, "Boo!!"

His back had grown stiff, which showed he had heard her, half-deaf though he was.

She had said, "Right here," but, without turning toward her, he had tripped down the steps into the suite's living room and smacked his head on the marble coffee table. He did not get up, but she assured her questioners she thought him alive, and she hurried around, looking for the nearest telephone. She did not mention noticing, as she passed Jed's body, a bulge in his jacket pocket concealing a whole blueberry muffin, twice the size of any at breakfast.

Where he had found it, she had no idea. Maybe he paid one of the staff to fetch it for him. He had not had the time to fetch it himself. She did not mention the time issue to the police. Nor did she mention sitting down and eating that muffin in small slow bites before she called for help.