Heather was one of those women who looked like she just stepped out of a magazine. Not the stripped down and half nude kind of magazine, but the isn’t-she-as-well-dressed-as-she-can-be type. Heather wasn’t a great looking woman but she did the most with what she had, and since she was always smiling a lot of people thought she was very pretty. If you really want to know who someone is you should drink with them, or drink while being around them, and Heather was not a pretty drunk. Heather had some issues and they fluttered around inside of her head like a thousand loose pieces of paper in a whirlwind on the inside an empty library. Alcohol lit Heather up in a way that it does some men, making them snarly and bitchy. But Heather was well thought of at work, and she dressed well, and most of all, Heather had two very cute kids.
Heather was mother of the year material if you listened to her long enough. And true enough, her kids were stamped out of the same well dressed mode Heather had walked out of like the perfect family. The missing father made the scene more poignant. He had walked out on Heather and the kids one night and never looked back, or so her story told. No one I ever knew had ever met him, but the two kids, a little girl at aged seven and the little boy at age five, looked very much like someone other than Heather. They were dark eyed and predatory looking children. They didn’t speak very much or bounce around like kids are supposed to, but rather than were perfectly behaved, and that, to me, is scary.
A friend of mine, Don, wanted to date Heather, and for some reason I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea. It didn’t feel right, and the two of us sat down and tried to define it. We all drank in the same circle and there are fewer groups of people with as much…cross pollination, as drinkers. To me, there was something more than a little odd about the woman. The fact that her weirdness did not attract me gave Don pause but alas!
The two of them seemed to hit it off and they coupled up when the rest of us went anywhere, but there was something about them as a pair that was as odd as Heather alone. I watched them one night at a local bar while they competed against another couple at darts. It was a friendly thing, with no one really being very good at it, and worse while drinking. Heather kept close to Don, and she smiled a lot as if she were happy, but whenever it was his turn to throw, or whenever he went to get more beers, Heather was different. The smile stayed on her face as if she was reading the local weather but Heather kept one eye on the door and another on the room. As soon as Don returned she was the perfect partner again. I caught Heather not smiling a couple of times and she looked much different. The more she drank the more different she looked.
Did I mention I walked? An old, odd, habit; I walk when I’ve been drinking. One night while everyone else was at a party at Don’s house I started walking. I walked for a while and then I realized I was near Heather’s duplex, and I remembered she said that Barney was keeping her kids Barney was a woman who had a fascination with all things Mayberry and did a very decent Fife impersonation. It was odd because she went to a Halloween party dressed as one of the California Raisins, and there was a photo of Barney the Raisin on the wall of the Pub. Just before I left that part of the world, Barney the dinosaur was born, and the two Barneys bore striking similarities. I still think that is too weird for words.
Now, remember this is a time before cell phones and the internet and instant communications. If you wanted to speak to someone while you were passing by their house you would simply drop in. Barney always had good pot, and she and I always had good conversations. The duplex looked very dark and very empty. There wasn’t a light on in the place, but one of the back bedrooms had a light going so assumed she was back there with the kids. But her car wasn’t there and that made me stop. Where was Barney if the kids were in the back bedroom? I assumed she had stepped out to go to the store so I rang the bell and waited. Nothing. I stepped back into the street and the light in the back was gone. I sat on the front steps and burned a joint, wondering what happened to Barney, and wondering if I had just imagined the light. But when I left I noticed the light was back on.
Of course, when I got back to the party and explained how there was no one with the kids Heather sat there for a few seconds and then the world exploded. It turned into one of those scenes where the mother of the kids is crying and claiming the babysitter abandoned the children. At first, the cuter woman prevailed, and mostly I think it was because Heather didn’t think the thing out very well. Barney was a lot of things, or a lot of one thing, but she was considered to be an honest person, and someone who was reliable as hell when it came to kids. Worse, once accused of child abandonment, Barney felt free to talk about things she might not otherwise discuss. The first was why the children both slept in the same room, same bed, and the door was usually locked from the outside. Heather kept them locked in their room most of the time and had an endless supply of Disney tapes that kept them entertained. There was hardly ever any food in the house and Heather would usually give Barney money for pizza. The kids, Barney claimed, were terrified of Heather. Barney told us she didn’t quite feel right being alone with Heather and the kids seemed to like her than their own mom.
Heather started campaigning against Barney in a big way but she took that a step too far. She found a sympathetic ear of a local cop and all of sudden children services got involved. The problem was is the rest of us started comparing notes and realized Heather’s story was getting more and more strange as time went on. Remember, this all started out as a she said/she said deal where Barney was either supposed to be taking care of the kids that night or she wasn’t. Heather was now telling people Barney was abusive and Barney sometimes locked the kids in the closet for hours on end. Barney, Heather claimed, would make the children sit upright in a chair without moving for hours and… hey, Heather, how could you know all of this and not said anything until now?
Heather stopped smiling so much and it was as if someone different, someone else, had arrived. The sympathy she had enjoyed began to erode when the state waded in and took the kids from her. Barney, I think, cared for those kids more than Heather, and as such, was more willing to take the fight all the way to the mat. To be accused of abusing children struck at Barney’s soul while the same accusation to Heather was more of a tactical disadvantage. More and more there were people like me who were openly questioning why Heather’s story was changing and man, I tell you, that sure as hell doesn’t sound like Barney, does it? Heather went off the deep end on night and tried to brain Don with a glass beer mug. She stormed out of the pub and for reasons I cannot explain, I followed her out into the parking lot, but instead of speaking to her, or following her, I simply walked over to where the pay phone was and called 911. I told them there was a drunk woman trying to kill her children, and gave them Heather’s address.
It wasn’t long after that I transferred to another part of the state with a new job. I never did hear how it ended, but I did know that the cops took the kids that night and Heather stopped hanging around the drinking crowd after she got out of jail. I still see people from that circle of half empty glasses, but I don’t do more than smile and say hello. I saw Barney a couple of years ago with a half grown girl child hanging onto to her hand. That would be a grandchild, I thought, but I wasn’t going to question of that part of my past.