Janet Campbell Hale
A person has to watch her step when she is an inmate of an old people’s home. Especially if her mind happens to be clear. Especially if she loathes the so-called home and resents the son who brought her to Oakland, California, who insisted, after his father died three years ago, that she live with him. “Come home with us, Ma,” he said. “You can’t live all alone out in the country. We love you. We would love having you. Let us look after you.” (She was grief-stricken at the time; after all, she and Sam, who were married some fifty odd years, were as close as two people could be.) Her mind was clouded when she agreed to leave Idaho and its harsh climate for sunny California, when she agreed to leave her home and everything that had ever meant anything to her, even her dog. At the time it seemed the rational thing to do.
She was old, after all, at seventy-six. (Now she was three years older.) And it was true that the winters were hard and she didn’t know how she would manage without Sam. And then there was the case a year or two before of the old widow who was beaten to death by a gang of teenagers. The girl who testified against the others in exchange for immunity told how they knocked at the old woman’s door and asked to use her telephone. Their car had broken down, they told her, and they needed to call a tow truck. The old woman let them in and, turning her back to them, said, “The phone is in here. Just follow me.” One of the girls stabbed the old woman in the back, but she braced herself in a doorway and didn’t fall. The girl pulled the knife out of the first wound and stabbed her again. This time she fell and the other girls began kicking her and pounding her with their fists as she, realizing now what was happening, began to pray: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” She was dead before she could finish her prayer.
That heinous crime had occurred in the next county less than a hundred miles from Claire’s home. They did it, the one who testified said, because they wanted to see what it felt like to kill someone, and they had decided, some weeks before, that their victim would be either a young child or an elderly person. The weekend before they’d gone to Northtown Mall in Spokane hoping to find a child who was not being watched carefully whom they could lure away. No luck there. They didn’t