By the time May Thompson locked the door it was too late. What happened to Jenny Wade had already happened. Brian, her youngest, was in way over his head with Mr. Barnes. And there was a lot more coming that no locked door was ever going to keep out. But you couldn’t blame her for trying.
That evening, early in the summer of 1974, the heat of the day had settled in the house like another member of the Thompson family, hanging out in the den with Brian as he stared at the television, too boiled to even notice what was on. Was the heat, dry and stagnant, that kept most folks indoors that day, which lead to the the rapid fire spread of the news of what happened to Jenny, once word got out. Not as palpable as wet heat which drapes on you like an extra layer of skin that won’t sink in or molt off, dry heat harbors a sharpness in its touch, pin needles that scratch at your prickled flesh but never seem to release the blood roiling beneath.
At the slam of the door, Brian called out “Leave the door open, Mama. Let the air circulate.”
Brian shifted in his father’s leather chair in search of any spot cooled by the box fan set up in front of him. He watched his mother pass by, heading into the kitchen. “Mama!” He called, but she didn’t respond.
Lazily, Brian trudged into the living room and opened the door again. May Thompson’s children did that on occasion, defied her, tested the boundaries she held on them. Her two oldest children had already learned this and it seemed Brian was catching on as well. But that night, May would not be defied. She returned to the living room, to where her youngest son stood in the doorway, enjoying the insignificant breeze that had shimmied its way through the neighborhood, across the yard, up the porch and through the screen door. May stepped around Brian, moving him backward a pace or two. She peered out into the hazy twilight as if expecting to find something or someone lurking out there then slammed the door shut again. A brief moment passed as she fumbled with the lock. Her fingers, tangled with emotions Brian didn’t understand, worried the deadbolt once then twice until it found its long forgotten home. She then turned to him with challenge in her eyes and her stance. Brian, wholly intent on reopening the door, intent on meeting her challenge with his own, stopped when he felt, rather than saw the tremble of her body. This was not her usual scared-mouse tremble, the kind a lot of beat women get that flutters just under the skin, keeping them alert to any physical shifts that might be occurring around them; no, this emanated from a permanent point inside her, a bone-deep tremble. Even though Brian had been doing things with Mr. Barnes for the past week or so that had him thinking he was a grown-up, just like his mother, at that moment, he felt like a little boy again.
His mother didn’t tell Brian anything that night. Of course she wouldn’t; she still saw him as a child, her child, the baby of the family to be protected and shielded by her and any door she could find to lock. So in silence, she went to bed, not a word, leaving him there at the door, wondering if she’d locked them in or locked something out.