As a child, the sound of the hallway's double doors would wake me up at 3 AM and Mama would sit in her chair on the backyard verandah, puffing on ten cigarettes until the smoke finally clouded her mind and she either fell asleep in her chair or my concerned eight-year-old self convinced her to sleep in her own bed.
Mama's addiction in no way affected her love for me, and it was because she was the most loving person in the world that she went outside to smoke instead of filling the house with the stuff rather than risking me breathing it in and getting cancer or something. But truth be said, it was ruining her life.
She knew she was dying. It was the reason my father had left her when I was I was only an infant, leaving her a working single mother with little to no financial support through no friends and few surviving family members. She refused to have a conversation about it, however, and instead tried and do all the things most mothers do—with the exception of spending most of the day at work and filling half of her spare time smoking three packs a day. I'm not sure if I was aware of the full extent of her smoking at the time, but I knew she wasn't like most mama's—only more loving.
On one particular night I had come down with a fever of over a hundred degrees, and it probably wouldn't have helped with Mama's body heat as well, but I was a kid, and what else do kids do when they're feeling sick or afraid than cuddle up to their parents? Mama said I could sleep in her bed tonight, even though she'd probably leave the bed half a dozen times to pee and smoke, and she promised the next day off school and she'd take the day off work if I really wanted. I said OK and snuggled down and fell asleep soon enough, even though I would wake up dripping in sweat from the fever.
Sure enough, Mama got out of bed sometime after midnight; I heard the mattress springs creak and her feet pad across the floor and the double doors open in the hallway. I used the pillow to wipe the sweat from my face and remained awake, waiting for Mama's eventual return, waiting for her enormous silhouette to walk back into the bedroom and cuddle me once more.
It did, although the smoking and possible fatigue had made Mama's figure appear more stretched, and she buried herself under the covers and drew me closer to her, an arm wrapped around my body to protect me. She snuggled me like this for a long time, until I decided I needed to pee and got up myself. To get to the toilet I needed to pass the hallway's double doors, which had the curtains drawn open and the porch light pooling in. I glanced briefly through the glass panes that made up most of the doors, but something made me turn back and look closer. It was Mama.
In her smoking chair, Mama, with her back to me and a pack of smokes by her on the deck floor. She looked like she was sleeping, but that couldn't be right, because right now she was sleeping in her bed, not in her chair outside. Somewhat cautiously, I opened one of the doors and crept outside, shaking Mama's shoulders.
"Mama? Mama, are you-"
My hands felt something wet. I gasped a little at the sudden sensation, and moved over to her front. What I saw still haunts me to this day.
Mama's throat had been gushing red, and now her entire front was drenched crimson. I could still see the loose flap of skin at her throat had been cut. At the time I didn't fully comprehend the fact that Mama was dead, but I did know if she was still out here, sleeping or not, it was somebody else that had climbed into bed with me.
I quickly nicked the packet of cigarettes on the deck and put them in my pocket. I didn't understand why I did it, but I definitely thought I could use them, maybe as evidence or even a weapon.
At that moment, I heard footsteps emerging down the hallway, and suddenly he was there. A plump man with a knife whose eyes shouted madness and wore an ugly grin on his strangely sallow face. Beads of sweat covered his pale skin, and he moved closer, gripping the knife in his left hand as he approached.
"You move, and I kill you."
I may have not been able to fully comprehend the fact that my mother was dead, but I knew danger when I saw it, and a crazy-looking man with a knife was no exception. I hesitated, thoughts of escape running through my mind, but instead I suddenly burst into tears.
The man grinned more broadly. "Good... now just step back inside with me, and we'll go back to bed."
I gulped and tried to be brave, but the tears just flowed even more freely. Then I remembered the cigarettes.
Trembling, I removed them from my pocket, but they slipped out of my hands onto the floor. The man turned around and glanced at the dropped pack. In that brief moment of distraction, I bolted.
I ran around the front, down our driveway, and up our street until I finally reached the police station and reported my incident. The man was captured half an hour later and eventually received a life sentence in prison for murder.
The man was also a convicted pedophile.