It was a particularly unpleasant March. It blew in like a lion and showed no signs of blowing out any other way. The trees and spring flowers that normally began blooming toward the end of the month remained bare. I cut several long branches of forsythia from the bushes in our backyard and put them in water in our living room and family room to force the flowers, checking daily for a hint of yellow.
Eddie, who had turned three the previous November, had one cold after another, several of which I caught my-self, and even Jack, who was rarely under the weather, came down with a debilitating flu at the end of February that kept him home for a few days at the beginning of March. A windstorm in the middle of the month brought down an old tree at the far end of our backyard, narrowly missing our garage. Observing the damage the next morning, I felt utterly drained. It would be a big job to cut it into pieces the right size for firewood or for the DPW to pick up at the curb.
“I have had enough!” I said out loud to the cold air, the cloudy sky, and the still hard ground. But no one heard me.
Eddie had been attending nursery school two mornings a week, probably the source of all the sniffles in the family, but during March he missed almost as many sessions as he went to. That meant I had to ask Elsie Rivers, my chief baby-sitter and surrogate grandmother, to come to our house while I taught my poetry course on Tuesday mornings.
All in all, it wasn’t the best month of my life, and I had T. S. Eliot’s cruelest month to look forward to when March was over. Sometimes you just can’t win.
It was in March that I ran into an Oakwood man I had heard of but never met, and I lived to regret that run-in. For run-in was what it was. I was in Prince’s, the upscale supermarket—we have two in our area, one ordinary, one carrying more exotic, and more expensive, items that I like to buy for treats. No chance this penny-pincher will ever take something off a shelf that costs ten cents more than I can pay in another place close to home.
Jack, my lawyer-cop husband who is a fabulous cook, had asked me to pick up some oil-cured olives for a dish he was planning to make over the weekend, and I was staring at cans and jars of green, black, and dark red olives when I heard the sound of a small boy imitating a train or a race car. I wasn’t sure which, and I looked down to find my cart of groceries gone and my son zipping down the aisle pushing the cart at a dangerous level of speed.
“Eddie, stop!” I called as I took off after him, holding a jar of what might be the olives I needed to buy.
But I was too late to avoid disaster. I heard a male voice say, “Ow!” and then, a second or two later as I scampered on the scene, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Eddie had managed to smack the man in the rear, probably rather painfully, and my son no stood looking up at me, his hands behind his back as though the cart had simply taken off by itself, and a sympathetic onlooker, of which there were none, might generously conclude that he was in the process of stopping it when its victim got in the way.
“I’m terribly sorry,” I said to the man, who looked en-raged enough to do us both in. “Eddie, you are not to push the cart by yourself.”
He fought back tears, which had no effect on either me or the man rubbing the back of his leg.
“If you can’t control that kid, leave him home when you shop. He’s a goddamn menace.”
“I’m very sorry,” I said again.
“Sorry doesn’t cut it.” He then bent down and, to my utter chagrin, picked up a cane that had apparently been knocked out of his hand when the cart hit him.
I felt terrible. “I hope you’re all right,” I said lamely, taking Eddie’s hand so he could not get away, not that he wanted to. “Can I help you? Is there anything I can do?”
“Keep that kid away from me,” the man growled, taking hold of his cart and pushing it away from us.
“Eddie, you hurt that man,” I said, lifting him and set-ting him in the child’s seat, where he should have been in the first place.
“Yes, you did. You pushed the cart right into him and you hurt him.”
“No!” he shouted.
“Keep quiet. We’ll talk about it when we get home. I just need a few more things.”
“You picked the wrong guy,” a woman’s voice said be-side me.
“What do you mean?” I turned to see a woman that I knew vaguely from church, or maybe the town council.
“He growls if you pat him on the head. You’re lucky he just walked away.”
“Who is he?”
“That’s Willard Platt.”
“I’ve heard the name.”
“He and his wife live over in Oakwood on the hill, a big house set way back from the road.”
I knew the one she meant. My aunt had pointed it out many years ago when I was still a nun and came to visit monthly. It was a beautiful home, although somewhat for-bidding in its setting, larger than I could ever imagine living in myself and, frankly, not the kind of place I would send my child to trick or treat on Halloween. “Well, my son has left him black and blue. I notice he walks with a cane. I really feel terrible.”
“He probably won’t do anything, but he’s initiated some pesty lawsuits.”
“That’s all I need,” I said.
“Have a nice day,” the woman said breezily and went down toward the other end of the aisle.
I finished my shopping, got in the express line, and checked out. It was late in the afternoon and cold. I pulled Eddie’s hood over his head and tied the cord. He was very docile, sensing my anger. I pushed the cart through the automatic door and turned toward where I had parked my car. As I crossed the car lane that ran in front of the store, I saw someone standing next to a car parked about twenty feet from us. I stopped and looked. It was Willard Platt, cane in hand, watching us. My heart pounding, I went to our car, which was quite close, got Eddie in his car seat and the bag of groceries in the front seat, and went around to my side. I glanced at Platt just before I sat down. I couldn’t be certain, but I thought he was writing some-thing down.
Excerpted from The April Fools' Day Murder by Lee Harris. Copyright © 2001 by Lee Harris. Excerpted by permission of Fawcett, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.