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Dear Priscilla,

Reading between the lines of your last letter, I got the impression that you think I am not grieving, like a widow should. Sometimes you have to put the grieving on hold. Like when it means life or death. I am not referring to losing my own life, but I know that if I don’t do something, I will suffer greatly.

That is why I’ve been visiting all the landfills within a ten-mile radius of my house. This started, when Lance told me he had dumped the mattress and box springs. I’m not having much luck.

I understand that Lance is the only son you have left, but he should have let me deal with the mess that Steve left behind. This all started with that damn ceiling fan in our bedroom. I think I might have mentioned in a previous letter how annoying he found that thing. Well, one day, Steve decided he was going to, and I quote, “get rid of that hitch in the fan’s gitalong.” The clacking noise was keeping him up, he said. Did you ever see our bedroom? If you did, I’m sure you must have noticed that the light fixture on the fan was a collection of dangling crystals reminiscent of a chandelier and more appropriately located in a dining room or foyer.

Anyway, Mr. Fix-It (I mean no disrespect) was standing on a ladder at the foot of our bed when the fan and its mounting loosened and came crashing down on his head, knocking him unconscious. It was horrible. The blade sliced into his stomach, the shards of glass penetrated like shrapnel, and my poor husband bled to death.

I wasn’t home at the time, but the sight that greeted me was truly gruesome, especially the blood. Even if I hadn’t been in a state of shock, I would have called Lance. He told me that I should call the police. I didn’t want to. I was pretty sure they would blame me. You know what the police are like. No matter if I was as innocent as a newborn, they’d give me that beady-eyed stare that lets you know they think you’re lying. There was another problem, too.

I’m sure you have read between the lines of my most recent letters enough to suss out that Steve and I weren’t exactly getting along too well. I loved your son, and I’m pretty sure he loved me. But our life was full of a lot of screaming and door-slamming. I suspect the neighbors had heard enough of it to point the finger of suspicion at me: “The wife did it,” they’d say. “They were always fighting.”

Luckily, the police who showed up turned out to be sort of nice. It was clear what had happened to poor Steve, and they could easily check my alibi—grocery shopping and then a trip to the gas station where the attendants know me. The police arranged for his body to be hauled off to the morgue and sat me down for a long talk. It was while I was repeating my tale of where-was-I-and-when for the zillionth time that Lance hauled the mattress and box springs out to his truck and drove off.

I only found out later, what he had done, and, yes, I lost my temper. I think you would have, too, even though Lance is your son.

I have no idea what he has been saying to you. Perhaps you could fill me in?

Your loving daughter-in-law, Georgia

Dear Georgia,

I don’t know what to make of your most recent letter. Why were you visiting landfills? Of course, the police wouldn’t blame you. It was an accident, and the way you describe it pretty much proves that. Surely, they must have thought that if you were the one who loosened the fittings on that ceiling fixture, there was no way you could guarantee that when it came down, Steven would be right beneath it. I know you were going through a rough patch with Steven. Lance also knew it. He thought you two would either patch things up or get a divorce. But even he doesn’t think you killed his older brother. Which brings me to my final question: Why were you so angry at Lance? He was only trying to help.

Your loving mother-in-law who wonders . . . Priscilla

Dear Priscilla,

Why was I visiting landfills? Because Lance hauled the blood-stained mattress and box springs off to a dump. He couldn’t remember which dump. And he refused to bring the items back, saying no way could I deal with the sight of all that dried blood. He also thought it would be too late to recover the things, and that made me truly panic.

Why? Because, like a lot of people who got burned in the last economic meltdown, Steve and I decided it was better to keep our nest egg in the mattress. Did you have a hand in that decision? We had one of those padded mattress covers, the kind that zip all the way around your mattress. When we cashed out of the market, we converted the money into diamonds. Lots of them. We taped them to the mattress beneath the padded cover, zipped it close, and flipped the mattress over so the lumpy parts wouldn’t keep us awake at night. In fact, I never slept better, knowing our money was truly safe. So now, do you get it?

Since my last letter to you, I’ve hit the third landfill, since I began this quest. At the second landfill, all the mattresses were old and stained and waterlogged, and the attendant there told me that I would have better luck at the Salvation Army. By then, I probably did look like that sort of person.

At the third dump, the mattresses were all neatly stacked, and that posed a bit of a problem for anybody who happens to be under five feet-five and lacks upper body strength. It took me a while to find the attendant, who turned out to be a big, hulking guy with long greasy gray hair and a food-stained beard. Straight out of central casting. His voice was as gravelly as the ground we were standing on. I told him I was looking for a mattress and box springs, which was true. I needed it for my guest house that my in-laws were visiting, and I didn’t much care for them. It was a lie, Priscilla. You know, how much I love you.

He had a really wicked grin. But he was definitely on board. “You’re thinking saggy and smelly?” His words exactly.

He led me to the stack of mattresses, pointing to the one on top, which he claimed had been dumped only a couple of days ago. When he pulled the mattress to the ground I could see that it was nearly pristine, the only sign indicating why it was discarded being the once red, now rusty brown swath of what used to be Steven’s blood. I nearly lost it, Priscilla. My knees got all wobbly, and my head started spinning.

Despite the junkyard dog persona, the guy asked me if I was okay and was about to pull down another mattress when I told him the bloodstained one would do fine.

By then, he must have thought I was one crazy lady. He even said he got the in-laws bit, but that my choice was, in his words, “downright creepy.”

I told him I could clean it up, thanked him for being such a big help, and gave him a couple of twenties, once he’d loaded the mattress and box springs into my SUV.

You must be wondering why I’m even writing to you about my dump-diving experience. It’s because of Lance. How much has he told you?

Your loving daughter-in-law, Georgia

Dear Georgia,

Per usual, your tale has a lot of holes in it, and that makes me wonder if you are pulling my leg. I had nothing to do with that crazy idea of Steven’s to convert all of your money into diamonds. The minute the recession showed signs of easing, you should have sold them and put the money somewhere that offered a return on investment. Knowing Steven (and you, I must confess), you forgot or were too lazy. You reap what you sow, Georgia. Please keep my only remaining son out of whatever it is you’re up to.

Priscilla

Dear Priscilla,

The tone of your last letter caught me by surprise. I couldn’t help inferring that, apart from your opinion that I’m stupid and lazy, I should have nothing further to do with my brother-in law. I wonder why. But I’ve got a problem. You see, there weren’t any diamonds in that mattress that I retrieved from the dump. Somebody took them, and it wasn’t the junkyard man. So again, my question: Have you seen Lance lately? If not, have you talked to him, possibly shared your opinion of my fiscal management skills?

Inquiring daughters-in-law want to know . . . Georgia

Dear Georgia,

I have neither seen Lance nor spoken with him. I believe he is out of town.

Priscilla

Dear Priscilla,

It has been three weeks since your last letter. I know you value your privacy and are very careful not to share your contact information, but I am family. I really wish you would let me have your phone number so we could chat. Stamps aren’t cheap these days, especially now that I am stone cold broke. I really need to get in touch with Lance. To that end, I visited the local library the other day and got online where I discovered that there is regular train service to Cloverdale. Perhaps I could pay you a visit?

Fingers crossed, Georgia

Dear Georgia,

It does not surprise me that you were never told how ill-mannered it is to invite oneself to visit somebody. It is not convenient for me to see you at this time. Lance has returned from his travels, and he, too, would prefer not to see you. My first-born son has died, and although I do not blame you, I think it would be best if you would stop corresponding with me and move on with your own life.

Priscilla

Dear Priscilla,

By the time you receive this letter, you will have had a visit from the local police. Go ahead and blame me. I took the train to Cloverdale and walked to your house, where I noticed the Lamborghini parked in your driveway. The vanity plate—LANCELoT—told me all I needed to know about whose car it was. It wasn’t too much of an intellectual leap for me to surmise how he’d paid for it. With my money!

I also noticed that you’ve put a swimming pool in the backyard. You may have an answer for how you could afford it, but I know the truth. You and Lance are in this together, and you are both going to pay. Luckily, not too much time has passed since Steven’s untimely death, so I am quite hopeful I may recover at least part of our nest egg. As for the loosened bolts in the ceiling fan mount? The police are also investigating that. They may find fingerprints or DNA.

The really odd thing—and the reason I’ve been anxious to talk to Lance—is that Steven left a will. In it, he gave half of his half of our money to his brother. It certainly wouldn’t have been enough to finance your new, ill-gotten lifestyle, especially the car, but Lance shouldn’t have been so goddamn greedy.

Or was it you?

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