By, Randy Yamanaka
My name is Mollie Brantshoof. I’ve always hated my name. It’s clunky. I’m named after my great-grandmother who was a pioneer woman in Montana. I am told she lived in a sod house. My father is a real-estate developer, who owns several apartment buildings. My mother was a quiet woman but she jumped off a 22-story ledge just days after my nineteenth birthday. I think that that’s why my father is so protective of me even now, so many years later. He even bought me the condo I live in, but he scrimped on the car. I got a Ford hatchback. He said he didn’t want me to get robbed because of an expensive car. I didn’t argue with him; fear creates its own reality. Besides, I like the car. It’s a pretty sky blue color.
For a while, I thought seriously about changing my name. But now I’m in my thirties and unmarried, and there’s really no sense in that now. I work as a secretary in a medical arts building. I go out for dinner on Friday nights with my single girlfriends from work. We sit around, drink Margaritas, and talk about how busy we are. Mostly we’re busy just talking about being busy.
Rainy weekends are the worst. When I’m in my condo sitting by the fireplace, I can look out at the parking lot and see the rain pelting the concrete. And sometimes I think in twenty years, I’ll still be there, in that same chair. And I’ll probably still have my job as a secretary just to prove to the world that I even exist.
There’s a doctor in the building who was recently charged with fraud for charging insurance companies for appointments when he wasn’t even in town. He’s a cardiologist. I wonder when a man makes half a million dollars a year, what makes him want more? His legal case is still pending, but I’ve heard he’s trying to plea-bargain so he can keep his medical license. He wears his white lab coat all over the building with the red letters sewn on his pocket: DR R FALOR. Often times, he even wears his stethoscope around his neck. He looks like a caricature of himself. Most doctors leave around 5 or 6. But not Dr. Falor. He stays until at least 8 PM every night now. He’s the last doctor to leave the building. He often comes out to talk to me, even though I’m a key state witness against him. He mostly talks to me in the late afternoon. He wears a big, gold watch, and he often looks at it, sighs loudly, and says: “Looks like I’m in for another late night.” Then he disappears into his office and I go home. Before the criminal charges, you never saw Dr. Falor after 2 PM.
In a strange way, I think my mother must have been a brave woman. She had to have courage to jump off a building. It was nighttime when it happened, in early January. It would have been very cold up there. I envision that she just closed her eyes and stepped off the ledge. I read the police report later. A witness down below gave a statement. She said she never heard a scream; just a flapping sound up above her “like rags blowing in the wind.” Then the body hit the street. I think of the shocking cruelty of that police report: in one sentence, a woman suddenly became a “body.” She wasn’t even a person anymore.
I went to Disneyland four years ago with my single girlfriends from work. People look at you funny when you’re a single woman at Disneyland, like “Where’s your kids, lady?” Actually, I think people look at me like that all the time, but maybe it’s just worse at Disneyland. Or maybe it’s all in my mind. Maybe it’s me that looks at myself and says: “Where’s your kids, lady?” And I answer, “I don’t have any because my name is Mollie Brantshoof.” I remember we were at some anonymous sandwich place somewhere in the middle of the park, and my friends were eating their sandwiches, talking about something which I don’t remember, when I happened to look over at another table. I saw a girl sitting there with wide eyes, obviously in some distress. She was about six years old, and another little girl was talking to her but she wasn’t responding. I knew what it was; she was choking. I looked around and her parents were nowhere in sight. Nobody else seemed to notice what was happening. I jumped up from my seat and rushed over to her. I was first aid certified, and I knew how to do the Heimlich. I was about to put my arms around her from the backside when she gagged loudly and spit out a grape. A few moments later, her parents came up with soft drinks and sat down at the table, oblivious of what had happened. They didn’t even notice me standing there by their table.
I almost saved a life. If things had gone just a little differently, I can envision myself forcing that grape out, and the girl’s parents coming to me and hugging me. I see her mother crying in appreciation. I see a Thank-you card from them, which I keep forever so I always know that somewhere I made a difference to someone somewhere…sometime.
I think we all want to have a purpose in life. For all his flaws, I’ll bet that even Dr. Falor in his monogrammed lab coat feels comforted by the patients he’s helped. I wish I had that. Instead, I’m someone who never had to work hard, never had to struggle to get ahead, never had to fight for any cause. I’ve pretty much had everything handed to me, like a condo and a hatchback in a pretty color.
Two weeks ago, I was shopping for little treasures in a thrift store. As I walked around a back corner, I saw two men standing there, talking. One of them was an employee. At first, I barely noticed them as I stopped to look at some glassware on the shelves. But then they made a drug deal for two grams of cocaine and I watched the employee and the other man exchange the drugs for cash. It was quick but pretty obvious, even to someone as naïve as me.
I felt this had to be reported, so I walked to the front counter and asked the cashier if I could speak to the store manager. A middle aged woman with red hair and glasses came up to the front. She introduced herself as Simone. I told her what I’d seen and she immediately ushered me back to her office. She asked for my name and address, and I provided it. She pulled up some video footage from that corner of the store and watched the transaction I described on an office monitor. Then she asked me to write out a statement as to my observations, and she handed me a pen and a piece of lined paper. Afterwards, Simone smiled and thanked me. She seemed really nice. We shook hands and I left the store. I felt good. I had helped the store and in my own way, maybe I’d helped a young man with a drug problem get the help he needed.
It was around 8 PM the next evening when I was in my condo, reading a magazine by the fire when I heard a knock on my door. I wasn’t expecting anyone, and I don’t usually open the door that late for strangers. I looked out the peephole and saw a uniformed policewoman. My first thought was that my car had been broken into again. We’ve had tremendous problems in our parking garage. I opened the door for her.
“Are you Mollie Brantshoof?” she asked.
“Yes, Officer.” I said.
“My name is Officer Bennington. May I come in please?”
“Tell me it isn’t my car again. They broke out a window and did $420 damage last time.”
The officer shook her head. “It isn’t your car, Ma’am. May I come in?”
I was confused. If it wasn’t my car, why did the police want to talk to me? I opened the door wide for her and she walked into my living room. I offered her a chair, but she declined and pulled out her notebook. I stood facing her. She was a tallish brunette, with her hair pulled back in a neat ponytail.
“We’re investigating a homicide, Ms. Brantshoof.” she said. “It happened at the Gatewood Thrift Store about a mile from here.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “I shop there all the time. In fact, I was just there yesterday.”
“We know, Ma’am. That’s why I’m here. Our homicide detectives came across some paperwork in the store office with your name on it. We think you had something to do with this incident. It’s actually a murder suicide. A recently terminated employee came in and shot the manager, then turned the gun on himself. They’re both deceased.”
My knees buckled. I backed up into a chair and fell into it. “Oh no…no.”
The officer continued: “I know this must be shocking for you. I was hoping you could answer just a few questions for me.”
“Of course. Of course,” I said.
The officer asked her questions, and it was very brief: Yes, I did see an employee buying drugs in the back corner. No, I didn’t confront the young man. Yes, I did report it immediately to Simone, the manager. Yes, I did write out the statement that the detectives found in the office. And that was it. The officer thanked me for my time and left.
I was numb to the murder for a few days. Then the reality of it all sunk in. Two people were dead because of me. I called in sick three straight days, and lay in bed for most of it. It was Thanksgiving week. Somehow, I had to summon the strength to go over to my dad’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. I had to pretend nothing was wrong when everything was wrong. My father lived to make me happy, but he didn’t know that I was now a murderer.
Thanksgiving Day was cold and crisp. My father’s house is almost 6,000 square feet of century-old Victorian architecture. Even as a child, the house scared me. I always tried to be brave as the afternoon shadows slowly grew longer across the hardwood floors.
The only people at Thanksgiving dinner were me, my dad, and an elderly aunt and uncle who complained incessantly about the democrats. I’m glad they did, so I didn’t have to speak much. The food was expertly prepared and I tried to smile a lot. My father is an extraordinary cook. He has many talents, but I think cooking is the only thing that makes him happy anymore. His eyes get sadder with each passing holiday season.
There is one place in the house that had always provided me comfort; it’s an open area lined with bookshelves right near the top of the spiral staircase. It’s the only place in the house where the afternoon light streams in through the windows all year round. I spent an eternity there as a child, reading books, playing with toys, rocking in my chair.
After my uncle and aunt had left and my dad was busy wrapping up Thanksgiving leftovers, I snuck upstairs to that room leaving all the lights off. I sat on the window casement and looked up at the stars. I could feel the icy cold coming off the pane. For the first time, I felt like I knew what it was like for my mother to step off into darkness.