Back in my college years, I worked as a clerk in a department store. One of my co-workers (I'll call her "M."), an imperious and bullying middle-aged harridan of a woman, happened to be the mother of the man who, in 2003, confessed to more confirmed murders than anyone else in American history. At the time, of course, I didn't know that she was the mother of a psychopath, and didn't know that he was a murderer. The only ones who could have possibly known were already dumped limp on riverbanks and under vine maples, in the damp fiddlehead-fern wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.
M. was insufferable in her black bonnet-of-a-beehive, her slathered-on face, her slick polyester slacks: a continuum of clicking heels and hip-twists, sharp-edged jerks left and right. She sold menswear, and the men lined up for her hour upon hour. She always entertained at least one in the back of her department, up against a wall of white briefs, package of three for $4.49. I sensed something askew, but who, at age eighteen, would suspect the kind of horror M.'s son was committing? That he would eventually admit to the murder of 71 women?
Though this abomination of a man often stopped by on his way to work to say hello to his mother, it was the mother I suspected of questionable behavior, not the son. Questionable behavior! I was painfully naive.
I began to question other co-workers, who were all about the same age as M., and every last one of them turned a deaf ear to me. My guess is that they were afraid of her: not surprising. No one would confront her or take her on. I tried several times, and each time she arched up and spit her venom at me. I was powerless in her sinister wake. I was nothing.
It seems logical to speculate that the sins of the son were retaliation for the sins of the mother.
Thirty-five years later I can hear the snap of her gum, smell her spearmint breath inches from my face, and it still scares the hell out of me.