The body lies in a position of repose, a 12-year-old girl in pajamas, on her bed, in Fallbrook, California. Her blue eyes, though open, see nothing, and for ten more minutes, no one sees her. No one knows yet that the sheets and Judy’s pajama top are stained with chocolate, that her neck is stained with chocolate, that a section of yellow toilet paper on the bed beside her is stained with chocolate, or that her arms are folded across her chest and will not be, cannot be, unfolded again. No one knows that a spoon lies balanced on her lips.
In the kitchen, the Sunday-morning light has long fallen on a saucepan, a coffee cup still puddled with brown liquid, a jar of Sanka, and an empty brown bottle of strychnine, from which the label has been peeled. No one has eaten breakfast here or read the paper or turned on the radio to hear the weather forecast for March 31, 1957. There’s an empty carton of chocolate ice cream in the trash can. In the dining room, four pill bottles and a handwritten note rest on the table, high above the head of the woman stretched out on the floor, snoring through the morning she had meant not to see.
I told you last October I was too weary and then to get the terrific shock after I had tried so hard. Well, maybe this is what you wanted??
Best to you,
Please thank Johnsons and Rileys.
Then, as an afterthought, in shaky red pencil, nearly illegible:
If you had stayed away as you desired I think I could have come out of it. You tantalized me.
A horse stands at some distance from the house, waiting for tires on the driveway, the sound of footsteps, the approach of hay. It’s 10:30. Judy’s father, Carroll Dean Huscher, is already in his car, driving slowly through downtown Fallbrook, population 3000, the shops closed and silent, his daughter’s horse waiting to be fed, his daughter’s body undiscovered, unseen, the clouds dissolving like footprints in the sky above Knoll Park Lane.
Around town, they will say she was given strychnine in an ice cream cone. They will say Gladys told Judy that if she went to bed early, she could have ice cream. They will say it was pudding, hot chocolate, a milkshake. They will say that Mrs. Huscher (Mrs. Husher, as they will unconsciously revise her name) spent quite a bit of time stuffing toilet paper into Judy’s mouth to keep her screams from arousing the neighbors. They will say it’s a black spot on the town.
They will not believe Gladys did it — not the home ec teacher, not the Girls’ League advisor, not the woman who taught you to set the table and make white sauce. Some, including her family, will say Carroll drove her to it. Some will say she was out of her mind with love for him, and when he left her, she came unhinged. Some will say he beat her, that he beat Judy, that she did it to protect Judy from him. Darker still, that he molested Judy. “Maybe he abused her, or maybe he was going to abandon them both,” said a man who knew Judy from church and school. “He could get rid of both his problems. People were saying how it didn’t take him long to get a new girlfriend.”
Children will come to their own conclusions. “The children who knew Judy,” said a woman who was 11 when Judy died. “What were we supposed to do? Knowing that she was dead, and, we were told — absolutely — killed by her own mother. How do you file information like that? Under what?”
“Judy wasn’t gorgeous or brilliant,” said a man who was in Judy’s sixth-grade class. “She was just as smart as the rest of us, but her mother was really educated, and that wasn’t good enough for her.”
Some will have nightmares. Some will forget about it. Some will talk about it in the new high school home ec room, the one Gladys was busy moving into that weary, unbearable spring. Some will stay in Fallbrook, and some will move to other states, countries, continents. They will grow up and have troubles that make them wonder what really happened 45 years ago and what they have just imagined.
“As we repeat a story to ourselves, in our own mind, some flaw in the accuracy of that story becomes embedded as part of the ‘memory,’ ” said another classmate. “Most of us trust our own memories.”
The memories they trust are part fiction, part fact.
“…I will tell you what I know, based on what my older sister and mother told me way back then,” said still another classmate. “Mr. Huscher got his divorce. I wouldn’t know if he had played around or had good reason to get out of his marriage. But a few years later, he was remarried and wanted his daughter to live with him and his new wife. He prevailed in court and was awarded custody. In the night (or final weekend) Mrs. Huscher retaliated by cooking up a good mug of delicious hot chocolate and served her daughter some laced with strychnine. She herself took only enough sleeping pills to conk herself out. When they found her later, she was sleeping peacefully and very much alive. But Judy had died. What a coward this lady was…fast asleep while her daughter suffered.”
As they go on forgetting and remembering, moving away, staying on, Carroll Dean Huscher will live for 31 more years. He will store Judy’s things in a box — 25 figurines of animals, a vase the size of a thimble, a Mickey Mouse bowl that says “Hello Judy,” a postcard of a deer. In the basement of the San Diego Courthouse, someone will file a tight dark spool of film containing documents from the trial. Transcripts, reports, certificates, and forms will be entombed in the library, the sheriff’s archives, the coroner’s office, the bureau of vital statistics.