Willkommen

by Robin Praytor

Cora stared down at her welcome mat—her welcome mat that said Willkommen. How was that possible? Someone had been on her enclosed front porch and switched her doormat that said Welcome for one that said Willkommen? The thought was ridiculous.

Other thoughts crowded out the mat. Why is Mother here again? She stops by twice as often since Aunt Marcie died. She has her own friends—her own life. There’s no reason for her to keep dropping in.

The UPS man cleared his throat. “Excuse me, ma’am, if you’d sign here please.” He extended the tablet and stylus.

Cora signed for the package where he indicated. Without looking up, she mumbled a distracted, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, or should I say you’re willkommen.”

Does she know I suspect her? She can’t know. Maybe she thinks I’m going to accuse her. She’s not that stupid.

The screen door banged shut behind him. She watched as he walked the short distance to his truck, and thought about following to question him.

Her mother spoke behind her. “Lunch is ready, honey.”

“Mom, you won’t believe what just happened.”

“What?”

“I think the UPS man switched my Welcome mat for one that says Willkommen.” It sounded more ridiculous saying it out loud.

“What are you talking about? The UPS man stole your welcome mat?”

“No, mother, he switched it for a different one.”

“Why would he do that?”

“I’m not sure, but it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“It doesn’t make sense at all, Cora.”

Subtlety is not your strong point, Mother. “Never mind, it’s not important. Let’s eat.” Cora followed her mother into the house.

“Maybe your Aunt Marcie bought the mat. You know, those last few months before she passed, she wasn’t quite right,” her mother said.

There it is. You’ve managed to twist a perfectly normal conversation around to where you want it. Yes, I know what you did. Still trying to get me to say it, aren’t you?

Cora nodded at the suggestion, even though she’d bought the doormat herself weeks after Aunt Marcie had passed.

~ ~ ∞ ~ ~

Cora was emptying the dishwasher when her roommate and cousin, came home late from work.

“S’up, Cuz?” Justin said, hanging his suit jacket over the back of a kitchen chair.

“Not much. Hey, did you buy a new welcome mat for the front porch?”

“Did I what?”

“Buy a new welcome mat for the front porch?” she repeated.

“Are you on crack? I can’t remember the last time I was even on the front porch. No one uses it anyway except for the pizza delivery guy.”

“And the UPS man.”

“What?”

“The pizza delivery guy, the UPS man, and sometimes the mailman will leave bulky mail on the front porch if it doesn’t fit in the box.”

“Right—so, is there anything to eat?” he responded, dismissively.

“There’s a plate of chicken and mashed potatoes in the fridge.”

“Was Aunt Nancy here?”

“Yes. Why?” Are you in it with Mother?

“Because, there’s a plate of chicken and mashed potatoes in the fridge. How come your mom never taught you to cook?” Justin asked, his head deep in the refrigerator.

She swatted at him with a dishtowel and tossed it on the counter. “How come your mom never taught you to cook? I’m going to my room to read. See you in the morning.”

Cora awoke at two-thirty, her book in her lap, and the bedside lamp still on. Avoiding the creaky fourth step as she went downstairs, she headed to the front porch. The mat still read Willkommen. She closed and locked the door, and leaned back against it, arms crossed. A thought came to her.

In the office she shared with Justin, she booted her laptop. A search of the email archive uncovered her order confirmation from months ago, but described the product only as a “Hemp Doormat.” The words Welcome or Willkommen didn’t appear. She found the listing for the mats. When she’d purchased it, she’d overlooked an option to have it personalized. Someone had personalized their mat to read Willkommen and switched it for her’s. It was the only plausible explanation.

She remembered first looking at mats in the hardware store when she’d run into Mrs. Miller, her across-the-street neighbor. She was the one who’d told her about the nice mats for sale online. Maybe it was Mrs. Miller who’d switched the mats. She returned to her room and changed into jeans and a black sweater.

I wonder what Mrs. Miller would say if she knew about Mother, and maybe Justin? What they’ve done. She was Aunt Marcie’s friend, after all. If she knows maybe she’ll help me. But can I risk it?

On the front porch, Cora picked up the mat, tucking it securely under her arm, and pushed a small flashlight into her jeans pocket along with her credit card. Shivering in the damp morning air, she crossed the street to Mrs. Miller’s. The Millers’ porch door was like her own, with a simple hook and eye lock. Cora used her credit card to pop the hook, turned the latch, and slipped in. She took out her flashlight, shielding its beam with one hand as she shone it on Mrs. Miller’s doormat. It was black rubber in a lacy pattern, without writing. Damn, Cora thought, my mat must be at their backdoor.

In her hurry to leave the porch she bumped the door frame and dropped her flashlight. It hit the wooden floor with a heavy clunk. Cora froze. She held her breath and listened for sounds from the house—any second expecting the porch light to come on and expose her. Nothing happened. She retrieved her flashlight and went out, noiselessly pulling the screen door shut behind her.

She crept down the drive staying close to the side of the house. Gravel crunched under her feet. As she reached the backyard, Moose, the Garcias’ Doberman next door, barked. Moose’s tuba-bark could wake a hibernating bear, Cora thought, cringing. Simultaneously, lights came on in the upstairs windows at both the Garcias’ and Millers’. She was caught in the middle. Her mat still tucked under her arm, she ran down the drive, slipping on the loose gravel and almost falling. Without being seen, she managed to make it across the street to the safety of her own porch. She flung the mat back in front of the door and crouched low. Only minutes passed before the police siren could be heard.

The neighborhood came alive. Bedroom and porch lights both illuminated the scene and deepened the shadows. Neighbors, some in robes, some in hastily donned clothes, gathered in front of Mrs. Miller’s house where the patrol car sat in the drive, lights flashing. Cora jumped when her own porch light came on.

Justin stuck his head and shoulders out the front door. “What the hell’s going on?”

“I don’t know, I came down to see,” Cora covered. “I think something happened at the Millers’. I was just going over there.” Did he help Mother? How could they? How could he? Aunt Marcie was his mother!

She crossed the street, hands in her pockets against the chill, and went up to the nearest onlooker. “Is everyone all right? What’s happening?” she asked, sounding believably concerned; her voice shaky from her close call.

“Everyone’s okay, but a prowler was in the Millers’ backyard. The Garcias’ dog scared him off,” the man said.

“Did anyone get a look at the guy?”

“Just his shadow.”

“Thanks.” She crossed back and reported to Justin.

Tomorrow she would pay a neighborly visit to the Millers to be sure they were okay after their scare, and check out the backyard where the prowler had been. Suddenly, she recalled Mrs. Miller saying she’d ordered the mat for her daughter-in-law. How could I be so stupid? Her sneaky outing had been a dangerous waste of time.

Clearly, she needed to question the mailman and the UPS delivery man, but she wasn’t sure how to go about it. She didn’t have a timeframe for when the mat was switched. For that matter, it could have been the pizza delivery man or even the Girl Scouts selling cookies. Cora squared her shoulders in determination. Someone had taken her mat—how to prove who was going to require some detective work.

She bent down to straighten the mat she’d tossed haphazardly in front of the door. The word Welcome was printed in black across the woven hemp. Dumbfounded, she flipped the mat over to reveal the word Willkommen on the reverse side.

As she climbed the stairs back to her bedroom, Justin called to her. “Don’t forget to take your meds, Cora.”

“I won’t.” Yeah, right!

The End