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Cause of Death

A Novel

Laura Dembowski

Woodhall Press

Norwalk, CT






For Mom and Dad


I was born to run, I was born for this

-Imagine Dragons

Copyright © 2020 Laura Dembowski

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available

ISBN Print 978-1-949116-28-1

ISBN e-Book 978-1-949116-29-8

Layout Artist: Jessica Dionne Abouelela

Copyeditor: Melissa J. Hayes

Proofreader: Grace O’Neill McGinley

Cover Design: Jessica Dionne Abouelela

Woodhall Press, 81 Old Saugatuck Road, Norwalk, CT 06855

Distributed by Ingram Publishing Services (800) 937-8000

Chapter 1


It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

I did everything right as a mother. Breastfeeding. Organic food. Private school. Dance lessons. We even paid for college, master’s degree and all.

I’m telling you, I did everything I was supposed to do. What all the books say you have to do. And the doctors. The talking heads, too. I even took advice from my mother. If that didn’t about kill me, my life now will.

Here I sit on the deck of the house Dave and I bought twenty years ago when we both worked full-time and Lana seemed so happy and normal. The sun is shining, my coffee is hot, the flowers smell nice. Dave should be sitting next to me, but instead, he’s at work. And even though he’ll be signing up for Medicare soon, he’s not thinking about retiring. Well, he’s thinking about it, but he can’t act on it yet.

What am I thinking about, you may ask. Well, a vacation for starters. Maybe the South of France. A nice pair of Louboutins. Hell, a new place to live. One where I don’t have to worry about getting someone to cut the grass and plow the snow. I’m thinking about having dinner with a friend. Or lunch. Even a drink would be acceptable.

Yet, here I sit on the deck with coffee that’s slowly growing cold. I don’t even really like coffee. I drink it because it’s supposed to wake me up. Nothing wakes me up. I am a zombie walking through life, arms outstretched, searching for another person whose life is better than mine—or at least different, so I can suck the life out of them. It would be nice if I could pump that life into my own body, but I’d take just watching them suffer. It’s true, what they say—Misery loves company.

I can’t do anything I want, and here comes the reason why.

“Hey, Mom.”

Lana plops down in the seat next to me. She’s petite and pretty. Could have been a model if she was half a foot taller, maybe. At least, that’s what she tells me when I suggest modeling as a career path. It’s not really on my list of priorities to know how tall Giselle is.

Despite her stature, the way Lana uses her body is incredible. The deck shakes each time she moves. The stairs thunder with the noise of a herd of elephants as she ascends or descends.

“Hi, sweetie,” I say, trying to be nice, hoping she doesn’t start complaining.

Lana doesn’t really ever talk; she complains. I suppose some of her complaints have merit. She is a twenty-seven-year-old woman, living at home with her parents. She has no friends. She hasn’t had a boyfriend since high school. She is unemployed. And she’s more than happy to tell all of this to perfect strangers. She wants them to feel bad for her. Some do, some don’t; it depends on how hard she pours on the drama.

What she doesn’t tell these people—in fact, she won’t even admit it to herself—is that all of her problems are really her own fault.

She had a job as a consultant at one of the top marketing firms in New York. After three years of working eight hours a day, being wined and dined by clients, expensing practically daily sushi lunches, and being promoted twice, it all became too much. Because who would be able to handle such terrible work conditions? Instead of pushing through like Dave and I have done our entire lives, she quit.

“Fine,” we said. “Move back home.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly impose on you,” she sobbed over the phone.

I’d gotten good at deciphering her words even when she was in full ugly-cry mode, because that seemed to be her default when calling home.

“No, really, sweetheart,” Dave cooed, “you can’t be miserable. Come home. We’ll figure it out. You can get another job. Or take a little time off.”

I would have shot Dave a look, or maybe shot him with a gun, but he was in the other room on a different extension.

“Thanks, Daddy,” she said, tears stopped now that she’d gotten the answer she wanted.

So home she came. It wasn’t bad at first. She’s my daughter; I love her to death. After a while, though, she decided she wanted to work from home. I’m sure there are plenty of legitimate work-from-home jobs out there, but Lana hasn’t found any. I often wonder if she’s even looking. Of course, since she moved away from all of her friends, she has no one here other than Daddy and me. When we want to have a date night or meet friends for dinner, we have an additional, unwelcome guest. Sure, everyone pretends like it’s fine, but how fine is it when a twenty-seven-year-old who feels sorry for herself crashes all of your parties?

It’s no mystery to me why she doesn’t have a boyfriend. My God, what guy wouldn’t want to date a needy, unemployed, friendless, living-at-home girl masquerading as a grown woman. Every man’s dream. Add to that her desire to remain childless, so as not to ruin her admittedly gorgeous figure, and her insatiable desire for all things expensive, and even the best matchmaker wouldn’t be able to do anything for her. She once asked her father to buy her a black Burgundy

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