A slow morning takes an ominous turn for a widow
The moment her foot touched the pavement, she stopped. She turned around, uncertain about what she was doing, the action having completely vanished from her mind. Nothing jumped out at her or returned the memory. She sighed. It had happened yet again.
Shaking her head, she walked, defeated, back to her house, which squatted on the top of the street, firm and resolute despite its size. The early morning sky of pale yolk hung behind it, creating an imposing silhouette. The last owner told her it had stood there for a century, and she reckoned it would stand there for many more centuries to come.
The door swung open with its usual welcome creak, ushering her into the kitchen. She half expected Mell to be there, sitting in his usual spot as he sipped coffee and calmly read the paper, which lay open on his crisply creased pants. It was one of his many constants, a sort of reassuring activity he always completed even if a hurricane raged outside.
Of course, nothing of the sort happened. It had been months, and there were many more stretching out before her before she joined him. She had stopped the daily newspaper delivery a few weeks ago when her pain had become unbearable, but now a new pain ached every time she glanced at the empty place the newspaper had once held on the kitchen table.
Wondering whether she should start up the newspaper delivery again, she heated up the frying pan and gloomily cracked the eggs into the pan, moving through the movements she knew by heart. They sizzled for a moment then settled down, and she turned back to the table, frowning as if there were something she had been thinking about moments before. Unsurprisingly, she couldn’t remember for the life of her. Shrugging, she returned to her eggs, certain that what she had been thinking wasn’t important.
Once they were done, she shook the eggs out of the pan and onto her plate, setting it down in her usual spot and slumping into the chair. As she ate, her eyes traveled over the cracked ceiling, the cabinets whose paint was fading, the rotting floorboards dotted with holes, and the windows long ago sealed over by thick layers of dust. Eventually, she knew she would either have to sell the house and move on or spend thousands of dollars helplessly trying to save it from plunging even deeper into the thick moat of disrepair. It broke her heart. She could still remember the shrill, laughing voices scampering between rooms, the feisty anger of a denied child, and the blustering tears over a scraped knee; later, the quiet hours spent poring over one page of a textbook, the anxious look as they awaited their exam results, and the pure excitement and joy reminiscent of childhood flitting gleefully across their faces before vanishing within moments as they quickly regained the teenage mask of gloom and doom.
The halls had been empty for a long time now, the rooms shells of their former selves and hidden behind doors that had been closed for so long she’d forgotten if they were locked or not. Another thing lost, another thing forgotten. It was becoming the mantra of her life.
Her eyes turned back to her plate. Subconsciously, her hand traveled around its rim, rubbing the well-worn porcelain with her fingers, finding the nooks and crannies of long-ago cracks created by years of disregard, carelessness, and neglect that had turned into an ocean of tiny fractures. The plate wasn’t how it was meant to be—it was supposed to be perfect, uncracked, in mint condition despite its old age—yet somehow, it gave her a sense of belonging. She was supposed to be in good health too; she was still in her sixties, a good few decades away from death, despite her husband’s passing. But her memory was failing her, and it was no fault of her age but rather of a specific kind of disease that had the misfortune of choosing her to fall upon. The name . . . it was on the tip of her tongue. She knew it. She knew it. She knew it, she knew it, she knew it. But it wasn’t there. It felt just out of reach, like a dream you know you remember when you wake up and swear that you do, and yet you can’t recall any details.
She dumped the remains of her eggs into the trash and was walking towards the dishwasher when she stopped, staring at the plate in front of her and squinting at the cracks, unsure if she had ever been thinking about them. Shrugging, she slipped it into the dishwasher, the thought already fleeing out the window.
Once again, she slid into her seat, this time with a mug of coffee in her right hand, the pale white of the milk mixing into the richer colors of chocolate brown and velvet black. Inhaling, she sat back with the coffee-cinnamon aroma melting around her. She’d taken to adding a dash of cinnamon to her coffee each morning. It was something Mell had done she had always scorned him for, and now it was too late to admit to him how amazing it was.
A few cars creaked and groaned by, but other than that, the road was peaceful, another lazy day with many more to come. Of course, she still had so much to do. But, to no surprise, she was putting that off. Yet to what end? It was a question she couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, answer.
A dog and his owner jogged by, the dog wagging his tail happily in the sunlight, the man’s labored breathing causing her to flinch and look away from the window, studying her mug instead. The milk had faded into the jaws of the dark colors, and she leaned forward to take a sip—
A startled cry burst out from down the street. Muted noises echoed around the block. Wincing, she set down her cup and heaved herself up. She’d never been able to resist helping someone in need, and she wasn’t about to give up today, give up on the one thing that told her Your life isn’t for nothing. But what if it really was all for nothing? Her good intentions hadn’t been able to save Mell. And if they couldn’t save him, who she had loved more than anything, how could they save anyone else?
She shrugged off her worries and shrugged on her favorite coat, the black one with silver buttons, ivory lapels, and deep pockets in which she had lost hundreds of little odds and ends, things like bottle caps and wrappers and loose change, all things that Mell had passed for trash but she had kept as little mementos, never entirely sure what gave her the urge to slip them into one of the coat’s pockets.
She buttoned her coat one by one, her withering fingers fumbling around; the amount of time it took her to button her coat seemed to grow longer each day. She stepped into her boots, thick, ugly, gray ones her daughters would frown at had they been there. But they weren’t, and that was fact, just like Mell wasn’t there.
Stepping out of the door, she was met by the sudden brightness of the sun shining down on her and the biting cold, which wrapped around her neck and sank its fangs into her flesh. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been outside. She tramped down her driveway and turned the corner, shading her eyes from the sunlight as she tried to find the source of sound. Whatever it was, it was disguised, but the sounds still barreled towards her, piercing and shrill. As she drew nearer, she could make out a man’s high-pitched voice screaming. Then—nothing. Silence. Quiet. The screams stopped just as soon as they had started. That chilled her more than anything.
Ahead, there was a slight bend in the road full of trees and bushes which blocked her view of what lay beyond. She took a deep breath and mentally prepared herself, blocking out all thoughts of what it could be and hoping that it would just be someone who was overreacting.
She headed around the corner and stopped abruptly, eyes widening as she took in the scene before her. Her heart dropped to her gray boots, then rose to her gray hair, then back down again, up and down as if it were on a roller coaster. As fast as she could go, she whirled around, but no one was behind her. At least the assassin wasn’t after her. Silently, she cursed her do-gooder self that had wanted to come here in the first place. She came expecting to find a child with a scraped knee, or a barking dog its owner couldn’t control. Instead, she fell upon this. Well. It was her fault.
She nudged it with one foot. It didn’t respond. She poked it. It didn’t respond.
She lifted it. It didn’t respond. It confirmed her suspicions.
Stepping around the liquid and ignoring the way the crimson reminded her of Mell’s favorite couch back at the house, she reached for her phone, which she had slipped into one of her pockets before she left. (Thank goodness she remembered which pocket it was in; otherwise she would have spent hours searching uselessly for it.) Without thinking, her hands dialed the number, and she pressed the phone to her ear, quaking with fear but starting to smile from relief with the knowledge that he would know exactly what to do. The steady rings ran out, patient and even, and despite their volume, they were somewhat calming. Then:
“You have reached Mell Pondle. Please leave a message.”
She took the phone away from her ear and stared at it, eyes roving around the screen. He was probably busy, at a work meeting or grabbing lunch with a colleague or in a heated debate with one of his clients. She could talk to him later, and he knew to call her back. Heaving a sigh, she put her phone away and turned back to the matter at hand.
Something clicked in her. A memory returned. A fortune, a gift. If only it were something happy. But no. It was a crushing blow, like every other time she’d forgotten that Mell wasn’t there and wouldn’t be there.
She took out her phone and threw it across the road.
She took out all her mementos and stomped on them.
She screamed manically for twenty minutes.
She did none of these things.
She refused to lose her calm disposition and cool head on top of everything else. A part of her screamed that she already had. She’d lost it the moment her children had packed up and left, and she’d lost it again the moment Mell went. No. She silenced that with a quick, effective slap to the head. At least, she thought it was effective. It waited five seconds, then came back, more persistent this time but with a different saying.
There’s nothing you can do, it told her.
She ignored that and inspected the body before her.
There’s nothing you can do, it repeated. Silence, she snapped back. I’m trying to focus. There’s nothing you can do! it shouted.
She looked down. The voice was right; it was beyond help. She turned on her heel, kicking up dust, and started to walk away, turning her collar up and thrusting her hands deep into her pockets where they mingled with her odd mementos. A question occurred to her. Was she hiding from and protecting herself against the cold, or something else? Or perhaps both? She pushed away these thoughts as useless, a product of too many hours spent aimlessly without anything to do, and hiked up her driveway, thoughts drifting towards the book she wanted to finish that day.
She stepped into the warmth of her house, kicked off her gray boots now speckled with red, and unbuttoned her coat and hung it up, giving it a fond pat and a forlorn smile. Wandering into the kitchen, she spotted her half-finished mug and sauntered towards it. She took it up in both hands and dropped into the same seat, frowning. The coffee had long since turned cold, the colors losing their richness and turning dull and muddy, looking more like dirt than an appetizing drink. She set it back down again with a clink and pushed it away.
Turning her attention to the window, she stared outside, mesmerized by the streaming sunlight glinting off the pavement. When was the last time she’d been outside? She couldn’t remember.