She fixed Paul’s breakfast to order: waffles and eggs, scrambled and heavily peppered, in a nest of slightly burned hashbrowns.
His lunch pail was affectionately packed and waiting on the countertop, a folded note tucked under a tangerine. She smoothed the pale green tablecloth. Her reedy, arthritic hands straightened her apron as she flitted about the kitchen. She covered a bowl of potatoes, puckered and sprouting, with an embroidered towel.
“There’s blackberry syrup!” She stood, watching his bedroom door until her knees started to ache. Something tumbled through her mind – a memory that bloomed into hot waves of panic. She fell into a hard plastic seat.
She found a crumpled crossword puzzle and some pills. A stripe of light slipped across the linoleum as the sun started setting. Night fuzzed the kitchen walls. She scraped the plate into the trash.
At dawn, she prepared another batch of peppered eggs and repacked the lunch pail. She watched Paul’s door. Like every evening before it, she was struck with a faint pulse of horror as she cleared the table. Night insects whirred outside the window screens, and she remembered that she was afraid of something. Something had happened.
That spring, a neighbor, complaining of the lawn and the rotting newspapers, sent the sheriff to her home. The woman, frail and exhausted, could not explain the empty bedroom.