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The man jabbed at his oatmeal before he took a bite, certain he’d recognize poison if he saw it. From time to time he used his binoculars to note his wife’s progress out in the yard. While he ate, he scratched on the notepad next to his bowl: church, filling station, library, home. He ripped the paper from the spiral and tucked it into his breast pocket, rose from the table and deposited his bowl in the sink, ran water to fill it. He returned to the picture window for one last property inspection. When he saw her gaze lift, he ducked behind the curtain.
He tucked the newspaper under his arm and walked down the hall to the bathroom. Before he sat, he took the list from his pocket, smoothed it and propped it on the vanity where he’d be able to review it, recite its lines over and over, so he wouldn’t forget. He hated the forgetting and its frequency of late.
“First I’ll drop her at her Bible study then I’ll fill up the car. Her and the hens’ll yack for at least an hour, maybe two, so I’ll have plenty of time to go to the library, look up ways she and her doctor might be trying to kill me.” He ran his hand over the nape of his neck. “Might have time for a trim too.”
She didn’t speak on the way to town other than to point out the bluets that were lighting up the forest floor on her side of the car.
He kept his eyes straight ahead. “Can’t look, gotta watch the road.”
He clenched his teeth when he spotted it, the turn where he’d gotten the Buick hung up back before Christmas. Near as he could tell everything had pretty much gone all to hell that night.
There hadn’t been a storm like that in forever, started out with hail as big as chestnuts, moved on to ice. He should’ve known better than to go down the mountain when The Weather Channel said not to, but they’d both had a hankering for cheeseburgers and pie from Larry’s Diner, plus he figured he could beat it—the mountain, the weather. Besides, how often were those young TWC bucks right?
The Buick had fish-tailed on an ice patch. He steered in the opposite direction and the car’s rear end swung wildly, first one way then the other. He death-gripped the steering wheel and pumped the brakes again and again. When the car finally came to a stop, they were half-on, half-off the road. He glanced over at his wife. Her eyes were shut tight and she was whispering to herself a mile a minute. He reached over and patted her leg.
When she opened her eyes, he smiled. “See? I got it under control.”
He put the car in park, set the emergency brake, and popped the trunk. As he rooted around for the bag of kitty litter, he heard something. He inch-stepped toward the sound, clutched the trunk’s edge, leaned hard right. A man was there.
“Who the hell are you?” he roared as he slip-slid his way toward his wife’s door.
The stranger straightened, extended one hand but kept the other near his wife’s window. Is he touching her, the man thought, is he? He could barely hear the stranger’s voice over the howl of the wind and the siss of the sleet.
“Michael Taylor, sir. I thought I might be of assistance. I have four wheel drive and a cell phone. May I drive you two off the mountain? Call a tow truck?”
The man fought to keep his composure in front of the handsome young stranger, in front of his wife, in front of the good-looking stranger who no doubt wanted his wife, might've already— He squinted at the name tag on the man’s suit jacket. Remember the name, he thought. Do not forget it.
The stranger glanced down. “I just left the hospital. I’m a physician there, internal medicine.”
“Of course you are,” the older man said. “Well, you can move along now. I don’t need your help. I’ve got kitty litter in the trunk. We’ll be just fine.”
He saw the doctor take one more look at his wife before he walked back to his fancy vehicle. The older man waited for him to leave but he didn’t. He stayed until the Buick got back on the road.
On the way down the mountain, the older man kept checking the rear view mirror.
“Damn fool’s following us,” he said.
His wife’s hand hovered near his shoulder. He slapped at it.
“Don’t you coddle me. I know what you and your—” He heard the whisper of her coat on the seat as she tipped over to look out the side view mirror.
“Don’t be . . . He is not. See, he's turning.”
The man hunched closer to the steering wheel. “Yeah, but now he knows we live around here somewhere.”