I made my way down the stairs and through the shadows cast by the street lamps, letting my hand run down the smooth banister. Even in the low light, my steps were quick and sure.
Over the years, I’d travelled this staircase up and down in the dark more times than I could count. With an old hound dog that couldn’t hold her water till morning. For children wakened by nightmares, in need of warm milk and an even warmer hug. To check on teenage daughters who stayed out too late, who lingered on the front porch saying goodnight to their dates for far too long. Tonight, I made the journey for the reason I most often had. Frank.
Guided by the soft glow of the oven light, I shuffled my way to the kitchen, yawning sleepily. I filled the kettle, listened to the light whoosh as the gas ignited, and adjusted the flame.
While I waited for the water to boil, I folded the paper neatly; careful to leave the crossword that Frank had been working on at the top of the pile. When Patricia, our oldest, was born, and my evenings were filled with bath time, story time and bed, Frank sought solace in the weekly crossword puzzle. He’d work his way through clear to Friday evening, dictionary at his side, and our kitchen table transformed. Come Saturday morning and a fresh paper, finished or not, last week’s puzzle would be put to rest, as the new one took its place. Now, with seven children grown and gone, and two grandchildren to bounce on his knee every Sunday afternoon, he still unwound at the end of a long day by stretching his mind, if not his limbs, with the crossword.
I put Frank’s bifocals in their case, capped his pen, and pushed in his chair. I rinsed his coffee mug, placed it in the dishwasher, and emptied his ashtray. Taboo, our dove grey Himalayan of ten weeks, began to mew in earnest, rubbing against my legs. I stooped to pick him up, too quickly for my old bones, and bumped the table.
“Shh, kitten. What’s the matter? We’re making too much noise.” I lifted Taboo with my left hand, and steadied the table with my right.
In no time, Taboo was burrowed in the crook of my arm, peaceful and purring like a small engine. “Hmmm. He woke you too, huh?” I settled my sleepy kitten on the ottoman, and opened the old trunk that served double duty as our coffee table, careful not to squeak the hinges. I hauled out my pillow, a sheet, and a blanket, and made up my bed for the remainder of the night. Taboo watched me curiously, his green eyes luminous in the dark. “I know, I know. But what else can I do?” I whispered. Taboo blinked slowly, as if to say, “Sure lady, whatever,” and returned to licking his paws.
I stood straight, hands on my hips. “Easy for you to judge little fella—you didn’t take the vows. For better or worse, till death do us part.” He mewed in reply, and I scooped him up again, giving him a playful scratch behind the ears, and letting him bat at my curls with his softly padded paws.
The kettle began to sing; a sharp, shrill cry that cut into the quiet of the night. Anxiously prying away the tiny claws that pierced my skin, I dropped my startled kitten on the couch. I dove towards the kitchen in slippered feet, bounded around the table, and nearly pounced on the stove. With one hand braced on the counter, I snatched the kettle off the element. Relief washed over me as the whistle trailed off with one last urgent peal of protest. I poured the boiling water over my Earl Grey tea bag, watching as it danced in the bubbles…
…As I had nearly every single night of my married life. I had raced like a mad woman, careening halfway through the house. Breathless! Careless! Mindless! And for what? Why was I so desperate to keep quiet? Here in the wee hours of the morning, I had not been shown the same consideration. Not in forty years had I been shown the same consideration! I let the kettle drop onto the element with a satisfactory bang.
Feeling rather smug, I strode back into the living room, setting down my tea without the benefit of a coaster. I stretched as fitfully as any pampered tabby, wriggled my toes, and fanned out my fingers. A few neck curls I learned in a yoga class long ago, and I was ready to resign myself to another night on the couch.
I curled up on the sofa, nestling into my favourite corner, savouring the warmth of my late night cuppa, sweetened to perfection with a teaspoon of honey. I picked up the remote, and clicked the television to life, not bothering to adjust the volume.
Then I heard it.
Straight above me, through the rafters of the ceiling overhead, the hardwood of the second floor and all the stuffing in between: the resonating buzz saw that had cut through my sleep ever since my wedding night in August ’65.
I’d had enough. I finished my piping hot tea in one heroic gulp, tossed the remote over my shoulder, marched across the kitchen and entered the garage. The Ford was unlocked, the rifle in the rack. It felt good in my hands; cool steel. Frank thought I should learn to shoot in case the day ever came that I needed to.
The day had come.
With a slide and a click, I knew the weapon was loaded. I hummed a sweet lullaby as I climbed the stairs, avoiding the creaks and groans, ever mindful of my slumbering husband dreaming under our plump, down-filled duvet.
I braced the weapon in the crook of my shoulder, aimed it at his peaceful, sleeping face, and whispered my final goodbye.
“Sweet dreams, my Darling. Rest in Peace.”