July, 2010 - 16,900 words

 

 

 

Drama à la Kafka

 

By B.B. Babington

 

 

The pastor finishes the benediction and raises his head to look out onto the congregation.  He raises a hand and shouts, “peace be with you,” then closes his Bible.  The organist launches into a solo piece as people rise from pews. 

Mr. Mort grabs his wife’s arm, ushering her into the aisle in hopes of a quick escape avoiding prattle.  When these old women pack together, it may take forever for them to leave church.  They’ll swap recipes and gossip, leaving neglected pot roasts to dry out in the oven.

A blue haired woman accosts Mrs. Mort.  The blue haired lady asks, “What did you think of Pastor’s message today?”

Mrs. Mort glances at her husband.  “I liked it.”

“I liked it, too,” echoes the blue haired woman.  “I don’t know what all the controversy is about.  Everyone knows a woman’s place is in the home, supporting her man and family.”

Mr. Mort tugs his wife’s elbow.

The blue haired lady lays her hand on Mr. Mort’s arm.  “Don’t you agree?”

“It’s following Biblical teachings,” answers Mr. Mort.

The blue haired lady moves sideways in the aisle to allow a young couple to pass.  A boy takes advantage of the opening and slaloms through the crowd toward the exit.  Mr. Mort steps down the aisle with Mrs. Mort in tow.  The blue haired lady follows.

The lady says, “Some of these new young members have radical ideas.”

Mrs. Mort remains silent as they head toward the door.

The lady continues, “What next, women deacons?”

Mrs. Mort watches for a reaction from her husband, but he continues toward the door. 

As they shuffle along with others leaving their pews, the lady says, “This business that women are equal to men in all respects . . . I don’t know how it got started.”

The line of people leaving the church comes to a halt.  Mr. Mort notes that someone engages Pastor in conversation, interrupting the flow of people exiting the church.  Customarily, the congregation files past Pastor to shake his hand and sometimes say a short word, but some people want to be stroked by Pastor the same way pets seek comfort and an ear rub. 

An elderly couple stands next to the Morts.  The old man says, “The Bible is clear, women are subservient to their husbands.”

Mr. Mort brightens.  “Yes. The husband is spiritual leader of the home.”

The old man scratches at his hairy ear.  “And at church, too, the woman is subordinate in spiritual matters and should not speak on certain things.  Women do a great job preparing the pot luck dinners and tending children during church services, but I’m uncomfortable if a woman leads a prayer.”

“I know what you mean.”  Mr. Mort turns to his wife.  “Do you remember our first building here, before we built this new one?  It had two front doors, one for men and one for women and children.  Men sat on one side, women and children sat on the other side of the sanctuary.”

The blue haired woman laughs.  “I remember.  My husband, God rest his soul, thought the seating arrangement should stay that way.  Women could be a distraction from worship, especially for the younger men.  And since women weren’t speaking in church, it made it easier for men to interact.”

The line inches forward.  Mr. Mort turns to his wife.  “I like women singing.  It sounds like angels.  We men just croak like old bull frogs.”

“Yes, women do have our roles to fulfill,” says Mrs. Mort.

 

Mr. Mort sits at a dining room table watching the world outside through a window.  Birds peck at a birdfeeder in the yard.  A blue jay swoops by the feeder and the other birds scatter.  Mr. Mort works a fork into the last piece of meat on his plate. 

Mrs. Mort walks into the dining room carrying a couple rolls in a basket.  She sets the basket in front of Mr. Mort.  “I’m sorry I didn’t have more out.”

“This is fine, just fine.”  Mr. Mort pulls a roll in half.  He swipes his plate with a piece of bread, cleaning the plate.  Because of habits and memories from leaner days, Mr. Mort always leaves a clean plate.  He only leaves bone and other inedibles.  Sometimes, he even cracks a bone to suck marrow.

“Here’s the paper.” Mrs. Mort lays a newspaper next to the rolls.

Mr. Mort puts on reading glasses to scan headlines.  A story about “man in wheelchair escapes on foot” intrigues Mr. Mort.  He squints trying to make sense from blurs of finer print.  He adjusts his glasses.  He moves the paper back and forth looking for the right focal point.

Mr. Mort sees his magnifying glass resting on top of the buffet.  Mr. Mort looks to the kitchen.  “Honey?”  Silence is the only response.  Mr. Mort slightly raises his voice.  “Honey?”  He turns up the volume on his hearing aid listening for sounds of footsteps or rattling dishes.  Mr. Mort scoots the chair back and stands.  He retrieves the magnifying glass and continues reading the paper.

Mr. Mort turns pages looking for comics.  The comics print is a little larger, making them easier to read.  He hefts the magnifying glass, admiring the weight and thickness of this large glass.  He moves the glass across the obituaries page looking for news about anyone he knows. 

A flash of movement startles Mr. Mort.  He turns and finds Mrs. Mort looking over his shoulder.

“Anyone we know?” asks Mrs. Mort.

Mr. Mort’s hearing aid whistles.  He turns the volume back down.  Humpph.  I just started looking.”

“You may find yourself there,” says Mrs. Mort.

Humpph.”

“Yes, you’d be so wrapped up in going about your day, you’d never even notice that you died.  Feel your pulse lately?”

Mr. Mort moves the glass to the next name on the page.

Martha. Mort reaches down to her husband’s wrist.  She palpates his wrist as if looking for a vein.  “I’m not sure, but I don’t think I can find a pulse.”

Mr. Mort jerks his wrist away.  “Go away old woman.”

Martha grabs the other wrist.  “Here, let me check this one.”

“Get on about your business, old woman.  I’m not dead yet.”

“You sure?”

“I may feel dead, but Grimmy the reaper hasn’t found me yet.

Martha lays the back of her hand across Mr. Mort’s cheek, then across his forehead.  “You do feel dead, cold as ice.”

“Old woman, I may introduce you to Grimmy Reaper if you don’t leave me alone.”

“Yea, and who’d cook your dinner?”

“I don’t know, maybe Grimmy Reaper.  Maybe he makes a good barbecue.  Maybe he likes hanging out here, after you’re gone with all your nagging.”

Mrs. Mort laughs.  “Maybe my nagging is what keeps Grimmy away, and that’s why you’re still here.  You can thank me for that.”

Mr. Mort turns the page.  “I’ll thank you for letting me read the rest of my paper.”

 

The telephone rings.  Martha turns off the vacuum cleaner and stands it upright.  She walks into the kitchen and answers the phone.

“Hello.”

“Hi Martha, you busy?”

Martha answers, “No Betty, not at all.”

“Have you heard the latest?”

“Latest what?”  Martha Mort runs visions of unwanted pregnancies, affairs, heart attacks, or things worse.  Perhaps Betty was caught taking unsportsmanly advantage to win a bridge game. 

“Church,” answers Betty.

“Oh no, what now?”

“The regular trouble maker group is giving the new girls grief.”

“Can’t those biddies leave well enough alone?”

Betty says, “To them, it’s not well enough unless there’s a problem.”

“Huh?”

“They aren’t happy unless there’s a problem.  They need to stir a pot.”

“Pot . . . or witch’s cauldron?”

Betty laughs over the telephone.  “What do you think, Martha?”

“About what, their cauldron?”

“No, silly.  About the gripe.  Do you think it’s okay for the young wives to work?”

Martha looks at the upright vacuum cleaner.  “You mean work a day job.  Housework certainly is no picnic.”

“What does Bill say about it?”

Martha says, “You want me to get him, so you can ask him?”

“No need to.  I know what he thinks.”

“Who knows what a man thinks.  I’ve been married to the man for nigh on half a century, and I don’t know what he thinks.”

Betty says, “He’s a man, he doesn’t think.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” replies Martha.  “The only thing he thinks about is how to sneak out to the tool shed for a nip o’ whiskey without me catching him.”

“Do you catch him?”

“Only when I want to.”

Betty continues, “Does he say anything about the lady squabble?”

“Not to me.  He talks to men about it.  He’s like all men his age; he thinks women should be home doing womanly things; cooking, cleaning, raising children, helping with grandchildren.  Our only hobbies should be knitting or gardening.  And hobbies should be useful, gardening for food, darning socks, baking, that sort of thing.”

“Yep, he sounds like a typical man.”

Martha reaches for the cookie jar, dragging the telephone cord across the kitchen counter.  She fishes around the jar looking for a cookie with more chocolate chips but finds Bill already found the best cookies.

Betty continues, “It’s not we’re talking about women deacons, like the liberal churches have.”

“I know,” replies Martha.  “That gaggle of busybodies should keep their nose out of other people’s lives.  It’s not a sin if some women want to work.  Why shouldn’t they?  Times are hard; maybe the family needs the extra income.”

“There was sort of a shouting match last Sunday.  Two of our ladies ambushed a new mom in the hallway wanting to know if she planned on home schooling her family.  They jumped all over the young mom when she said she planned to continue working.  I thought the poor girl would drop tears, but she held it together.”

“Good for her.”

“Do the deacons intend to get involved?” asks Betty.

“Bill’s not said anything,” replies Martha.  “I expect Bill and some of the others would get involved if asked.  I don’t know what they would actually say or do, but Bill has firm convictions on the point.”

“On home-school?”

That women should stay in the home.  He thinks home-school is a great idea.  He says, ‘secular education teaches the devil’s humanistic philosophy.’  But he’s not that concerned about home-school.  He is very concerned about women in the work place.  Women should stay at home and nurture the family.  They shouldn’t be out in the hard world exposed to dangers and possibly the target of lecherous men.  Of course a good woman would not think of straying from her husband, but she shouldn’t have to be exposed to it.”

Betty asks, “Do you agree?”

“I’m old fashioned; I think women should stay home.  Even if children go to public schools, women can stay at home and care for the home, prepare dinner, and do other things to make the home a better place for her family.”

“I think so, too,” replies Betty.  “I just thought I’d call and keep you posted.  See you in Church.”

Martha hangs up the telephone and returns to the vacuum cleaner.

 

Bill Mort wakes from a dream.  He pulls the comforter tight around his neck trying to calm shaking, and then realizes he shakes from adrenalin.  Blood pumps through his arteries and pounds his head.  Bill’s heart races like an out of control thoroughbred.  He searches his memory trying to relive the dream.  He remembers excitement, raw energy, power.  He remembers freedom, totally unencumbered by responsibility or physical limitations of a frail, old man’s body.  Bill struggles to recall more detail, but as seconds elapse he feels less alive.  It’s as if fire and life drains out of him.  Another moment, and it is gone.  Bill stares at a blank ceiling.  The ceiling stares back at him, mocking Bill with its dull visage.  Bill becomes angry that a plain ceiling reflects his boring life better than any mirror could.

Out of spite, Bill considers going to his wife’s bedroom to wake her.  Why should she sleep peacefully when Bill cannot?  Bill beseeches reprieve from the ceiling’s condemnation.  Bill argues that his life was fruitful: he had children and grandchildren, he helped build the church, and his employers thought highly of his work before he retired.  Perhaps his life was boring, but it was a good life.  Bill folds the comforter down from his neck.  He reasons that his life IS a good life.  He lives life now; his life isn’t over.

The ceiling stares back down at Bill.  In defense, Bill tries to recapture the dream’s excitement.  What did he dream?  He meditates, trying to make sense of jumbled images in his mind.  There was night, fresh air, speed through a forest, thrill of a chase, ecstasy in an orgy of blood, the taste of fresh meat.  Bill remembers the scents of punk wood in a nighttime forest.  He remembers tantalizing rustling sounds in the night.  In the dream, Bill was a hunter, someone with power.  Bill realizes he lacked power in his life.   Perhaps the sense of power was the exhilaration of the dream.

The ceiling continues stoically appraising Bill.  Feeling that sleep will not soon return, Bill swings his legs out from under the comforter and over the edge of the bed.  He rises to a sitting position and looks around the bedroom.  The window beckons him.  Inside, the room seems dull and dead, but the window looks out onto a vibrant world.  Bill walks to the window.  Glass forms a barrier, caging Bill inside the dead room. 

He raises the window.  A breeze caresses Bill’s cheek.  Bill sniffs the air for night scents.  A firefly flashes.  The glowing ember seems unusually sharp and bright.  Bill doesn’t remember a firefly ever seeming so distinct, especially since his youthful eyes became the tired eyes of an old man.  Bill remembers blurry firefly flashes, like the fuzzy spots in a starry night.  Bill looks up at the night sky and dazzling pinpoints of light surprise him.  The pinpoints have distinct colors, white, gold, and red.  Bill never realized stars could be seen as different colors.  Bill gazes back down into the yard and sees individual leaves on the large oak at the edge of his lawn.  He remembers the tree always looking like a lollypop of green; Bill forgot one could see individual leaves on a tree.  Movement catches his attention.  Something scurries in the grass at the base of the oak tree.  Bill watches motion and finally discerns a grey mouse moving in the starlight.  Bill resists an impulse to jump out of the window and fling himself onto the mouse.  He cocks his head to listen to the mouse move through the grass.

Bill turns to go back to the comfort of his bed.  He marvels that the room is brightly lit from starlight.  He imagines he sees furnishings in the room more distinctly than if the incandescent light bulb was on.  Bill crawls under the bed covers and pulls the comforter back around his neck.  He considers he may be having a stroke, aneurism, or some other brain destroying event.  What would make everything appear so unnatural, so different, so removed from the comfortable blurs he enjoyed for years?

 

The next morning Bill jumps out of bed.  He reminisces about the night before.  Was it a dream?  He survived the night with no headache, so if he had some type of attack, it wasn’t serious.  Bill goes to the bathroom and fumbles for his false teeth.  He looks in the mirror and clacks his teeth.  His mouth feels better without the teeth but vanity keeps him using the teeth.  Even if he and his wife are the only two in the house, he prefers wearing teeth. 

Breakfast aromas cause his stomach to grumble.  Bill’s mouth waters in anticipation.  He looks forward to breakfast as if he’s not eaten for a week. 

He hears his wife clattering pots in the kitchen.  He tunes in with his ears, like he listened to the mouse last night.  He fumbles for his hearing aid to turn the volume up, but realizes the hearing aid is not in.  He marvels that he never heard sounds this clearly with the hearing aid, how can he hear without the aid?  Bill quickly changes clothes to go to breakfast.

Martha Mort sets plates on the table.  Bill takes his customary chair and waits for Martha to set coffee and the paper in front of him.  She clacks the coffee cup and saucer down, and then slides the paper onto the table.  Bill puts his reading glasses on and picks up the paper.  The headlines seem blurrier than usual so he grabs his big magnifying glass.  He still can’t make out the words.  He moves the glass back and forth and the letters go in and out of focus, but it’s still difficult to read.  In exasperation, he drops the glass on the table.  He sets his reading glasses down and sips his coffee.  He glances back at the paper and reads the headlines clearly.  Without squinting, he reads the finer print of the story. 

Martha slides bacon and eggs onto his plate.  Bill debates whether he should tell Martha of his unusual experiences but decides she may put him in a nursing home for being delusional.  He forks a bite of egg and savors the textures in his mouth.  The flavors overwhelm him with ecstasy.  He bites a piece of bacon and richness explodes in his mouth.  He crams the rest of the piece into his mouth.  He thinks it would be better if it had more fat and juices.  Bill stands and walks to a plate covered with a paper towel next to the stove.  He spies a piece glistening with grease on barely cooked fat and crams the piece into his mouth.

Martha says, “I thought you liked it crispy.”

“I do.”

“Like well done, burnt, near black.”  That piece was about raw.  I thought I would put it out for a stray cat.”

“It was good,” exclaims Bill.

Bill turns to the pack of raw bacon waiting to be cooked.  He peels a slice from the rest and nibbles on the edge.  Heaven, here’s a piece of meat that’s not had flavors cooked out of it.

Martha looks at Bill, and then she returns to cooking bacon.  “You want me to leave this raw, too?”

“Sure, I think I might like it like this.  Something new.”

Martha moves bacon slices with a fork.  “New?  Since when did you want something new?”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s time we mix things up.  A little spice and variety.”

“Don’t you go looking for spice and variety.  Those fifty year old ladies don’t want anything to do with an old man like you.”

Bill laughs and pats his wife on the back.  “No need to worry.”

“I’m not worried.  Nobody would want anything to do with an old man like you.”

“Like I say, no worries.  Fear is the first time a man can’t get it up twice.  Terror is the first time a man can’t get it up the first go round.  Relaxation is when a man no longer cares.  I’m relaxed.”

Martha turns to look at her husband.  She’s not used to hearing this stodgy old deacon talk like this.  Martha considers that Bill started the second childhood and she’s just now noticing symptoms.

Bill sits back down with his coffee.  Bill picks up the paper and stares at the front page.  The letters stand out clear and bold.  He turns to the obituaries to look for news of deceased friends.  As he scans through the names, he reaches to adjust his glasses and realizes he’s not wearing glasses.  Bill looks down at the table and sees his reading glasses lying next to his coffee.  He moves the paper in closer and then out at arms length and finds he focuses clearly on the letters at every distance.

Bill asks, “Did we change vitamins?”

“No.  Why?  Are you worried about that ‘relaxation’ issue of yours?”

Bill looks down at the floor and notices crumbs and debris under the refrigerator.  His wife keeps an impeccable house, how did she let this happen?  Bill suspects debris had always collected under the refrigerator, but he’s just now noticing it.

Bill says, “I’m not worried; relaxation is a good thing.”

“Maybe good for you . . .”

Bill returns to his paper.

 

Bill and Martha sit in a church pew close to the center aisle.    He marvels at the acoustics of the church.  He never noticed how well sound carried in the building.  He listens to a conversation at the front of the church even though he sits many rows back. 

Bill overhears one young woman say, “Can you believe what the old hag had the nerve to tell me?”

Her young friend answers, “What?”

“She told me I needed to get priorities in order.  She said I was a detriment to my household and bad influence on my children because I worked a job.  She said I should be a rock and support for my husband and stay at home where I belonged.”

The friend answers, “Old ways die hard.”

“Yea, I know.  There are lots of old folks in the church that just don’t get it.  Times are changing, and they need to get used to it.”

Bill looks at his stalwart wife.  She remains a support for their household.  Bill notices Martha cock her head to the side as if she listens to conversations, too.  Bill wonders how he never noticed how well voices carry in the church.

Bill hears a rustling sound.  It sounds loud.  He sees Martha rubbing her hands and wonders if that is the source of the sound.  The sound is synchronized with her movements; this must be the source, but it seems incredibly loud.  Bill listens to the sundry sounds in the church and wonders how he discerns Martha’s hand movements within this din.

Bill watches Martha’s hand movements.  The movements seem somewhat clumsy, as if arthritis hampers movement.  Her fingers seem stubbier than Bill remembers.  He thought her fingers were slender like a piano player’s fingers, but these fingers look more like stubs.  The fingernails catch Bill’s attention.  The nails are surprisingly long, almost dangerously long.  These nails could catch on Martha’s hose resulting in a nasty tear.  Bill studies the nails.  They seem thicker and more rounded than they should be.  They aren’t the smooth, polished nails of a younger lady.  Bill considers this another sign of aging.

Bill notices sheen on her hands.  He first thinks this is lotion but, as Martha continues wringing her hands, Bill realizes light reflects off thin fur.  It looks like a fine pelt.  The hair is short and fine, like the hair on an infant’s head or on a kitten.  Is this another sign of aging?

Bill looks at his own hands and finds that they also have more hair than he expected.  He extends his wrist from under his dress coat.  He finds his arm to be hairy, like a gorilla.  He examines his nails and thinks it’s time for a trim. 

A sudden noise behind Bill startles him.  He slashes out and backward with extended nails.  The nails brush across a man’s sport coat.  The man rocks back in alarm.

“Sorry,” Bill says.

“No problem,” answers the man as he nervously readjusts his position in the pew.  The man continues to stare at Bill.  The man’s wife manages a wry smile.

Bill turns back to face the front of the church.  He notices Martha grinning at him.  Light flashes off a canine tooth.

Bill looks forward but something nags at his mind.  He glances back at his wife.  She still smiles at him with the gleaming teeth and bright eyes.  Bill looks closer at her eyes.  The eyes seem more vibrant, colorful, odd.  The pupil doesn’t seem exactly round, more like the slit of a snake or cat.  Bill looks toward the front rather than face the notion that he may be heading toward dementia.

The organist begins to play.  The volume seems unusually loud and hurts Bill’s ears. 

As the music plays, the choir files in and takes their seats.  The preacher approaches the pew.  The congregation becomes silent.

Bill looks across the faces in the choir.  Some are young, some are old, but all look like sheep.

The music stops.  The preacher raises his hands aloft as if beckoning the Holy Spirit to join the congregation.  “Be with us, oh Lord, as we come to you today to worship you and magnify your name.  Share your grace and joy.  We ask that you . . .”

Bill’s mind wanders away from the preacher’s words.  As the preacher ambles on, Bill watches the preacher from a distance that is more than the space between many pews, more than the void between two disparate humans.  The preacher gesticulates and Bill sees only the fine motor movements of muscle, sinew, and bone.  Bill considers skin covering muscle encasing blood, organs, and bone.  Bill notes that only a few strides cover the distance between himself and the preacher.  He could close the gap in an instant.

The choir stands to sing.  The congregation stands with hymnals in hand.  The organ plays and voices raise praise to the Lord.  Bill turns to look at his wife and finds her not singing.  Usually she is a strong voice in the congregation, but today she stands enraptured watching the choir.  Her eyes gleam as she smiles.  Bill looks closer; is Martha salivating?

 

Bill tries to sleep.  The sheets encumber Bill, so he tosses the sheets aside.  He stares at shadows on the ceiling.  He watches interplay of lighter and darker regions as wind blows trees outside.  He wonders if light comes from moon or streetlights.  He turns his head to the window, yearning to be outside at play in the trees.  He remembers the halcyon days of youth when he played for hours in yards and forests.  If he climbed a tree today, people would think him addled. 

He stands and walks to the window.  Though the world outside seems grey, it looks as bright as daylight.  He spies a mouse in the leaves and his hand darts to the glass as if he could snare the creature.  His head cocks to the side as he listens for rustling in the leaves.  He sees an owl on a tree limb watching the tasty morsel in the leaves.  The owl turns and stares at Bill.  Bill locks eyes with the owl.  The owl swoops off the limb but flies into the sky rather than chase the hapless mouse.

Feeling somewhat disconcerted, Bill turns from the window and looks around the room.  The lifeless room is boring.  He leaves to go to the living room thinking to read or watch television.  Bill walks into the dark living room and is startled to find Martha staring out of the big picture window.  Martha turns to watch Bill as he enters the room.

Bill asks, “You can’t sleep, either?”

Martha does not answer.  She turns back to the window.  Curious, Bill goes to the window to see what captivates Martha’s attention.  He looks out of the window and sees a similar scene to what he viewed from his bedroom.  The world is bright but colorless grey.  He sees trees that beckon him into the night.  As he studies the scene, he sees moths, a large beetle in the yard, and another mouse scurrying in the underbrush.  Every flitting motion captures his attention.  His eye rapidly travels from moth, to beetle, to mouse, back to moth.  Bill turns to gaze at Martha.  She stands transfixed watching the world outside. 

“Martha?”

Martha stares at the world outside the window.  “Yes?”

“Do you feel okay?”

“Wonderful.  I’ve never felt more alive.  How do you feel?”

Bill turns to the vista outside the window.  The night exhilarates him.  He longs for the audacity to cast away this halter the world placed on him so that he could go outside and enjoy the night.  The world demands propriety.  Old men are expected to stay inside in comfort and safety.  Cavorting about yards at night is improper. 

Bill fights temptation and returns to his room.  He fluffs the pillow and lies back in bed   Bill pulls the sheets around his neck and stares at the ceiling.  He listens for sounds outside the window.  He imagines he hears the mouse rustling in leaves as it looks for seeds or insects.  Bill imagines he hears air whooshing off owl’s wings as it glides through the night.

Bill hears the backdoor open.  A few moments later, the backdoor closes.  Bill listens for Martha’s steps outside but cannot hear her.  Bill imagines she steals through the night like a prowling cat.  Bill considers joining her, but he cannot overcome expectations placed on him by society.  What would church members think should they find him playing in the trees at night?  Bill comforts himself with dreams of mice as he drifts off to sleep.

 

Bill looks at himself in the bathroom mirror.  He rubs his beard.  He reaches down to the shelf above the sink and jostles a glass containing his false teeth.  He hears the set of teeth rattle in the glass.  He returns to the mirror and examines his beard.  It seems thick this morning.  He considers if the safety razor would work better than the electric razor.  He opens the cabinet and looks at the old mug of soap he used to use with his straight razor.  If the straight razor were sharp, he perhaps would use it.  Bill opts for the electric razor.  He plugs the cord into the wall receptacle and tries to turn the razor on.  His stubby fingers fail to manipulate the power switch.  His fingernails scratch the plastic.  Bill concentrates on the task, and the razor buzzes to life.  He works the razor across his neck and chin.  He moves the razor across the left cheek and then the other cheek.  Stubble remains, so he re-works all the places he shaved.  As he moves the razor, he notices his neck seems unusually hairy.  He stops the razor and stares at the mirror.  He moves his hand around the side and back of his neck, feeling a thick mane of fur that he’s never noticed before.  Perhaps it’s time for a barber visit to get a real shave.  Bill flips a button on the electric razor so that the beard trimmer accessory pops up.  He buzzes the razor across his neck and watches hair drift down into the sink.  Hair covers the bottom of the sink.  He leans forward so that hair does not fall on the floor and works the razor across the back of his neck.  Long, fine hair falls in clumps.  He slams the razor down and goes to the kitchen for coffee and the morning paper.

Martha stands at the stove scrambling eggs.  The newspaper is already laid out on the table next to a cup of coffee.  Bill sits down and sips his coffee.  The coffee tastes unusually strong this morning.  Bill debates whether he should ask Martha about the night before.  He decides it was all a dream and talking about it may earn another doctor visit.  Even with Medicare coverage, doctor visits further deplete limited income and are best avoided.

Martha sets a plate in front of Bill.  Bill notices hair on her arm   Bill compares the hair to the mental image from church when he noticed the heavy pelt.  Bill thinks the hair is longer today, thicker.  Bill considers the bottles of vitamins and medications piled in the cabinet.  Martha must be taking some new ones that increase hair as a side-effect.

Martha carries the sizzling frying pan across the kitchen and scoops a healthy portion of eggs onto Bill’s plate.  He picks up a fork and realizes he forgot to put his teeth in his mouth.  He forks a bite of eggs and gums the eggs.  Then Martha places strips of bacon and a biscuit on his plate. 

Martha sits down across the table from Bill.  Her plate is piled high with a huge amount of food.  Bill envies her healthy appetite.  As Martha wolfs down food Bill notices her teeth.  She has strong teeth and easily devours the meal.

Bill stands up.

“Where you off to?” asks Martha.

“I need to get my teeth.”

Bill glances over his shoulder at Martha as he leaves the room.  Martha’s huge canine tooth flashes when she chomps bacon.

Bill walks back into the bathroom.  He retrieves his false teeth from a glass and clacks them into his mouth.  He leans on the vanity and stares at his reflection in the mirror. 

“What is happening,” he murmurs.  Bill considers he may finally have started losing his mind. 

He looks down in the sink and sees layers of hair.  “This is real.”

Bill wipes his hand through the hair.  He pulls a glob closer and views the strands.  The hair is a more golden color; not brown, black, or grey, the colors he’s always worn on his face and head.  He wonders why his hair color would now turn blond.  Bill looks in the mirror to reevaluate his neck hair.  He shaved it too close to tell anything about color.  He pulls his hair on his forehead back to look at the roots.  Sure enough, the hair is turning blondish.

Bill opens a drawer to expose bottles of pills.  He searches through the drawer until his finds a neglected bottle in the bottom of the drawer.  He twists open the bottle and pops a tranquilizer into his mouth. 

He walks back into the kitchen and sits down at his plate of eggs.  Bill looks at the paper lying next to his coffee cup.  He looks up at Martha as she sits quietly above her empty plate . . . purring. 

Bill stares at his coffee wishing the tranquilizer would kick in.  He picks up the paper to read the headlines.  Though he clearly makes out the letters without his reading glasses, Bill finds he cannot make since of the words. 

Bill picks up his fork and gingerly places the tip of the prongs into the eggs.  He pulls a small bite and places it in his mouth.  Flavors explode in his mouth.  Eggs never tasted this good.  He tears a piece of bacon and relishes the juices as fat oozes down his throat.  He takes a bite of biscuit and finds it bland.  His next bite of biscuit with butter and bacon is much better.  Meat tastes great.  He finds nuances of flavor he never noticed before.

Bill asks, “Did you cook breakfast differently this morning?”  He shovels in another mouthful of scrambled eggs.

“No different,” Martha answers.  “Well, I made more than usual this morning.”

Martha takes her empty plate to the sink for washing.  “Do you like it?”

“Yes, this is great.  Best ever.”  Bill scoops more egg onto his fork and balances the mass as he tries to maneuver it into his mouth.

“Glad you like it,” purrs Martha.  Martha rattles a pan in the sink.  She twists on the faucet to start warming the hot water.  She touches her hand in the water stream to test the temperature, and when it becomes warm she puts the stopper in the bottom of the sink to allow the sink to fill.

Bill continues eating.  He sops up the last bite of egg and bacon grease with a bit of biscuit.  He picks up the plate and licks it.  He laps the plate till it glistens. 

 

Bill sits in a recliner watching television.  He fumbles with the remote trying to find interesting programs.  The remote falls from his paw.  He stabs at his lap fishing for the remote.  He wraps stubby fingers around the remote and picks it up.  He pushes buttons with a long fingernail.  He surfs past action movies and sit-coms.  A nature documentary catches his attention.  Elephants rumble across a savanna.  A flock of birds fly through a blue sky.  A gazelle bolts across the screen and Bill almost leaps from his chair.  Bill watches the gazelle with a keen eye catching each ripple of muscle that signals a change in direction.  A lioness chases the gazelle and Bill cheers for the lioness.

“Catch him – get him!” shouts Bill

The lioness hooks claws into the side of the gazelle and drags the squealing beast to the ground.  Bill claps his hands. “YES!”

As the lioness rends the beast, Bill fixates on tasty organs.  Bill notices Martha stands in the room watching the television – salivating. 

The lioness drags the carcass across the ground.  Martha sits on a couch to watch the program.  The camera cuts to show the lioness dragging the animal into bushes where cubs wait for a meal.  The lioness tears organs from the beast and splays the organs across the ground for her cubs.

Martha says, “That’s a good mother.”

“Yes,” agrees Bill.  Bill wonders where the lion is.

The documentary answers Bill’s question and shows a lion resting in shade under a tree.  Other cats from the pride join the lion in the shade.  Bill imagines a warm breeze rustling across ears and through mane carrying scents of grass and flowers.

The television shows a scene with mice at play.  Martha moves closer to the television and sits on her haunches on the floor.  Bill marvels at her poise and balance as Martha sits with her front legs forward looking at the scenes on TV.

Bill stares at Martha.  Yes, it looks like she balances on her haunches with front legs forward . . . legs, not arms.  She sits like the lioness watching her cubs feed on a gazelle.  Bill scans her profile.  The lines of her nose and mouth look feline.  Bill chalks it up to imagination, enhanced by Martha’s whiskers.  Martha needs to shave or go for electrolysis; her whiskers are getting too long.  Bill rehearses different ways he could suggest this to Martha without offending her.

 

Bill wakes up and looks at the clock.  He slept better than usual.  He stretches, trying to get circulation moving again.  He licks his hand, front and back.  It’s time to get ready for church.  Sunday school will begin soon.  Bill hears Martha in her room getting dressed for church.  He listens closer; the sounds are different this morning.  Bill hears clothes hangers clacking in the closet.  Something sounds like it hit a wall.  After a few seconds of silence, Bill hears sobbing.

Bill swings his legs out of bed and walks down the hallway to see what troubles Martha.  Martha sits on the floor surrounded by a heap of clothes torn from hangers.  She lifts a ripped dress and flings it against the far wall.

“What is the matter?” asks Bill.

“They don’t fit right.  I can’t get anything on.”

“Have you gained weight?”

“No.  Look.”  Martha lifts another torn dress for Bill to view.

“What’s the matter?”

“I don’t know.”  Martha looks up at Bill.  Tears stream down both cheeks.  “They don’t fit right, and I can’t pull them on.  I keep tearing things.”

Bill wraps a housecoat around Martha’s shoulders.  “That’s okay.  We don’t have to go to church today.”

“You go without me.  You never miss a Sunday.  Go on, I’ll be fine.”

“No, I won’t hear of it.  I’ll stay home today.”

Martha stops crying.  She looks up at Bill and smiles.

“We’ll just sit around the house today.  Maybe piddle in the backyard.”

“That sounds nice,” Martha says.  “I’ll go make breakfast.”

Bill goes to the bathroom to get ready for the day.  He looks in the mirror at his beard.  The hair is finer than the bristle he normally has, but longer, like a five day growth.  The hair is definitely blond, or tan.  It would shave easily enough, but the hair on his neck would not.  He laughs thinking he looks like some beatnik hippie with long hair.  He fumbles for the razor but cannot get a good grasp.  He decides to skip shaving this morning.

Clattering in the kitchen calls him.  His stomach growls thinking of bacon and eggs.  He walks into the kitchen but coffee and the paper are not in their customary place.  Martha struggles with the coffee maker, and the frying pan is on the floor.

Bill says, “I’ll go out and grab the newspaper.”

Bill walks to the front door and tries to turn the doorknob.  The knob is slick, and he can’t get a grasp.  He tries to wrap short fingers around the knob, but it refuses to turn.  Bill grasps the knob firmly with both hands and turns it.  He opens the door and steps outside. 

Fragrances assail Bill.  He lifts his nose higher to catch more scents.  He smells flowers, tree leaves, and unusual musty smells he never noticed before.  His nose twitches as he catches a new scent.  He thinks the smell to be animal of some kind, like he remembers how horses smelled after a day’s ride.  He turns his head to catch the breeze and discern from which direction these smells come from.  He walks across the yard, tracing smells.  Bill scuffles through the yard following his nose.  His nose leads him to a bush at the edge of the yard.  Bill sniffs, finding many smells of many animals.  Bill gets down on his hands and knees to approach the bush at the base.  He burrows into the bush.  Smells, so many smells, how can he distinguish one smell from another?  Bill slowly and deliberately focuses on one smell and then another.  He finds he can train his mind to differentiate each smell from the smorgasbord. 

Movement catches Bill’s eye and in a millisecond Bill swats a fly to the ground.  Slowly, Bill lifts his paw, and the fly buzzes for freedom.  Instantly, Bill pins the fly to the ground.  He lifts his paw again, allowing the fly to move an inch in flight, and then Bill slams the fly back to earth.  Bill lifts his paw, but the fly only crawls.  The injured fly brushes its damaged wings and makes futile attempts to fly.  Bill stands up and goes back to the front porch for the paper.

Bill carries the paper into the kitchen and sits at his regular place.  The coffee maker gurgles.  Martha scrambles eggs in a frying pan.

“What took you so long?” asks Martha.

“Nothing, just enjoying the morning.”

“Birds?”

Bill spreads the paper out on the table.  “What?”

“Any sweet birds?”

Nooo,” Bill slowly answers.  He looks up at Martha.  Something about the way she asked suggested “sweet” didn’t refer to demeanor but to taste.

Bill sits at his regular place at the table.  He attempts to read the paper, but clattering noises from Martha’s breakfast preparations distract Bill.  Bill watches Martha fix breakfast.  Martha makes more noise than usual this morning as she fumbles through the regular routine.  Bill notices Martha leans forward at an odd angle as if her back gives pain.  Bill counts this as yet another sign the couple is getting old.  Bill notes that Martha occasionally puts her hand out onto the counter as if she catches herself.  Martha appears to balance on her legs with difficulty.  Martha reminds Bill of the costumed dogs at the circus which parade on their hind legs.  Martha spills coffee as she fills a cup.  Martha steps away from the counter to bring the cup to Bill and Bill almost expects to see Martha drop down on all fours and carry the cup in a raised front hand.  Martha sets the cup by the newspaper and hobbles back to the counter. 

Bill reaches for the cup.  His finger won’t fit through the handle.  He stabs his finger at the hole again, and the cup spins a full turn, splashing a little coffee onto the paper.  Treating the cup like the front doorknob, Bill places both hands around the cup and raises it to his mouth.  He savors aromas as he sips.  The coffee warms him.  He laps more coffee from the cup.  He runs his tongue around the inside of the cup to get the last residue.  Bill sets the empty cup back down on the table.

Bill thumbs open the newspaper.  He reaches for reading glasses but remembers he doesn’t use them anymore.  Some pages begin to slide off the table but he catches them.  He awkwardly arranges the pages on the table, but they remain a jumbled mess.  Bill commands his fingers to respond, but the fingers stubbornly refuse to perform the fine motor movements needed to handle a newspaper.  Bill accidentally tears a page with a talon.  Bill surrenders and looks down to read whatever is on the page in front of him.

Martha drops a breakfast plate on the table.  The noise startles Bill.  Bill felt the vibration of the impact through the table.  Bill reappraises Martha’s state of being.  Is she having a reaction to medication?  Does she need to see a doctor?

Martha sits down at the table with her own breakfast plate.  Her eggs are runny.  Bacon glistens with warm fat.  Bill looks down at his plate.  The eggs are scrambled normally and the bacon is crispy, just the way he likes it.  He longs for Martha’s plate.  A streak of yellow runs down the side of Martha’s face as she crams more eggs into her mouth.  She tears a strip of bacon with her teeth.  Bill hears gulping sounds as Martha swallows.  Martha tosses a whole strip of bacon into her gaping maw.  Bill feels jealousy that Martha gets the best portions while he must have charred bacon and dry eggs.

“That looks good,” Bill says.  “Maybe tomorrow I’ll try it cooked the way you have it.”

Martha tries to answer through a mouthful of food.  She chokes down the mass of eggs and biscuit.  “Sure, honey.  I can cook it that way tomorrow.”

Bill picks at his eggs.  Martha takes her empty plate to the sink.  She turns on the faucet to wash dishes.  Bill nibbles the end of a bacon strip.  It tastes burnt.  Bill dreams of the almost raw meat Martha enjoyed.  He tries another bite of eggs but almost chokes on the dry chalk.  He can’t get his voice to ask for water.  He taps at the coffee cup.

Martha carries the carafe to his cup and refills his cup.  Bill quickly drinks from the cup trying to wash down the dry eggs.  He eats a biscuit with butter.  

“I guess I’m done,” Bill says.

“You’ve hardly eaten a thing.”

“I’m not that hungry.  And there’s nothing in the paper worth reading.  I think I’ll go watch TV.”

 

A knock at the door wakes Bill from a nap.  He uncurls himself from the recliner and walks to the door.  He checks his housecoat to make sure it’s properly closed and presentable.  He opens the door with both hands and finds two friends from church, an older couple named Mr. and Mrs. Robertson.

Bill beckons them into the house.  “Hello, good to see you.”

“Good afternoon,” Mr. Robertson says as he walks into the house.”

Bill shuts the door and ushers the couple into the living room.  “Please, have a seat.”

Mrs. Robertson furrows her brow and takes a seat on the couch next to her husband. “Is your back out of sorts?  Is that why you missed church today?”

Bill sits back down in the large recliner.

“Pardon my wife,” Mr. Robertson says.  “We stopped by to see if you were feeling well and needed anything.”

“We’re doing okay,” Bill answers.  “We felt a little discombobulated this morning, so we decided to stay home.”

Mr. Robertson turns to his wife on the couch.  “See, I told you nothing was wrong.”

Mrs. Robertson says, “Sorry to bother you.”

Bill responds, “No bother at all; glad you dropped by.”

Mrs. Robertson picks up a small pillow and offers it to Bill.  “Would you like a pillow to ease your back?”

“No thank you.  My back feels fine.”

“Okay, sorry to bother you.  You walked as if your back hurt.  We old folks have an eye for that sort of thing, you know.”

Bill adjusts himself in his chair.  “Yes, we do.”

Mrs. Robertson continues, “I mean, you walked sort of hunched over at the hips as if your back hurt.”

Becoming self conscious of his back, Bill rearranges himself in the chair.

“And you’re sitting sort of sideways now―”

Mr. Robertson lays a hand on Mrs. Robertson’s knee.  “C’mon now honey.  He said his back was fine.”

Bill leans forward to change positions in the chair.  “I don’t know.  Maybe, she’s right.  It does feel a little odd right now.  I shouldn’t have slept in this chair.”

Mrs. Robertson nods her head.  “Ah, yes, that’s it.  Even young people get backaches sleeping on a recliner.  No wonder you’re having trouble.”

Martha walks into the living room.  “I thought I heard guests.  Can I get you anything?”

“No thank you,” answers Mr. Robertson.

“I’ll take some tea or ginger ale or whatever you have,” says Mrs. Robertson.

“Iced tea coming right up.”  Martha walks into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator.

Mrs. Robertson tries to capture her husband’s attention.  She nods in the direction of the kitchen.

“What?” asks Mr. Robertson.

Mrs. Robertson looks embarrassed.  She glances at Bill, then back to her husband.  “Nothing.”

Mrs. Robertson rummages through her purse.  She pulls out a pill dispenser and takes two white tablets from the container.

Martha returns with a glass of tea in each hand.  She hands a glass to Mrs. Robertson.

Mrs. Robertson offers the tablets to Martha.  “Here, these are some pain pills.  Maybe they’ll make you feel better.”

Martha smiles and takes a seat in a straight back chair.  She leans forward at an odd angle.  “No thanks, I feel fine.”

“Go ahead, take them.  They’ll make it all better.”

Martha pulls her feet close to the chair and leans further forward.  She looks as if she could topple forward out of the chair.  “No, really, I feel fine.”

Mrs. Robertson stands and moves over to Martha.  She presses the tablets into Martha’s hand.  “I saw the way you walked.  Is it rheumatism flaring up?”

Mr. Robertson growls, “Honey.”

“Okay, okay,” Mrs. Robertson says as she returns to her seat.”

Mr. Robertson says, “Don’t be such a busy body.”

“It’s all right,” interjects Martha.  “We’ve not been up to snuff these past couple weeks.  I mean, look, we missed church today.  We’ve not missed church in years.”

“That’s true,” Bill says.  I had flu a couple years ago and missed a few Sundays, but Martha hasn’t missed a Sunday in maybe five or six years.”

Martha beams with pride.

Mr. Robertson says, “We know you are regulars; that’s why we came by to check on you.”

Mrs. Robertson continues, “Yes, we thought it had to be something serious for both of you to miss a service.”

Bill readjusts himself on the chair again.  “No.  Like I say, we just felt like staying home today.  Kind of like school kids playing hooky.  Nothing serious, we just moved too slow this morning.”

Mrs. Robertson sips her tea.  “I know what you mean.  Sometimes we take a long time to start our days, too.  I guess that comes with age.”

Bill asks, “How was the service this morning?”

“Same as ever,” responds Mrs. Robertson.

“Pastor talked about sin and salvation,” says Mr. Robertson.

Mrs. Robertson rattles ice in her tea.  “Like I said, same as ever.”

Martha stands.  “Would you like some more tea?”

“No thank you.  That was very good tea, by the way.”  Mrs. Robertson hands the tea glass to Martha.

“Thank you.  Glad you liked it.”  Martha moves toward the kitchen.  “It’s home brewed, not instant.”

Mr. Robertson stands.  “Well, I guess we’ll be going.”

Bill wiggles out of the recliner.  “What’s your hurry?”

“We’ve not had lunch yet.  We just dropped by on the way from church.”

Bill extends his hand for a handshake.  Bill glances at his knurled paws and quickly hides his hands in house coat pockets..  “Well, thank you for dropping by.”

Martha comes back into the living room wiping her hands on an apron.  “Yes, thank you for being concerned about us and coming by for a visit.  Please come by again soon.”

Mr. Robertson pauses a second to give Bill a chance to open the door.  Bill doesn’t jump forward to open the door for the guests.  Mr. Robertson turns the doorknob and opens the door.  “Thank you for having us in.  Yes, we should come by more often.”

The couple walks through the door and across the porch.

Martha says, “Come again,” as Bill shuts the door.

The couple walks down the sidewalk.  Mr. Robertson walks behind Mrs. Robertson and brushes her jacket with his hand.  “When did they get a cat?”

“Cat?”

“Your jacket is covered in cat hair.”

Mrs. Robertson says, “I hope it’s cat hair, did you see the beard on Bill?”

“That was a thick beard.  He looked like a homeless man.”

As they step to the curb, Mrs. Robertson says, “I don’t care what they said, something’s wrong.”

 

Bill awakens to night sounds.  Lately, he finds it difficult to sleep at night.  He naps all day long.  He recalls an AARP magazine article about depression which stated symptoms include catnapping in the daytime and lack of sleep at night.  Bill wonders if he should see his doctor about inability to sleep at night.  Perhaps sleeping pills could help.  Bill rolls over and tries to go back to sleep.  Night sounds beckon him.  He crawls out of bed and walks on all fours to the window.  Bill looks outside at the wondrous nighttime world.  He looks for the owl, a kindred night predator.  Bill’s paw caresses the window glass as he watches a mouse scurry among leaves at the edge of the yard.  Bill sees a lazy opossum dangle from a tree limb.  The opossum is easy fat meat for a predator that could climb trees.

Bill decides to go for a night stroll.  No reason not to, since he cannot sleep.  He starts to go to the front door but thinks the window would be easier.  The door is the proper way to exit a house, but Bill has difficulty with doorknobs and the window is right here.  He pushes open the window and jumps through.  An easy landing on all fours surprises Bill.  Bill sniffs at the night air, relishing many aromas.  He tunes in to musk animal smells.  Remaining on all fours, he follows a scent trail on the ground but looses the trail after a few steps.  He runs across the grass pretending he’s a wild beast.  He rolls over on his back and wiggles around like a dog or cat would.  He enjoys the feel of the ground against his back.  Bill looks up at the stars and thinks he’s never enjoyed their wondrous beauty as much as he does tonight.  He turns his head looking for the mouse, but the mouse hides from the intruder in the yard.  On all fours, keeping his muzzle close to the ground, Bill ambles to the side of the yard in search of the mouse.  He nuzzles leaves with his nose sniffing for the mouse.  The startled mouse jumps to run, but Bill places a paw over the mouse pinning it to the ground.  The mouse squeaks.  The squeal sends an odd thrill down Bill’s back.  Bill lifts the paw to view the terrified mouse.  The mouse stares into Bill’s eyes, too terrified to run.  The mouse composes its wits and darts to the side.  Bill drops his other front paw onto the mouse.  Bill enjoys the feel of the mouse as it struggles under the paw.  Bill releases just enough pressure so that he can peer at the mouse but not allow the mouse to escape.  Bill thinks it’s a tiny morsel, not even a bite.  He grows bored and walks away.  The mouse scurries through brush to it’s hole.

Bill meanders into a forest.  Still pretending he’s a wild beast walking on all fours, he jumps onto a fallen tree.  He stands on the tree surveying the world around him.  The tree itself catches his attention.  The wood feels warm under his feet.  He squeezes a fingernail into the wood.  He works his nail deeper into the wood.  The wood tickles his fingers.  Enjoying the feel, he works all his front nails into the wood.  Bill drags his nails through the wood, clawing up large slivers.  He lifts his paw, splays his claws apart, places the paw further along the tree, and then drags his talons through the wood.  He puts his other paw forward then draws it back to his body.  He repeats this motion over and over again, enjoying the feel of the wood around his claws.  It feels like a manicure pushing back cuticles.  Bill puts a claw to his lip to investigate and finds the claw more defined, sharper. 

Balancing on the tree with the agility of a trapeze artist, Bill walks its length.  He turns and walks back along the tree.  He walks back and forth along the tree experimenting with the way his claws hold the wood.  He spies a large oak standing near him.  Reflexively, he leaps into the air.  In mid-flight rational thought enters his mind and he wonders how painful it will be when he crashes into the tree.  He thrusts out his four feet to cushion the impact against the tree.  Bill slams against the tree.  Realizing there is no pain, Bill opens his eyes and is surprised to find himself suspended on the side of the tree.  He looks down and sees the ground a few feet beneath him.  He turns and finds his claws dug deep into the wood.  Hesitant with fears that he may fall, Bill gingerly unhooks a front claw.  He remains precariously fixed to the tree by three claws.  He reaches higher with his free claw and digs the talons into the wood.  Hanging by his front claws, Bill lifts a hind foot forward then digs it into the tree.  Bill sees a stout limb and slowly climbs toward it.  He walks out a short distance along the limb with the same agility he found walking the fallen tree.  The exertion is more than his tired, old muscles are used to, so he sprawls out along the limb. 

The world looks different from this new vantage point.  Bill thinks the world looks vulnerable.  Bill realizes he could fall onto the back of whatever beast that crossed beneath him.  Bill could dig talons into flesh as easy as into wood.  He could hold onto sinewy muscle as easy as the fallen tree.  Bill feels like he’s king of all he surveys.  Contented, he lays his chin on a front paw and goes to sleep.

Chirping birds awaken Bill.  He opens a sleepy eye and sees a bird singing on a twig in front of his face.  Does the bird not recognize that Bill is here?  Bill realizes he’s not asleep under covers in his bed.  He looks down and sees the ground many feet beneath him.  Fully awake, he comprehends that the dream was real and he is now lying in a tree rather than a comfortable bed.  Bill worries that Martha may send him to the old folks home if she found him asleep in a tree.  He sees the open bedroom window.  Bill slides from the limb and lands on the ground on all fours.  He bounds across the yard in a fluid motion and then leaps at the open window.  The leap is not as successful as anticipated and his torso and back legs hang out of the window.  He scrabbles against the wall with his hind claws and falls into his bedroom.  Panting, he looks around the room to ascertain that the subterfuge worked and Martha will not know his shame. 

He goes to the door, stands on his hindquarters, and turns the doorknob with both front paws.  He nonchalantly begins his morning routine by going to the bathroom to shave.  He manages to get the electric razor on and begins to work it over his beard and mane.  Each stroke results in pain as the razor pulls hair from flesh.  The razor bogs down with the effort.  Bill lays the razor down, resolving to only allow the beard to grow one more day.  He fishes his false teeth out of the cup and pops them into his mouth.  They feel uncomfortable.  He works the teeth with his tongue trying to find the correct fit, but the teeth refuse to find their proper place on his gums and palate.  Bill spits the teeth back into the cup.

Bill walks into the kitchen.  Martha hasn’t started breakfast yet.  He moves to the front door to get the newspaper but is loathe to return to the yard.  He sits in the recliner but can’t get comfortable.  He pushes the recliner backward into its fully reclined position but the chair still doesn’t feel right.  He wiggles trying to find a decent position.  The tree limb he slept on felt more comfortable.  Bill moves to the couch and stretches across it.  He considers getting the television remote to watch TV.  Bill decides not to fumble with the remote since his fingers do not work so well anymore.  Besides, Bill reasons, television shows are boring compared to the joys of last night outdoors.  Bill lies on the couch trying to decide what to do with the rest of the day.  Napping seems like a good way to spend a day so he goes back to sleep.

“Do you want bacon and eggs this morning?” Martha asks.

Bill awakens to find Martha standing in the living room.

“Uh, sure.”  Bill rolls on the couch to watch Martha.

“You want the paper?” Martha asks as she goes into the kitchen.

Bill again considers getting the paper but opts to lie on the couch instead.  Naw.”

Martha bangs a pan trying to get it out of the cupboard.  “You want your breakfast like mine?”

“Yea, sure.” 

Something about Martha’s speech strikes Bill.  Her words aren’t articulated well.  Bill considers that perhaps Martha had a stroke or something.  And, she’s making more noise than usual trying to maneuver the kitchen utensils.  Bill relaxes a bit when he hears bacon sizzling.  The smell entices Bill into the kitchen.

Bill sits in his customary place at the table.  He sees ground coffee beans spilled on the countertop next to the coffee maker.  The coffeemaker gurgles, so Bill knows coffee is coming.  Martha has a paper towel in her claw and wipes up a broken egg from the floor.  Bill notices that Martha licks raw egg off the paper towel before she tosses the towel in the trash can.  Martha places a plate of barely warmed bacon in front of Bill.  With gusto, Bill tears a piece in half with his claws and pops it into his mouth.  He tries to chew it with his gums, but raw bacon does not crumble like crispy bacon.  He relishes juices as they move down the back of his throat.  The half-strip of bacon slides down his gullet.  Greedily, he pops a whole slice into his mouth.  He works it with his gums to wring juices from the meat.  He tries to swallow the strip, but it hangs in his throat.  He chokes.  Bill can’t breathe and bangs on the table hoping to force the bacon strip down.  He coughs and the barely masticated strip flies back onto the plate. 

“Slow down,” Martha says.  “Don’t inhale your food.” 

Bill catches his breath.  He stares at the plate, wondering how he will eat it.  “Can I have a knife?”

Martha hooks a drawer handle with a claw and pulls the drawer open.  She fumbles in the drawer and retrieves a steak knife with both hands.  With both hands, she carries the knife to Bill and drops it on the table.

Bill tries to pick up the knife, but fingers refuse to cooperate.  He pins a bacon strip to the plate with a talon and tries to tear the piece in half with his gums.  Bill bites down on the strip.  As he pulls his head backward, the strip slides across his gums and out of his mouth.  Bill tries again with the same results.  Disgusted, he rends pieces, one by one, with his claws.  He hooks pieces with his claw and tosses them into his mouth.

Martha places a plate of clumpy yellow syrup in front of Bill.  Bill laps the eggs into his mouth with his tongue.  This works better than the bacon.  The eggs slide down nice and fill his belly.  Bill purrs as he laps more eggs.  He chases the plate across the table with his tongue to clean the last vestiges. 

Bill leans back in his chair and pangs of remorse set in.  How did he lose his sense of propriety?  He feels guilt that he quickly tosses away social graces just because he suffers some minor handicap.

With two hands, Martha carries a coffee cup to the table and sets it in front of Bill.   Bill tries to lift the cup with one hand but cannot.  He wraps both hands around the cup, but the cup slides out from between his furry hands.  He manages to hold the cup with both palms and lifts the cup to his mouth.  Hot coffee spills out of the cup onto his arms.  He sets the cup down on the table.  Bill leans forward and lightly sticks his tongue into the coffee.  He curls the tip of his tongue, forming a cup, and sloshes coffee up and into his mouth.

Sated, Bill returns to the couch.  He hears Martha eating her breakfast.  He listens as Martha collects dishes and drops them into the sink.  He listens for running dishwater but does not hear it.  Instead, Martha leaves the dishes and walks into the living room.

“Nothing on TV?” asks Martha.

“I don’t know, maybe.”

Martha picks up the remote in both claws and sits in the recliner.  With an extended talon, she pushes buttons to turn on the television and surf channels.  Bill drifts off to sleep.

Bill occasionally rises from slumber to turn himself on the couch.  The hum of television shows continues, but Bill doesn’t pay any attention.  Drowsy, he lies on the couch, sometimes looking at the floor and sometimes looking at the wall.  His stomach begins to growl, but he ignores it.  Bill doesn’t hear Martha cooking lunch, and Bill cannot muster the gumption to fix a snack for himself.

Bill opens one eye.  Light in the room seems dim.  Light glows from the television screen, but little light streams in through the windows.  Bill deduces it’s late in the day, dinnertime.  He rolls off of the couch and walks into the kitchen.  Martha mills around the kitchen.  Bill notices the overhead light is not on. 

“What’s for dinner?” asks Bill.

“I don’t know.  What do you feel like?”

“Steak.”

“We have some hamburger meat.”

Bill rubs his stomach.  “Um, sounds good.”

“What do you want on the hamburger?”

“I don’t know, maybe just meat.  Rare.”

Martha paws open a lower cabinet and tries to pull out a frying pan.  The pan rattles onto the floor.  She grabs at the pan, but the pan seems to scurry away from her.  She fumbles with the pan with both hands, but it falls back to the floor.  Martha works her palms around the body of the pan and manages to lift it onto the stovetop.  Martha opens the refrigerator and hooks a claw into the cellophane wrapped package of meat.  She drops the package onto the kitchen counter and claws open the package.

“How about just like this?” asks Martha.

Bill sniffs the raw meat.  “It does smell good.”

Martha scoops a hunk into her mouth.  “I think I like it better this way.”

Bill scratches the meat and pulls a small piece to his mouth.  He licks the bit off his claw.  He furrows his brow, examining the flavors as if he were a gourmet chef.  Bill smacks his lips and reaches for another small piece.

Martha asks, “Do you like it this way?”

“I don’t know.  I think so.”  Bill swishes the bit of meat around the inside of his mouth.  He rubs his tongue against the roof of his mouth to squish the meat across his tongue. 

Martha earnestly looks at her husband.  “Well?”

“I do like it.  Flavors are rich, creamy, with more earthy natural undertones.  Why haven’t we eaten it this way all our lives?”

“Europeans do.  And they eat organ meats, too.  Like this.  Some do it like a paste, ground up fine like a mush.”

Bill raises an eyebrow.  “Organ meats?  I haven’t had organ meats since I was a child.  I liked livers and gizzards and hearts.”

Martha laughs.  “I never had it, but some of my family liked scrambled eggs and brains for breakfast.”

“Maybe we could try it.  Cook them like you’ve been doing, real runny.”

“Or raw.  Just scramble them up.”

Bill reaches for the refrigerator door.  “That might be good.”

“It would be easier to fix, especially now that arthritis won’t let my fingers move anymore.”

Bill opens the door and tries to pull a carton of eggs from a shelf.  The carton splats onto the floor.   Viscous, yellow liquid oozes from the carton.  Bill drops down on his hands and back feet.  He sticks his tongue into the yellow mess.

“I like it,” Bill says.

“Better than cooked?”

“Yea, better than cooked.  Better than even you make them fancy with cheese or spices.”  Bill turns his head up to Martha and grins.  “I like it a lot!”

Martha laughs.  “That works out good.  I won’t even have to wash the dishes after cooking.  Now if we can just fix it so we don’t go to the store, we’re all set.”

“You don’t like going to the store?”

“I’ve not liked grocery shopping for years.  It’s just a chore.  It’ll be harder now that I can’t stand up straight, and my hands don’t work.”

Bill pats the egg carton to crush the rest of the eggs.  He laps yellow ooze from the floor.

“The grocery will deliver.”

Bill remains engrossed in dinner from the floor.

Martha continues, “They deliver to old folks.”

Bill pushes the carton to gain access to more egg.  An unbroken yolk is lapped up whole.

“They don’t mind delivering since the grocery is close.  If we ordered less often, but got more stuff in each order, then it’s easier for everyone.  They would expect a tip, I’m sure.  We’d have the tip the delivery person something.”

Pfftt,” says Bill.

“Okay then, we’ll do it.”  Martha leans over the kitchen counter and bites a huge hunk of meat from the hamburger package.

 

Night sounds awaken Bill.  He turns his head toward the window and smiles.  He’s glad he left the window open to make the room more a part of the outdoor world.  A moth bangs against the ceiling.  Bill lies quietly, listening for sounds of movement from anything mammalian.

Bill kicks the covers off and rolls out of bed.  He lands on his four feet.  He lifts his shoulders as if to stand, but finds it more comfortable to remain on four feet.  He lumbers to the window and places his front paws on the sill.  He sniffs the night air for the many scents the wind offers.  Bill becomes excited, he smells meat.  He leaps through the window and lands on the grass.  He bounds across the yard chasing the scent of food.  Without thinking, he leaps across the fallen tree and onto the back of a small deer.  The startled fawn tries to run, but Bill drags it to the ground with his weight and claws.  The fawn screams in terror.  Bill clamps down onto the fawn preventing escape.  He reaches out with his mouth to attack with teeth but is only able to gum the back of the fawn’s neck.  He chomps down on the spine, but the effort is fruitless.  The fawn kicks free and runs into the darkness.  Bill hears receding footsteps and knows this meal is lost.  Bill imagines the fawn mocks Bill’s toothless bite.  Bill feels impotent. 

A breeze carries a hint of more meat.  Bill sniffs the air trying to pinpoint the correct direction.  He attempts to discern the type of meat.  He pads in a promising direction but the scent grows weaker.  He turns in another direction and the scent becomes stronger.  Bill follows the scent across a neighbor’s yard and around to the back porch.  He walks up onto the open back porch and finds a pan of food on the floor.  Bill wonders if this was left for a pet cat or dog.  He sniffs the food.  It smells like a mix of chicken, beef, and cornmeal.  Bill is a little surprised that he discerns the individual scents.  He gingerly dips the tip of his tongue into the food.  He finds that it’s not near as good as ground hamburger or raw egg, but stomach pangs encourage Bill to sample this fare.  It doesn’t taste that bad.  With two scoops of his tongue, the empty pan rattles across the floor. 

Bill backs down off of the porch.  He sits on his haunches in the neighbor’s backyard.  He sniffs the air and listens to the night sounds.  He hears movement in the next yard.  He slinks across the yard.  He stealthily raises his head and trains his eyes into the next yard.  He spies a doghouse with a stake and chain in front of it.  The chain trails toward the front of the doghouse.  Bill cannot see the dog.  He sniffs the air but detects only rank smells of dog scent.  These could be left from past days, and the dog may not be present.  Bill pads to the side of the yard, creating distance between himself and the doghouse.  He angles into the yard and begins to circumnavigate the perimeter.  When Bill gets halfway around the yard he makes out the dog.  It lies with its head on its front paws. 

A twig snaps under Bill’s front foot.  The dog lifts its head and looks in Bill’s direction.  The dog lifts its ears and sniffs at the air.  Bill remains still.  The dog stands and the chain on its collar makes odd tinkling sounds.  Bill snaps his head in the dog’s direction.  The movement alerts the dog to Bill’s position.  The dog becomes rigid.  Bill steps a hind food backward.  The dog shoots out of the doghouse.  The dog stands in the yard barking.  Bill watches the plump dog.  He considers treating it like the fawn but remembers the tooth issue.  The false teeth in the glass in the bathroom do not have the canines needed for severing spines. 

Bill slinks backward.  The dog catches a glimpse of Bill, yelps, and runs back to the doghouse.  Bill eyes the cowering dog.  The dog recedes completely into the doghouse and whimpers. 

Bill walks on all fours back to the window.  What would Martha think about his nighttime excursions?  Bill leaps through the window and lands squarely in his bedroom.  He jumps onto his bed and lays back down for sleep.

 

Clattering sounds in the kitchen wake Bill.  Daylight streams through the open window.  A bird perched on the window sill cocks its head toward Bill.  Bills hind legs reflexively set for springing toward the bird, but the bird flies away before Bill can leap.

Bill picks up his nightgown and works an arm into a sleeve.  The gown doesn’t fit correctly and hangs at an odd angle.  He twists his other arm through the other sleeve goes to the kitchen to see what Martha is preparing for breakfast.

Jars of condiments lay strewn on the floor.  Martha digs through the refrigerator.  Without turning from her task, Martha says, “There’s not much left, we’re going to have to go to the grocery today.” 

  Bill scans the mess on the floor.  “I thought we were going to phone in an order.”

“That’s right.”  Martha tries to shut the refrigerator door, but it won’t close.  She pulls a clump of bananas out onto the floor.  The door closes.  Martha goes to the telephone and opens the telephone book.

Bill gazes at the bananas.  The peels are mostly black with age.  He used to like aged bananas, but now he thinks it distasteful to eat any fruit.  His stomach growls as he thinks of raw eggs and raw bacon for breakfast – maybe sprinkle some cheese over the eggs for a taste treat.  Bill imagines grated yellow cheese falling into yellow liquid egg yolks.

The phone book slams onto the floor, jolting Bill from his reverie.  Martha stoops to pick it up.  She hooks the book with both of her hands.  She lays the book on the counter by the telephone and flips through the pages.  Martha knocks the phone receiver so that it falls onto the counter.  She punches buttons, dialing the number for the grocery store.  Martha hears the phone ringing on the other end of the line but cannot pick the phone receiver back up.  Martha tries with both hands, but the receiver scurries across the countertop.  She scoops the receiver to one side, pinning it against the wall.  Martha manages to lift the handset to her shoulder just as someone answers on the other end of the line.

“Hello, how can we help you today?”

With one hand, Martha pins the telephone handset against her shoulder and her ear.  “I’d like to place an order for delivery.”

“Hello?  Yes?  What did you say?”

Martha repeats, “I’d like to place an order for delivery.”

“I’m sorry.  I can’t quite make out your words.  You’d like a delivery?”

“Yes, a delivery.”

“Okay.  I have a pencil ready, what do you need?”

Martha looks at Bill while she places an order to see if he approves of her selections and in case he wants to add something.  “I’d like three dozen eggs, ten pounds of hamburger, ten pounds of bacon―”

“I’m sorry, I can’t understand you.  Our phone must not be working right.  Can you speak slower?”

“I’d like three dozen eggs.”

“You said three dozen eggs, right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, what next?”

“Ten pounds of hamburger.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you.  Can you repeat that?”

Martha looks at Bill for help.  She repeats, “Ten…pounds…hamburger.”

The clerk asks, “Tin cans of hamburger?”

“No, no.  Would you like to speak to my husband?”

“What?”

Exasperated, Martha extends the telephone to Bill.  She drops the receiver and it clatters on the floor.  The cord acts as a coil spring and yanks the handset against the wall.  Martha looks at Bill.  “Do you want to try?”

Bill grabs the handset in both hands and lifts the phone to his ear.  “Hello.”

“Hello,” answers the clerk on the other end of the line.

“We’d like to order some hamburger for delivers.”

There is a pause on the other end of the phone.  Bill hears the clerk say to someone else, “Can you take this order, I can’t understand these old people. . .”

A woman speaks on the other end of the line.  “Hello, this is Mary.  Can I take your order?”

Bill says, We’d like ten pounds of hamburger.”

Bill hears Mary whisper to someone in the store, “Maybe this is a crank call?”

Bill says, “Hello.”

Mary answers, “Yes?”

“I’d like to order hamburger.”

“Okay.  Yes.  Hamburger.  Regular hamburger?”

“Yes,” answers Bill.

“Already patted out into patties?”

Bill thinks a minute.  “No.”

“How much?”

“Ten pounds.”

“Okay, that was ten pounds?”

“Yes.”

“Buns?” Mary asks.

“No.”

“Chips?”

“No.”

‘What else.”

“Eggs.”

“We already have three dozen eggs on the list.  That’s what you want?”

“Yes, and bacon.”

“How much bacon?”

“Ten pounds.”

“You want ten pounds of bacon?” asks Mary.

“Yes.”

Martha smiles knowing that the order is finally getting through.

“What brand?”

Bill rolls his eyes.  He used to be picky about his favorite bacon brand, but trying to get it straight seems like a daunting task right now. “Any brand is fine.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.  Which brand?”

Bill suddenly begins to worry about how he will give directions to his house.  He can’t even order bacon, how will he tell them where to deliver?

“Hormel?” suggests Mary.

“Yes, that will be good.”

Bill thinks a minute.  He would like to order some steak but doesn’t know how, given the communication problem.  Bill says, “Ham.”

“Sliced, deli, sandwich meat, or what?”

“Two.”

“Two?”

“Yes, two.”

“Two packages?”

“Two hams.”

“Ham, yes, but what kind?”

“Two hams.”

“Whole hams?  You want two whole hams?”

“Yes!” shouts Bill.

“What else?” Mary asks.

“That’s it.”

“Okay, so that’s it.  Right?”

“Yes,” responds Bill.

“If you pay by cash or check, you can pay when it’s delivered.  If you pay by card, we’ll have to get the exact total and call you back to run the card.”

Bill says, “Check.”

“That will be good.  Have we delivered to you before?  If not, we need the address.”

“Nope, we’ve never had a delivery before.”  Bill roles his eyes, knowing this will be an arduous affair.  Martha looks amused at Bill’s plight.

Mary asks, “Name?”

“Bill Mort.”

“Okay, just a minute, let me punch that into the computer.”

Bill inspects the mat of hair on the back of his hand.  He turns his hand in the light, reflections flash from his claws.  He sees calluses on his hand and stubby fingers.  He rubs his face with his hand to feel the rough calluses.  Bill examines the calluses, thinking they look like the pads of cat feet. 

Mary says, “Here it is, William Mort.”

“Huh?”

“You’re at 209 Buckhouse Lane?”

“Uh, yes.”

“Okay, we’ll get that packed up and delivered.”

“Do you need directions?”

“What did you say?”

Bill repeats, “Directions.”

“Oh no, we have it.  The computer age is great.  Our driver has GPS and everything.  If we have trouble, we’ll call you.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you for your business Mr. Mort.  This should be delivered early this afternoon, if that is okay with you.”

“Fine, thank you.”

“Have a nice day,” Mary says as she hangs up the telephone.

Bill hangs up the phone and turns to Martha.  “See, that worked out fine.  No more trips to the store.”

“What’s happening to us?” Martha asks.

“What do you mean?”

“We’re changing.”

“We’re just growing old,” says Bill.

Martha pulls the lid off the trashcan and tries to manhandle the condiment jars into the trashcan.  “It’s more than that.”

Bill sits in his customary chair and looks at the empty place setting, no newspaper, no coffee, and no breakfast plate.

A pickle jar falls from Martha’s grasp and clatters on the floor.  Bill watches the jar roll in a circle.  Martha stoops to pick up a mustard jar with both paws.  Bill watches as she sits on her haunches to move more condiments into the trash.  Watching Martha fumble with a salad dressing bottle amuses Bill.  Bill laughs when Martha leans forward and clenches teeth onto the bottle.  She twists her head and flings the bottle straight into the trashcan.

“Swish, score two points.”

Martha laughs.  She bites down on another bottle and tosses it into the can.  She clamps down onto a plastic bottle and twists her head to sling the bottle at the trashcan, but the bottle hangs in her mouth.  Perplexed, she paws at the bottle with her hand.  The bottle remains impaled on a canine tooth.  Martha leans over the trashcan, and with both hands, she pulls the bottle free from her tooth.  With some trepidation, she bites another jar to lift it into the trashcan.

Bill leans forward to get a better view of the cleanup.  “What you gonna chomp on next, the mailman’s leg?”

Martha picks up a mayonnaise jar with both hands.  “Yea, yuk it up, you toothless halfwit.”

“Halfwit?  Who you calling halfwit?  You’re about to throw out that good mayonnaise.”

“Do you want it?”

“Sure.”  Bill walks to the kitchen cabinets and pulls out a plate.  He sets it on the table.  He takes the jar in two hands and sets it on the table.  He tries to open the jar, but it just spins in his grasp.

“Here, let me help you.”  Martha holds the jar with both hands.

Bill uses both hands to twist the lid.  The lid comes off.  Bill takes the jar and up ends the mayonnaise jar over the plate.  Nothing comes out.  He shakes the jar and the mayonnaise globs out in one gooey clump.  He sniffs the mayonnaise.  He gingerly licks the mayonnaise.  He then licks the mayonnaise with gusto and the plate starts moving across the table.  Bill holds the plate in both hands and laps the mayonnaise until the plate is clean.

Martha places the lid back on the trashcan and sets the can in a corner. 

Bill says, “That was good.”

“I can tell.  You didn’t offer to share.”

“I didn’t know you wanted any.”

“I didn’t.  But I wouldn’t have had a chance at it, that’s for sure.”

“It was good,” Bill says.  “When I was a kid, I had some mayonnaise sandwiches, but never just mayo by itself.  That was good.”

Mayonaise sandwiches?”

“Just mayo on bread.”

“Two slices, with mayo in the middle?”

“Yes, of course.  That’s how you make a sandwich.”

The telephone rings.  Bill carries his plate to the sink.  The phone rings again.

Martha asks, “Are you going to get it.”

The phone rings a third time.

Bill says, “I thought I’d let you answer it.”

“It might be the grocery.”

The phone rings again.

“Okay, okay, I’ll get it.”  With both hands, Bill manages to pick up the receiver and put it to his ear.  “Hello.”

A voice on the other end of the line says, “Hi Bill, this is Clay Robertson.”

“Hey, how are you doing this morning?” Bill asks.

“Not bad, not bad at all.  I’m just calling to see if you, or the wife, need anything.”

“No.  We’re doing fine.”

Mr. Robertson says, “We don’t mind running errands for you, to the drug store or grocery or wherever.”

“No, we’re doing just fine.  Even if we were a little down, most places deliver these days.”

“I know, just checking on you.  The missus was a little worried about you guys.”

“Really, we’re doing great,” answers Bill.  “We didn’t mean to throw people in a loop by missing church last Sunday.”

“It’s not just that.  We’re worried about you.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, Bill, to be honest, you don’t sound good.  I can barely understand your words.  You’re garbled, like some people get when they’ve had a stroke and can’t get things back just right.”

“I’ve not had a stroke.”

“I know, I know.  But, to be honest, you two didn’t look so good when we visited last.  Are you guys okay?  Have you been to the doctor?”

“No.”  Bill thinks about Martha and wonders if perhaps they should see a doctor. 

“Maybe you two have some flu or something.”

“We’re doing just fine.”  Bill rubs his mane.  He tries to stand up straight, but pain in his hips keeps him from standing erect.  Bill thinks maybe he should take a pill for arthritis.

“Well, I won’t keep you longer.  Remember, if you two need anything, just give us a call.”

Bill hangs up the phone.  He walks into the living room and sits in his large recliner.  Martha lies on the couch with a blanket over her.

Bill says, “Do we need to go to the doctor?”

“I don’t think so.  I feel fine,”

“But, well, things are, uh, off, wouldn’t you say?”

“Maybe, but I feel better now than I used to.  I feel more alive.”

Bill scans his wife’s face for expressions of emotion.  Martha’s eyes are closed as she rests.  She wears a faint smile across her muzzle.  She purrs, contented to rest in her home.

“Suppose something is wrong,” Bill says.

Martha says, “If we’re both sick, then we both have to be placed somewhere.”

“Placed somewhere?”

“Yes.  If we both have something and have to be hospitalized or something, then we’d have a hard time keeping the house.”

Bill examines the thick hair on the back of his hand.

Martha adjusts her blanket.  “Besides, is something wrong, or is something right?”

With that thought, Bill drifts off to sleep.

 

The doorbell rings.  Bill rolls one eye open.  Martha isn’t on the couch.  He closes his eye hoping the sound was just imagination.  The doorbell rings again.  Bill sits forward on the recliner and wraps his housecoat tighter.  He stands and walks over to the door.  The doorbell rings again.

“I’m coming,” growls Bill. 

Bill opens the door and finds a young man with bags of groceries.  The boy jumps back in alarm. 

“Oh my,” the boy says as he steps backward as if to leave.

Bill says, “Good, our food is here.”

The boy stands frozen in place.

“This is our delivery?” Bill asks.

“Uh, y-yes.”

“Good.  Bring it on in.”  Bill walks back into the house, leaving the door open for the boy to follow.

The boy stands still.

“Well, come on in.  We need to settle the account.”

The boy steps one foot forward.  He looks inside the house as if he expects to find a trap or wild beasts laying in wait.  He sets the bags just inside the doorway and stands outside the house.

“Can you bring them to the kitchen?” asks Bill.  “I’ll find my checkbook.”

The boy steels his nerves and carries the bags to the kitchen.  He sets the bags on the kitchen table.  He crosses his arms and hunkers his shoulders as if to make himself less visible. 

Bill opens a drawer but cannot get his fingers around the checkbook.  He wonders how he will write a check if he cannot even pick up the book.

 “Young man, would you mind getting the checkbook and pen out of this drawer?  My arthritis is so bad I can’t use my hands.”

The boy slowly approaches Bill and the drawer.  He stares at Bill’s gnarled paws with dangerous claws for fingernails.  Bill steps backward to allow the boy more room.  The boy pulls out the checkbook and an ink pen.  He scratches the pen across the back of the book to get ink flowing.  The boy fishes the bill out of a pocket and writes the check for the correct amount.  He then offers the checkbook to Bill for the signature.

“Can you set it on the table?” asks Bill. 

Bill reaches for the ink pen.  The boy recoils his hand away from the approaching daggers.  The boy lays the pen on the table next to the check book.

Bill puts one hand behind the pen and draws the point into his other hand.  He upends the pen and manages to grasp it in both hands.  Bill tries to sign his name on the check, but the checkbook scoots across the table top. 

The boy stares in horror, fearful he will be asked to hold the checkbook near those sharp talons. 

Bill manages to scribble a mark onto the check.  He drops the pen and points to the checkbook.  The boy tears the check from the book and scurries through the front door.

Bill addresses the empty doorway.  “Do you want a tip?”  Bill watches the boy jump into his car and peel down the road.  Bill closes the door.

“Martha, dinner’s here!” 

Bill walks into the kitchen and digs through the bags.  He rips open a ham with his claws.  Plastic falls in ribbons to the floor.  He picks the ham up in his two hands and tries to rip a piece off in his mouth.  Bill’s gums slide across the tough ham.  He gums the side of the ham, trying to peel off a strip, but he only manages to get a little fat.  Bill holds the ham flat on the table and tears a piece loose with his claws.  He pops a hunk into his mouth and tries to chew it.  He swallows and the chunk hangs in his throat.  He tries the swallow, but the piece of iron will not budge.  Pain shoots through his neck.  He tries to breath but can’t get air.  He pounds his chest trying to dislodge the piece of ham.  Bill begins to panic.  His ears ring and his vision blurs.  He coughs and the chunk flies out of his mouth onto the kitchen table.  He looks at the ham, helpless, unsure how to eat it. 

With his talons, Bill hooks a full grocery bag and tosses it into the refrigerator.  He tries to make room for the second ham.  He bangs the wire racks around.  In exasperation, he hooks a claw into the wire of one of the racks and pulls it out of the refrigerator, sending the rack clattering to the floor.  The ham now has a place in the refrigerator. 

“Look at the mess you’ve made,” Martha says as she enters the kitchen.

Bill looks at the plastic shreds and ham bits on the floor.  One piece of ham is smeared on the floor where Bill stepped on it.  Greasy streaks mark the path the bit of ham followed under Bill’s heel.   Bill sits in a chair.  A tear wells in the corner of his eye.  He feels like a helpless child unable to care for himself.

Martha hooks a claw into paper towels in a rack.  She rolls a few sheets off.  Tear marks show through the towels as she drops them onto the floor.  She drops onto all fours and wipes the ham and grease from the floor.  She walks on all fours to the garbage can and drops the towels into it.  Martha walks on all fours to the refrigerator and pulls the opened ham to the floor.  She flips the ham up onto the kitchen table.  Martha places her front paws onto the table and grips the ham between her paws.  She rips chunks from the ham with her teeth.  She nuzzles smaller chunks closer to Bill.

Bill watches his wife divide the ham.  Martha rends the ham into manageable bites and scoots pieces into a small pile in front of Bill.  Bill laps a piece into his mouth with his tongue.  He squishes the ham bit in his gums, wringing savory flavors from the meat.  Bill masticates the chunk as best he’s able to, moving the piece around his mouth with his tongue.  Finally, he swallows.  Meat feels good in his belly.  Bill laps another piece into his mouth and relishes the grease and fat.

Martha bites a piece from the ham and chews.  She smiles at Bill.  Grease and saliva slide out of her mouth.  She chomps another piece.

As Bill’s belly fills with meat, he sits back to enjoy the meal.  He thinks perhaps this new existence may work out okay.  He glances at the sink full of dishes.  No problem, they do not need to use dishes.  They do not need knives to cut food as long as Martha is willing to tear meat.  There’s no need for spatulas, pots, nor pans since food tastes better raw.  Bill finishes eating the meat Martha piled for him.

Martha’s canine tooth shows as she asks, “Do you want more?”

“I’m fine.  That was good.”  Bill scoots his chair back from the table and crosses his legs. 

Martha purrs as she licks a front paw.

Bill stretches his arms and yawns, emitting a growl.

Martha stops licking her paws and looks at Bill.  She smiles and returns to grooming.  She swipes a paw behind her ear then licks the paw.  She repeats this motion several times.  She walks on all fours to the living room.  Martha crawls up onto the couch and tries to curl on the sofa.  She slides off of the couch and lies on the floor.  She curls in a circle with her head resting on paws.

The telephone rings.  Martha opens one eye, and then shuts her eye to go to sleep.  Bill looks at the ringing telephone.  He considers answering it, but the effort seems to great.  Bill remains sitting in the chair staring at the telephone.

The telephone continues to ring, demanding to be answered.

“It’ll stop after ten rings,” Martha says.

Bill turns his head toward Martha.  “I think it’s already been ten rings.”

“I’m sure it’s not important.”

“I know,” responds Bill.

“If they want something, they’ll come on over and visit.”

“Would that be okay?”

Martha opens an eye.  “Why wouldn’t it?”

“Well, look at the house.”

Martha raises her head and looks at Bill.  “What about the house?  You think there’s a problem with my housecleaning?”

“Hum, I guess not.”  Bill looks at torn bits of meat on the table and floor.  Ants swarm a bit of cheese on the floor.  He scans the countertops, counting dirty dishes scattered in disarray because they won’t fit in the filled sink.  He feels his scruffy face, trying to count the days, or weeks, since he last shaved.  Bill looks at his wife and wonders whey they even bother with pretenses of humanity. 

Bill yawns.  He ambles to his bedroom and stretches out on the bed.  He sniffs something in the breeze.  He looks at the open window.  Insects fly in and out of the window.  More aromas waft through the window, exhilarating Bill with thoughts of wild outdoors.  He turns to watch the world outside the window.  His foot impulsively jerks when a bird lights on the sill.  The bird looks inside the room, chirps, and then flies away.  Bill allows the breeze to caress his eyelids closed.

 

It seems only seconds later when Bill wakes to shuffling sounds outside his window.  He sits up in a dark room.  Moonlight streams through the window.  He hears a bat flutter and omit its sonar squeaks.  He places paws on the window sill and looks out into the night.  Something skulks at the edge of the yard, something large.  The animal hugs the shadows.  Bill senses immediately that this is predator and not prey.  Bill growls.  The animal growls a return, and Bill realizes it is only Martha out for an evening stroll.  Bill leaps through the window and lumbers across the yard.  He joins Martha at the edge of the yard.  Martha licks Bill’s haunches.  The soft night is warm, Martha feels warm, and Bill feels a peacefulness he’s not felt in years.  Bill feels secure, like the comfortable days of early marriage, after the excitement and unsurety of romantic courtship.

Martha steps further into the forest. 

Bill turns and looks at the house.  The house served as shelter and refuge for so many years.  It holds their assorted treasures from a lifetime together.  It protects food so they won’t go hungry.  It keeps storms at bay so they can sleep well at night, even on the coldest nights.  Bill turns and watches Martha move further into the forest.  Bill considers dangers.  Bill smacks his mouth, reminding himself of his toothless gums.  He would likely starve if left alone in the wild. 

Bill follows Martha into the forest.  Adventures await them.  Bill dreams of lounging on a ledge overlooking herds of deer and watching insects buzzing in the sunset.  Again, Bill glances across the yard at the house.  He considers himself the rock of the family, the leader of his home, the provider, the leader in their church life and social life.  His paw trembles at the thought of being dependant on another.  He stretches out his claws.  He realizes he can ward off dangerous animals and sometimes bring down prey, but he is helpless in rending meat for food.  He could subsist for a while on bugs and rodents, but that might only barely sustain him.  He knows he would waste away.

With his keen night vision, he barely makes out Martha further in the darkness.  He follows after her.  She raised children.  She cared for her young, now she would care for Bill.  Bill scratches the earth as he walks after Martha.  He knows he won’t be totally dependant on Martha, it will be a partnership.   They will hunt together.  They will fend off enemies together.  They will lay together for warmth when cold wind blows.  Bill trots faster, chasing the future.