by Whitney Markee
She stacks the last two boxes and carries them to the front door. Each light switch
she passes, she flips off. Behind her, there is only darkness. To ease the pain in her
wrist, she balances the boxes on one knee while she opens the door. This only makes the
pain worse. It feels as if the slits are on fire. She tries to get a better grip, but her wrist
gives way. Fresh blood trickles down to her hand, which is already pink from too much
sun. The boxes topple to the floor. A distant flash of lightening illuminates her wrist, the
clothes and movies that have spilled onto the driveway. Several discs fall out of the
overfull movie cases. Packing a bunch of discs into the cases seemed like a good idea at
the time. Sean would unpack and have a collection of movie cases with no discs. With
the D.V.D’s scattered on the driveway, it seems like an incredibly foolish idea. She will
have a bunch of D.V.D’s that will not play. They’ll both lose.
Across the street, the old man with the yappy dog stops beneath a street light and
stares at her. Her face tightens as she looks back at him. He glances down at his little
white dog, which is yapping as always. He starts walking again with the cane in one
hand and the leash in the other. He disappears into the darkness between the streetlights.
She will not miss hearing that damn dog bark all night. It has to be even worse
for his next door neighbors. She is three houses down and it still drives her nuts. He
must be deaf.
She throws everything back into the boxes. Too bad the tape is already packed.
Before picking up the boxes, she opens the car door. Stuff falls out of the car, but she
throws it back in and then shoves the two boxes on top. Sarah hopes she’s not missing
anything in the dark. She slams the door. The boxes topple against it. Everything will
probably tumble out the next time she opens it. Oh well. That should be the last of it.
Sarah walks back up to the house and locks the door, then places the key
underneath the green door mat with the word “Leave” stenciled into its rough material.
Sean will pick it up tomorrow and give it to the realtor. It doesn’t seem right not to sell
the house herself. It is one more thing her mother will rag on when she gets back to
North Carolina, but she has no choice. She cannot stay here any longer. Between hating
her job and Sean, she’s finished. Besides, handing over the key is a task even he can
With a sigh, she walks back to the car. Behind her, the old air conditioner kicks
on. Its hum sounds like that of a nebulizer machine. At least it is not accompanied by
the usual smell of unchanged adult diapers and bad hygiene. She sits on the pink towel
that covers the moth eaten driver’s seat. The nightstand and boxes in the passenger seat
overflow onto her own. She turns the car on and in the beams of the headlights, realizes
that nothing is appealing about the house. It is painted a sickening schoolhouse red.
Patches of grass are missing from the front lawn. The palm trees and the cacti that
surround the stoop are dead. Even for a realtor, this house will be hard to sell.
Trying to ignore the pale spot on her finger where the ring used to be, she backs
out of the driveway and onto the street. The old man waves as she passes him for the last
time. She does not wave back. Good riddance. In the morning, she will be out of this
damn state. No more babysitting the old people who come down here to die. She still
doesn’t know what made her think she would like to work for Hospice. She didn’t help
anyone. She just watched them die while all their loved ones stood around crying. It was
twice as bad in the winter when the snowbirds came down. Most of them did not even
have anyone to cry for them. In the beginning, that had made her feel worse. After a
while, she had stopped caring. Everyone she tried to help died sooner or later. Even if
they did live, there was no quality of life. They were not even people anymore, just
rotting bodies in a bed.
That’s the one thing her mom is wrong about. She can handle this job and she is
good at it. She did not cry for a single one of her patients. It is everything else she can’t
handle. Even so, she is running home just like her mom said she would. Not only that,
but she is doing it alone.
The car jerks and there is a shriek. She slams on the brakes about ten feet before
the stop sign at the end of Orange Street. Lightening illuminates the parts of the road that
her headlights do not. In its brief light, there is nothing but pavement. The flash is
followed closely by thunder. The hair on her arms stands up as she gets out of the car.
She panics and hangs onto the car door. She looks at the house on the corner. It always
has children in the yard. She knows they ride around on their bikes sometimes. She
hasn’t seen anyone. She hopes it is just a pothole left over from the rain they have been
having. That must be it.
She walks around the car. It doesn’t appear to have any dents. She bends down
and looks underneath the car. There is something in front of the left rear tire. It makes a
high pitched whine. A cat maybe? She crawls to the rear of the car. Whatever it is, it
has white fur. Fur that sort of looks like the hair of a teddy bear. Her hand shakes as she
reaches for it. Just as she is about to touch it, there is a weak, high pitched bark. She lays
her hand on a tiny poodle. The old man’s dog. It looks at her and whimpers. Gently, she
wraps her other hand around its body and pulls it toward her. The dog does not resist. It
doesn’t make a sound. Its white fur is matted with blood. She drags it from beneath the
car and leaves it on the street while she digs through the car for something to carry it in.
The first thing she finds is her wedding dress.
She picks the dog up and wraps it in the white dress. Carefully, she gets back into
the car and places the dog on her lap. Its breathing is deep. She reverses back to the old
man’s house. She wants to leave the dog at the bottom of the drive way. The old man
has never liked her anyway. He always complained that she drove too fast and that their
lawn looked sloppy.
He knows about her fling with the boy too. He is probably the one who told Sean
after she took the boy out for his eighteenth birthday. That’s all right. Sean cried for a
week and then demanded a divorce. Sean didn’t care about her anymore and she didn’t
like the old man. She doubts that handing him his dying dog she just ran over will make
the situation any better. It doesn’t matter what he thought of her anyway. She will not
have to see him after today. She should just throw the dog out of the car and drive away.
There is a knock on the window. Sarah turns away from the old man’s house to
the driver’s window and there he is. She rotates the sticky handle and rolls down the
glass barrier. Maybe he is too old and stupid to notice the dog.
“Have you seen Lucille?”
She says nothing.
“She ran off when we were done with our evening walk. I... No.”
Before she has a chance to lock it, the old man opens the door. His thick, gold-
framed spectacles slide down his nose as his face brushes against the top of the door.
“I’m sorry,” she mutters, but she knows he does not care. She doubts that he is
even listening. She tries to hand him the dog, but he backs away.
“She is still alive,” Sarah says.
She gets out of the car holding the dog wrapped in the white dress. The old man
stumbles away from her and the dog. He goes around the car and walks up the driveway.
“Bring Lucille inside,” he says roughly.
She gets out of the car and looks at the empty street. As the wind blows, the
leaves of the trees seem to pull away from the branches. She shivers and realizes how
alone she is. She follows him up the driveway, even though she still just wants to drop
the dog and run. He shuffles his feet. Not once does he lift them from the ground. The
only thing that leaves the ground is the cane. It sways a little to the right each time he
puts his weight on it. She walks slowly behind him, following the rhythmic tick of the
cane as it hits the cement. He stops in front of the door. She thinks about opening it for
him, but then he slams the cane to the ground. His struggle with the door handle
becomes more intense. The door finally swings open and drags the old man in behind it.
He rebounds to the wall and leans on it for support as he continues to shuffle forward.
The house smells of cheap aftershave. The walls are covered in flowery
wallpaper. The curtains, the couch, the pictures on the wall, everything has flowers.
Yellow sunflowers and red roses are everywhere. He collapses onto a chair at the kitchen
table. Its center piece is a half empty jar of gum drops. He is just like every other old
person with images of flowers and bad candy. At least in the kitchen, there is a break
from the flowers; except for the curtains, of course. They are white lace with more
flowers. The counter is lined with canned vegetables, packages of Ramen Noodle Soup,
Ding Dongs, and even a can of Manwich. Clearly, the old man does not know how to eat
or cook or use the cupboards, for that matter. The dog’s bowls are also on the table. One
glass bowl is filled with water, the other with food. Sarah walks past the old man to the
wooden chair, which is pulled out. Both the chair and that side of the table are covered in
She sits down. He doesn’t look at her. He stares down at his feet. The dog
whines. It seems as if she is trying to get the old man’s attention. He does not respond.
Lucille struggles to pull herself into a sitting position, but falls back down.
“I got the puppy for my wife, Lucille, right before she died. After my wife died, I
even changed the dog’s name. Now that Lucille is dead too,” he says.
She wants to tell him Lucille isn’t dead yet, but she doesn’t think he’ll listen.
Lucille manages another yap and burrows deeper into the dress. Its white strap is draped
over her dry trembling nose. He isn’t even looking at Sarah as he talks. It’s like he is in
his own world that she is not a part of, despite sitting less than a foot away from him.
She should have just taken the dog to a vet. The old man is still looking down at his feet.
He is crying now.
“We were married sixty years.”
She doesn’t need to hear this. She does not want to be here when Sean comes
home. She is tired of fighting. They couldn’t even make it one year.
There’s a flash of lightening, then a bang and the power goes out. Lucille is still.
The old man’s chair scrapes the tile as he backs away from the table. She can feel him
looking at her. In the next quick flash of light, she can tell that there are no more tears on
his face, just a look of anger and hatred. His brown eyes have turned black. He does not
even need to say it. She took away his Lucille and he hates her for it. The two of them
sit in the darkness waiting for the next flash of light. To her, he is just a dark blob at the
other side of the table and she imagines that to him she is probably the same, except
worse. She is something evil. Something less than human. She is a murderer and he
wants her to know it.
A roar of thunder rattles the windows in their frames. Drops of water batter the
windows and roof as if to say they are angry too. There is another flash of lightning and
the old man is gone. She did not even notice when his dark figure shuffled away.
She does not know his name. She has passed him on the street at least once a day
for six months and she doesn’t know his name. Lucille’s breathing quiets as if she’s
worried too. There is no sign of the old man in the living room. In the right hand corner
of the living room it is even darker. It must be a hall. To her left, there is a bathroom.
She can make out a porcelain toilet next to a clawfoot bathtub. He isn’t in there either.
At least she doesn’t think so. The dog remains silent and still. Sarah’s eyes finally adjust
to the darkness and she can make out that some picture frames line the walls of the hall.
She gets closer to one of them, but it is still too dark to see what it is a picture of.
No answer. The door at the end of the hall is closed. She knocks. Still, no
answer. She opens the door. The old man is nowhere. This room is even darker. She
can still hear the thunder, but the flashes of lightning are gone. No window. The bed is
in the center of the room, but no old man.
She will just leave Lucille on what is clearly her spot at the table. She goes back
down the hall and the lights come back on. Curious, she turns back around. All the
pictures in the hall are of a woman, the same woman. In some of them, most of which
are black and white, the woman looks like she is twenty-five, which is no older than
Sarah is now. In others, much newer, she is a grandmother. The bedspread in the old
man’s room is of course covered in flowers. Not just one big flower, but thousands of
little poppies. The old man’s feet stick out from beneath the far side of the bed. She gets
“Hello? Look, I’m sorry. I’m just going to give you your dog and go. She’s still
alive. I’m sure if you take her to the vet, she’ll be fine.”
She doesn’t really believe it.
There is no response from the old man. She gets closer. He does not move.
Sarah puts the dog on the bed and is glad to be rid of the dead weight in her arms. The
dog doesn’t move at all. She unwraps Lucille and throws the white blood stained dress
on the bed. Lucille’s breathing is no longer labored. It does not seem as if Lucille is
breathing at all. Sarah places her hand in front of the dog’s mouth and feels nothing. Her
nose is completely dry. She pokes the poodle and still nothing. Lucille is dead. She
wraps the dog in the dress and places her back on the bed. She gets down next to the old
“Hello,” she whispers.
He just lies there. She grabs his wrist and feels for a pulse. Nothing. She is the
one who took it all away from him. And he has no one to cry for him. She gets up and
takes one last look at Lucille wrapped in the dress on the bed then at the old man on the
floor. Her eyes begin to water and she feels sick to her stomach. A tear trickles down
her cheek, but she quickly wipes it away.
On the wall to her left there are three framed documents. She gets closer. The
first document is a letter addressed to Richard Halford from N.A.S.A., thanking him for
his services. In the center there is a degree from Harvard with the name, Richard
Halford, in bold print at its center. The third document is a death certificate for a Lucille
His name is Richard, Richard Halford. She looks down at her wrist, at the fresh
cuts with dried blood, and turns them over ashamed. Another tear spills down her cheek.
This one she does not wipe away. She runs out of the bedroom. The dead Lucille seems
to mock her with her happiness in the photos on the wall. She runs through the tacky
living room with all of the flowers. She doesn’t stop at the door, but opens it and runs
out into the rain. She reaches the end of the driveway and there is a flash, then a surge of
power and a bang. She jumps back. Bark and branches with green leaves fly at her from
a nearby tree. She covers her face and continues onto the street to the driver’s side of her
car. Everything seems brighter as she opens the door. There is a honk. Sean’s truck.
She wants to jump into her car and drive away, but her legs have a different idea.
She walks to his truck. She can’t tell if her cheeks are wet from the rain or her tears. She
doesn’t care. She jumps and pulls the top half of her body into the truck and wraps her
arms around Sean’s neck. Her feet dangle inches above the ground as she pulls herself
deeper into the warmth of truck. Sean awkwardly wraps his hands around her. For a
moment she feels not alone. There is another surge as lightening strikes nearby. She
remains half in the safety of the truck and half in the power of the storm.