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Chocolate dust cover the floor, turning it a dusty brown. Dishes fill the sink and sticky teaspoons lie on the counters. Last night’s plates are still on the table, flies crawling over the cold meat. The television is on; the volume turned down, a thin blond woman talking to the camera in front of a car accident.
The door was left open so the snow blew in, forming streams of water that turn brown as they run down the uneven floor through the chocolate dust. The phone is off the hook, the dial tone echoing loudly. A half finished math page lies next to one of the plates, a child’s handwriting scrawling messily across the page.
Coats still hang on their hooks, one large, three small. A computer flashes pictures; three girls, their faces sad. The mother is hugging them, but she isn’t looking at the camera, her face is turned away, looking at a man who is outlined against the sky.
The same picture flashes up on the television, the newscaster explaining that the car was found upside down, with no one in it. They can’t find anyone who knew these people. Their address is unknown. The picture was found in the seat of the car, the only thing.
The pretty newscaster turns away from the camera, listening to something. She looks back at the camera, her voice excited. She says that they just learned who the man in the photo is. He was caught three months ago after blowing up three buildings in San-Francisco. His trial was this morning.
The camera switches over to the newsroom where a man takes up the story, speculating why a pretty young woman and three girls would have been in the company of such a dangerous person. The man’s voice is excited too, and his eyes glint. This is the story he has waited for all his life.
A voice says something off screen and the man stops talking. His eyes lose their glint and his face looks grim. He turns to the camera and announces that the man who was in the picture escaped from prison late last night.
A stray cat sneaks into the house, attracted to the smell of rotting meat. A photo album lies on the desk next to the computer, one picture torn out of a page. The cat eats the meat, knocking the plates onto the floor. They shatter, mixing with the stream of chocolate water.
The noise attracts a neighbor, who has been watching the morning news. She sees the open door, and walks in. A picture flashes on the computer screen, as the same one flashes on the television. The woman knows.
It seems to be all the news can talk about, these four girls. Until two U.S Navy boats get sunk out at sea. The media says that it had the marks of this man, Sage. They wonder if the four girls helped the man escape, as if this was the first time such a thought had entered their minds.
Police and FBI swarm around the house. They take the math page and the photo album. They lift fingerprints from the dirty dishes. One goes through the computer, hoping to find some correspondence.
After a week the house is empty again. The investigators found nothing. Nothing to tell them about these four girls’ life. The neighbors didn’t know anything, none of them were nosy, and when the girls moved in, they kept to themselves.
The chocolate dust is still on the floor, the house is boarded up. The moon shines through a slit in the window and a key clicks in the lock. A mother and three girls walk through the door. In the moonlight the mother pulls out a wad of cash, handing an equal piece to each girl.
In the morning the neighbor calls the police, telling them someone’s in the house. The police rush, sirens blaring and pound on the door. A woman answers, a thin nightgown clinging gracefully to her body. She’s the woman from the picture.
Her three girls join her at the door, looking wide eyed at the police. One smiles, a smile to break your heart. The police haul them in for questioning. They can’t keep them for long, they haven’t done anything wrong.
The woman explains that she didn’t really know the man, Sage. It was at a party, she had thought he looked dark and sinister. The police move on, asking her why she left that night. She and her daughters had left that night after she learned her mother was dying.
The police called the hospital she said her mother had been at. They confirmed the woman had died there. They asked about the torn picture. One of the little girls piped up. She told them that it was for grandma, that grandma wanted a picture of her little girls.
They ask about the wrecked car, the woman says she wrecked it, in her hurry, and a friend came to pick her up. She was desperate to be with her mom. The three little girls chorus in agreement. The police let them go, with a feeling of unease.
Two nights later the three girls get paid again, and a car comes to pick them up. The pretty woman stands in the doorway, watching them go. She bends down and opens a snow covered step and withdraws a stack of papers. She walks into the house, the chocolate dust still covers the floors. She lights a match and holds it to the powder that looks like chocolate. She runs out of the house and get’s into her car; a new car.
She drives four blocks, a blast echoes around the neighborhood. She stops, a man jumps in the car. She says only one thing. Sage.