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Cereal and Cat Food
Saturday, June 6th, 2011
The shower hissed as it turned off, old pipes reluctant to make any changes to the water flow. The pipes weren’t the only things that were getting old- that list would also consist of the water heater, the furnace, the lighting, the woodwork, and the shower itself. With a waiter’s paycheck and two younger siblings, one of which was heading off to college in three months and himself with student loans still present after just graduating the past year, however, house repairs ranked fairly low on the list of things to spend money on.
Robert stepped out of the shower, reaching for a towel to dry his hair. As he pulled on his bathrobe, however, he heard voices coming from the kitchen.
“Cal, where is the cereal?” Lydia’s voice was sharp and distinct over the sound of guns firing on the game console. “And don’t you dare say you don’t know!
“Lydia, I honestly have no idea. Ask Robert if you’re so desperate for breakfast!”
“There is no more cereal.”
Robert had hoped for a few more minutes of relaxation in the shower, but instead found himself marching into the kitchen, outfitted in bathrobe and towel, preparing for confrontation against his siblings. “I gave the rest of it to the cat, as somebody forgot to go grocery shopping last week.”
Lydia threw her hands into the air in exasperation. “I had finals, Rob, and if I fail, I just know that Harvard will bump me off their student list. Did you expect me to remember something as petty as cat food?”
“And cereal,” Cal added, looking up from the war game. “You know it was Mom’s favorite breakfast- I don’t see how you could forget to pick it up.”
They fell silent, each of them using the quiet as a way of remembering their parents, dead barely half a year, and all that reminded the siblings of them.
It was finally Robert who broke the silence, removing the towel from his head and reaching for a pen and notepad. “You two make a list,” he said, turning to walk back to his bedroom. “And I’ll stop by the market on the way to work.”
At nine thirty on the morning of June 6th, Yvonne Willoughby was standing in front of the fish display at her local market. Despite the fact that she was fast approaching her ninetieth birthday and had a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis to boot, she insisted on doing all of her own grocery shopping, every week on Saturday morning. This particular morning, however, her joints were acting up particularly badly, and she ached (both physically and mentally) to return to her home and a cup of tea, seated in her favorite armchair with her cat Percival on her lap. And then, afterwards, possibly telephone her son…
“Ma’am, will that be salmon or tilapia?”
Yvonne sighed, not truly caring what sort of fish she bought at the moment. “Salmon, one-and-a-half pounds, thank you very much.” She didn’t, as a rule, enjoy fish, but her son had insisted that it was exceptionally healthy and vital for the health of someone her age and condition. And Charlie did always seem to know what was best…
Yes, she would call Charlie that afternoon. It had been a very long time since she had last spoken to her only child, and it would be nice to hear his voice. Although Yvonne didn’t like to voice the thought, it hurt her that, even though he lived in town, she rarely saw him, the occasional visit never longer than half an hour. It was that girl that he married…
She was so wrapped up in the thought of her idiot, useless daughter-in-law that she didn’t notice the handsome young man hurrying along the aisle, pushing a shopping cart containing an alarming number of Raisin Bran boxes and cans of cat food, until the cart seemed to slip out of his control, spinning across the aisle before it smashed into her side and knocked her to the cold, tile floor.
When Charlie Willoughby received the phone call that his mother had been knocked over by an out-of-control shopping cart in her neighborhood grocery market, he was in the lobby of his hotel, supervising the loading of his luggage into the waiting taxi. He gestured at the driver to continue packing, then ducked behind a topiary bush to take the call.
The facts of the accident were simple- the cart had barreled out of nowhere, throwing his mother to the ground, resulting in a minor arm fracture and some moderate bruising. Although Yvonne was not badly injured, her age and arthritis had caused the doctors and nurses to become quite alarmed. The technician who had called Charlie informed him that his mother would be held in Intensive Care and would await further inspection until the next morning, when a team of doctors specializing in the elderly would look her over to determine if she could be released back to her home.
Charlie hung up the phone feeling dazed and alarmed. While he was in no way unaccustomed to his mother’s ever-present health woes, that didn’t mean that each injury, illness and problem didn’t leave him even more concerned and anxious. He glanced at his watch.
11:00 am. The flight back to New York had left exactly thirty minutes ago, which meant that he was stuck in Birmingham until he could somehow catch another flight.
He punched in the familiar numbers of his home phone number and waited patiently for his wife to pick up. When she did, Charlie cleared his throat.
“Rose? Listen, we have a bit of a problem.”
Rose Willoughby hung up the phone after her conversation with her husband in a mixture of anxiety and jubilation. So, the old bat had finally taken her big fall? Not exactly an immense surprise. And her husband, flight missed and gone for at least the rest of the day? Well the sixth of June wasn’t looking too bad.
If you asked Rose whether or not she believed herself a decent person, most likely, she would respond with a resounding, “Yes.” And, in reality, she was. Of course, she, like any woman, had her faults, such as griping with her mother-in-law, occasionally neglecting the laundry and dishes, and gossiping with fellow mothers, but in truth, she was a very rule-abiding woman. Why, she had been Liz’s room mother throughout all of grammar school, hadn’t she? She had been the one to organize parties and gifts for teachers, casserole making for families under pressure, and virtually every single out-of-school event that Winchester Elementary had ever known. Add that to the fact that few church committees didn’t have her listed as a member, and most people would assume that Rose Willoughby was the most typical American housewife amongst the world of American housewives.
But Rose had a secret.
And as she dialed Greg’s phone number, hands trembling as she did so, she couldn’t help but wonder if cheating on her husband wasn’t the worst decision that she had ever made.
Liz Willoughby returned from a morning outing with her college track team a little after twelve o’clock on the afternoon of June 6th, still laughing from the jokes told by her friends. She was going to miss that group when she graduated next week, despite the fact that they had all promised to keep in touch.
Looking back on her college life, there wasn’t much that Liz particularly regretted, despite a few disastrous party incidents that had occurred only after all attendees were thoroughly intoxicated. She had escaped NYU with excellent grades, a clean record, a stellar athletic history and, of course, about a million stories to share about her friends and their outrageous escapades. Quite frankly, she didn’t understand the complaints of other girls relating to university life- she had loved college.
Liz realized, with a jolt, that she wanted, more than anything, to talk to her mother. The two had never had a close relationship, not like the one between Liz and her father, but now that college was nearly over, it seemed fitting that she talk to her mom at least once, have one meaningful conversation.
She hung her keys on their hook, slipping off her slightly muddy running sneakers as she did so, and hurried up the stairs towards her mother’s bedroom. “Mom, I’m home!”
There was no response from behind the door, and Liz gave a silent chuckle. Leave it to her mother to sleep until noon- it was total Rose behavior. Taking care to be as quiet as possible, she turned the doorknob very slowly and entered the room.
Seven and a half minutes later…
The asphalt pounded beneath her feet with every stride, rubber soles smacking the pavement as Liz ran faster and faster, willing herself to put as much distance as possible between herself and the house where she had just found her mother with another man.
She closed her eyes as the tears began to fall, spilling over her cheeks in a salty torrent. Her mother was cheating on her father…. Her mother was cheating on her father… no, it couldn’t be true, not now, not when life seemed so perfect. The anguish and anger swelled inside her, and she ran harder and faster, pushing herself over streets that she would normally never have crossed, tears blurring her vision and anger boiling in her ears. Running never solved any problems, apparently, but for now, it would have to.
It was a quarter after noon before Robert pulled his car out of the grocery parking lot, exhausted from confrontations, questions, and the overall stress of having your shopping cart knock over a little old lady. As soon as the accident had occurred, one half of the shoppers had rushed to help the woman; the other half had gone to shout at Robert for losing control of the cart.
The questions were what ultimately bothered him the most, really- a thousand shoppers, clerks, and paramedics asking him over and over again what had happened. The reply was, however, always the same: “I wasn’t thinking clearly, I lost control of the car, and it hit the woman. This was, in no way, intentional.” On, and on, and on. There would probably be lawsuits, and more questions, and… oh, he didn’t even want to know.
He was so caught up in his thoughts that he barely noticed the young woman sprinting down the road, eyes half closed and legs pounding- but he did as soon as he saw the tractor trailer, rushing around the corner at a breakneck pace and obviously oblivious of the jogger.
Robert acted before he knew what happened- one second he was in the car, the next he was jumping out, engine still running, screaming at the top of his lungs, “MISS! LOOK OUT!!”
The girl turned her hair just in time to see the truck crashing towards her, and suddenly Robert was there, throwing her out of its path, rolling so that he, too, avoided the blow. The vehicle barreled by before jerking to a stop, the driver hurrying over. Robert, however, pulled himself off of the ground to check on the girl.
She was gasping for breath, her blonde hair partially sticking to her head with sweat, partially flying away in wisps, and there were tear tracks on her face, but she seemed physically unharmed. She glanced up at Robert, looking somewhat confused, before speaking.
“If this is the moment when you tell me that you’re secretly a vampire with the power to move unnaturally fast, I’m really not in the mood.”
He was so startled that he just stared at her for a second, before understanding the joke and laughing. “Well, then you’re lucky, because it’s not that moment.” He stuck his hand out for her to shake. “I’m Robert.”
She glanced at him suspiciously. “And you are telling me that because…”
“Because I just saved your life, and you don’t even know my name. Come to think of it, I don’t know yours.”
It took her an instant before she did anything, but then she returned the handshake. “I’m Liz.”
An After Note
The wedding of Liz Willoughby and Robert Bennett was held on December 21st, 2011, with Lydia, Cal, Yvonne and Charlie all in attendance. Rose and Greg respectively declined their invitation.