An Afternoon Alone

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Dave crept down the gravel length of his sister’s driveway. The frosted bristles of pine trees hung heavy around his car, forming a tunnel, blocking out the minimal afternoon light. He turned the car off, drew a key from his pocket and unlocked the black iron gate that always seemed unnecessary. As he walked up the steps of the house he felt a hot spike in his heart. He realized the sound of his own footstep had spooked him. Dave always tried to avoid being alone in his sister’s old Victorian house. It reminded him too much of the setting in a horror film that he had accidentally watched once. It was the only one he had ever watched, actually. It may have been a coincidence, but after seeing the film Dave had a habit of never turning his back to a door.

People who knew Dave would never guess he was afraid of anything. He was formidable in his height and countenance. He had a beard and brown emotionless eyes, his face was largely dominated by his eyebrows, each black and two inches thick. Maybe if these people who knew Dave looked a bit closer, they would see that these eyes, every so often, would flash rapidly around a room or street or backseat of a car. Maybe they would see the immense vulnerability Dave felt.

The foyer of the Victorian had high ceilings with reaching walls that were smeared with stark white paint. Most of the walls of the house matched the white color, his sister’s preference. It seemed too sterile to Dave, like a hospital. Dave shuttered at the thought of hospitals. Thinking about hospitals always brought with it a metallic smell and the sticky feeling of blood through denim. He stepped quickly through the house to the kitchen and rifled through the fridge. He found some frozen chicken he could fry, the sizzling sound of the grease might alleviate the heavy silence.

Before Dave had come to stay with Rachel and her husband, he had worked as butcher in a neighborly part of town. Rachel had thought it better he take some time off after the incident. Dave thought she may have been nervous about his being around all those knives. They triggered his anxiety, but so did her too-white walls. Rachel didn’t have knifes though, she didn’t even have forks. Well, just the plastic kind. Rachel and her husband, Ted, both worked and neither of them had time to cook, let alone do dishes. The chicken Dave was now attempting to thaw was most likely purchased several weeks ago at the bargain grocery down the street. But it was popping and sizzling all the same.

Once he had fixed himself a plate, Dave headed upstairs to the guest room, his room currently. He preferred the upstairs of the house, the rooms were much smaller. There was a lounge chair with a matching patterned ottoman that fit like a perfect piece in the corner of the room. It was Dave’s spot: the place where he ate, the place where he read, the place where he liked to stretch his leg out and not think about anything.

Dave rested in his spot as he chewed his chicken, the paranoia provided by the empty house had subsided in his crowded accommodations. Dave fell asleep with his eyes open, that is not to say he slept with them open as well. When he had the intention for sleep he would leave them open and unfocused and as soon he would start to drift, his eyes would shut in unconscious oblivion.

A woman with sparse hair the color of dishwater walked through the crowd on Stuart Street. It was a quaint street, little businesses seemed squeezed beside one another. Each had an awning in some primary color, they alternated: red, blue, yellow. The woman was distinguishably ordinary. She wore a camel coat and dark stockings. She was only differentiated when she did not stop to admire the cake decorations in the window of Winowna’s Bakery or throw a coin in the case of the young violinist who played Greensleeves quite well. She walked impassively toward the third red awning, which had an array of meats hanging in the window. Outside, a heavy set man in a white apron swept the entryway. As the woman approached she gripped something in her pocket. Most people in the crowd, when questioned later, would say they hadn’t seen it happen. The next thing they knew the butcher was lying on the ground, white apron stained red, a cleaver set deep in his thigh.

Dave awoke with pounding in his ears and throbbing in his leg. He gripped his thigh, the jagged scar was hidden by his jeans but he felt like the pain would rip them apart. Dave took deep breaths and the pain began to diminish. He stood up and his leg felt better as he walked to the window to see if Rachel was home. The driveway was empty save his Volkswagen. Dave felt that something was off, he decided to call Rachel to see how soon she’d be home. Dave felt a chill as he glanced around the room. He wasn’t sure what unsettled him, then he registered that his door was cracked open several inches.

Surely he had closed it all the way, he was certain. It could have been a draft but the windows were closed and the fan was off. Dave’s hands began to sweat, suddenly his whole body felt very overheated. He opened the door fully, peered around the corner and then walked across the hall to the bathroom. Dave turned the faucet the farthest left he could and cold water began to stream into the sink. He splashed his face, but then that felt good so he splashed his arms too. His leg throbbed dully and he thought how nice a cool jet of water would feel streaming over his scar. He may as well take a shower.

Dave glanced in the mirror at the shower curtain behind him and dread stilled him in his step. He imagined pulling back the white curtain to see his ex-wife, standing poised with the cleaver, ready to hack more then his leg. Dave shook off the fear but went quickly back to his room, he hoped Rachel would be home soon. Back in his room where every corner and cranny was visible, Dave scolded himself for being weak. That damned woman is locked up, he felt anger pulsating alongside the diminished fear in his stomach.

Dave had always been his own adversary. To see the skittish man he was now made him sick. Could his hatred of himself be worse then his fear of her? Maybe this was the turning point. He could counteract his fear with his contempt for it. He’d be better off dead then living a life shadowed by his own cowardice. He could be different now, he so longed to be.

Dave rested back on his chair and began to read. He felt fine. No fear. There was a rasp on the window, it was the branches from the tree, he felt no need to check. There it is again, better just turn on the TV. Rachel hadn’t hooked up to cable yet so there were only several channels. The news is fine.

It’s just a weather update, they played soothing jazz music. Dave could fall asleep. There’s some story about a boy from the area who won a spelling bee. Dave thought back to his own elementary spelling bee, he got out on the word “Middle” he said it had one “d” instead of -- what's that on the TV?

At approximately 9:13 this morning, three patients of a nearby mental rehabilitation institution escaped the premises. Two have been caught by police, but one patient is still missing, doctors say the woman has violent tendencies---

The rest of the words became distorted in Dave’s ears. He now became focused on the sure sound of footsteps ascending the stairs. She was coming for him.

Dave hurriedly unlocked his window and pushed at the stubborn wood. Paint chips broke away as the window finally shoved upward. He could hear the footsteps, at his door now. Dave clambered out of the window as the door opened, he grasped the ledge to pull himself onto the roof but his shaky hands gave.

He slipped out of the window and onto the spiked prongs of the unnecessary black gate, but before his blood splattered he got a glimpse of the woman who stood in his room: Rachel, mouth-open, readying for a scream.

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