That Old Feeling
Word Count: 499
Beth and Nicky played in the cul-de-sac every day. Sometimes the twins, Joey and Thomas, would join in when they were done their chores. I watched them playing tag, or using fat pieces of chalk to draw stick figures on the road. Even in the dullbuzz of summer, they’d be out there. Sometimes Beth’s Mom would put the sprinkler in their front yard (which was the last yard before Magpie woods) and the kids would squeal and laugh, and cool off in the spray.
I lived in the house opposite Beth, and the kids knew me as Mrs. Z; I had cultivated the persona of the street Grandma. Sometimes they’d straggle over and I’d have pitchers of lemonade waiting, or ice pops ready in the freezer. They’d plop down around my kitchen table with red, sweaty faces, gawking at every single thing for as long as they visited. Beth liked my porcelain cocker spaniel collection. Nicky was partial to the faded ladder of notches in the kitchen doorway with the dates and ages. Joey and Thomas always sat close to one another, and ate and drank with a real desire to hightail it back outside. I didn’t mind; I know kids can be flighty. They’re like cats; make them think you’re not looking, and they relax.
One day, Nicky was standing in the doorway, intent on those grooves in the wood.
“Hey, Mrs. Z?”
“These dates and ages don’t add up.”
The twins crammed together on one seat, with a straw in each mouth, darted looks back and forth between Nicky and me.
“How do you mean, hon?” I was ready with my lie.
“Well, the first one… down here,” he pointed to the oldest one about a foot off the floor, “says three sixteen sixty four, and age seven, but the next one up says twelve twenty two sixty eight, and age six.”
They all looked at me. The twins were done sucking, but had forgotten to remove the straws from their mouths.
“Well, Fred, God rest his soul, and I, used to adopt cats. We had tons of them; strays, housecats, and barn cats. They never lasted longer than seven or eight years though. That’s all.”
“What happened to them?”
“Something must’ve got them in the woods,” I cocked a thumb in that direction, “that’s my theory.”
I watched his finger trail the lines. He looked through the side window of the kitchen to the tree line, and for a moment I thought he would ask another question, but he just shrugged. It was enough to break the daze, and pretty soon the kids were slurped and done, and back outside to play.
I kept an eye on Nicky for the remainder of the day, reveling in the old killing feeling, wondering if I could do it again, without Fred. And, forever grateful for his stern advice:
“Meryl, you tryin’ to get caught? Dates and ages is fine, but do not add the kids’ names!”