Thursday, December 1, 2016

Nightmare, Rebecca Tabbutt

By Rebecca Tabbutt

He let himself in quietly.  He knew no one would be there, of course, but professional courtesy was difficult to overlook, even when he was alone.  The house was not completely silent.  He could hear a ticking clock, the whir of the heating system, and his own footsteps on the wood floors.  He moved slowly, cautiously, taking notice of every detail.  It was far too easy to miss things if one moved through a house too quickly.  He’d come in through the kitchen because it seemed like the most common entrance in use, and he wanted to see everything through her eyes.  What would she see every time she came home?  A spotless kitchen, apparently.  He was fairly surprised to see no piles of clutter, no crumbs on the counter, a refrigerator door free of children’s drawings.  So, she’s a neat freak, he thought.  A hard thing to be when raising small children, but maybe it was her way of maintaining control where she could.  He could appreciate that.  He was a bit of a neat freak himself.  No children to mess up his place, but he still never let things pile up.  
He opened the refrigerator.  Here her attempts at order were slightly less effective.  Neon colored yogurt tubes rested on two different shelves, and containers of leftovers dominated the top shelf.  He noticed that she had labeled them with dates, but several were old enough to be inedible.  So, she’s not perfect.  Good to know, he thought.  No one likes perfect.  Better that she have flaws.  He closed the refrigerator door, and moved through the living room toward the stairs.  The living room was as orderly as the kitchen, and had been recently vacuumed.  Children’s toys were neatly contained in colorful storage boxes, and framed photos were dotted around the room.  More photos of the daughter, than of the son, he noted.  Something to ask about.  He popped his head into the powder room, and saw a child’s stool sitting smack in the middle of the floor.  She must not have noticed it before she left the house.  He resisted the urge to nudge it back into place.  Everything needed to remain in place, just as she’d left it.  Though he suspected that she would have appreciated his attempt to keep things to her standards.  
He moved slowly up the stairs, taking care not to touch the banister.   He was wearing gloves, of course, but it looked freshly dusted.  He admired her commitment to cleanliness, and couldn’t bring himself to muss anything.  He checked both children’s rooms, and was as surprised to see their orderly state as he had been to see the immaculate kitchen.  How she got two young children to keep their rooms this clean was beyond him.  His experience with children may have been limited, but he suspected that their exuberant existence usually meant toys everywhere.  These two children had neatly made beds, no toys on the floor, books still in bookcases.  He considered that she cleaned the rooms herself, but when he opened a drawer and saw the mess of socks, two Barbie dolls, a necklace, and some stickers, he knew she made them clean up after themselves.  It impressed him.  Too many kids were coddled these days, in his opinion.  Better to start them early on keeping a clean space.  The further he moved into her home, the more he liked her, and the more he regretted her loss.  He scolded himself for letting emotion take hold for a moment; he needed to maintain his cool detachment.  
He had saved her bedroom for last, because he knew it would tell him the most about her.   He knew immediately which side of the bed was hers.  The TV remotes were lined up perfectly, as was the pile of books on her nightstand.  Her husband’s side contained only a lamp, and an alarm clock, both perfectly positioned.  He bent down to look at the spines of her pile of books.  A couple biographies, the rest murder mysteries.  He was pleased to see that she didn’t go in for chick lit.  He opened the drawer of her nightstand, and stared for a moment in surprise.  It was a food hoard.  Half eaten bags of chips, a box of Girl Scout cookies, a third of a Hershey bar.  So, that was her little secret.  Her home was perfectly maintained, but then when the kids were in bed, and the husband ensconced in his basement cave, she ate junk food in bed.  He almost laughed aloud.  He’d noticed a dustbuster in her laundry room, and pictured her pulling it out to clean up her crumbs before turning off the light.  Yes, he would have really liked her.  
The closet was next to the husband’s side of the bed, and was as neat as the rest of the home.  The husband’s clothes were even color coded, so clearly he liked order as well.  It made him think; was she the one who loved order, and cleanliness, or was it simply an attempt to keep the husband happy?  Another question to ask.  He had to have all the information to do his job.  Even the delicate questions would be asked.  
He examined the closet carefully as he considered his next move.  He’d gathered as much information about her as he could from examining her surroundings.  He was fairly certain he knew as much as was possible for his purposes.  His questioning would be secondary to his investigation; he’d known walking in that there would only be one result.  He’d known from the moment he saw her that he needed to know her more intimately than any person ever had.  He reached a gloved hand into his pocket to reassure himself that he still had his tools for the job.  Then he pulled aside several of her dresses, settled himself on the floor behind them, and waited.  


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