… and the wind was blowing against the windows, making them shudder and rattle. It was almost impossible to see anything outside unless all the lights were off. Even then, the only thing that Patricia Nicole Baker could see was a blurry outline of the pine trees and their branches weighed down and tired from the barrage of water being dumped from the sky. It was a moonless night, and Pat knew what that meant. She shuddered, turned away from the window, and lit up every light in her small house.
It looked snug with the warm glow of half a dozen small lamps. There was the familiar lumpy couch, faded from red to pink over the years. There was the armchair, contrasting horribly with the couch, still a too-bright, too-light green. She’d picked both up at yard sales in town, years ago, along with the three rickety bookcases that stood side by side at the wall. Then there were the kitchen table and chairs, the familiar cupboards with little designs she’d painted on them. Pat walked to the bedroom, reassured again – the heavy wooden dresser, the floor lamp casting a blue glow through its shade, the double bed with crisp white sheets – she’d changed them just today – and the minuscule desk, just big enough for a laptop, a cup with pens in it, and a coaster for her drinks. The printer had to sit on the floor.
Normal, all was normal. Pat avoided the windows and puttered around, taking comfort in little tasks. She washed the dishes she’d used to eat her dinner off of, put the kettle on the stove, waited for it to boil and made herself instant coffee. Opening her mini-fridge, she drew out the bottle of fresh milk that she still got delivered to her – one of the perks of living isolated as she did was the rapport she’d built up with the farm-owners. Adding a dollop of milk and a spoonful of sugar, she picked up the mug and held it between her hands, enjoying the warmth it gave her clammy, cold hands. Striding to the bookcases, she looked through and found what she wanted. It was at the top of the right hand one, in the corner.
The children’s book she brought to the couch was well-worn. The spine was frayed and the front cover had some stains on it. The inside, though, was still beautiful. The images of the soft pastel colors washed over her, the familiar words forming in her mind without needing to read them. Sipping her coffee, she put it down on the floor beside her feet, took a deep breath and glanced at the old-fashioned clock on the wall. It was 9:45. Two more minutes, then, she thought. It was always at the exact time that it happened.
And then, on the moonless, stormy night, Pat lifted her eyes and saw a small figure standing in the middle of the room. He was dressed in a small, cheap gown with pictures of sheep on it. His hair was shaved off completely, though Pat remembered its original dirty-blond color. She knew that if he turned around, there would be a line of stitches at the back, looking fresh and congealed with some blackened blood. She’d asked for that – asked to see him without all the bandages wrapping his head. The doctors had allowed it, knowing there was no hope anymore.
Seth looked at her, his blue eyes shiny with tears.
Pat caught him in her arms, sobbing with him, hugging him so close she could suffocate him. Only she couldn’t, of course.
It was the question kids asked the most, especially very young ones. Pat had read all about it, about how you should give honest answers and admit it when you didn’t know. So she said, quietly, “I don’t know, darling. I don’t know, Seth-boy.”
Once they’d settled together, Pat opened the book, and started reading it to him in a bright voice. He stared hungrily at the pictures, laughed uproariously at the giraffe who got tangled up with his neck in a tree, pointed at the cute monkeys like he always did. Pat read slowly, trying to savor every page, but Seth was a little boy and he always wanted to know, even though he’d read it a hundred times before, what the next page held.
Once she would finish reading, she knew that Seth would fall asleep in her lap while she stroked his forehead. She always fell asleep, too. She knew that once she’d wake, he’d be gone, and she would wait for the next night with no moon, half fearful of his coming and breaking her heart all over again, and half fearful that he wouldn’t show up this time.