When she sees Edna’s boy in the grocery store, she doesn’t feel at all strange walking right up to him and asking him to reach up and get down that soup can from the top shelf. He gets it for her, just as a young man should when an old lady asks for help, but afterward, he won’t let go of the can, and when she tries to pull it from him, he strokes the top of her hand with his thumb.
Startled, she lets go and takes a step back. Maybe this isn’t Edna’s boy after all – he didn’t have those green eyes, did he?
“You live in that big yellow house all by yourself?” he asks, though it isn’t a real question.
Of course, she lives in the yellow house, and alone too – everyone knows that – after her husband of thirty-five years had died suddenly, foaming at the mouth and shaking at a picnic last spring. He was dead by the time she’d called the paramedics. The doctor told her later it hadn’t been a heart attack but the red-bellied newt that had crawled into the pitcher of lemonade and died after its body released enough neurotoxin to kill a horse. “You’re lucky you didn’t drink any yet,” he’d told her.
She makes up her mind to reprimand the young man for being nosy and impertinent with an old lady, but right as she opens her mouth, he sets the can in her basket, leaning down as he does, and putting his lips right next to her ear. His wet breath makes her tremble in a way she’s forgotten is still possible. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” he says, “I’m going to pay you a visit and make sure there’s nothing that needs fixing in your old yellow house.” He straightens up just as a young mother comes down the aisle, two blonde children riding in her cart. Examining a sale on pinto beans, he doesn’t turn around until her squeaky wheels have turned the corner, then he faces the old woman again.
She’s stunned and waiting, half horrified and half delighted by the young man, who really couldn’t be Edna’s boy, could he? He smiles, seeing her still standing there, and she notices that his two front teeth are chipped. He gets close again and she waits to feel his breath. “Now you go on ahead and pay, sweetheart,” he tells her, “then get in your car.” His fingers touch the small of her back. “I’ll follow you home.”
At his touch, something electrifies her, and she nods one too many times. “Of course,” she says, breath coming fast. The rest of her list abandoned, she wanders down the aisle to the cash register. The checker asks twice how her day is, but all she can do is smile, not hearing a single word he says.
She doesn’t see Edna’s boy in the parking lot, and a pink wave of worry washes over her, but when he pulls his pickup behind her on the road, she takes a shuttery breath and settles. On the fifteen-minute drive home, she sees that the willow outside the old green church is festooned for Easter again, the pastel ribbons proclaiming, “He Has Risen.” Daffodils push their heads out of the mud by the side of the road, and the whole world seems remade on this day, separated from the dingy old skin it usually wears.
When he shuts her front door behind them, he locks it. She turns to look, but he’s beside her again, with his fingers on her jawline now, turning her head from the lock to his face. “Come on now, sweetheart.” He sets down the groceries and takes her hand, gently, though she knows somehow that if she tries to pull away, he’ll break her arm.
She follows him through the hall to the kitchen, glad, for a moment, that she took the time to clean it that morning. He sits her at the round table in the center of the room and turns slowly, taking in the apron-front sink, her breakfast plate drying in the rack, the magnetic strip of knives.
“Bet you didn’t think someone like me was going to come into your life,” Edna’s boy says, cracking his knuckles as if his fingers are impatient for something.
“No,” she says, her heart thumping.
He smiles that chipped smile and walks towards the knives, examining a cleaver before selecting the boning knife.
“Can I fix you a drink, dear?” she asks, trying to keep her words from tumbling out too quickly, “before we get started? I have some fresh lemonade in the fridge.”
He blinks languorously like a cat, like he can’t believe the audacity of this old woman, but he nods and then smiles. “You go right on ahead, sweetheart. I’d like that.”
“Hand me a glass?” she asks, before turning to the fridge to retrieve the blue pitcher. It is filled to the brim with lemonade, even though that had hardly been necessary – she’d planned on being the only one to drink any that evening, after her dinner, until she met Edna’s boy in the grocery store, of course. Now it seems almost too heavy, and the weight of it makes her hand shake so badly that he sets down the boning knife to help her. He pours himself a glass, and without sitting, drinks the whole thing, smacks his lips and fills it again.
Sitting very still at the table, she is sure she sees a veil of something pass over his eyes. In the hallway, her groceries wait, abandoned, and beside her – the perfectly sliced lemons inside hiding the motionless body of a red-bellied newt, the wet pitcher is staining the kitchen table, but she does not move, just counts the seconds as he finishes his second lemonade. She has all the time in the world.
A graduate of Bennington College, Julie Cadman-Kim currently teaches English to middle school students in Seattle. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Fourteen Hills, and Sonora Review.
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