Frank entered through the front door kicking the piled up newspapers across the threshold as he went – making as much noise as possible. His reasons were two-fold.
After having walked in on Karen and Stanley, never again – at least not in this lifetime — did he want to walk in on a couple making love, an especially not one in his house and his bed.
Secondly, his job had him away from home for long periods at a time. The possibility of walking in on an intruder was pretty good. It was his sincere hope that any intruder hearing him come through the front door might make a hasty retreat through the back door without hurting him. No use getting hurt or killed over the sparse contents of the house.
In the year since the divorce, he’d replaced only what was absolutely necessary. There were no pictures on the wall, no decorative pillows, no knick-knacks, and no photos of family or friends.
The living room held a tan velour sofa, a dark wood coffee table, and a nineteen-inch TV. No matter what the circumstances, he reasoned, a man still needed a good TV for watching football.
In one corner of the living room was his at home work area which held his personal files on every crash he’d worked, a phone, and a computer with a high-speed modem and internet link-up.
When he and Karen had purchased the house, the living room was painted a dingy beige color. Karen had painted the room a pale marine blue. A color she said made her feel as though she were underwater. All it made him feel was nauseous. He’d returned the room to its original beige. He’d obliterated all traces of her from his house.
The master bedroom was completely empty. The bed long ago removed and its offending mattress hauled off to the dumpster. He’d sent Karen a check to cover his half of its cost.
The spare bedroom, where he slept now, contained a twin sized bed, an old flea market chest of drawers, a night stand because he needed somewhere to put an alarm clock and lamp.
When he’d grown weary of eating his morning cereal standing over the kitchen sink, he’d purchased a table and chairs for the breakfast nook. His evening meals usually either take-out or TV dinners, were eaten on the living coffee table in front of the TV.
As he came through the front door he noticed the blinking red light on the answering machine. The spare chair from the kitchen’s dinette set was used to hold the answering machine. Mentally, he ran through a list of people who had his number, none of whom he wanted to talk with tonight.
He let out a sigh of exasperation, ignored the blinking light and headed for the kitchen. Early on after the divorce, he learned to keep a supply of frozen TV dinners and a spare bottle of Scotch in the house at all times.
He found the bottle of Scotch in the cupboard along with four dust-covered glasses he’d bought at the local A & P. He had four plates, four glasses, four forks, four knives, and four spoons, and only because they come packaged that way.
He turned on the water in the kitchen sink and let it run till it became clear. He washed the dust from one of the glasses and poured himself a drink. The scotch went down smooth and easy. He loosened his tie and kicked off his shoes and looked around his empty house. Frank could see the irony in the Judge’s decision now that he was past the searing pain of the divorce — an empty house for an empty shell of a man.
The house was utterly silent. It seemed to him that the silence was coming from every corner. The house felt as cold and as lifeless as he did. Then he remembered he’d yet to turn up the furnace.
The furnace came with the house and clanked loudly into action and seemed to set everything else in motion. Pipes clanked, water dripped and the house began to warm.
He went back upstairs and poured himself another drink. Checking his watch he realized he hadn’t reset it to Eastern Standard Time. It was eight o’clock and not seven, which accounted for the growling in his stomach.
After living the life of a husband for three years, he was having to relearn all over again how to take care of himself. The supermarket where he shopped had a terrific deli counter with a wide variety of pre-cooked foods. The last time he’d stopped in, he’d indulged himself. He found the silver foil wrapped package in the back of the freezer. He removed the wrapping as the clerk had told him, sprinkled some water across the contents, covered them with a paper towel, and slid the plastic tray into the microwave.
Inside was a generous portion of spicy Buffalo Wings, a baked potato with cheese, and two slices of butter laden garlic bread. He never cooked anymore, only micro waved. That done, he decided to catch up on the News.
He’d missed the six o’clock local News but CNN, he thought, might have what he was looking for. The News consisted of the regulars – politics, mid-East turmoil, and philandering British Royals — but no air disasters. “Great,” he said, raising his glass in a toast. “Happy Thanksgiving to me,” he shouted to the empty house.
He clicked the TV over to the cable guide in search of anything more interesting than the thoughts in his head. The Sports Channel was showing a rebroadcast of the Eagles and Cowboys game. At last, a bright spot in an otherwise dull lonely evening. The chiming of the microwave announced dinner. He turned the sound up on the TV so he could hear the game from the kitchen before heading off to retrieve dinner and a refill.
The microwave sat to the left of the kitchen window. He reached in and grabbed the hot plastic tray with unprotected hands. Even though the tray was burning his fingers, he refused to drop the tray on the counter perhaps spilling its precious contents. Instead, he gingerly sat the tray down and reached up overhead to retrieve a dust covered plate from the cabinet. He figured a quick rinse under cold water would solve the problem of his burning fingers and he could get back to his game, but he looked up as he was rinsing the plate.
The window over the kitchen sink looked out onto the driveway leading to his garage. Someone was in his backyard! His eyes locked on a uniformed figure standing by his car giving it the once over. He squinted into the darkness trying to get a better look. It was a cop.
“What the hell was a cop doing in his backyard this time of night?”
The cop was holding a flashlight high over his head the way they’re taught to do at the academy, only it was pointed straight down at the passenger side window. That puzzled him. If the cop wanted to know who the car belonged to why wasn’t he over by the driver side checking out the VIN number.
He continued staring at the cop and thought for a second he recognized the guy. Something about the clear poncho but the four drinks he’d consumed earlier had his mind fuzzy and try as he might, he couldn’t put it together why the clear poncho was important.
He continued watching as the cop tried the passenger side door. Frank exhaled with relief when the door didn’t open. As the cop turned towards the kitchen window, instinct made him duck out of sight. He didn’t have a good feeling about this cop.
Carefully and silently, he positioned himself in front of the door leading to the backyard. He wasn’t sure whether or not it was locked and locking it now would only alert the cop to his presence. He held his breath and listened as the cop’s boots made contact with the cement driveway. But instead of leaving the backyard, the cop was heading for the backdoor just as Frank had feared. He dropped to the floor again and wedged himself between a cabinet and the door with both feet firmly planted on the door. He tried quieting his breathing but his chest was rising higher and quicker with each breath. He was scared to death, and of all things, he thought, a cop!
The door knob gave a slight turn. Frank held his breath. It was locked. He had a moment of relief before the thought hit him, “The front door. He’ll try the front door next!”
He began crawling on his hands and knees toward the living room, praying as he went. For some reason, he knew this cop meant him harm.
Because of the big curtain-less three-panel-window in the living room, he could go no further than the hallway without being seen. He watched helplessly as the dark shadowy figure moved around towards the front door being careful to keep his head down and stay in front of the un-cut hedges.
Maybe because the sound was turned up high on the TV, indicating that he was in the living room watching the game, or because of the car that chose that moment to drive by the house, the cop opted to head down the front driveway to the street.
The tension in his chest eased as he collapsed on the hallway floor. Tomorrow, he’d buy curtains for the front windows along with stronger locks for all the doors.
When Mary Ellen Schuster had gotten home from work earlier that evening, he was waiting there for her. This time she didn’t say a word to defend herself or waste time trying to fend him off. She went into the bedroom and surrendered herself to the darkness that was his soul.
It was around one o’clock that next morning when the darkness left and she was herself again. He was gone. She was safe for awhile.