Gray November

Two men stood, heads together as if conferring, next to the kitchen table while another hovered beside the French doors, leaning to peer out into the garden beyond. They were dresed in dark clothes, tall with bulky shoulders. Everything about them was matt black or gray so they appeared grainy in the dimness, like actors in an old film.

My chest felt so tight I thought I might never breathe again. My heart thudded, a booming echo to the blank, white terror that flooded me. I imagined one of them turning - catching some glimpse, realizing they were watched – so clearly I thought it happened. I saw the closest bulky shadow turn its head slowly in the mirror, two eyes glittering like small black stones in a featureless face. I saw it. My heart stopped. I blinked, and they were as before.

The two near the table finished their whispered conversation and moved apart. The taller figure began to carefully open drawers. The other drifted to the wall and ran his gloved fingers around the frame of a painting. The third man glanced briefly at them both in turn and then went back to his vigil. I watched the man at the painting and the fright receded, overthrown by a growing anger and outrage. My grandma had painted it; a gentle, misty landscape of a riverbank with spindly winter trees, upper branches melting into a cloud like a blanket of gray. Yet you could see light in it, soft November light diffused everywhere. I loved it, I saw it everyday and it never failed to make me feel better, even when I was in the foulest mood.

Now here was this man, pawing it with uncaring hands. I had to find a phone.

But even as I came to this decision, the man at the window raised his arm, waving to someone outside. He turned to the other two, calling to them quietly and before I could do anything they were gone, slipping out through the doors and closing them behind.

They had taken the painting.

Distracted by the man at the window I hadn’t seen his friend take it down, but on the pale cream of the wall only the ghost of an outline remained. That, and the picture hook.

Something made me keep quiet still. I didn’t run up the stairs or shout. I went from room to room waking sleepers, my parents and my brothers, and the house gradually came to brittle, early life. We began the tasks of dealing with the police, avoiding surfaces where fingerprints might linger and inventorying what was lost.

The End

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