A twenty-something girl in colorful scrubs took a deep breath and knocked on the door of Susannah and Henry's. "You can do this," she thought to herself. "You won't screw up this time." Her shiny honey blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, that nonetheless blew into her face in the late-september wind. She blew at the hair, trying to ger it un-plastered from her cold red and white skin. Her heavy, white, coarse-knit sweater hung down at her sides, barely moving in the New England gales. A red leaf fell on to her feet, sitting upon the white mesh running shoes she carefully double knotted earlier that morning.

Henry answered the door. The dark circles under his eyes stood in sharp contrast to his freckles and fiery red hair. "Come in," he said exhaustedly. "She's been waiting for you."

She stepped cautiously through the white door, brushing off chipping paint onto her scrubs as she passed. The rocking chair creaked, and she noticed a large black cat staring up at her with golden-red eyes. "That's Basilicus," Henry told her, seeing her startled fear. "He's one of ours. Don't worry, he doesn't bite." She moved past the spindly white quilt on the ripped corduroy couch, stuffing pouring out like guts. She held her inconspicuous black purse tight to her body as she walked through the living room to the stairs. Henry stood at the base of the carpeted mahogany staircase and held out his arms in an "After you" sort of fashion. Cindy stood still.

Sighing, and giving up on chivalry, Henry climbed the stairs, two at a time ahead of her. She had to scramble to keep up. They reached the top of the stairs, where she noted a line of cat beds, about half inhabited. The line of cats all stared at her with the same blank expression. She shuddered.

She walked as close to the wall on the other side of the hallway as possible, out of the cats' range if they were to reach out from their beds. "I feel like Dorothy in the tree scene of the Wizard of Oz," she thought, peeking out a window to see a bare branch, and yet another cat perched on it.

Henry opened the door. "Mom," he said. "She's here."

Cindy walked in to the dimly lit room. The first thing to catch her eye was the lion-like cat seated regally on the end of the bed, glaring at her. She looked away with fright, and noticed the withered prune of a human being curled up under the covers in the fetal position.

"Mrs. Fawkes," Cindy cooed like the maid about to discover the bloody body within the bathtub in a horror movie.

"Leave me alone." She fell into a fit of coughing. When she emerged, her raspy, emphazemic voice continued, "Can't you see I'm trying to sleep? You and those howling ghosts outside need to learn some respect for the weary."

Cindy looked to the window, and watched it, as she listened to the eerie pan-flute sounds the wind made as it rushed between the houses on its way somewhere more important.

"Bert! Shut up!" Susannah shouted.

Cindy's lips parted slightly as the upper part of her face scrunched. She resembled a child watching adults misbehaving. "Who the hell is Bert?" she mumbled.

"Hasn't anyone ever taught you manners, girl? Don't speak of the deceased like that!" the dead body of a living woman shouted at her.

"Sorry. Was he your husband?" Cindy asked, switching on the eagle framed lamp on the bedside table. She sat down at the end of the bed sympathetically, gritting her teeth as she put up a mental wall blocking thoughts of being eaten by the cat behind her. Her slight frame barely moved the bed at all.

"He still comes and howls at me, even though he's been gone since the war." She pointed behind Cindy. "See, he's standing at the window right now."

Cindy spun around like the blade of a blender, only to see an empty window, with unobtrusive and unmemorable scenes of a Hadley autumn behind her. "He's quite handsome," she said, smiling sweetly the old woman, who had begun to look more and more like her grandmother.

"Yes he is. Too bad he has an old fart like me for a wife. Unless, that is, he married Frannie Walters in heaven when she died. She sure was something at 34, and I always had the sneaking suspicion that he would have dumped me for her anyway." She let out a morbid chuckle, which quickly subsided to hacking.

"I'll go get you a glass of water, Mrs. Fawkes," Cindy assured her sweetly. She patted Susannah gently on the shoulder, and got up from the bed. Passing through the row of cats, she clutched the small gold crucifix she wore around her neck, as they glared at her like Anubius statues on at the entrance to an ancient Egyptian tomb she had just robbed.

She walked quickly down the steeply gradated stairs, staring forwards with Orpheus like resolve. Crossing through the living room, passing the black cat in the rocking chair, she entered the kitchen where she carefully searched the antique cubbard for a glass. She felt the floor stick to the bottoms of her sneakers, and looked down, making squeaking noises, wondering who had spilled what.

Henry had stood silently at the door from the laundry room, watching her. Now he spoke. "Mom dropped a jug of milk in the middle of the night about a week ago. I haven't had the chance to clean it yet."

Glass in hand, she sniffed the air, and noticed the sour bouquet of spoiling milk, covered by the general musty scent of 'old person'. "I could clean it if you want, but first I should give her a sponge-bath." She set the glass down on the table. "And how long has it been since her sheets were cleaned."

"Too long." Henry smiled at her. "You know, I'm really glad I hired you to care for her. I can already tell that you're going to do a great job."

Cindy blushed as she picked the glass back up, filled it with water from the tap, which let out a gurgling but consistant stream of water into the glass. She watched the water level even out as it filled, and swish back and fourth as she carried it up the stairs and past the line of impish house pets into Susannah's room. "Here you are, Mrs. Fawkes," she said with a smile.

The End

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