The chicken trembled, just like it had life in it still, but Phoebe had killed it. It was Saturday dinner hanging on the end of her hand. So sure in her mind she had never done it before and couldn't possibly hurt a fly.
"Sure, guess I can help with chores." she had said to Missus Appletree.
"That's good, Dear."
And Missus Appletree washed the breakfast dishes in the white sink under the window full of the morning light. Phoebe dried, put away, aware she felt surprised, not knowing how she knew where every dish and pan, knife, fork, and spoon went. Drowsy after all those great pancakes, it didn't seem to matter.
Who are you anyway? -- but Phoebe didn't ask it, because it didn't seem to matter enough.
Strangely, as if reading her mind, Missus Appletree told Phoebe -- "Your Ma, bless her soul, she was my best friend. And I promised her I would take the very best care of you, just like you were my own little girl. Can you say Missus Appletree was my Ma's best friend, Phoebe?"
"Missus Appletree was my Ma's best friend, Phoebe."
"That'll do nicely, Dear."
It made sense to Phoebe. Her Ma dead. It didn't particularly matter when or how. Missus Appletree, Ma's best friend, should take care of her.
The house. A farm house. This kitchen. Pale green lino floor. Gigantic gas stove. Tidy little kitchen table, red and white chequered tablecloth, and only chairs for two. Little yellow flowers in that wallpaper. 1958 calendar hanging by the black phone. June. Red diagonals stroked through until the sixth. Saturday, the seventh, red circled.
All seemed right.
"Don't forget your tablets, Dear. I couldn't ever forgive myself if something happened to you. And don't you go forgetting now, Phoebe, young Joseph -- who so has his eye set on you! -- he's coming for Saturday dinner."
"Young Joseph -- Yes." -- It seemed right that young Joseph should have his eye set on Phoebe.
"I'll lay out your pretty red gingham. Would you like that, Phoebe."
"My pretty red gingham -- Yes."
"That'll do, Dear. Now you should go get that chicken. I shouldn't have to tell you how."
And all that seemed right. Except she couldn't remember why she needed to remember her tablets. And Phoebe didn't have to be told how. She grabbed the bird and snapped its neck before it could even squawk.
But, standing in the dusty chicken house, holding the dead bird, not remembering why she needed her tablets -- more and then everything felt not right. Phoebe's heart flopped about under her shirt.
Suddenly the morning blazed so bright -- then went black.
"Swallow, Dear! -- Don't be stubborn now!"
Phoebe spluttered. Missus Appletree forcing her to drink -- the tepid water never stopping. She felt the tablet sticking at the back of her throat like a stone.
"NO! -- NOT RIGHT!"
Drowning, Phoebe tried for air, but gulped and swallowed. Missus Appletree's Niagara shut off.
"That'll do, Dear. That'll do just fine now."
Phoebe felt hard floor under her. She was cold. Wet through. Drowsy -- so drowsy -- she knew this stranger was holding her in her arms, and rocking her, telling her to sleep.