Paul unlocked, locked, unlocked, locked, unlocked, locked and unlocked the door before pushing it open. He took off his shoes, left one first, and laid them by the door in perfect parallel to each other.
Im home, he called, and from the top of the stairs the fish in his aquarium burbled in response. He counted his steps to the kitchen one, two, three...fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. He lined up his feet and looked at the digital clock on the microwave - 6:04. He waited patiently, watching, until ah, 6:05. Letting out the breath hed been holding, he turned to the kitchen table and-
Oh, God. Paul was suddenly acutely aware of his pounding heartbeat in his ears. He somehow managed to steady himself against the chair back and remain upright, but he knew he would faint if he couldnt get himself under control. And he couldnt faint. That wasnt in the Routine.
He steeled himself and looked at the table again.
A dead fly on his kitchen table. And it wasnt even centered! He felt his breathing growing panicked and focused on slowing it. What would he do? After a few minutes of thought with his eyes carefully averted from the table and its disturbing off-centerpiece, he went to the counter and picked up the phone. He listened to the dial tone for a moment, comforted by it, and dialed. The numbers were even on both sides the only number he could dial that added up to the proper numbers in all the right ways. Hed never been able to find fault with it it was the perfect number.
It rang a few times. He counted. On the fourth ring, she picked up.
Jeanne! He gasped, relieved, and there was a sigh on the other end.
Paul? Oh, for Gods sake. Not again. He could hear the exasperation in her voice, but he disregarded it. If she really, really minded she would have her number changed. Hed first called her two years ago, when he first moved into the house by himself. Before hed just had others dial the numbers for him, but it became unavoidable once he moved out. Hed tried to dial his therapist, but it had too many problems. He finally just dialed the only number he could dial, and Jeanne had answered.
At first shed just hung up, but when he kept calling her, shed finally taken the time to listen to him and tell him quite firmly that yes, he could have four chairs at his table when there was only one person of course! What would he do when he had company?
Paul knew that he never had company, and he told her that hed thus proven her theory null and he still had to worry about the chairs. But Jeanne finally promised that someday she and her husband and her grown son would visit and sit in his chairs. This had calmed him and hed been able to say goodbye, hang up, and eat dinner (standing, of course, since there was no place to sit that would be even with four chairs).
Theres a fly, Jeanne, he said helplessly. A fly.
Paul, please! This is not a good time. Cant you just deal with something by yourself for once? Paul heard the edge in her voice and knew that something was going on, but at the moment nothing seemed more important than the issue on his kitchen table with six poky little legs and clouded, multifaceted eyes.
On the kitchen table, Jeanne!
Please, Jeanne! What do I do?
PAUL! I cant...I cant deal with this right now!
I CANT EAT, JEANNE! he wailed, knuckles white in his death grip on the telephone. There was silence on the other end, and he feared shed just left. Jeanne?
Throw it away, Paul, she said finally, and her voice was suddenly inexpressibly tired. Just pick it up with a tissue and throw it away.
Itll touch the tissue.
It doesnt matter. Youll throw the tissue away. Itll never touch your hands.
The tissue is porous, Paul added weakly, but he was caving.
Wear your rubber gloves, Jeanne suggested, and Paul managed to get his breathing under control. Everything would be okay.
Thank you, Jeanne, he said solemnly.
Any time, Paul, she replied quietly, and Paul waited until she hung up the phone to hang up on his end. He dealt with the fly as instructed by Jeanne. All went according to plan. He checked the clock.
He waited patiently until it changed to 6:55, and then he went to the refrigerator to cook his dinner.
The phone almost slipped as Jeanne hung it up, but she caught it just in time. She knew Paul waited until she hung up, and she didnt want to worry him. She went to the sink to wash her hands, scrubbing until the water ran clear, and a little more besides, just in case. She glanced back at the phone, knowing that Paul would call within the next few minutes if he remembered something she hadnt covered. The handle was slick with blood and she made a little face, reaching for the paper towels to clean it up. She looked into the kitchen, feeling her breathing speed up.
It really hadnt been a good time for Paul to bother her she was busy trying to figure out what to do about the body. Her husband was bleeding all over her kitchen table. She reached under the sink for her rubber gloves.