Spooky's Last Meal
“Don’t you dare open that door!” Kelsey snapped in a painful whisper.
“What am I supposed to do? Leave a little old lady out there in the rain?” Mark pulled his eye away from the peephole and reached for the doorknob. “Besides, she has something in her hands, looks like a casserole or something.”
“Don’t!” She hissed.
“Quit being ridiculous. I’m not going to hide in my own house.” He opened the door and greeted the old woman. “Come in out of the rain, Ms. Stewart.”
“That storm came up quick, didn’t it?” The old woman asked, stomping her feet on the welcome mat, her gray curls wilted. “Is she asleep? I tried to get over as soon as I could.” She handed him the covered dish and looked past his shoulder.
“I don’t think so,” he said, shutting the door against the wind. “Kelsey, Ms. Stewart is here.” He called out, pretending their earlier whispered conversation hadn’t happened.
Kelsey pulled the blanket from over her head, and smiled weakly at the woman. She glanced at the dish in Mark’s hand, yawned, and sat up against the pillows on the couch with a groan. “You didn’t have to do that, Ms. Stewart.”
“Well, I know how you young people are with all that fast food, no nutrients in it at all, and I figure you need healthy food to recover from the surgery.” Ms. Stewart moved Kelsey’s feet gently and sat on the end of the couch still wearing the damp raincoat. “And Mark, I forgot again that you don’t like onions before I put them in the casserole, I’m sorry about that.”
“No problem, Ms. Stewart. I like my fast food, and this is to make Kelsey healthy, not me,” Mark said, carrying the dish into the kitchen.
“So have you gotten any rest?” The old woman turned her attention to Kelsey, looking at her over the top of small wire rimmed glasses.
Kelsey wanted to scream. “Not much,” she said honestly, “I was just about to drift off when you knocked on the door.” Just as I was about to drift off to sleep when you called half an hour ago, she thought, but didn’t share.
Ms. Stewart sucked in her breath and stood quickly. “I’m sorry I disturbed you, I’ll leave now.” The movement knocked Kelsey’s feet off the side of the couch, pulling the stitches in her belly and making her gasp in pain at the sudden jolt.
“You’re not disturbing us, Ms. Stewart,” Mark said, as he stepped back into the room and cut his eyes at Kelsey, his jaw tight. “We appreciate everything you do.”
The gray-haired woman sniffed. “I’m just trying to help, I know you young folk don’t have any family, almost alone in the world, and as the Lord tells us we must look out for widows and orphans. I figure we’re two of a kind, me a widow, both of you without parents, we have to look out for each other.”
Mark nodded. “You’re the best neighbor we’ve ever had. At least wait until the storm passes before you leave. How about some coffee? I was about to put on a pot.”
Ms. Stewart smiled. “That would be lovely, it’s getting cold out.” She sat back down on the couch, moving Kelsey’s feet out of her way again with a smug smile on her face. “Mark, put the oven on 400 and slide that casserole in, Kelsey looks like she needs some food.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Mark called from the kitchen.
Kelsey’s eyes closed against her will, she’d only been home from the hospital for a few hours, and she was exhausted. A sudden slap to her thigh, which reverberated through her stomach, had her eyes snapping open in shock. “What the hell?”
“It was a fly, honey. You sure don’t need flies around your wound,” Ms. Stewart explained, picking up something from the blanket and standing up again. She carried whatever it was between her fingers into the kitchen and slapped her hand against the side of the trashcan. “I hate flies! Do you have any bug spray, Mark? The last thing Kelsey needs is a fly infecting her wounds.”
Kelsey sighed, and then groaned as she slowly moved her feet off the couch and onto the floor. She sat up wincing at the pain from the recent surgery, and pulled the blanket around her shoulders. She was just gathering her breath to stand up as Ms. Stewart returned with a black aerosol can in her hand.
“All you have is wasp spray, but that should kill any flies lingering around to infect you,” Ms. Stewart began spraying the room with the thin harsh spray as though it was air freshener and not deadly chemicals.
“Stop! Goddamit, stop!” Kelsey yelled, standing up and breathing in the toxins.
Ms. Stewart’s face paled as she lifted her finger from the spray can. “You took the Lord’s name in vain,” she whispered, the shock evident in the deep wrinkles carved in her face.
Kelsey covered her mouth and nose with part of the blanket. “I’m sorry, but wasp spray is toxic, I don’t need to be breathing that.”
“I should go,” the old woman said, dropping the can on the coffee table with a clank, which rolled and fell on the floor. “I was just trying to help.” She marched to the front door.
Mark ran out of the kitchen with a cup of coffee in his hands. “Ms. Stewart, you haven’t had your coffee!”
The old woman struggled with the locks, her hands shaking. “I don’t think I want that coffee, Mark, not after she took the Lord’s name in vain.”
Mark glanced over his shoulder at his wife, the blanket still held against her mouth and nose, and shook his head harshly. “It’s the drugs they have her on, Ms. Stewart, you know she’d never say that if she was sober.” He grabbed a coat off the rack. “Let me help you across the street.”
“That’s very kind, Mark. I’m sure it is the drugs. She should get some rest after she eats.”
“I’ll make sure she eats,” he said, sliding his arms in the coat, “and I’ll make sure she apologizes in the morning.”
Kelsey stood alone as the front door slammed and her husband escorted their elderly neighbor across the street. She was weak, and her abdomen throbbed with her heartbeat, working down into her legs. She kept the blanket over her mouth and nose as she moved to a window, unlocking it, and wondering if she had the strength to open it. She lifted the heavy, creaky wooden window and saw black dots in her eyes. She held onto a chair as the cold, wet air filled the room, and she slowly moved the blanket away and stuck her face against the screen, breathing deeply.
She left the window open, wondering about flies in the house in a cold November, and stepped into the kitchen. She was suddenly thirsty and pulled a jug of juice from the fridge, setting it on the counter and reaching for a glass. She filled the glass with ice, and then apple juice. She drank, feeling as though there would never be enough, and then refilled it. She felt the heat from the oven, and switched on the light inside the enclosure to see the casserole beginning to boil and brown.
She turned off the heat, opened the oven door, and grabbed a couple potholders from a hanging basket filled with kitchen supplies. She lifted the heavy glass casserole dish from the oven and the black dots reappeared in her sight.
She woke on the floor, her head against the cabinets. Mark stood over her, as the cat heartily ate the tuna casserole from the floor. “Did you do this on purpose? You broke her dish!” He exclaimed, helping her to her feet. “I know you don’t like her, but she’s been nothing but good to us.”
He gently wrapped his arm around her waist, and as she grabbed the melting iced apple juice from the counter, he helped her into the bedroom. She didn’t speak, other than to ask him to shut the bedroom door away from the stink of wasp spray, and then she was dreaming of the tomatoes she had eaten over the summer.
They signed the contract to purchase the house the month after they discovered she was pregnant, and even though the house wasn’t huge, it did have room for a nursery. “It’s a starter house,” Mark had explained. “If we get lucky a second time, we’ll move to a bigger house.”
She didn’t question because they had been trying to have a baby for years while living in apartments, and it seemed a stroke of luck to find such a cute house, in a good neighborhood, to fit their budget. They had just barely moved in when the neighbor introduced herself. Ms. Stewart seemed so happy to know that Kelsey was expecting a child, and then came with baskets of fruits and veggies from her garden. “Eat these, and let’s give that baby the best start. I don’t use pesticides, herbicides, and my garden is completely natural, the perfect way to feed your baby.”
Kelsey ate the thick red tomatoes, the juicy peaches, and the tender pears. She cut the cucumbers, despite their bitterness, into the lettuce grown by her neighbor, so grateful that although her parents were dead, the world had seen to give her a surrogate. One bunch of grapes had strange tiny spiders breaking from the skins, but Ms. Stewart apologized profusely, and then claimed she burned the vines away against the invasion. Kelsey ate the next grapes without much thought; she was busy painting, creating, and preparing the nursery for her baby.
The dream showed that every bite of the fruit from her neighbor was tainted. The tomatoes bled, the lettuce turned into wispy moths, and the peaches and pears became strange colored insects, while the cucumbers evolved into thick worm-like snakes with venomous fangs. She woke swallowing a scream, and waking so suddenly sent pain from her abdominal wound down her legs, and back up into her head.
She reached for the painkillers beside the bed, and found they were gone. She sat up, saw that it was night, and glanced at the clock. It was nearly midnight and Mark was beside her in the bed. She turned to wake him up and ask where her medicine was, but he groaned and whispered a name.
“Lily,” he said under his sleeping breath. “Lily!” He exclaimed, as he reached, in his sleep, to touch himself.
Kelsey slapped him arm. “Wake up!”
Kelsey slapped his face. “Wake up!”
“What the fuck?” He sat up, eyes wide, and anger leaked from his pores. “What?”
“Where are my pain meds?”
“I put them away, especially after you spoke to Ms. Stewart the way you did today.”
“Who are you taking care of? Me or Ms. Stewart? You better get those meds back this minute,” she breathed, grasping her stomach and the barrenness. “Now, do it now!”
“I don’t think they’re good for you,” he said, sitting up and sliding his feet into slippers.
“I don’t care what you think, give me my medicine.”
“On it,” he sighed, walking into the bathroom to open a cabinet. He returned with the meds and set them on the bedside table. “You were taking the Lord’s name in vain.”
Kelsey opened the bottle and downed two pills with warm apple juice. “When have you, as an atheist, given two shits about taking the Lord’s, that you don’t believe in, name in vain?”
He sat beside her, laughing for a minute, and then sobered. “That’s weird.”
“Yes, it is. By the way, who is Lily?”
“What?” He ran his hand through his hair. “Lily? I don’t know a Lily.”
“I just need some sleep,” she said, stretching out on the bed and holding her stomach.
“Yes, you do.” He kissed her forehead, hugged her gently, and then crawled over to his side. “Rest well, beauty. I love you.”
“I love you too,” she responded under the haze of pills, pain, and the creeping knowledge that all was not as it seemed to be. She slept, and dreamed of big red tomatoes that left bloody trails down her cheeks as she bit into them, grapes with spiders, and yellow squash that when cut open showed horrible tumors.
She woke, her mouth dry, and glanced at the clock to see it was 5am. She walked into the bathroom, dropped her panties, and the stained pad the surgical staff had left between her legs. She sat down on the toilet, waiting for the stream, while remembering the dreams. The release finally came, and she sighed. She threw the hospital pad away, dropped the soiled garment in the dirty clothes hamper, and then stepped lightly though the bedroom to retrieve clean underwear.
She was thirsty, and not yet fully awake as she stepped in the kitchen. The light was dim through the shades from the streetlights, and she saw their cat, Spooky, lying on the floor. “Morning Spook Love, how are you?” She asked, filling the glass with ice.
“Spook Mutt,” she crooned as she filled the glass with apple juice. She took a long drink, feeling the cold liquid filling her hungry cells, and set the glass down. “Spooky Bird, good morning!”
The cat didn’t move.
“Spooky Crow,” she soothed, walking to the corner and the line of switches, and flipping one to fill the space with light.
The cat lay on top of the mess of the broken casserole dish, dead.
“Spook man!” She lifted his body from the mess that Mark hadn’t cleaned away. “Spooky pup,” she cried, and pulled him closer.
“Spooky bear,” she slid down the cabinets where Mark had woken her earlier, and held the stiffening animal against her chest as the tears flowed down her cheeks. She looked at the casserole only she was supposed to eat, and saw the change in her small, loving family since they “lucked” out and got a great house in a wonderful neighborhood. She remembered the dreams of the weird fruits and veggies given as a gift from their neighbor.
She saw, almost outside of herself, as the thriving life inside her turned to a threatening tumor. She saw from a perspective a million miles away as that seething tumor was cut away, taking with it any hope she ever had of having another baby, and then she remembered biting into the fruits and veggies from the sweet old woman next door. She drifted off, grateful for the pain pills, with a dead cat held tightly against her chest.
She woke an hour later, her belly throbbing, a dead cat in her arms, as Mark stood over her.
He just stared, and didn’t speak. His eyes moved over the open stove, the broken dish on the floor, and then back to her and the dead cat. “We need coffee,” he said softly, stepping over her prone body to reach the pot.
“Don’t let me get in your way,” she said, placing the swelling cat on the floor beside her.
“What does that mean?” He demanded.
His hands stopped as he filled the basket with ground coffee.
“He ate the casserole, and he’s dead.”
A sudden and deep silence filled the room. All sound seemed to stop; the drone of the heater eased with a click, the motor in the refrigerator took a breath and rested, and even the small sounds most don’t readily hear - the click of ice in a glass, breathing, the buzz of an overhead light fixture, cars on the street outside – stopped.
Mark stood frighteningly still, his hand poised to drop a bit more coffee in the filter. “Dead?” He asked softly, as though he was still dreaming.
“Look at him!” Kelsey whispered harshly, and then found the energy to stand, grasping cabinet doors to help with her weight. She wanted to grab her husband’s face and make him look, but the black dots had returned and her belly throbbed down her legs and into her toes. She struggled for breath. “The witch killed him!”
Mark shook his head, and spilled the spoon of coffee on the counter. He took a deep breath, looking at the busted casserole dish, and the dead cat. His face contorted, from love to hate and every emotion in between. “Spooky butt,” he sobbed, dropping to his knees. He picked up the dead cat and embraced him. “Spook bug,” he cried.
Kelsey took a breath, then another, and turned to the strong man who hadn’t been so strong since they got “lucky” and won a good and affordable mortgage. “We have to bury him, and we have to leave this place now.”
He looked up at her, his eyes watery and darting as though he was confused. “Leave?”
“Freak a crow, Mark! Yes, leave!” She held her stomach, breathing deeply.
“Leave,” he nodded, as though he was still asleep.
Kelsey tried to march, but a stumbling gait was all she could accomplish as the pain worked from her ribs, to her belly, down to her toes, and back again. She found the bottle on the bedside table, downed two, and then dressed, making sure that before she slid on her boots the pills were in the pocket of her jeans.
She stepped back in the kitchen, the coffee pot was not brewing, and Mark still held the still cat. She nudged him aside, finished filling the pot, and set it to cook. As the electric pot gurgled and chugged, steaming with a delightful scent, she pondered what to do.
“Mark,” she said softly.
He continued to pet the cat that had been their friend for eight years.
“Mark,” she said a little louder, feeling the lack of strength resonate with the stitches in her belly.
He turned to her, his eyes glazed, damp, and confused.
“Mark!” She yelled, and grabbed the counter as her knees weakened. “Who is Lily?”
“I don’t know a Lily, why do you keep asking? We have to bury the Spook Monster.” Tears streamed down his cheeks.
She suddenly felt a sense to let go, just let go, just to surrender to the darkness and confusion … she was weak, she was tired, and she’d had so much taken away. “I’m supposed to be getting bed rest,” she sighed, smiled, and then laughed.
Mark looked at her, shaking his head, and the wetness on his cheeks seemed to make his eyes glow. “Shit! I know! Shit!” He started to rush to her, but stopped, looking down at his arms and what they held. “Damn.”
The haze cleared from his eyes, and he moved quickly, dropping the cat in her arms, and hugging her. “Shit! Let’s go now, I don’t care where, but now!”
“Go pack some things for both of us, I’ll take care of the Spooky Dude.”
He kissed her. “Thank you, and I still don’t know who Lily is, but I do know she’s in my dreams.”
“Thank you.” Kelsey pushed him to the bedroom, and picked up Spooky’s favorite bed. She placed the cat in the bed, and then pulled out a large, colorful gift bag, sliding the cat and bed inside. The work exhausted her, and she sat on the couch with the bag on her lap. She remembered all the times her neighbor had given them food, always forgetting that Mark couldn’t eat this ingredient or the other, she had even forgotten Mark was allergic to peanuts when she brought over homemade peanut brittle. “It’s okay,” the old woman had soothed. “It’s not for him, it’s for you and to making this baby strong.”
Kelsey had eaten everything the old woman had supplied, and suddenly her pregnancy became high risk, she was bed ridden, and then the doctors explained she hadn’t actually been pregnant, but that it was simply a fast growing tumor. They had no explanation for the early sonogram pictures that showed a moving, healthy, living baby.
Kelsey and Mark had laughed when they moved into the neighborhood of aging people, mostly widows and widowers, only thinking of family and the grandparents their child would get to know. But thinking about it, she suddenly understood that it was only one widow and a whole street of widowers. She wondered if Ms. Stewart had been providing the food to all those women who were now six feet under.
Mark came out of the bedroom with two large suitcases. “I have everything I think we need.”
“Let me get some coffee.”
She nodded again.
“I don’t know where we’re going.” He stood, half in the kitchen, half in the living room, rocking back and forth over the doorjamb.
“I don’t either,” she said softly.
“But we shouldn’t stay here …” He glanced longingly at the coffee pot.
“Get the coffee,” she encouraged, looking at the suitcases, and then down at her lap where their only child, a cat, lay wrapped in brightly colored paper.
Mark returned with two tall steaming travel mugs and set them on the coffee table in front of her. “Let me put this stuff in the car.” He picked up the suitcases and disappeared out the front door.
He returned and grabbed one of the mugs, drinking deeply. He reached for her and she set the bag on the couch, allowing him to pull her up. She slung her purse over her shoulder, checked her pocket again to ensure the pills were still there, and then turned and picked up the cat.
“Ready?” He asked, glancing at the clock on the wall.
She nodded and followed him out the door. As they turned the corner to lead them away from the neighborhood she saw something she hadn’t noticed before and yelled, “Stop!”
Mark slammed on the brakes. “What?”
“Look!” She pointed at her neighbor’s mailbox, which read in reflective letters, “Lily Stewart, 33 Delight Rd.” “I guess that’s the Lily you’ve been dreaming of,” she said, opening the door and pulling off her seatbelt.
“What are you doing?”
She stepped out of the car with a groan, and a dead cat in her arms. “I’m returning the goodness she’s given us.” She walked slowly in front of the car, and climbed the brick stairs to the front door. “I’m sorry, Spooky,” she said softly, as she set the brightly colored package on the mat, and rang the bell.