Exhausted (or “Dead Tired,” depending upon the ending)

Short Fiction for Guests of the WordFeeder
Sunday, March 21, 2010

Emma Warner got off late from work that evening and went directly to the mall, to shop, to pick up a watch she’d left off for repair a week ago, the expensive one she wears to weddings, and because it was worth it to put off going home to an empty house. Pushing hard on the outer door, Emma looked around. It was dark. She’d parked as close as she could to the front of that one department store that was particularly well lit, but she still had a way to go and the lot wasn’t as full, wasn’t as busy as it had been when she arrived.

Her cell phone rang just as she was stepping off the curb, a distraction she didn’t need. “Hello? ..Oh, hi. …Yeah, I’m fine, really. ..I’m just leaving the mall. ……………Are you sure it’s him? ……I see. ..So you think tonight’s the night? ..Me, too. …..Yeah, those cookies are good. …Alright. …..Yeah, okay. ..Bye.” Sliding her phone back into her coat pocket, she reached below it to grab her keys, pressing the open button to flash the taillights of her car and to make sure the door was already unlocked when she got there. Opening the door, she shoved her shopping bags across her seat, over the gearshift, sat down quickly and locked her doors.

Eighteen minutes later, she was in her garage, staying in the car until the garage door was all the way down behind her. Out of her car and into her house, she shook the knob to the inside garage door to make sure it was secure, and then turned to walk into the family room when something stopped her short.

“Hey.” Emma wasn’t all that tall, only five-eight in the low heels she wore to work, but from where she was standing, the kitten that sat there, waiting for her just inside the door, seemed really small. Throwing her coat over one of the hooks by the door, she bent over and picked him up with both hands. Even face to face, nose to nose, he didn’t seem all that much bigger. “Hey,” she said again, honestly glad to see him. “Miss me?”

“Mrr.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘Yes.’ Let’s get out of these clothes – You can continue to wear your fur. – get something to eat and watch, I don’t know, whatever.”

“This house,” she typed into her journal later that evening, “used to be smaller. There were the kids and their friends, and Jack and our friends. ..Gosh, I miss Jack. It’s been so quiet lately.” In the family room off the kitchen, there was something on the TV, but she wasn’t paying attention, just voices to keep her company while she talked to herself through the words on her screen.

“The kids bought me a cat, a kitten just 8 weeks old, to keep me company. He’s off somewhere, exploring. I can tell because he knocks stuff over now and then. I’ve been making a list of names. If I keep calling him, “Hey!” he’s going to get confused when I finally pick one. He sleeps a lot, probably all day while I’m at work, and then runs around at night, at least until I fall asleep which is getting to be later and later. I’m tired, but if I go to bed too soon, I just lie there, so I might as well stay up and do stuff. I’m tired, physically, but I’m also tired of being afraid. To be alone is one thing, but I’ll… I’ll adjust, I’ll come back, not to where I was with Jack – someplace different, but still good. Who knows? Maybe getting there will be its own adventure. Maybe that’s how it works.”

“I’m tired and alone, but tonight, tonight I’m more tired of being afraid. Of leaving the lights on all night, in rooms I don’t even use. Of leaving all the TVs on. Of thinking there’s someone watching me, someone out there I have to worry about. I’m tired of going over and over in my head what I would do.”

“I’ve got the lights on the basement, but I’m afraid to go down there at night. If he comes into the house, it’ll be through the sliding glass doors, or the French doors,” she stopped to look over her shoulder, “to the deck. I wonder what he will be like, as if it makes any difference. Interesting, isn’t it, how I keep saying ‘he.’ Why couldn’t it be a woman? Women can be criminals. We could talk about stuff we have in common while she duct-tapes me to one of my kitchen…” She stopped, interrupted by the sound of something maybe hitting the floor in the office she keeps in the extra room upstairs. “Hey!!” she shouted, then took a breath to calm herself down. “What’s the point,” she said to herself, and then “…chairs,” and continued writing.

“At least, if the burglar is a woman, she won’t rape me. Wow, I can’t believe I said that. These break-ins I keep hearing about on the news… There’s been some violence, but no sexual assaults. Not yet. Well, she could be gay, but I don’t think there are any gay burglars. Breaking and entering doesn’t seem like something gay people would do. …Like I really know what I’m talking about. I’m just babbling. …If I name him, “Hey,” he’ll grow up thinking everybody knows his name, which could be a good thing, like having an extended family.”

“Tonight, I’m going to turn off the lights when I go to bed, like a normal person, like a normal person whose electric bill is beginning to look more like a mortgage payment – unless I pass out here on the couch. That’s what happened last night. When I woke up, the cat was sitting on my shoulder, leaning up against the cushion, watching some poker tournament. It took me 20 minutes to get my contacts out which were just about stuck to my eyeballs. Once is enough. I’m not doing that again.”

“And tonight,” she turned to look through the almost floor to ceiling windows that lined the wall to the deck and woods behind her house, “..tonight I’m not going to worry if someone can see me sitting here, getting up, fixing myself something to eat. If anybody out there wants to hurt me, they’re going to have to work for it. They’re going to have to be real and in my face. Just the thought of you isn’t going to be enough.”

“So much open glass. Every time we thought about getting curtains, the sun would come through the windows to light and warm up the room. Jack would work at the kitchen table, looking out at the trees and watching our birds feed on the deck. He said they were ours, not as if we owned them, but because he considered them family.”

“I called ADT today. They’re installing an alarm system Friday. One of my friends who I see at the gym recommended a Slomin’s Shield, but it sounds too much like a birth control device… which, I’m guessing, isn’t something I’ll be needing any time soon, or ever again for that matter. If I don’t get out of the house, the next time I have sex it’ll probably be with the burglar. (Whoa, that’s not funny.) The mailman’s married, and doesn’t look good in mailman shorts. The kid who works for the lawn service is cute, but I think he’s 12. No. He drives a truck, so he’s got to be at least 16. I can live with that. ..and if and when you do come.. I’ll be ready.”

“Hey! ..Yeah, you.” Her kitten had just jumped up on the coffee table, remarkable given his height. “Get off my keyboard. …Com’on. Let’s go upstairs.”

Standing up from the couch, she reached under her little friend, picked him up and pushed his furry body against her chest. “Meeeekk!” Maybe just a bit too hard.

“What’s that mean? Can’t you at least talk like a regular cat?” The other hand grabbed the remote and pressed the power key. Walking past the bank of switches and dials that controlled the lights, she paused and then turned them off, one at a time, all except the floods over the fireplace, and the light over the sink. “..Oh,..” and she walked over the doors that led out to the deck and turned that outside light on, too. “There. I’m pretty sure that’s what normal people would do.”

“Murrr.”

“Who cares what you think. Mommy says we’re going upstairs. …Wait.” Walking back to the coffee table, she unplugged and picked up her laptop, holding it under her other arm, the one without the cat. “I’ll write some more. Maybe it’ll help me get to sleep.” And up they went, into the master bedroom suite that she and Jack used to share, their escape from the noise, now desperately missed voices of teenagers on the phone and music playing way too loud. There was the bedroom, a dressing room with its walk-in closets, and their bathroom beyond that.

A few minutes later, the flat screen on her dresser was tuned to a Lifetime movie she somehow missed – or had completely forgotten, which was pretty much the same thing. Her back against the one of her pillows she’d turned upright, her contacts having been replaced with glasses, she opened her computer to pick up where she’d left off. Her small, furry friend was curled up on top of the light blanket next to her. “Wait,” noticing that it was just 11 o’clock, “let’s watch the news,” and she changed the channel.

“Why is it that the local news always begins with crimes? ..I know, I know. There’s been a series of late night break-ins in the ‘burbs. The police downtown have installed cameras and increased their presence, and the criminals, who need to make a living like everyone else, are looking to the suburbs for new business. Besides, the houses are farther apart, with woods, and… and breaking into one doesn’t risk so much attracting the attention of a neighbor or street people. At first, they were targeting empty homes, but lately… lately they’ve been breaking in late at night, in the early morning hours, robbing houses while the owners are asleep inside. Some people have woken up.. No, that’s not right. ..have been awaken.. That’s better. ..and beaten.”

“Well,” she shivered to get her confidence back, “the best way to overcome your fears is to confront them. ..Easier said than done. ..To anticipate and prepare for things that go bump, or make footsteps on the stairs in the night. The more you think about it, the more carefully you plan and visualize your options, the more likely you are to execute that solution whenever push ever comes to shove. At least that’s theory. It’s the long form of the old adage, ‘Better safe than sorry.’”

“..Okay. I’m in bed. I hear someone breaking into the house. Glass breaking. Footsteps. Someone talking if there’s two of them. I’ve got my cell phone on the nigh table – but I’ll be slow to use it, thinking I may be calling 911 for nothing. I have to be sure. If the sounds wake me up, I could have been imagining them. Could have been something on the television. …What do I do? I can’t risk confronting him. Of course not.” She stopped to look around the room.

“Step one, I get up quietly, because I don’t want to attract his attention, not before I’m ready. I get off the bed and close the door slowly so as not to make any unnecessary noise. Close the door and lock it. ..That’s not enough. The dresser.” The door is to her right. Directly across the room, against the wall is her dresser, large and heavy enough to block the door, maybe, but not so heavy she couldn’t push it across the hardwood floors. “The thing is, if I can move it against the door,” she asked her journal, “someone could move it out of the way by pushing on the door.”

“I could go out one of the windows. Lower myself down onto the yard. …What then, and deal with him outside, in the dark? The nearest neighbor is maybe 100 feet from here, asleep in their house with the TV on. Hmmm.” Stopping to think for a moment, she rubbed the tiny animal that sound asleep next to her. “You’ll protect me, won’t you?” And then an idea.

“I’m always tripping when I wear my Nike’s around the house. Something about the treads, and the way I tend to shuffle when I’m tired. My feet stick, the one foot even while the other one is going forward. ..I’ll close the door and lock it, push the dresser up against the door. Put on my shoes and lean up against the drawers. Maybe leave the TV on. No off, so I can hear better. Have my phone with me and, when I’m sure, use it to call 911. If the police can get here in, let’s say, 10 minutes… I’ll only have to hold them off for 10 minutes, may be 15. I can do that,” she said, feigning confidence.

“Yeah, I’m tired,” she turned to the kitten, fast asleep beside her, “but I’m not out of gas yet. ..You know, I could name you ‘Jack,’ but that would be way too weird. ..Let’s rehearse.” Saving her journal, she shut down her computer, got up and set it on the ironing board she’d left open next to a half-full basket of wrinkled laundry, and then got back into bed, getting under the covers, leaning on her side facing her night table the way she tended to sleep, and turned out the light.

“Okay,” she whispered, “I’m asleep. I hear something. …Wait a minute, what was that? …Nothing. It’s nothing. I get up, quietly, in the dark, close the door first, slowly so as to not make too much noise – and then push the door closed, and lock it. Go back, turn on the light. Done. Cross the room. Pull this side of the dresser away from… Ehhhh. Wow, it’s heavy, but then that’s the point, isn’t it. ..Rats!” Two lipstick-sized perfume atomizers and a picture frame fell over. “Reset.” Pushing the dresser back, she put the perfume and frame back where they were. “This time, I’ll put everything loose into the basket, and the frames face down on the runner where they’ll stay put. ..There.” Her red-leather covered jewelry box had small rubber feet and wasn’t going anywhere. “Now, pull the dresser, right side first. ..mmm. ..Now push the left edge. Ehhh.” She stopped to catch her breath. “It’s too heavy. ..I need glides, but if it slides too easily, it won’t really stop anyone, particularly if he’s large, pushing on the door.” She stopped talking. ..Got it!”

Pushing the dresser back against the wall, she opened the door, turned on the hall light and crossed into the extra bedroom she’d remodeled into an upstairs office. Some shirt cardboard she’d been saving for who knows what, and the sound of the paper cutter’s arm slicing it into quarters, she was back in her bedroom, lifting up the corners of the dresser, to put a cardboard coaster under each leg. “Jeez, I’m actually sweating.”

“Okay, back in bed. Let’s try this again.” And she did, twice, moving the dresser in front of the door, pulling the cardboard out from under the legs after she did. Putting on her Nike’s, first after and then before she moved the dresser to give her the traction she needed, and then sitting on the floor with her back up against the drawers with her cell phone ready to dial 9-1-1.

It wasn’t until she got it right that she realized how really exhausted she was, and almost considered leaving the dresser in place, in front of the door until the morning, she was that wiped, but then took the time to put it back. “What the heck, I needed the exercise.”

“Better go to the bathroom again,” she said to the kitten whose eyes tried to open, but then gave up. “Could be a long night. ..You get some sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”

Almost two hours later, the kitten perked up, the soft light coming through half closed blinds being more than he needed to see, but there was no one there. Not yet. Then the bedroom door, open only a few inches, began to move, its hinges making a low rubbing sound. And there, standing in the doorway, a tall, slender, dark form looked back at him. The man was a cliché as burglars go. Absent only the classic ski mask, he seemed unafraid to expose his face, although the facial hair and thin-rimmed glasses could have been fake.

For a full minute he stood there, he and the cat staring at each other, before he moved toward the bed for any sign he might be interrupted, but there wasn’t any. Whatever he had on his feet, the soles were silent as he went directly to the dresser, opened the jewelry box and looked inside with a small flashlight, taking individual pieces, including diamond earrings and a solitaire pendant, and everything that was gold. Their wedding bands, and Emma’s engagement ring were there, too. He picked them up, glanced at the family picture on the dresser, turned back to look at the bed, and then put them carefully into the soft cloth bag he had brought with him, carefully so as not to clink into the other jewelry he has stealing. As for their sentimental value, he couldn’t have cared less.

But then the top two drawers of the dresser wouldn’t pull easily, so he paused, looking over his shoulder briefly, wondering if it was worth the risk of waking her up. It was common for people to keep extra cash and more expensive jewelry in their dresser drawers. From the jewelry he had so far, he figured he’d net $4,000 maybe even $5,000 if the diamonds were high quality, and might still have another stop or two he could make that night. He’d already been through her pocketbook which she left lying on the kitchen counter, taking the cash and credit cards.

Nodding his head slightly, still facing the dresser and the large mirror hanging above it, he thought he’d risk it, and reached again for the brass pulls to give one of the side-by-side drawers in front of him another shot. One drawer wasn’t so bad, but the other one… The other one made a loud scraping noise he was sure would wake up his victim. But it didn’t.

Turning his head to look at Emma, only the cat stared back. And then, it occurred to him, how sound could she be sleeping? Leaving the drawers half open, he walked over to the bed, reaching into his pocket as he moved. What came out of his pocket was a Gerber AR 3.0 standard blade folding pocket knife, LL Bean item TA219574, $34.95.

Tough, ultralight and contoured to fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. Three-inch stainless-steel blade holds a razor-sharp cutting edge. SoftGrip rubber inserts provide exceptional control for fine work to big jobs. High-strength, die-cast aluminum handles. Blade rides on two Teflon® washers to ensure a lifetime of smooth, one-handed opening. Pocket clip. 4.1″ closed. 2.8 oz. Imported.

As knives go, it was a class act that had convinced more than one woman to do whatever he wanted.

Emma was lying mostly on her back, curled slightly to the outside, the covers lying oddly across her chest, just above where the impression of her breasts would start to show through the soft cotten top she was wearing. Her lips slightly parted, she…

“Mrrr.”

The thief turned quickly toward the cat, instinctively pointing at him with his knife, the blade open and managing to catch the reflection of faint lamppost light coming through the blinds. …He turned back to Emma. She was in her early 50s, but in many ways more attractive than when Jack and she had met at college. Her lips slightly parted, he reached out to feel her breath on the back of his hand. Nothing. (“Pass-out sleep” she liked to call it.) For the moment at least, she was his to play with.

With the tip of his blade, he reached under the light blanket and peeled it back, almost covering up the kitten who barely escaped in time. Then the sheet, and still Emma didn’t move. It was a game for him now. How close could he come, running the point of his knife ev-er so slowly, from between her breasts, across her exposed stomach and low hanging bottoms that lay quietly, clinging perfectly to the soft dunes of leg and body below her..

————————-

…Nah, I like Emma. She’s way too smart, too well prepared for moment like this, only to sleep through it and then succumb to some creep with LL Bean knife and BMW who can’t hold a regular job. Did I mention he has a BMW? It’s a silver 328. How trite is that? (What, is silver the only color they make?) Bought it used just to make an impression. If it was a Subaru, well then, maybe… ..No. Let’s try a different ending. (Is this not one of the great things about writing, or what?)

————————-

Nodding his head slightly, still facing the dresser and the large mirror hanging above it, he thought he’d risk it, and reached again for the brass pulls to give one of the side-by-side drawers in front of him another shot. …and then the lamp went on behind him.

“Hey.” It was a woman’s voice, not Emma’s, but then he didn’t know that. “Raise your arms slowly, hands on your head, and turn around. No sudden moves, please.”

“And if I do make a sudden move…,” he started to say as he turned to face the bed, his own body blocking the reflection of the woman behind him, the arrogant tone and smile on his face fading at the sight of a younger woman than he had expected, with short blonde hair, just coming out from under the covers, a gun in one hand, her police detective’s badge in the other.

“We’ll, you know how it goes. You make a sudden move,” she advised him, “and then my partner and I make a few sudden moves of our own which will probably involve bullets, ..and then you’re pretty much all done moving. …What?” she asked him, noticing the change of expression on his face.

“Hi.” A second detective was standing in the doorway, his gun drawn, his badge clearly visible on his belt. “I’m Sean Glitz and, yes, it’s my real name. My father was a Vegas showgirl. ..Nah, he works for Black & Decker, but I like the Vegas story better.”

“Hysterical, isn’t he?” the female detective kept the conversation going, waiting for the sound of backup she was pretty sure was on the way. “See what I have to put up with?”

“My partner over there on the bed, is Peggy Risen.”

Detective Risen made an obviously fake smile, all her teeth showing on the top and bottom.

“She’s in charge. Her brains, my muscle and boyish good looks. ..You know those really quite shoes you wear? …Me, too.”

“What are you two, television actors pretending to be police?” It was all the thief had to say, other than, “…Can I let my hands down now?”

“No,” Detective Risen was serious, the sound of her voice commanding. “Turn to your right, and get down on your knees. ..Now.” And the man complied. “Face down, flat out on the floor. ..Do it. Hands crossed behind your back.”

Detective Glitz holstered and secured his gun, and had handcuffs on the man in seconds, wasting no time patting him down as soon as the cuffs were tight.

“Did you call?” Detective Peggy Risen asked her junior partner.

“I pressed the magic button, and..” the sound of two police cars arriving in the cul de sac was right on time, “I believe,” Detective Glitz said to the thief, “your ride is here. How ‘bout that for service? ..No wallet. ..Oooo. And what do we have here?” he asked, knowing full well what it was. ..Wow. Big knife,” he observed, flipping upon the blade, “which you were carrying to do what?”

“I use it to pick my teeth,” the thief remarked, the sound of his voice distorted given the way his face was pressed into the floor by Detective Glitz’ hand on his back. “I practice good dental hygiene.”

“No one has teeth that big,” Detective Risen remarked to racket of uniformed police officers coming up the stairs. “Next time, just floss. …Officers,” she acknowledged to the two men standing in the doorway. Thanks for coming. I’m Risen. He’s Glitz,” she said, nodding toward her partner. “Read him his rights and get him out of here. Gimme a card. Thanks. Don’t book him until we get there. We’ll be right behind you. …Hey, Carol!” The plain closed Detective that had been working the mall just joined them. “Where you been?”

“Hanging out in the woods, just in case. ..You were right, by the way. He had a small shotgun mike with a dish to make sure there was no one awake, no one in the house he had to worry about before he broke in. It’s out back. I’ll get it on my way out. If you two had been talking or moving around, we’d have been wasting our time.”

“Yeah, well good work. Go get your car and meet us at the station.”

Twenty minutes later, the burglar having been taken way in one of the police cars, Detective Risen and her partner stopped to thank Emma for helping out.

“Thanks again for your help, Mrs. Warner. Like I started to tell you when I called, Detective Josephs, ‘Carol,’ caught sight of him up at the mall while he was following you. She recognized him from the mall security video we studied after you first got in touch with us, thinking someone might be following you. Most people would have ignored that feeling. It’s a good thing you didn’t. He knew where you lived, parked a couple of streets away and then, as we suspected he would, came up on your house through the woods, using the jogging paths. ..He’s been on quite a spree, Mrs. Warner. Thanks to you, it’s over.”

“Hey, nooo sweat,” Emma laughed, putting her hand on Detective Glitz’s arm“…and, by the way, I want your partner here to know that I consider hiding in my guest room closet with him to be our first date.”

“Two more like that and I’m pretty sure we’re engaged, Mrs. Warner.” Detective Glitz was quick to answer, flashing the smile that made the potential danger earlier that night seem less than it really was.

“Yeah,” Emma responded, “in my dreams. …As Plan Bs go, you two were great!”

“We were only her Plan B?” Detective Glitz turned to his partner, pretending to be hurt.

“Plan A was the dresser in front of the door.” Detective Risen tried to be serious on their way out the door.

“What?”

“No kidding. You had to have been there. What do you think all that commotion was while you were eating cookies in the closet? She’s going to have rats if she doesn’t clean that up.”

“Mice. This is the suburbs. She’ll have mice.”

“Are you mocking me?” Emma shouted after them, watching the two them as walk down her path while she closed and locked the front door.”

They waved back, not bothering to turn around. They’d be talking again that afternoon, after she got some sleep and met them to give a formal statement.

The door shut behind her, a “Meeerrk” came from half way up the stairs.

“What? You’re up. …Yeah, well I’m hitting the sack. ..Com’on,” she bent down to pick him up, carrying him the rest of the way back to her bedroom, tossing him onto the bed. “Maybe ‘Hey’ isn’t such a bad name. I’ll think about it. ..You watch the place. I’m getting some sleep. ..Anything happens, move the dresser.” Strangely, the cat seemed to be paying attention. “You know the drill.” And Emma was down (on her pillow), and out.

-wf

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