“Just One More Thing” (Second Place Winner, Summer Fiction Contest, Connecticut Muse Magazine, 2007)

“Both cops looked to be a few years younger than Susan, maybe in their mid-thirties.  They stood on her doorstep.  The taller one asked if her husband was home and when she said no, he produced a search warrant and asked if they could come in.  “Of course,” she answered.

They were big men and filled up her large entry hall with its marble floors and sweeping staircase.  Officer Landers spoke the most.  He had an open Irish face with ginger-colored hair and china blue eyes.  His cheeks looked ruddy and chapped.

Officer Domenici was dark, muscular, and quiet.  He smiled a lot, peering through wire-rim glasses.  Like Officer Landers he had an affable expression, but there was a watchfulness that made Susan nervous.  When he smiled, his teeth looked crowded together.

 

Officer Landers explained why they were there.  A drug ring was busted up in Queens the night before.  Someone had given the name of her husband as an accomplice.  The selling of marijuana, especially in large quantities, was a federal offense.  They needed to search the house.  Nothing was required of her.  She could go about her business.  Did she know where her husband was?  She didn’t, Susan told them truthfully.  Saturdays Roger went off for hours, to do errands, and never answered his cell phone.

 

She knew she should have acted surprised, even shocked, over this whole thing and wondered if the cops noted her absence of emotion.  Roger had been dealing for a while now.  One day, about six months ago, she was in the laundry room when she noticed tiny wheels under the clothes dryer.  Pulling it from the wall, she found a red pull cord in one of the floorboards.  When the board gave way, there was a hole underneath containing many large bags of pot.  For days she pondered whether to mention this to Roger, but decided to keep the secret tucked away for now.  It might come in handy later.  The policemen gave her two papers to sign, signaling her consent. 

 

“Where’s your attic,” Mrs. James?” Officer Landers inquired.

 

“Second floor, to the right.  Just pull the cord.”

 

They both said thank you and trudged up her stairs.  When she heard the squeal of steps being lowered, she turned to a nearby brass mirror.  For some reason, she wanted to check her appearance.  Unfortunately, she didn’t like what she saw. Her thick, dirty blond hair looked raw and blunt from a recent cut.  She tugged hard on her bangs to make them seem longer.  Her usual uniform of soft pants and top looked matronly and unappealing.

 

At least her large Westchester home was immaculate, as usual.  All rooms done in tasteful earth tones of green, brown and maroon.  There was nothing garish, nothing to distract the eye.  She sat on the sofa in the family room, flicking on the television.  It was 3:25 p.m. in the afternoon and there was nothing on except old movies, sports, and the cable news channels, all of which she detested.  She decided to fold clothes.

 

Climbing the stairs, she walked down the hall, edging carefully around the attic steps hanging from the ceiling.  When she entered the nursery, she gazed around.  One year ago, she’d stood on a stepstool, applying the border of yellow ducks circling the ceiling.  The curtains were yellow, a sunny gingham.  There was a picture of Mother Goose on the baby’s quilt.

 

She was halfway through the first basket when she heard the men trudge heavily down, the squeal of steps being lifted back into the ceiling.  She knew they would most likely be in the nursery next since it was first in the line of four bedrooms.  Sure enough, she was right.

 

“I’m sorry,” Susan said, as the men entered.  She started to pick up the laundry basket.  “Am I in your way?”

 

“No,” said Officer Landers as he took in the room.  “You’re fine.  How old is the baby?”

 

Susan looked at him a second and then back down at the basket.  “I don’t have a baby.”

 

“Pregnant?”

 

“No.”  She shook her head.  “I had a miscarriage a year back and never got around to taking things apart.”

 

The men cast their eyes down and began to poke around the room, which only consisted of the crib, rocking chair, and chest of drawers which she happened to be folding towels on.

 

“May we?” Officer Domenici asked, indicating the bureau.

 

She stepped aside while they pulled out drawers which were empty.  She’d gotten rid of the baby clothes right away.  Everyone had warned her, five months was too early to start buying that stuff.  You never know, best to wait.  She just never thought she’d lose her, a girl it turned out.  She thought they were being too cautious, till she woke that morning with blood on her sheets

 

Satisfied, the officers left and moved onto the other bedroom.  It occurred to Susan as she folded a washcloth in half and then quarters, it had been awhile since anyone was in her house.  She kept to herself after losing the baby.  She was fearful of gossip, what people might say.  Roger had explained, patiently at first, that her thinking was ridiculous.  People were sympathetic.  They cared.  She should get out.  Lately he’d begun to raise his voice, one time yelling at her to snap out of it.  She burst into tears.  She didn’t know how.

 

A car pulled into the driveway next door and Susan edged to the window and peered out.  Becky Hamilton, her neighbor, emerged from a green Range Rover, retrieving two grocery bags from the trunk.  Becky and her husband Jeff had moved from Ohio last year.  Both had that earnest cheerfulness of Midwesterners that got on Susan’s nerves.  When they invited her and Roger over for a barbecue a few months back, Susan had begged Roger not to go.  She couldn’t stand the social pressure of having to smile and feign interest in people.  He begged and cajoled till she relented and found the Hamilton’s as expected.  They were politically conservative, good Christians, and loved football.  She had nothing in common.

 

One thing did interest her, however, and that was Roger’s reaction to Becky.  Sometimes people reminded Susan of animals and Becky looked like one of those adorable Disney mice with her button nose, honey-colored hair and large brown eyes.  She smelled of lavender.  Becky’s eyes and her husband’s seemed to find each other a lot over dinner, locking together like two magnets and then quickly pulling away.  Susan pretended not to notice.

 

She heard the cops move downstairs to the first floor and pondered what room they’d check first.  She wondered if they’d find it odd she didn’t fold clothes in the laundry room, but doubted they’d ask.  They probably assumed she wanted to be close to her dead baby.  Truth be known, it started out for that reason, but she soon found it easier to keep tabs on Becky, whose comings and goings, especially on Saturdays, correlated closely to her husband’s.  Usually Roger came home exactly twenty five minutes after Becky, but today of course, Roger would keep going at the sight of a police cruiser in his driveway.

 

Done folding, Susan sat in the rocking chair, moving back and forth, back and forth like a metronome.  She gazed at the elm tree outside.  A robin had built a nest and she loved watching the animal perched so resolutely, even regally, atop her little home, babies tucked underneath.  Susan often wondered why she couldn’t keep her own baby safe.  What had she done wrong?  Ironically, last week when she happened to see Becky stroll back from her mailbox, Susan could’ve sworn Becky had a little belly.

 

“Mrs. James?”  Officer Landers called from downstairs.  Susan bolted upright.  Rocking always put her in a sleepy, dreamy state.  She had no idea how long she’d dozed.  Hurrying to the top of the stairs, she found both men looking up at her.  Each wore a tired, dejected look.

 

“All set,” said Officer Landers.  “We still want to talk to your husband.”

 

Susan nodded and watched the men let themselves out.  She thought of Roger and how sometimes he came home on Saturdays smelling faintly of lavender.  For the first time in a year, she had a clear sense of what she wanted to do.

“Wait!” she called out.

The men turned to her in surprise.

 

“Just one more thing.”

 

 

 

 

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