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There is a pale rectangle of light at the top of the stairs. It must be filtering through the dining room window. Morning. There is a shape there. A silhouette. Jean? Fredrik is suddenly hopeful. She has heard him. She’s good in a crisis. He’s seen that with the grandchildren. Emily fell off the swing last summer and it was Jean who rushed to her side. It was Jean who stopped the bleeding and offered words of comfort. He imagines her here with him, taking control of the situation and setting things in motion to help him. But it’s not Jean at the top of the stairs. It’s Snowflake. In his wildly altered state Fredrik wonders if there is some way the cat can help him. Snowflake disappears and Fredrik closes his eyes.
Jean plods noiselessly down the hall, comforted by the closeness of the wall on either side of her, still in almost darkness. She wonders why the kitchen light isn’t on. Fredrik is usually at the table poring over the newspaper when she gets up, a pair of glasses perched on his nose, the other two pairs on the table where he left them.
Part-way down the hall she notices that the door to the basement is open. She blames Snowflake, who has a habit of pushing the door open and going downstairs to sit and stare at the wall. Jean suspects there is a mouse living down there. Jean refuses to consider the possibility that she forgot to close the door on her way to bed last night. She leans into the opening and pulls the door shut.
When she arrives in the kitchen, it is empty. She thinks for an instant that maybe Fredrik has left her, but it is a fleeting thought. Neither one of them would so carelessly destroy what they have together. She turns on the light and picks up Fredrik’s glasses, polishing the lenses with the sleeve of her robe. Snowflake jumps onto the kitchen table and Jean sees the cat’s mouth opening and closing, the quick pink tongue, the pointed teeth.
“What are you complaining about?” she says. “Just because I can’t hear you doesn’t mean I don’t know you’re meowing. But don’t worry, I’ll be able to hear you again soon, once I get a hearing aid.”
She sits down heavily, suddenly overwhelmed by guilt and sadness. She and Fredrik don’t have time to argue.
“I shouldn’t have gotten so out of sorts with Fredrik. He only wants the best for me.” She sighs. “Funny how you can be so angry with someone and then the anger just disappears.”
Jean reaches for another pair of Fredrik’s glasses and cleans them the same way.
“They say you’re not supposed to go to bed angry, but sometimes sleeping on it makes all the difference.”
Snowflake rubs against the arms of the glasses as Jean cleans them.
“Where is he anyway?”
Jean scans the kitchen and sees the coffee maker, then remembers that they are out of coffee. She forgot to add it to the list before they went to the grocery store. Fredrik must have gone to the convenience store. It’s a short walk and it’s not uncommon for him to disappear first thing in the morning. He likes to be out when the streets are empty. It might be good for him to get some air, especially if he is still angry. This worries her, but only a little.
Jean picks up a pencil and begins a crossword puzzle. “Have to stay sharp, Snowflake, I’ve always been sharp, you know.”
Snowflake brushes against the pencil and flops down on top of the newspaper. Stray white hairs drift onto the newsprint. Jean eases the cat to one side so she can see better. She looks forward to Fredrik’s return. He will bustle about the kitchen and make coffee for them. And he will be so pleased that she is ready to discuss a hearing aid, and perhaps some other tests. She knows that whatever is troubling her, she won’t have to confront it alone.