When she opened the door that morning, there they were again as they’d always been: two men standing on the porch. Black coats. Black pants. White shirts. Neckties. All smiles.
“G’mornin’, ma’am!” said the first one. The second one never said anything.
She slammed the door and with flustered rage retreated into the kitchen, finding herself once again unable to go on with her day. In truth, there was absolutely nothing stopping her. The sun was bright and the breeze was cool. The keys lay on the table and the car was perfectly functional. The children were still asleep. But those men. Yet even they wouldn’t motion to stop her from heading out if she tried. In fact, they offered no interference of any kind. They only offered greetings.
She halted before the sink and grabbed a dirty plate, scrubbing tetchily. When she finished with one she snatched another and cut the grease down to the ceramic bone. She clenched her teeth.
What are they doing here, she thought. Again!
She slammed the dish into the sink and turned away. She heaved a sigh and coughed up a curse. She stomped out of the kitchen.
Through the narrow keyhole she could see the black sleeve of his coat. Their muffled mutters shot icy chills of raging fire down her spine. She threw herself back and walked away.
The boy came trudging out of his room. He had dressed himself in mismatched shoes and an inside-out shirt. “Mommy, can I go outside?”
“Not today, darling,” she said, looking over her shoulder and biting a nail.
“Mommy, how come?”
“Because, baby. Because. Go to your room.”
“I don’t wanna, Mommy. Can I go outside?”
“Go to your room, baby. Go to your room.”
She couldn’t find the baking soda.
She had searched everywhere—in the kitchen, in the cabinets, in the closets, behind the doors, under the sinks, under the couches. But it was nowhere to be found. She marched back to the kitchen and slammed her open palms against the counter.
Am I really going to get dressed, pack up the kids, head out to the car, drive to the grocery store, and pick up another box? she thought. And when the repressed elephantine thought had swelled too large for her subconscious to hold, it flooded her mind and she added: And have to see them?!
She turned to the table and counted up all of the ingredients. Every item was present and proportioned exactly as it needed to be. But there wouldn’t be a meal without the baking soda.
She cringed as his distant hearty chuckle scraped the marrow of her bones. They were both still out there.
With one swift motion she swept the ingredients clear off the table.
Today she would do it. She opened the door to a beautiful sunny day.
“Top o’ the mornin’, ma’am. Headin’ out?”
Her body shifted forward but her feet remained glued to the floor.
“It’s a lovely day to be headin’ out, that’s for sure.”
She finally managed to lift her forefoot. And take a step back.
“Where ya off to, ma’am?”
She closed the door and stood there.
The girl had been crying all morning. The boy stared at his sister, awed and confused.
The girl’s incessant blubbering rattled her last nerve. She crossed her arms, pressing them against herself, and tucked her head down. If it had been any other motion, it would’ve been an outburst.
“Stop it,” she muttered. The girl was unabashed; she screamed louder than ever.
“Shut! UP!” Her crossed arms flung open and her tucked head sprang forward. Her eyes bulged. The girl stopped crying. The boy stared at her, awed and confused.
I have to get out of here, she thought.
The first one didn’t miss a beat. The second was tapping his broken wristwatch.
“Happy morning, ma’am! How are ya doin’ today?”
For the first time ever, she decided to speak to them. “Would you guys mind leaving, please?” she said.
The second looked up. They stared at her for a moment, puzzled. “I beg your pardon?”
“Would you mind leaving? Getting off of my porch?”
They stared on, eyes squinted, heads jerked awry. “Getting off of your porch?”
“What do you mean?”
“What do I mean?” she burst. “I mean, why don’t you two get the hell off of my porch!”
They turned to each other for further explanation, and then turned back to her. “Ma’am, I’m afraid I don’t understand. Are you saying you want us to go away?”
“Go away. Yes, go away.”
“You want us to go away.”
“Yes! Yes, I want you to go away.”
He paused, immersed in thought. And then he smiled. “But where will we go?”
She slammed the door and screamed.
She straightened up, putting on a face of defiant authority. She gripped her purse. She drew a breath. She opened the door.
“Howdy there, ma’am! Happy morning.”
She didn’t respond. She stared deep into his smiling eyes. The second was lighting a cigarette.
“Heading off this morning, ma’am?”
“Yes I am,” she said.
“Very good! Have a wonderful time.”
She didn’t respond. She didn’t move.
“Where ya off to, ma’am?”
Her back drew straighter, her glare more daring. “I want you both to leave this place.”
With squinted eyes and heads askew, he said “Leave, ma’am?”
“I want you two to leave,” she said with finality. “You’ve been here long enough. Now go away from here.”
They stood eyeing each other, their stances firm. She with decisive conviction and they with topsy-turvy puzzlement.
“Children?” she called into the house. “Come along, darlings. We’re heading out.” The children’s tiny shuffles was heard from within.
“You’re taking along the children!” he exclaimed.
Her response was blazing. “It is no god-damned business of yours to ask about my children.”
What he said next was delivered with critical confidence. “Are you sure that that’s a good idea, ma’am?”
The children appeared at the doorway, standing by her side. She fixed her eyes on the two men, but suddenly her fire was gone. Her stance slackened. Her lips drooped. Her purse dropped to her side.
“Have a wonderful time,” he said.
She shuffled back into the doorway, almost collapsing, and closed the door.