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Different Than Any Day So Far by Marc Phillips

 

Marc Phillips won the 2004 Fish Short Story Prize with “The Mountains of Mars”, and was named a Notable Writer of the Year (2004). He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and inclusion in Best American Short Stories anthologies. In 2007, his “Caye Caulker Tides” appeared in the Crime Writers Association Knife Award anthology. He regularly publishes fiction, poetry, articles and essays in the US and abroad.

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Sometimes, I’ll put down the window as I drive to the shops and force as much wind into me as I can, until it burns my nose and puffs out my cheeks like I have a mouthful of marbles. They say I’ll get a chill soon and it won’t go away. But it hasn’t happened yet. My big coat works fine. I’ll stand the autumn breeze as long as anybody, then the heater inside has me shed down to a jumper in a second.

Vern let me drive after a while. He reckoned he’d been here long enough that I was as guilty as him. That would keep me from saying anything, he said, and he nodded, agreeing with his own logic there. In reality, it wasn’t like that anymore, between us. It hadn’t been for some time and I wanted to point that out to him. But I thought it better that such a thing settled in on him. He doesn’t like it when he thinks I’m convincing him of anything.

It’s been something like two months since I took Vern in. More. It doesn’t seem that long. He stopped ordering me around—announced that he’d stopped, anyway—after the second week. He asked if I believed him. I told him I didn’t know him well enough to doubt him. As always, time told. He did stop. Things were more exciting around here when he spouted orders. We became domestic after that.

I wouldn’t have believed I’d lament another domestic situation. Had anybody asked me, I would’ve said that’s what I longed for. But this staring at the television, sharing chores that could wait or go undone altogether, and deliberating over the next meal as soon as the dishes were done—it was tiresome from the moment it began. The highlight of an evening might be a dusty old jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. The bookshop in town keeps second-hand puzzles, swaps them out for no charge. I wish I had not told Vern that. And there were always the Sunday crosswords. A new one only five days away. Four. Three. There was so much potential, so much excitement; now, this.

I was having a late dinner that night. It took me a year, you know, getting all my recipes pared down to where they would feed one person and not leave a mound of leftovers. I don’t eat at the table. Tonight it was meatloaf on my lap. I was watching that quiz show where you get kicked off, one at a time, if you’re stupider than the rest. Vern came in the front door during an advert, heaving, all rabbit-eyed. He needed me to be as scared as him. I think he was ashamed, or tired and not thinking clearly, jerking his head around and having a look at the place. He wanted to know if I was alone. I told him he’s the first to walk through that door in weeks. A kid named Kent delivered my shopping, but even he wouldn’t come all the way inside.

Then Vern told me not to scream. An afterthought; he should’ve said that first. He was lucky. I had no intention of screaming. My throat hurt, and nobody lives within earshot anyway. He asked outright if I was scared. I stood, put my plate in the rocking chair and told him I could be, a bit, but I didn’t really know him well enough to be scared of him yet. That’s when he hit me. I didn’t cry out. Dale used to hit me much harder than Vern dared to. And Dale knew to hit me in the stomach where it wouldn’t raise questions.

Vern waited to see if his little slap did the trick. It can mean several things when a woman gets hit. Her man is drunk. Maybe he’s jealous, or he’s just mean, like Dale. So I told Vern I had to think about it, whether I was more scared or surprised. Then he tossed me about, tore my nightie. All I could think was that the sofa was moving in the ruckus and it hit the end table with my good lamp on it. Mother gave me that lamp, had it shipped back from Spain. I let out a gasp when I pictured the stained glass shade shattering on the floor. I think I said “oh, no” and Vern stopped. Satisfied.

Men. If I could gather them all and tell them one thing, one thing they’d listen to, I would explain the difference between hopes and expectations. You’re all so used to getting what you expect. You say you hope this, you want that. But what you feel is a kind of entitlement. That makes it an expectation. Women hope. Some of us. We are the ones you like, because we don’t feel safe expecting what we hope for. Does this ring true? I never know who I’m talking to anymore.

I asked Vern if he intended to rape me. I asked because I had nothing worth robbing and this was plainly evident from the road, even in the moonlight. It’s Darwinian out there. I own neither a lawn mower, hedge clippers, nor a fence. Vern said no, he just needed a place to sleep. He’d take my car and leave tomorrow night. He asked for the keys and I obliged. I told him I had AIDS, and the clutch was about to go on the car. He scoffed and said it wasn’t the first time he’d heard that one. I wondered which part he meant.

When I told Dale I was sick, he said he always knew I couldn’t keep my knickers up. Dale left me a week later. Moved in with a woman who drives an Express Parcel van. I’ve never seen a naked man besides Dale. When he last phoned, asking if any post was still coming for him, I told him it was really hard to get the Ford into reverse. It seemed like it was in gear, but it wasn’t. He said it was the clutch.

Vern asked me that first night to show him where all the phones were. He unplugged both of them and kept them beside the chair where he eventually went to sleep. I told him to take the sofa, I would find him a blanket. He said no, and he moved Dale’s reclining chair to block the front door, then plopped down in it. I looked at the back door. Nothing at all in front of it. Before he dozed, Vern told me he wouldn’t tie me up. I said that was probably best. I have a small bladder. But, he said, he didn’t much mind killing me if I did anything stupid. Anything? Like keeping my doors unlocked? Or like sleeping with Dale when I could smell somebody else’s perfume on him?

I offered Vern my meatloaf that night. His eyes flickered open and, in a voice slurred with exhaustion, he said he couldn’t eat. Neither could I. Something had chased the appetite from my belly. He fell fast asleep and left me thinking. I stared straight at the bridge of his nose. I thought, you—you will not make a victim of me. He had a nice nose. I’ll always think of his face the way it was that night. If nothing else, violently alive, even in sleep. I wondered what he might like for breakfast.

As Vern snored and twitched, the news interrupted the end of my quiz show with a flash about the prison escape, so I didn’t get to see who won the prize. Evidently, three inmates got out, and two were in custody. A description and black and white headshot of Vernon Stanmore popped up on the screen. It wasn’t a good likeness. He had that going for him. I couldn’t have picked him out in a crowd. The presenter advised all of us living close to the prison to lock our doors, something I would not have done anyway.

Afterward, no channel wanted to air anything besides the fugitive story. Helicopters and spotlights. I could hear them outside occasionally. I only get three local channels. Two when there’s weather. It was a little stormy that night.

I switched off the telly and turned my thoughts to Dale’s Express driver. I wondered if she had a good pension scheme and how close she might be to retirement. I worked for the same insurers twenty-two years and thought I had the best plan going, but it seems pathetic now. I took early retirement, and I can’t afford the homeopathic remedies, the ones they say work to put you at ease. That sounds pleasant, though I don’t think I’m ill at ease or in a state over my condition very much of the time.

I can’t afford marijuana. They say that does something. But, I don’t want for much else. I want Dale to get around to divorcing me. I don’t have the patience for it, certainly not the money. The only thing worse than being legally tethered to Dale Bells is the thought of continuing to answer to Emmylou Bells. Somebody told me I could move to the southern US with my name, maybe Alabama, and be right at home. Mainly it was on my bills where I noticed it. Nobody had called me by name in a while.

My fugitive in the chair suddenly looked uncomfortable. He fled in his dreams. He wore a prison outfit with a number stencilled on it, unflattering and smelly. Maybe there was a purpose in keeping Dale’s clothes after all. When I was boxing things up in our flat, I thought I could make a nice quilt of the worn denim, wear his shirts as I tended my garden. Such a garden I would have, with all this spare time. Cabbage and lettuce galore. Some carrots and radishes, onions and garlic. Berries ringing the whole thing. Herbs, probably in a container. But there is no such thing as spare time. It’s not something we can spare. I studied Mr. Stanmore. Dale’s clothes would fit him.

Tomorrow, I thought, will be different than any day so far. And that was very good. This is the gift of terminal illness; the removal of guilt for thoughts like that. For flippancy. For anything, really. I didn’t much mind killing Vern either, whether he did anything I considered stupid or not. Here were two people, neither caring in the least if the other died. There’s a degree of stability in that, a foundation for something.

Once Vern got settled in, I would teach him to hope, something you can still do in the face of slim odds. That would be the next week, after it was clear I wasn’t his victim. Stop expecting it all to work out in the end, I’d tell him. Also, he needed better dialogue if he wanted to inspire fear. I had some books I could loan him. His face might be too kind to pull it off, though. Somebody needed to teach him real hardness if he intended to keep it up.

I wondered if he minded being called Vern. I never liked the name Vernon. I would find out tomorrow. He could call me Emmy, like my brother used to.

The night he came was, let’s see, last week of September or so. I could still walk around the house in shirtsleeves, so it wasn’t October. A few days ago, I asked Vern (he doesn’t mind that name, says it sounds sweet when I say it) wouldn’t he like a Christmas tree? He didn’t look Jewish, but I could pick up some candles too, I said. We made a point, maybe a little game, of not asking questions unless we had to. Living in the day, he said. Yes, I agreed, living in the day. But that day we faltered.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked me.

“Because Christmas is just around the corner. I like the smell of a tree, even if there’s nothing under it.”

“Keeping me, Emmy. Why do you let me stay here?”

“You broke into my house. Don’t start with the questions. You’re the neediest fugitive I’ve ever known.” I should’ve just gone and come back with a tree.

“Whatever,” he told me, and looked like he was going to pout. He does that. “You’re out of the shortbread I like. Are you going shopping?”

Obviously Kent couldn’t come by with my shopping anymore. That was a welcomed inconvenience. I hate that kid. And the driving does me good, I’m convinced.

“Yes. And I’ll get us a tree,” I told him. He started toward the back garden. He had cleared it for me and sat there now in the afternoons, working his way through my old magazines. I said, “Vern?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t be sulky over Christmas.”

“I’ll do my best. I miss walking around. I want to do things. Help out. Will you go to the chemist this time?”

“No.”

I watched Vern walk away. I knew he wanted to paint the house. It’s a beautiful little house, but it did need painting. I had started looking at the place from the road since I was driving again and mainly I thought, our flat bought all this. I used to think those words from inside my new house, but it was different. Standing at the window, seeing everything that needed to be done, I thought, this is all our flat bought. I tried to be grateful then that Dale at least left me the flat to sell. Whereas now, I was truly grateful he simply left.

Vern couldn’t paint my house. He couldn’t fix anything visible from the road. Most of the people in town have seen me at my worst. They would know it wasn’t me doing the work. Any of them who paid attention knew I couldn’t afford a handyman.

Vern was all I could think about as I drove to town the next day. He’s not more needy than he is caring. He is more clever than stupid, but there’s no telling which of those he’ll listen to at any given time. He’s accepted the fact that I don’t take the HIV medication from the chemist, but he doesn’t like it. We’ve had our philosophical arguments. I read him the literature on the drugs, where it implicitly states its mission to “retard the progression” of my condition. No hint of wellness as a goal. I told him that’s no reason to take drugs. He denounced me as a coward. I called him a despicable thief, and not a very good one. We were both right.

He’s seen me dizzy, tired for no reason, vomiting hard enough to steal my breath away, and feverish for days on end. I learned to tell the difference from his tone in the two ways he had of asking if I needed help. It’s good to understand things like that. He made me feel 100 years wise sometimes.

We didn’t kiss. I don’t know if the sickness was the only reason. It wasn’t a thing between us, though. Sex. I couldn’t sustain the desire and his equipment got smashed in prison. They didn’t fix it right, he said. I heard him cursing his body in the bathroom some mornings, bending to wipe up after himself. Then I would see him have a fit over a boiled egg that wouldn’t peel properly and it reminded me how young he was, how that kind of damage must torment him.

I never asked him to kiss me because I didn’t want to make him say no, but he gave the most gorgeous backrubs. I wondered would those stop when I got lesions. We stopped talking about that early on—the point when he would become irksome to me and I would become disgusting to him. It only led to arguments. Then he began asking about the chemist. It made me wonder what was on his mind.

The narrow roads hereabout incessantly wind between bald green hills. There are no direct bits. Though you pass a paper’s thickness from other cars, you have to keep your eyes straight ahead, lest you plough a cyclist or some wandering livestock round the bend. At the edge of town that day, I remember thinking, nobody here ever waved to me. There were no bicycles or livestock in the shops, but the same rules seemed to apply to the aisles. Eyes straight ahead, no comment necessary. In town, I generally speak to only one person. His name is Michael. He runs the greengrocers.

Michael said, “Your appetite’s back, Mrs. B. Good sign, that.”

“Craving shortbread and hotdogs. Maybe I’m pregnant.” He didn’t get it. I said, “Looks like a cold snap moving in, don’t you think?”

“Not especially.” He had onions to stack.

The car park across the street from the grocer was cordoned off in one corner, had evergreen trees lined up in rows and a man stood there wearing an apron and gloves, puffing out frosty breath and stomping his feet. I had Michael put the sacks in my back seat, then walked over to see the man about a tree. I wanted a fir. He had only monstrous firs, firs that would hold a tire swing and a tree-house.

“Got just the tree for you. A good Scots pine.” He pointed to a hedge, murdered in its adolescence. It was straight, though, and a perfect shape. “Fit right on your roof there. And your Scots pine will go through to next Christmas and never lose a needle.”

Not that it wasn’t a good choice for me. No conspicuous space at the bottom where gifts would be missed. It could be decorated in ten minutes. And, I might carry this tree alone. People would believe I could, anyway. She was a pert little thing. She was a she, and she was growing on me. Regardless, I couldn’t tarry. Vern got anxious. I paid the man and he strapped her on.

On the way back home, the corner of my mouth was burning. I tried licking it and it didn’t help. Whilst checking in the rear-view mirror for the beginnings of a cold sore, I rounded a corner and almost bowled into a lump of sheep. I put two wheels in the ditch without thinking and very nearly didn’t get them back onto the road. I felt a jolt and heard some thumps under the car. I heard a man yelling behind me and thought of a few words to yell back, had I the strength. The remainder of the drive, I wondered if Vern knew anything about cars. I’m relegated to the banger Dale left, a white Cortina that made enough strange noises on its own, without me swerving off-road during moments of senseless vanity. I needed this thing to last a while longer.

Vern said, “Yeah, all convicts can fix stuff. Pull in round the back where I can get the shopping out and I’ll have a look.”

He did. Laid on his back, he slid underneath the car and reported straight away there was a sheep grated-up and stuck in what he called the thingy between the wheel and this other thingy. He was shocked I didn’t notice the car pulling.

“It always pulled,” I told him.

“Whose sheep is it?”

I didn’t get a chance to answer. The siren coming down the road had him off the ground and me in a dither in the same instant. I was glad the ice cream was already in the freezer—the extent of my critical thinking, never mind it was near freezing where I stood. Vern bolted inside.

When my head cleared, I considered one way to go was to have Vern standing here beside me when the police pulled up. Tell them he was my cousin from—where? Somewhere. I seriously doubted they would still be looking for Vernon Stanmore around here, and doubted they would recognize him even so. We had dyed his hair and moustache black. My cooking had filled out his cheeks and his waistline since the night he showed up. Chances are, there wouldn’t have been a suspicious thing about him, unless they found him in a wardrobe. It was too late to say all that now, though. Here came the blue lights.

Two officers got out of the car and walked toward me. I recognised one. Having no luck finding the third escaped convict on the night of the prison break, they’d come round house to house two days after. Handing out fliers, asking questions. The fliers had the same photo of Vern they had shown on the news. I still didn’t think it looked much like him, but Vern did answer to the name. That morning, I told this particular officer that I’d seen nobody who looked like the picture. He didn’t ask if there was a man in my house answering to the name.

This day, he said, “Mrs. Bells.”

“Yes?”

“A sheep was hit up the road. The owner described a car like yours. Your number plate, evidently.”

“That’s because I hit it. It’s under there.” I pointed.

“You didn’t stop.”

“Didn’t know I hit it.”

“Mr. Stewart says it was not in the road.”

“I think he’s right. Is he the shepherd? Do you call them shepherds? I swerved into the ditch to miss the rest of his flock.”

The other policeman was down on his knees now, peering under my car.

“That being the case,” said this one in front of me, “can you pay for the animal?”

“Probably not. I don’t know how much a sheep costs. I know I couldn’t afford that much mutton. I can pay him a little each month, as my pension cheque comes in.”

“Pensioner, then,” says the other one, dusting off his knees. He repeated it like it settled some bet at the pub. “Yep, it’s a sheep under there. Most of one.” Then he said, “Wouldn’t have guessed you were a pensioner. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just that you’re young.”

He must’ve lost the bet.

I said, “You’re so kind. Would you like to go out sometime, maybe dinner? Fever’s let up and I haven’t had a spell lately.”

“Can’t, no. Thank you.”

“Suit yourself.”

The other one said, “I don’t see any need for formal charges. Mr. Stewart says it wasn’t a special sheep.” He scribbled something on his flip pad and tore out the page, handed it to me. “Call him up. Nice enough fella. Tell him you’ll make good. Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

They were gone. I fainted in the driveway. Can’t say I wasn’t warned about this fainting. It’s still frightening, though. I awoke inside. Vern apologized over and over, wiping my face and covering me with my gran’s quilts until I couldn’t move under the weight.

“What, Vern? What?”

“I had to leave you out there a whole twenty minutes.” He was nearly crying. “Could hardly stand it, Emmy, but the police car was sat in the road for bleedin’ ages. I thought they’d set up camp. I couldn’t come out to get you. I couldn’t. I’m sorry.”

“It’s just a little swoon, Vern. Not a big deal. Low blood sugar, low blood pressure, something like that. It’ll happen. I’m alright.”

“Not really. You’ve hit your head back here. Does it hurt? Take these aspirin.”

I felt around until I found the spot. “No. It’s only a bump.”

“You could use a good shampoo and maybe a haircut. Can I do that for you? A nice hot salt bath for your feet, huh?”

“My hair?”

“That’s what I done inside, Emmy. Got no experience at all with sheep crammed up under cars, but I cut hair for years. I’m a pretty good barber.”

He stood in front of me, smiling slightly, turning his head this way and that. He’d cut his own hair while I was gone. It looked alright. Something else looked different about him, but it wouldn’t come clear to me what it was. He looked quite nice.

“I’ll let you cut my hair. I need to get the tree off my car first.”

“Let me do it.”

“No. Stay inside. I don’t want to risk it now.”

I had the tree in the corner near the telly. Broke some limbs off her because I had to drag her a bit, but I turned that side toward the wall. I stood there trying to remember where my decorations were. Vern came up behind me with a sheet and a pair of scissors, my sewing scissors.

“Okay, the tree’s in. Now have a seat and let’s get on with your hair. I’ll make up a pan of salts.”

“You shouldn’t have your hands in my hair if I’m bleeding, Vern.” I felt the bump on my head again and looked at my hand.

“You only bled a drop. I cleaned it up. No worries. Sit yourself down.”

I did. “Where did you find those clothes? I haven’t seen them in years.”

He wore what Dale used to wear to church, when we used to go. A deep green jumper over a white oxford shirt, charcoal trousers cuffed at the bottom.

“In the utility room, under your sewing kit,” he said. “Should I take ‘em off?”

“No. They’re fine. Got nothing else to do with the stuff.” Then, “That didn’t come out like I planned. I’m glad you found them. They look—You look nice. The boots fit too?”

“They’re big. Not too big. I got on two socks.”

He disappeared into the kitchen and returned minutes later with one of my pans, steaming with water. I smelled the salt as he bent and placed it at my feet. He untied my trainers, rolled up my jeans, and eased my feet in.

“Too hot?”

“Just perfect.”

Then he stood behind me, draped the sheet around my neck, and ran both his hands through my hair, slowly, stopping to work out any tangles. The light pressure on my scalp gave me goose bumps. I looked up and saw he had the scissors in his teeth. He winked at me.

“Head forward,” he said, around the scissors.

Then he massaged my temples, around my ears. I had forgotten touch like that. I never want to forget it again. I dozed off to the squeak-chirp of the scissors, the gentle tug as he took hair between his fingers and straightened it. I woke several times to his chuckling. He would take my forehead in his palm and raise my head when it nodded. I listened to the ticking of the wall clock and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

“I think they’re under my bed,” I mumbled.

“What?”

“The Christmas tree ornaments. I know they are. You know what else is there?”

“No. What else?”

He was in front of me now, straddling my knees, working on my fringe. My eyes were closed, but I could still see that green jumper and his black moustache above it.

“Some paintings. Art from my old flat. Dale bought them, or traded for them. I never much cared for paintings, but I know the frames are good ones.”

“I peeled some potatoes while you were gone, and put a roast in. We’ll eat, then you have a nap. I’ll hang your pictures tonight.”

“That’s sweet. I don’t want to hang them, though. That’s why they’re under the bed. There’s a little art shop in town. I bet I could get a hundred pounds for the frames alone. Who knows, maybe Dale had an eye for art.”

“Wouldn’t that be something. Fine art under your bed.”

“And I’m quite certain I have too many Christmas baubles, seven times over. Now would be the time to sell those, maybe in the car park beside the tree man. He might buy them. We’ll put my favourite ones on her and take the rest to town.”

“Her?”

“Our tree.”

“You’ll take the rest to town, you mean. Here.” I opened my eyes and he handed me a mirror. “What do you think?”

“It’s superb. Thank you, sir.” I wanted to stand up and hug him, but my feet were in a pan. “We can take a trip, and there’s no reason on Earth you can’t go. Nobody will recognise you, Vern. I’ll think of something else to call you. How’s Bill?”

He went to the bathroom and came back with a towel. He lifted my feet, one at a time, and dried them, then he took the pan into the kitchen.

“Maybe not Bill. I have a number for this herbalist in Edinburgh,” I said, standing to brush the hair off. When Vern came back into the sitting room, he had a broom. “I want to sell all this junk of Dale’s, everything you can’t use. Some other stuff too. I have too much. I want to see what those herb remedies do. We’ll have enough for a nice hotel. What’s marijuana like?”

“I’ve never smoked weed, Emmy.” He put my chair back where it went and swept the rug. “You want a shower?”

“No, damn it. I want to smoke marijuana. I want a nice hotel in Edinburgh, and a good meal. Let’s get all the junk piled in the sitting room and see what we’ve got to work with. I’m up for another trip to town, if the car will make it.”

“You don’t want the roast and potatoes?”

“You’re not listening, Vern. We can go! We can. I’ll call you Matthew. You look like a Matthew now.”

“I’ve already peeled all your potatoes.” He walked away with the broom. From the utility room, he said, “You can go, Emmy. It’s a fine idea.”

“What?”

He walked back to me with a slack pace, but his jaw was set. It took him a moment to find my eyes.

Finally, he said, “I’ve been in three prisons since I was eighteen. This is number four. It’s the nicest prison yet, for a fact. But it’s still prison, Emmy.”

He let that fall on me and didn’t promise with a look or a gesture that he’d offer any help handling it.

“Stop it, Vern.”

“Were you thinking I would stay with you forever?”

“No. Yes. You’ll get caught.”

“Maybe. I will go by Matthew. I’ll get as far as I can.”

“Don’t take my car. Please.” I say things like that sometimes and I know, as they are coming from my mouth, that I will cry over them later.

“I wouldn’t. I’ll get that sheep out of it, though.”

He did. He changed into a set of Dale’s threadbare overalls and worked out there for the better part of an hour. Said he buried it so it wouldn’t smell. All that time, I sat in my rocking chair and held the green jumper in my lap until he’d showered and came to put it on again. By that time it was getting dark.

Vernon Stanmore came in through my front door, and Matthew Something left through my back door, but he was the same person. It’s either very unlucky to do that, or it’s very unlucky to do it any other way. Someone told me that once.

For three days, I walked the path he had taken through the field behind my house, keeping the grass and weeds trodden down for some reason. I walked until I grew tired, then I sat a while. I got up and walked farther, until I could hardly see my house. I made my way back and watched his path until it became insufferably cold in the evening, no matter what I draped over myself. I skipped the fourth day because I couldn’t get out of bed. I think it was the onset of a cold.

I forced my way to the porch on the fifth day and my heart started racing. I could make out only the faintest notion of the path, broken in places, and the toughest weeds were straightening even as I stared at them. I took off as fast as I could move, coughing, dragging my feet to lay the grass down hard. I had to stop and find where I thought the path went a couple of times, and to catch my breath. Shortly after I remembered I was wearing only a dressing gown and slippers, I fainted. I woke up no more than three hundred feet from my back door. My fingernails were blue. There was my own path leading back to the porch, and nothing but a winter field in all other directions.

I got to my feet and saw a man walking around the corner of my house. He called to me, and met me halfway to my porch.

“You’re not fit to be out in this, Mrs. Bells! You’re all ice.”

“I did notice a slight chill.”

“My lord, what were you thinking? Let’s get you inside.”

He introduced himself as he piled my gran’s quilts over me. The weight of them pressed me into the sofa. His name was Arlow Stewart.

“Arlow is a strange name.” My chattering teeth must’ve rattled any manners out of my head.

“It is. Don’t hear too many women answer to Emmylou Bells these days either.”

“It’s not mine.”

“Well, it’s nice. Can I get you a cup of tea?”

“No. Thank you.” Then I recognized his name. “It was your sheep I hit.”

“It was. I come by yesterday to demand payment for it. Ready to phone the police back. They said you would phone me.”

“I would have done. I was sick.”

“I know, Mrs. Bells. I was in town last night and they told me. I don’t want you worrying about that sheep. I’ve got more. That’s what I come to tell you today.”

“What day is it today?”

“It’s Saturday. Let me get you something warm to drink. Might do you good, Missus.”

“It doesn’t feel like a Saturday, does it?”

“Right. Maybe not. Some tea, then?”

Such a nice man. A little older. He was only agreeing with me because he thought that’s what I was hoping to hear. Saturday is just Saturday. I don’t know if I care to tell another man what I hope for, or care to learn what he expects.