Don’t Hold Your Breath
Marlene lived alone in a comfortable home, high in a coastal mountain range, in Northern California. The old woman had been by herself since her husband had passed, some ten years earlier. For the most part, things were good. She had been left some money by a family member, to ease economic woes, in her old age, and did not have to sweat the bills.
She had children spread out all over tarnation, but a couple of her sons were close enough to be able to take care of the basic chores, and keep the wood box filled, along with the compost emptied. They gave her occasional grief, about living by herself up on the mountain, and would she consider moving down into town, where there were family members who could continue to look after her basic needs, that required some manual labor? Marlene always responded that she was “thinking about it,” and would let them know when she had reached a decision. It was one of those situations, where it did not pay to hold your breath waiting. It could be hazardous to your health.
It could not be denied that she was isolated, not quite five miles up a dirt road, impassable at times, when the snow piled up, and the county figured, “Why bother plowing it now, when we will have to just do it again, in another 24 hours?” No one ever mentioned the possibility of some sort of intruder, not since the earliest days after she was by herself. Then they had installed a gate, and religiously kept it closed and locked for an extended period of time, but like organized religion, it got old, and they eventually went back to the way it had always been. After all, the inhabitants of the neighborhood did not even bother to lock their doors, at night or at any other time, because they just did not have any experience in the matter of unwanted visitors.
Having moved up into the hills, after hitting retirement age, Marlene and her husband had pursued various hobbies, which for both of them included growing things. He put in a substantial vegetable garden, and she set about landscaping some of the area around the house, with lilacs, periwinkle, a multitude of potted plants on the deck and railing off to the west side of the house, and her precious daffodils. Marlene had planted these bulbs in four different locations, and over the years they had burgeoned, spread out, and produced glorious displays of this seasonal ornamental, year after year.
The daffodils were the most impressive display imaginable, from some time in March, through the end of April, depending on the weather. She had the brilliant yellow ones, the yellow and orange-centered ones, the yellow and white one, and about a half-dozen other assorted varieties, that were scattered about the premises. They all bloomed at different rates, so they always presented a beautiful repertoire for her to admire, as she made her way about the homestead. Even when she became less capable of maneuvering her way to tend them, she could still view them out of several windows in the house. They were a non-ending source of delight and wonder for her.
One day, late in March, with the weather threatening snow, and the home fires going full blast, Marlene decided that she would make a little chicken soup, since she was feeling energetic, and a grandson had brought over a basket of fresh carrots, onions, and garlic, among other goodness. As she moved about the kitchen, she had occasion to pass by more than one window, which looked out on displays of her daffodils, and as always, she flicked her gaze over her domain, and was pleased.
On one of her glances, she caught a glimpse of movement as though a shape had just passed before her, but so quickly, and in such an undefined manner, as to make her think her eyes were playing tricks on her. She pushed all hint of trouble, out of her mind. It was easy to do.
It was harder when it happened again, while she was in the back bedroom, swapping her heavy sweater for a lighter one, with sleeves which would not interfere with her cooking. This time it was a shadow that she saw, she was sure of it. But then she thought of the deer, and how they were always around, and how they could blend into the hillside, and then move, and catch her by surprise. It had happened many times. Yes, that was it, the deer were out and about. At least they never bothered the daffodils.
The soup was coming along fine, the diced ingredients beginning to pile up on the cutting board, when she heard a thump. She did not imagine it, a thump such as a heel on a staircase, or a chunk of wood dropping on the porch. Was someone filling the woodbox? She glance at the back porch, but no, the ring was half-filled, just as it had been earlier that morning, when she had checked to see what kind of shape she was in, for an upcoming snowfall.
Within seconds, she had worked herself up, into a frenzy, with apprehension gripping her throat in a chokehold. She was not prepared for the degree of panic that set in, and she felt a throb of fear, deep in the pit of her stomach. Who should she call? She knew it was futile, because the boys were supposed to be off working on a construction project that was indoors. She did not want to call one of her daughters-in law, because she did not want to subject them to danger, any more than she wanted to frighten them either. She had to think quickly, but her brain was not cooperating. A call to town meant a half hour at least. That was comforting.
Her heart was pounding, she was breathing fitfully, and she was beginning to think she had better sit down. Without warning, she was startled half-silly, by an unnecessarily loud rapping at the front door, and quickly realized that at least it was shut and locked tightly. Well, she figured, she better get to the bottom of this.
There really was not any alternative. She was not going to be able to battle her way out of this one. She may as well retain some shred of dignity, she thought, and maybe that is why she managed to not shriek, when she arranged herself behind the opened curtain, and sneaked a peak. There on the front porch, in a Mason jar, was an assortment of different daffodils, obviously freshly picked, by a loving son or grandson. What’s a body to do, she wondered, smiling and stepping outside to grab the bouquet, except go finish making the chicken soup? Maybe the person who came over and picked daffodils from all four sites, had worked up an appetite. There was going to be plenty of soup.