From the Sheriff’s Calls Section in the Point Reyes Light, February 9, 2012
NICASIO: At 4:40 p.m. a baby dialed 911.
The Dinner Party
“What I don’t understand, Fred,” Mildred spritzed napkins on her ironing board, “is how could the baby know that.”
Fred, stretched out on his recliner, gave his wife a look out of the corner of his eye. He was knee deep into a new mystery, and the large-type edition pleased him no end. He was close to guessing who the perpetrator was, and didn’t answer her right away.
“Fred! Did you hear me?”
“Dear God, woman, are you trying to kill me?” He grabbed his chest. “What’s the matter? Is everything okay?” His doctor had told him to take it easy, on account of his heart, but his doctor didn’t live with Mildred.
“The baby dialed nine-one-one, Fred. How would a baby know how to do that?” She projected her voice loud, so he could hear. Crazy old coot, he was hard of hearing, but way too proud to admit it. He would always say she talked too fast, so she kept her sentences short and to the point.
“The baby didn’t mean to.” Fred reached for the book he’d dropped.
Mildred smoothed the corners of her napkins and folded them over, making a sharp crease with her spray starch. She loved ironing. She knew no one did it anymore, but they didn’t know what they were missing. She had a stack of fifty linen napkins in her closet, and except for the occasional scorch marks, they looked great. But there were too many of them. They didn’t have the dinner parties they used to have; Fred didn’t like to entertain much anymore.
“Hey Fred, let’s have a dinner party!” She stacked a clean napkin on top of the others. The warm smell of ironing filled the air.
“What is going on with you, dear? First babies dialing nine-one-one and now dinner parties? You think maybe you’re losing it?”
“Well, you don’t care about what I say anyway, so who are you to talk, Fred Rhinehart?”
Fred sighed, memorized the page he was on, and then, thinking he was going to forget, thumbed the corner over, and put the book down. Every time he got to a good section, she started to ask him questions, and it seemed as if all she did these days was talk.
“Dinner party?” he asked. And have to clean up the place? He admired his stacks of Wall Street Journals, his piles of Motorcycles Forever, his twenty years of Sunset. He hadn’t cooked for years, nor did he garden like they did, but he loved the photographs in Sunset. Always looked like someone had a better life than he did. “Company? Here?”
Mildred spritzed another napkin and gave it an explosion of starch. She had become used to the spray starch, but in a way, it still felt like cheating. She set the iron on low. “We could get rid of a lot of junk.” She brushed a wisp of hair away from her face. “And I have a killer shirred- beef recipe.”
Oh brother. Fred rearranged his pillows. He rose, and holding his bulk steady with a cane, an appendage he’d come to hate, gazed at his wife. She couldn’t cook for beans. “You want to do all that work?”
“I’ll have it catered, then.” She strolled to her kitchen window to check on Mrs. Flanagan. The old bat kept poking her nose into her roses.
“Hey you!” Mildred shouted out the window. She rapped on the glass. “My roses, Mrs. Flanagan. Those are my roses, not yours!”
Not again, Fred thought, stumbling toward the front door. He peered out. No one in the front yard, no one at all. And Mrs. Flanagan’s place, the yellow one with white shutters, was closed up tight. She was away on holiday, visiting her son in Carmel. He walked around the house and stood in front of the kitchen window, looked in, and waved at his wife.
“Oh my God, no!” Mildred screamed.
Fred hadn’t planned on startling her like that. He ran inside the house as fast as his weak legs would allow. When he found her, she was holding up the kitchen scissors in one hand, her hot iron in the other. He could smell burned cloth.
“There was a man in the garden, Fred. And he’s coming this way!” Her eyes were wide and her hair loose from her usual tight little bun.
“It was me, sweetheart. It was only me. Please don’t worry so,” he said.
She dropped her scissors and picked up a butcher knife. “Don’t come any nearer, you big lunk!” She slashed at the air between them.
Fred backed away from her, muttering. “What a day, what a day.” He contemplated going back to his chair, but doubted the wisdom of that decision. From the living room, he eyed her carefully.
“Someone’s gone and taken my husband – and left you behind. As if I couldn’t tell the difference!” She backed up to the kitchen counter.
“Shall we call the sheriff?” Fred eyed the distance between himself, her and the front door beyond. He wasn’t quite close enough. He sidled over a little.
“Don’t move, you sniveling big oaf.” She held out the knife in a trembling hand.
“If you hurt me, darling, we can’t have that dinner party you want,” Fred said softly, not having quite enough courage to put out his hand for the knife. She still had a bit of a wild look in her eye.
“What dinner party?” she asked.
“Would you like me to help you with your ironing, sweetheart?” Fred felt that maybe it was time, now, to call Eleanor at the home. He hadn’t been ready, not yet. Janet had been bugging them to move for years.
“Why in the world would you put a sharp knife in my hand? They’re not used on cloth. Meat, Fred, think, knives and meat. Can’t be that hard.”
From the relative safety of the bookcases, Fred watched his wife put down the knife, tuck the scissors in a kitchen drawer, and carry the iron over to her stack of linens.
“I swear, Fred, you’re losing it more every day.” She touched her finger to her mouth and tapped the iron. A slight hiss filled the air. “Perfect.” She smoothed another napkin.
“Shall I call nine-one-one?” Fred asked.
“Fred, Fred, Fred,” Mildred muttered. “Calling nine-one-one is for emergencies. We have no problems here. Now, while you’re up, would you mind passing me the other hamper?”
Author of fifteen short stories in the Point Reyes Light, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, Susanna Solomon is an electrical engineer and has run her own electrical engineering business for fifteen years. She lives in Northern California. She loves her grandchildren, gardening and dogs.
Rhiannon Thorne‘s work has appeared in Grasslimb, Midwest Quarterly, The Sierra Nevada Review, Bop Dead City, and Existere among others. She is the managing editor ofcahoodaloodaling and a book reviewer at Up the Staircase Quarterly. When not busy wrangling a pet, a good book, or a bottle of craft beer, she may be reached at rhiannonthorne.com.