Steeping When I got to the house both cars were in the driveway and the door was just open enough to call into. A lamp was on in the kitchen, but otherwise it was just the light of the drooping sun. It was almost to the tree line. I moved the door back on its hinges and called in for her. I drew my breath to call again and smelled gun smoke. I like the smell of old things, of old shotguns and their oily barrels when they're hot from the sun. The dust floated in the lingering rays. All of the room had that smell in it.
"Hello?". "Go on".
I walked towards his voice, dragging my hand along the brick of the fireplace to slow my steps. When the brick turned back to wood, I caught a splinter in my thumb. He was in the bedroom with the oil stained tool resting on the arms of his wheelchair. I stood behind the old man and picked at the splinter with the nail of my middle finger.
"Are you going to kill me too,?" I asked. "No more ammunition" "Would you turn on me if the gun were loaded?" "I would use the gun on myself."
His leg was gone from the shin down because of the sugar in his blood. Yvonne told me that it had turned gangrenous and when the male nurse pulled the rotten flesh off with the black dress sock, he vomited into his cupped hands.
"I've called the Pastor," he said. "For her?" I asked "Or for you?". "Her."
I walked to him and smoothed his wild hair against his head. I would have had to step over her to bring more light to the room. So, I stood there behind him, in the red rays, and imagined the strands of hair pressing into the bone, leaving imprints in his skull like a trilobite. He rested his arms with his wrists on the barrel and stock. His pants leg was folded up to the knee and held by a rusty safety pin. The splinter in my hand throbbed.
"Would you put some water on for tea...for the Pastor?"
I turned the hall light on to find my way and the rooms off the hall became tiny caves hollowed out of a white cliff. I used the lamp in the kitchen, leaving it dark, out of respect. The hall light was necessary, but we wouldn't know that unil later. He tapped his ring on the barrel of the shotgun while I worked and I looked out the window for the Pastor. When the water was ready I opened several cabinets looking for the tea and something to drink it from. In the first drawer I opened I found old keys, two pair of scissors, Bayer aspirin, and a single .410 shell.
"Sugar?," I called to him. "Please".
I left the tea bag in for him, with the saucer covering the cup so that it would steep. Nine minutes for dark tea. Less time, the lighter the leaves. I placed the small shell on the saucer and set it on the table in the den.
I lifted him from his wheelchair and carried him to the den to be with his books. His knuckles whitened when I placed my hand on the gun. He held it to his chest while I moved him. The smell of the medicine and the bags that held his waste and the smoke were soaked in his clothes. When I sat him in his chair I stroked his hair to his head again and his skull felt brittle and thin. He asked for the book, but I talked over him.
"My tea is back in the other room," and I went to the kitchen. The cleaning supplies were under the sink. I found a rag of a t-shirt with the armpits yellowed.
Then I rose and placed my tea bag in the center of a spoon and wrapped the string around and around until the paper tag covered them. I pressed my thumb hard onto the paper, squeezing the last of the tea from the bag into the cup until it trickled. The shotgun fired and the tea bag split, spilling some leaves into the full cup. A few ground leaves stuck in my thumb nail. I leaned back against the kitchen sink and watched as the deputies filed into the house, finishing my tea as the Pastor arrived; picking at the splinter in my thumb with the nail of my finger.