by Phil Temples
“Gladys, would you please come in here? Your breakfast is getting cold!”
Wilbur, Gladys’ husband of thirty-eight years, was growing impatient. This was the fifth time he had yelled at her to come to breakfast. He had prepared eggs and bacon for her, and they’d been sitting untouched for the past half-hour.
As Wilbur sat at the kitchen table eating his portion alone for the second time in as many days, he wondered what had gotten into Gladys of late. Wilbur tried to assure himself she was merely acting “eccentric.” Still, he worried about her. The previous morning, Gladys had behaved in a similar manner: she refused to come in to the kitchen for breakfast. Her eyes were glued on the passing cars, and eyeing with suspicion any pedestrians who happened to walk in front of their house.
Wilbur got up from the table and joined her in the living room. “Dear, what are you looking for?”
“I’ll know them when I see them.”
Wilbur sighed. “Have you been taking your meds?”
Gladys glowered at her husband.
“It’s just... I worry about you.”
“If I’m right, you’ll thank me.”
“Right about what?”
“Never you mind! I’ll explain later. Just let me focus. Would you bring my breakfast to me on one of the lunch trays?”
“Sure. Whatever you say, dear.”
That afternoon, Gladys was still peering out the front window of their living room. Wilbur dutifully removed the breakfast tray and fetched her a second cup of coffee. She took the cup from Wilbur without so much as a glance in his direction.
“You’re welcome,” Wilbur muttered under his breath as he walked away.
* * *
“I don’t know what’s gotten into her, Susan. She’s been like this the past two days.” Wilbur was speaking with his sister-in-law by phone. Susan lived out of state. He found it reassuring to speak with the family relative and licensed psychiatrist about his wife’s odd behavior.
“And you’re sure she’s taking her meds?”
“Well, that’s what she’s told me. The number of pills remaining in the container is about right. But I’ve not actually observed her swallowing them.”
“She’s been on this prescription for... how long, now? Six months?”
“Okay. So, she told you, ‘They’re coming’? Who is coming?”
“Yes. That’s all. ‘They’re coming.’ No explanation as to who they are. She said she’d ‘explain later.’ Susan, you don’t think she’s... cracking up, do you?”
There was a brief pause on the other end. “There’s a wide continuum between normal and irrational behavior, Wilbur. This is probably just a slight blip that will play itself out over the next few days. Still, I would encourage you to keep a log. Also, you should contact Gladys’ therapist and inform him what’s going on. He may want to adjust her meds.”
* * *
Later that afternoon, Wilbur returned from grocery shopping. He was just putting away the last can of peas when he heard Gladys call for him from the living room.
“Wilbur, can I trust you?”
“Oh course, love. Anything.”
She set down her fourth cup of coffee on the end table. “I have to go to the bathroom. Promise me, you’ll keep watch while I’m gone. I’ll be not more than five minutes.”
“Um, what I am looking for?”
“Anything out of the ordinary. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. If I knew precisely, I’d tell you.”
“Okay. I’ll... look for anything unusual.”
“Thank you, darling.” She smiled warmly and gave him a peck on the cheek before running to the toilet.
Wilbur stood peering out the living room window. He felt silly. But he had given his promise to her, and he wasn’t going to renege on it. Even so, he decided he would heed Susan’s advice and begin keeping a logbook, just as soon as he was relieved of his duty on watch.
Wilbur saw a little girl run down the sidewalk, pursued by a little boy. The lad appeared to be attempting to pull her ponytail. She screamed playfully as he got close. They both ducked around two garbage cans and continued down the block.
A moment later, Wilbur saw a cat sniffing at one of the trash cans from next door. He wondered if the can contained the remnants of the neighbors’ fish dinner from two nights ago. He recalled the odor was quite pungent when he came into the house from his grocery shopping trip earlier.
Just then, a big green garbage truck came into view. It had a “WP” logo and the name “Waste Partners” painted on the side. Two men took turns grabbing cans off the sidewalk and slinging the contents into the back of the truck as it was driven slowly by a third man. Wilbur watched carefully as one of the men approached the neighbors’ can. The man’s head was covered with a hoodie.
The cat was still standing next to the can. It shifted its attention to the garbage man. It began to rub against his pants leg. At first, the man seemed puzzled by the feline’s behavior. He looked up and down the street, as though making sure no one was observing him. Then he took off the hood, revealing a bald head and bizarre features: he had only slits where there should have been ears.
A second later, the man reached down and scooped up the cat. The cat squirmed mightily but could not escape his grasp. In one fell swoop, the man’s jaws unhinged. He stuffed the cat in his mouth and swallowed it whole. Then the man put the hoodie back over his head and resumed his trash collection.
“See anything unusual?” Gladys had returned from the bathroom. Wilbur nearly jumped out of his skin upon being addressed. She looked at him with an expression of awe. “What did you see?!
Wilbur was speechless for almost ten seconds. “I... I think we’re gonna need more coffee, dear.”
Copyright © 2017 by Phil Temples