There was a knock at the door and suddenly the Christmas lights went out.
Although startled by the abrupt rap, rap, rapping noise of boney knuckles on a metal-lined door, Vanessa kept her head down for an instant longer, just long enough to finish reading the last three lines of text on her Kindle’s screen.
Who’s that?, she thought. Do I want to get up and answer the door? And why did they unplug my outdoor lights?
Vanessa had a habit of letting her imagination run rampant when she was alone, more so after the second mugging incident from four years earlier. She was just twenty at the time, a junior Psychology major at Metuchen University’s Fredericks City campus when she took a small penknife puncture in her lower abdomen. She still keeps the torn, black MU hoodie she wore that night in her closet as a reminder of that cold Friday night in February—she fondles the tear with her index finger whenever she’s running short on gas money and considers mugging another female student on campus. The first incident netted her a crisp twenty; the second a trifecta trip to the hospital, police station, and court.
Standing up, Vanessa took a few steps toward the front window to peek out onto the street to see if she recognized any double-parked cars, but the oak hardwood planks beneath her feet cried out in long, slow, agonizing squeaks and pops. Vanessa’s face cringed at the noises which were clearly loud enough to be heard from the porch stoop. Rap, rap, rap again echoed throughout the room as a strong fist again pounded the front face of the door.
She opened the door slowly, cautiously with her weight ready to lunge against and snap the door shut in a hurry. “Oh, hi Mrs. Kribshaw,” Vanessa said sweetly as she sighed a breath of relief. “Come in.”
Mrs. Kribshaw, a fiesty widow in her mid-seventies, lived in house number 72 across from Vanessa’s 71 Pickering Street row-home address. Mrs. Kribshaw—Kathryn—and her deceased husband Ed raised three children in the neighborhood. Before retiring a year after Ed’s unexpected passing, Kathryn worked as a telephone operator with the phone company where he worked as a linesman.
Vanessa held the metal storm door open for Mrs. Kribshaw as her eyes scanned the landscaped shrubbery, now void of the twinkling white glow of the mini bulbs that were lit moments earlier. “Merry Christmas. Please, come in. Come in.”
“Merry Christmas. Wow, your house smells delicious. What are you baking?”
Vanessa smiled and pointed to a sugar-cookie scented Yankee candle on the art-deco end table. “No, not baking. It’s just a candle.”
“Well your house looks beautiful nonetheless,” replied Mrs. Kribshaw, admiring the soft glow of the large Douglas-fir standing proudly in the corner of a room filled with mismatched, second-hand furniture. “Home alone for Christmas? I saw Emily and Michelle packing their cars this morning. They said they’re both going home to their parents’ for a few days. What about you?”
“Alone for tonight. My parents are going to my brother’s tonight for Christmas. His wife and I don’t speak, so I’ll leave early tomorrow morning and spend the day with my parents.”
Not knowing quite what to say next, Kathryn set the pleasantries aside and got down to business. “Sorry to bother you. I just came over to chase Skippy away from your porch. I was sweeping the pavement when I saw him chewing the wires to your front porch Christmas lights. He ran between the houses toward your back yard when I tried to pick him up. I unplugged the lights just to play it safe. You can see the copper showing through the casing—right near the plug—where Skippy was chewing.”
Vanessa started to roll her eyes, but caught herself. “Cats will be cats,” she said with what she felt was through an obviously-phony smile.
“I’m so sorry, Vanessa.”
“Really. Don’t worry about it. It’s easy enough to fix. I’ll just twist some electrical tape around the wires and it’ll be fine.”
Kathryn started her way onto the porch as Vanessa followed behind, “Safe travels tomorrow. Merry Christmas!” Vanessa rolled her eyes and snapped shut the door.
At six thirty the following morning, the sky was overcast as Vanessa loaded three cardboard boxes and her purse into the back seat of her car. It was a two and half hour drive to her parents house, and she’d be ready for breakfast and a second cup of coffee when she arrived around nine. For now, she’d settle for a cup of Panera coffee before making her way out to the turnpike.
Her blue Honda Civic shook and rattled for the entire two-hour southerly turnpike journey before the last half-hour stretch on county road 255. By now it was eight thirty and the sun had begun to poke it’s way through the cloud cover. Vanessa pulled the car over along a stretch of 255 book-ended by two fields of dry soybean. One by one, she pulled out and opened the three boxes.
“Goodbye, Daisy,” she said as she opened the first box.
“Goodbye, Muffin,” as she opened the second.
“Goodbye, Skippy,” as she opened the last.