Adrianne took a too-big bite of toast that abraded the roof of her mouth. A second later Gom and the two kids charged in the back door.
“Look Mom, we got carrots!” shouted Melvin, holding them out to her. All three fit in the palm of his hand. “Gom says we can eat them for lunch.” Paula stumbled toward the front of the house, bottle in hand, without stopping to visit.
“How did you sleep?” asked Gom. “I thought you’d need to sleep in after that awful party.”
“I thought it was a fine party,” said Adrianne, her voice pitched a little too high. “The party was fine.” She swallowed some coffee and burned her throat.
Gom pulled the stool over to the sink and covered Melvin’s hands with her own as she helped him wash the carrots in the sink. “I don’t know about you,” she said, “but when that …” here she shook her head in place of words, “… Allen Reed started in about what a big improvement Reagan is over Carter, I had to bite my tongue. You were admirably restrained.”
“Ma!” demanded Paula. She stood in the kitchen doorway, trying to point behind herself to where the neighbor’s kitten had perched on the outside windowsill.
“Look, a kitten!” exclaimed Gom. “Why don’t you and Melvin go out and play with her?”
“I hate cats,” said Melvin with heartfelt disgust, already halfway to the door with Paula tottering behind him.
Adrianne’s head was spinning as she tried to process the blue parka, the strands of kelp. Gom poured some coffee and sat across from her. “Did you see this?” Adrianne asked, breathless, holding the newspaper.
“I know. Isn’t it awful?” Gom’s generalized concern made it clear that she did not connect the murder with their visit to the beach the previous afternoon.
“Do they know…?” Adrianne shrugged.
“They think she was hitch-hiking.” Gom sipped her coffee and frowned. “To think of all the times you did that without telling me. What if anything had happened to you? And they say whoever did it tore off her ears, can you believe it?” Adrianne blanched, remembering the scrap of paper she’d found.
“I’m sorry,” said Gom. “You’re still eating.”
Later that day, Adrianne took the kids to town. Gom had a washing machine but no drier, and instead of going to the trouble of hanging her laundry on the line or of putting Gom, who was always offering to do a wash, to the trouble, Adrianne preferred to use the laundromat in town. She had more-or-less recovered from the initial shock of the murder, but her perceptions had subtly shifted. She honked at a woman jogging peaceably along the narrow shoulder of the road and wondered what would happen if she hit her. She’d heard somewhere that people hit by cars fly clear out of their shoes.