by Stephen Paden
Martha Grainger settled into her chair and smiled. Her favorite program was five minutes from airing and all of the nightly chores, a conglomeration of petty rituals she had developed when Harry passed away last March, were finished. Oscar, her calico cat, rested on her lap in her usual position. Martha looked around at the walls of her living room−the pictures of Harry with Stan Drummond taken on a fishing trip, the picture of their small but beautiful wedding forty years prior, and pictures of their children−and clamped her mouth closed to prevent the quivers that would eventually come.
She flipped on the television with her oversized remote (her daughter bought her one with large buttons and numbers after listening to Martha complain about it) and let the flickering light from the TV wash over her, illuminating her smiling face.
When the program ended, Martha lifted fat old Oscar from her lap and placed her gently on the ground. She went to the kitchen and pulled a knife from the block and went back into the living room. Harry stood in the middle of the room, smiling. Martha smiled back and lifted the knife to her throat.
“We’re going to be together, babe,” said Harry. “You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen down here.”
“Who’ll take care of Oscar?” she asked.
Harry looked solemnly at Oscar and then back to Martha. “You should take care of that first.”
Martha nodded blankly and knelt down as fast as her old body would let her. Oscar purred and looked casually at the gleaming blade of the knife. Martha jammed the blade into Oscar’s stomach and the cat did a mixture of moaning and made Martha’s smile grow bigger. Oscar’s eyes raced back and forth as blood poured from her mouth and onto the hard wood floors.
Martha picked Oscar’s limp body from the ground and held her close. She placed it on the couch and then turned to Harry.
“That’s my girl,” he said. “You always did take care of things, didn’t you?”
“It was my job, love. We can be together now.”
Martha looked at the bloody knife in her hands, still smiling. The shadows from the flickering TV danced around the walls. She looked at her wedding picture one more time, then raised the knife to her throat and with a single, elegant stroke, severed her carotid artery and her throat. She fell to the ground and landed on her back. The light from the television began to dim. Martha took her final gasp for air, but ended up taking in only blood. She tried to cough it back out but she lacked the strength in her diaphragm to force the action. Blood drained from her neck and onto the floor, mixing with Oscar’s. The flickering TV continued to cast shadows on the wall, and over Martha’s body.