After months, my home was just like I left it. My lawn was neatly mown, my mailbox was tidily containing whatever junk mail I had accumulated, even my bushes were neatly trimmed. I tried to imagine the bill I must have earned from my neighborhood covenant. Those blasted nincompoops would never leave an old woman alone when they could meddle in her affairs. Cindy held my arm as I climbed the four steps leading up to my front porch. It felt like Everest, but I felt the swell of joy in my chest when I made it to the top. Cindy was clearly happy, too. She raised her hand for a high-five, but I wasn’t that Stockholmed.
I left Cindy hanging and beckoned to Henry for my chair. I forced myself to sit slowly rather than collapse into it as I so desperately wanted to after that exertion. I could hurt myself just by sitting down, goodness knows. No matter how much progress I’d made, I was still eighty-six. Henry wheeled me to the door and opened it for me. My house looked the same on the inside, too. A little dusty, and there was a strange smell emanating from the kitchen, but none of that was surprising. I wheeled myself in and turned around as if I could just shut the door and Henry and Cindy would disappear, but Henry walked in after me. Cindy mouthed “bye” and waved as she backed away and left for the car. I sighed and wheeled myself to the couch. I knew the drill. I could ask whatever questions I wanted but I wouldn’t get any answers.
Once I’d maneuvered myself out of the wheelchair, the couch was just what I had always wanted. It was one of those plush couches that you could just sink into and never be found again. I did that now. I felt my eyes growing heavy, and I remembered that there was a strange man in my house. I looked over to where Henry had been standing, and he was nowhere to be seen. With a strange, horrible sense of relief I realized that there was nothing he could do to me in my house now that he couldn’t have done already. My mind wandered into thoughts of Henry murdering me and elaborately framing it as a suicide, tying me up and burning down my house, smashing all of my windows, locking me in my own basement. It didn’t feel like me anymore. Some other poor woman was being held hostage in her own house, I was just here on my couch. I let my eyes close.
I awoke to the doorbell with a start. Henry was still nowhere to be seen. I looked through the window that connected my living room to the front porch. A Cleaner was at the door. Deja vu gripped me. I thought I’d ended this. I saw the satchel on his back, slightly faded from months of use in the sunshine. So it’s William. I had sunk so far into the couch it was a struggle to get out, but, with a herculean effort and with William waiting patiently at the door, managed to push myself into the wheelchair and open it.
William beamed :D, “Diane! It is so good to see you! I am so glad that you have changed your mind!”
“Changed my mind about what?”
“I am flattered that you have invited me to clean your house, Diane.” William announced.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “There must have been some mistake. I didn’t invite you.”
William’s smile turned upside down, or rather his whole face did sort of a partial 180. With a D: he said “Oh my! It is I who is sorry! Please forgive my intrusion! I will leave at once.”
He didn’t leave, though. Instead, he stood rigid and his face changed once more. This time to a ._. . It was hard to tell where he was looking, but it didn’t seem like it was at me, so I turned around. Henry was standing there, struggling to hold something. His eyes were bleary. His mouth was set. He looked like a man fighting against every instinct in his body to play cool and losing. I caught the smell of gin on his breath. Even his hands were unsteady. They were clutching at some shiny metal object, pointing it directly at me.
“William, come inside.” said Henry, his voice cracking, and William obeyed. With rising confidence, Henry gestured at the door. “Close it.” With a soft click we were separated from the neighborhood. Henry was holding a gun. He was pointing a gun at my head. It was all I could do to keep from having a heart attack.
Just the success of ordering William was enough to help Henry stop shaking, mostly. When he spoke he did so with more confidence than before. He was settling into this role. “William,” he said “you are going to do what I say and… nothing else.” I saw the gleam of animal violence in Henry’s eye. The same gleam he’d had when he killed Rob Cleaner. “Henry,” I tried to speak calmly, but it came out as a wail, “this is madness! What could you possibly have to gain?”
Henry followed the drill perfectly. I asked a question and he ignored me. He didn’t even look at me. His eyes were locked on William. “Don’t do anything, don’t say anything, don’t clean anything,” he growled, his hands continuing to shake almost imperceptibly, despite what was otherwise a convincing show of confidence, “or I’ll kill her.”