Wilma awoke, to silence – a weight heavier than her quilt, and less comforting. The quality of the light from the window said that it was early afternoon, a time when the house should long since have been abustle with Water Whispers’ baking, and snippets of song and her conversations with Linwood weaving through them.
Wilma lay still for another minute or two, listening, smelling. There were no baking smells; no shuffling of feet; no light chatter between husband and wife. Only silence –
Wilma’s bladder reminded her that she wasn’t as young as she used to be, and that she’d better attend to it if she didn’t want embarrassment and a mess, on top of a mystery.
She reached for the prosthetic foot, her fingers made clumsy by the unexpected quiet that pressed in on her. But she got the foot on, found her cane right where she always hung it, on a hook by the bed, and got up, tapping out the path to the bathroom to be sure there were no obstacles in her way.
“Water?” she called, once she’d finished, and there was still no sound. “Linwood?”
Only smothering silence answered.
“Maybe they’ve just gone out -for a walk, or to get something to eat.” She spoke aloud, just to hear a voice.
But she didn’t really believe that. Early afternoon was the time when most people took siesta on Kifo, in the European tradition; shops would be closed until near dusk. It was simply too hot to be out and about.
She got dressed as quietly as she could, her ears straining until her head started to ache. The uneasiness became outright concern, and shadowy fears crept in at the edges of her too-fertile imagination.
Wilma tried to push them back as she went to the door that led out into the common parts of their bungalow. She stood with her hand on the knob, hesitating.
“You’re turning into a little mouse, ready to scamper away at shadows, old woman.” She was sure she was going to open the door and find that she’d been silly to worry, and everything was just fine –
Well, almost sure.
She took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Water Whispers? Linwood?”
Wilma’s stomach twisted, worry gnawing its way through her, potent as a wildfire.
Not a sound, except the ticking of the camelback clock Linwood had had since he was a little boy. That meant that he’d been home, and up and about, because, if he didn’t wind it daily, it stopped, and he wouldn’t even let Water touch it.
She went into each room, one by one, feeling around with her cane, pausing to listen for the sounds of breathing or movement.
Finally, she came to their bedroom. She’d never crossed the threshold, and it felt like a violation to even consider going inside.
But, if something had happened to them –
She called their names as she knocked; cracked the door, and called again. No answer.
But there was a strange scent, commingling with the smell of Linwood’s soap and the light perfume Water wore. A sickly sweet smell, layered over with the hints of decay, like a once-fragrant bouquet of flowers that had been left too long in a vase…
Wilma knew what that smell meant; she wanted to close the door and walk away, pretend she hadn’t smelt it, and that it was just another day.
But she couldn’t.
She tapped her way into the room, found the bed –
She tried not to breathe. The smell was stronger here; her stomach threatened.
Wilma reached out –
And her hand touched a face, still, silent, stiff with the rigor of long lifelessness, long hair tumbled over an unmoving breast….
“Oh, Water!” And WIlma bent sobbing over her friend, for a long blank time –
The thought came in a panicky whoosh –
Where was Linwood?
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