Editor’s Note: This is the debut of “Tales From The Grouch,” a series of short stories written by J.D.H. The tales will appear periodically in this space.
Rusty tossed and turned in the bed, unable to sleep. She rolled over onto her back and stared at the ceiling, at the thousands of little whirls and bumps in the off-white-colored plaster. Her insomnia was maddening. It was late, and so not a good time to do much of anything except lay here and toss and turn. Toss and turn.
She craned her neck and examined Bill, who lay beside her, exhaling softly in his sleep. Rusty could not recall the last time she’d heard Bill snore. But it was comforting to have him here, asleep beside her in the bed. He smelled good. Life was good between Rusty and Bill, but there were things she missed about their former life ….
Like when they lived in the city, and would go for late-night walks along the boulevard, just the two of them. Sometimes it would rain, an event that made both of them unhappy, but it was exhilarating to run with Bill back to the apartment. It was warm and snug in the apartment, and Bill would cook something good for them to eat. Happy times.
Suburban life was another thing altogether. Bill would leave for work in the mornings, and Rusty would be on her own for the day. There were the neighbors with whom she could socialize, of course, but they had youngsters, and Rusty, with no young ones of her own, felt like an outsider. She would be out in the back yard, near the clothesline, and hear the neighbors on the other side of the fence. They would exchange greetings, and then Rusty would go back to her isolated existence, there in suburbia, while Bill was at the office earning their keep.
Rusty tossed and turned in the bed. Tossed and turned. No sleep, but it was good to once again be sharing a bed with Bill. Recently, there had been trouble, but that was to be expected in any long-term relationship. There was a misunderstanding, something Rusty did not yet understand, but the result was that Rusty had spent several evenings in the guestroom across the hall, and Bill had stayed in the master bedroom.
And now she lay beside him, listening to the wheezing and thinking of all of the good times. The walks in the park, the smell of bacon in the kitchen as Bill made breakfast ….
“Rusty, is that you?”
Bill was awake but sluggish. Apparently he’d forgotten that their on-again, off-again sleeping arrangements were “on again.” It was dark in the bedroom, so Bill reached over and stroked Rusty’s thigh. He ran his hand through her hair. It felt good to her, and it made her feel secure.
In the morning, Rusty saw streams of sunlight filtering in through the Venetian blinds, and wondered how long she should lay there. Bill was a notorious late sleeper, not an early riser like she was, and so she left the bed, paused at the bathroom door, but then decided to go downstairs and to the kitchen. She was hungry, and possibly some of yesterday’s leftovers would appeal.
Downstairs, in the kitchen, she noticed that the back door was slightly ajar. She went to the door, peeked through the crack, nudged the door open, and walked out.
There was something in the far corner of the yard, something on the ground that had not been there the day before, she was certain of it. She knew every inch of the yard, spending as much time there as she had, and this was a foreign object. It was small and dark … and new. Part of it seemed to rustle in the wind. Rusty went to investigate.
Bill rubbed sleep from his eyes as he entered the kitchen. Bacon and eggs would be good; coffee would be better. He saw that the back door was open, and he noticed that Rusty was nowhere in sight. Bill went to investigate.
Rusty sat on the grass in the far corner of the yard, feeling sick to her stomach. She felt something rising in her intestines, and tried to keep it down. She’d had this sickening sensation before, many times, but it was never a pleasant thing. She leaned forward and up it came. She vomited onto the grass what was left of the bird she had just eaten.
From the kitchen door came Bill’s voice:
“Rusty! Bad girl! What have you eaten now?”
Rusty rolled onto her back, paws in the air, and gasped for breath. This was turning out to be a very bad week. On Saturday she had endured shots at the vet’s office. Now this.
Click here for the index of short stories.
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