Even Steven

fall light

Late afternoon light spilled into the modest living room through the open door. Monty, who lay napping in the sunny spot, was probably taking Claire’s sudden death harder than anyone. The two had been inseparable the past three years. Claire had found the abandoned puppy rooting around inside a toppled garbage can on her weekly walk to Hudson’s market six blocks east of her tiny cottage.

“I’ve given him my dinner scraps and a bath with my dandruff shampoo.” Claire told Thelma on the telephone that night. “He sure is a cute little thing.”

“Well, you’ve done your good deed, now put him outside and let him find his way home.” Claire’s best friend had said. “The last thing you need is a filthy animal living in your spotless house.”

“Maybe.” Claire had replied. “But right now, I’ll just let him sleep here in my lap. I think that bath wore him out.”

Everyone thought it was strange that Claire kept the dog. She had never allowed pets in the house while the kids were growing up. Even stranger, they thought, was that Claire had named the puppy after her deceased husband of 57 years.

“It was a nice service.” Thelma said as she served herself a helping of the lasagna that pastor Bill’s wife, Anita had dropped off earlier. She sniffed before taking the first bite.

“Yes, and didn’t she look natural.” Said Sissy, Claire’s youngest daughter, who sat at one end of the kitchen table that was piled with food.

A steady stream of family, friends and neighbors had kept the screen door busy all day but now there were just a handful left as the sun set outside. A quiet settled over the little house. Everyone was tired from the day’s sad activities.

Claire’s granddaughter, Sharon broke the silence. “I remember spending many a summer here. I loved Grandma Claire, but dreaded the daily cleaning regimen. Did you know she scrubbed her sinks twice a day with Ajax, and vacuumed the whole house every day?”

“Tell us something we don’t know”, Fred said, pulling up a chair at the table after having walked the Butlers to their car. “Grandma Claire was the neatest of all the neat freaks.”

“I was never afraid to eat her casseroles at the church picnics.” Thelma chimed in. “Everyone knew Claire had the cleanest kitchen in town.”

“She wasn’t just clean,” Sharon said. “You know she had OCD, don’t you? Remember how she had to lock and unlock the dead bolt four times before she went to bed. And before she left the house, she would arrange all the knick knacks on the mantle just so, then pat the throw pillow on the couch two times before she would leave.”

Sissy said that all her life her mother had done everything an even number of times. Whether it was locking the front door, patting a pillow, singing a verse from her favorite song, or stirring a pot of stew. Claire was compelled to live her life evenly.

Everyone chimed in with their favorite Claire stories well into the evening. At some point Monty got up, stretched his legs and made his way to his food bowl. No one had remembered to feed the dog, but he wasn’t very hungry and just lapped up a little water before making his way back to Claire’s bedroom and curling up in the middle of her bedspread.

Sharon found him there later that night, after everyone was gone. She would be living in the house now that her grandmother had passed. It was the perfect spot for her to hunker down all winter and finish the novel she’d been working on for the past two years.

After taking Monty out for a walk around the block just before midnight, Sharon put some food in his bowl and encouraged him to eat. She didn’t blame him when he gave her a forlorn look and returned to the bedroom. “I miss her too.” Sharon said to the sad dog.

As she locked up the house and turned off the lights, her hand fell to the thermostat on the wall in the hallway. It was set on 78 degrees. An even number. “Of course!” she thought out loud. She moved it down to 76 so she could get a comfortable night’s sleep.

“Goodnight Grandma Claire.” She said out loud a few minutes later as she settled onto the bed. Before she turned out the light, she patted Monty two times on the top of his head.

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