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Morning Thunder MAG
Outside the house the rain sat in puddles where the sidewalk was uneven. Drops of water fell from the leaves and made round ripples, but the rain had stopped long ago.
Inside the house a woman was sitting in the kitchen on an old wooden chair. She held a mug of coffee in her hands, gripping it for warmth. Her thumbs ran over the smooth surface of the mug. She was watching the steam that rose from it.
On the stairs, her son-in-law rubbed the last bits of sleep from his eyes. The floral wallpaper reminded him that this was not his home, and, once again, he wished that his wife was here with him. Judie, she was his connection to this house, and without her he felt like a stranger. In a few days his business would be through, he remembered, and he entered the kitchen.
"Good morning, Sylvia," he said, looking out the window. In the gray morning the trees seemed to blend with the sky. His mother-in-law looked up from her coffee and then back to it.
"Oh, good morning. Would you like some breakfast, Alan dear?" Her smile was directed at the steam and formed so quickly that for a second it looked genuine.
He had opened the cupboard already. He sighed inwardly as he removed the cereal. Trust Herb, he thought, to have only health food. His lips turned up in a silent smile as he thought of his father-in-law, or, as he preferred to call him, his hypochondriac-in-law. After all, the man was so convinced that he would have a heart attack that he only dined out in hospital cafeterias.
"I just made the coffee," Sylvia broke into his thoughts in her quiet way.
"Thanks," he mistook her mumbling for an invitation, "I think I'll have some." He poured some coffee and took a seat across from her at the kitchen table. With one hand, he tilted the milk carton over his cereal and emptied it. The carton discarded on the table, he began to eat.
A ray of sunlight slanted through the window and into the next room. It illuminated a single picture atop Sylvia's old grand piano. A young Herb held the hands of his two small children, Judie and Danny. The light vanished and Alan looked back at his breakfast.
He paused with his eyes on the spoon halfway to his mouth and asked, "Where's Herb?"
Sylvia rose from the table, walked three hesitant steps and poured her coffee into the sink. Steam wafted upward from the drain. She stood, still holding the mug, with her back to him.
"Oh," she said. The smile left her mouth as her lips formed a perfect circle. "Oh." She turned the tap on and began to rinse the mug. "Herb died last night."
Her son-in-law's spoon remained poised in the air. His fingers tightened around the metal and he looked up.
She turned her head slightly towards him. "I didn't want to wake you, dear."
Alan lowered the spoon and blinked. Comprehension dawned slowly and the spoon fell into the bowl. The sound of the spoon against the bowl echoed through the kitchen.
"I," he did not know what to say. "I'm sorry."
"Yes," she said. The wet mug slipped from her hand and into a tub of water in the sink, where it sank beneath the surface. She made no move to retrieve it.
"What can I do?" Her son-in-law eyed the stairs and thought of what had happened upstairs behind the closed door to Sylvia and Herb's bedroom. He shuddered involuntarily.
"What can anyone do?" His mother-in-law faced him and focused her eyes on him while she forced a laugh and made herself smile. Only her eyes remained expressionless, fixed on this man in her house.
"What can anyone do?"
"Should I call ..."
"I called everyone. Judie, Danny. There is nothing you can do, dear." Her hands gripped the counter behind her and her husband's ring shone dully on her thumb. The clock mounted on the wall sprang to life just then, and the bird inside popped out to sing the hour.
"It's eight," said Alan needlessly. "I'll be late." He pushed back his chair and stood. "Good-bye."
"Until dinner, then, Alan." Her eyes were cast down, the dim kitchen lighting hiding the tears that had formed.
Her son-in-law walked to the front door. He unlocked it with one hand and straightened his tie with the other. The door shut and left Sylvia in silence.
The ambulance at the curb was just starting to pull away slowly. Inside the attendants sat together in the front seat and solemnly stared at the street that lay ahead of them. During the time that they had been at the house, the stillness of early morning had disappeared. A drop of water fell on the windshield, then another, and another. With a clap of thunder, it started to pour. 1