It was years later, and she was standing in her slippers washing her husband’s dirty dinner plate. She knew it was her husband’s because he always insisted on reusing his dinner plate for dessert. She would always bring him a new plate, and he would always refuse, saying its just one more dish to wash.
She knew it was her husband’s plate, and not her plate because she hadn’t eaten. She had no appetite. Well, she thought she had had an appetite while she was cooking, so she had cooked enough for two. But when she finally sat down before that empty white circle, her appetite disappeared.
She knew it was her husband’s plate. It wasn’t Robbie’s plate or Zoe’s plate because Robbie and Zoe were gone.
She leaned in closer over the sink full of hot suds, scrubbing one last stubborn splotch of dried tomato sauce with the green scrubby end of the sponge. The security light in the backyard came on again. It was the third time that night it had come on. She peered out of the kitchen window at the fresh snow that blanketed the backyard. It was heaped in conical piles on the birdbath, on her husband’s massive barbeque grill, on the flowerpots on the back steps. It had buried the young shrubs around the patio until they looked like a row of bald heads. And then she saw them. Winding through the center of the yard to a spot directly beneath the window where she stood was a black set of footprints.
Suddenly, the light snapped off and she was left staring at her own reflection. Cat or dog? she thought. The tracks seemed smaller, like a cat’s, but she had made that mistake before. Even the smallest of dogs were as vicious as the bigger ones. Perhaps more vicious. What’s more, she knew smaller dogs could slip in through some overlooked vent, or wiggle through a crack in the foundation. Hide in the basement dark, waiting for the right moment. She thought of Robbie and how, even though he was fairly big for his age, they had managed to….
Maybe she should wake up Bill. She could hear his ragged snores from their upstairs bedroom. But if she woke up Bill, what could he do? What had he done before? She knew what he would say. He would tell her it was her imagination and promise to have the security light looked at. She knew he wouldn’t look at her when he said this, but he would say it anyway.
She told herself that she would go outside if the light came on again. She turned on the radio. It crackled with static. There was enough moonlight to see that it was snowing harder. The light came on, spilling brilliantly into the backyard. She looked out the window. There were two more sets of tracks.
With a heavy steel flashlight in one hand and her husband’s pistol in the other, she stepped through the side door of the house onto the snow-covered driveway. The snow squeaked beneath her boots as she moved slowly around the house to the backyard. She stopped, listened. All was quiet, except for the muffled sounds of Bill’s snoring from the second floor window. Cat’s are lighter, they have hollow bones, she thought. Dogs have teeth that tear. They run in packs. She trudged past the birdbath. Cats’ paws have a distinct shape, much more defined than the paw of a dog.
The beam of the flashlight found dark set of tracks. There were four sets now, and they seemed to lead around the perimeter of the yard. One set of tracks lead off into a cluster of trees, and it looked to her as if something had been dragged along side them. She saw a dark shape covered in snow. She leaned over, removed her thick glove and picked it up. It was a small, red shoe. She stood up straight and aimed the beam of her flashlight deep into the trees.
“These are dog tracks,” she said. Then, she heard someone scream from inside the house. It was short and very loud, and then it suddenly stopped.
She dropped her flashlight and plunged headlong into trees. She ran blindly through the darkness. She had never forgotten what they had told her afterward. How it had happened. They had told her again and again that it wasn’t her fault.
But she never forgotten what she had seen. It had played over and over again in her mind. And she had never forgotten how to discern canine from feline tracks in the snow.