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Mavis looked at the stain on her nice beige carpet. Poor Sparky, she thought. It was 12:45. Maybe they weren’t coming. Maybe they were never coming again, after what happened. Poor Sparky.

Once a week the ladies came to Mavis’ house to play bridge. There was Joan, an impish woman with silver hair and an overbite. Renee, who lost her husband Rex a year ago to colon cancer.

And there was Denise, a large dark-haired woman who was leader of their little group. She organized things, Ladies’ Day outings and such. Denise took control. She dictated.

Every Monday, at 12:30, the four of them played bridge. Mavis made raspberry tea and finger sandwiches. The ladies seemed to like them. Joan and Renee, at least. Denise never touched them. Never even tried them. Not once.

It was almost one o’clock. So that’s how it was going to be. No condolences. No comforting words in her time of grief. Mavis looked again at the stain on the carpet. Her nice beige carpet. He had always been high-strung. Poor Sparky.

They could’ve called, at least. On their own, Renee or Joan would’ve called. It was Denise, the dictator, she was certain. Denise with her perfect shoes and her perfect hair, and her perfect husband, Bill, who left her years ago for a perfect blond.

She felt bad for Denise, for a moment. There was something frail about her, in spite of her size. It was 1:15. No one had called. Not a word.

Sparky was a yippy little terrier mix. Mavis told him herself to be quiet all the time. But Denise had no right to say it. Bad enough Mavis endured the remarks about her nice beige carpet. My dear, Denise had said. Beige is so…well, beige.

Mavis had scrubbed until her hands were raw, trying to get rid of the stain. It was only a week ago, but it seemed like a lifetime. Sparky, yipping incessantly, like he always did. Denise, her face contorted, screeching; shut that little bastard up I’m trying to bid here

It was after two. Mavis tucked the sandwiches into plastic bags and poured the tea in a pitcher. She put on her slippers and sat on the couch. Large and in charge. That was Denise in a nutshell. Sparky might still be alive if it weren’t for Denise.

The room was warm, and Mavis soon fell asleep. Jesus came to her in a dream. In flowing robes, with Sparky in his arms. Fear not, he said, for the world is perfect. Then his eyes rolled back in his head. At 4:45 the telephone rang. Mavis struggled to stand.

It was Diane, her next door neighbor. She sobbed and could barely speak. There’d been an accident. Denise was driving, she had a heart attack. Joan and Renee, they were in the back, they were fine. But Denise. Denise was gone.

shut that little bastard up

then Sparky had gurgled. He convulsed and foamed at the mouth. His eyes rolled back in his head and his bowels released, in a spray of blood and excrement.

The ladies screamed. They ran for the door. It seemed like only yesterday.

Mavis went to the kitchen. She put a few of the finger sandwiches on a plate and poured a glass of raspberry tea.

Large and in charge. Denise liked to drive. Mavis looked at her nice beige carpet; it was 5:09, Sparky was safe in Jesus’ arms, it was stained and the world was perfect.