The grass was wet; the newspaper was supposed to be up on the porch. Any other time, she would’ve complained. Would’ve given somebody, somewhere, what for. Not now, not today. The paper, at Fleast, was in a plastic bag. Orange, like those jumpsuits the prisoners wear on TV

Jimmy, her neighbor, saw her and waved. Retired from the force, Jim was the neighborhood watch captain now. Stays with you, he said, like the smell of old smoke. Louella nodded and went back inside. Louella Breeds lived a nice, quiet life. She left the wet orange bag on the porch.

Hang in there, baby! Her coffee mug had one of those cat cartoons on it. Cream and sugar this morning. She figured why not.

She turned to the comics and crossword puzzle. Louella always worked the crossword in pencil. They got tricky, sometimes, with those crossword clues. Like seven down. Cold that lasts a really long time. Six letters. Louella Breeds thought and stared out the window.

The spell was broken by gnat-like creatures that made tiny gnat-sized buzzes and hums. The bananas, she thought. The wicker basket was full of bananas. Half of them black, half of them green.

The basket was old. Whenever she put bananas in or took bananas out, it loosened the weave, and stray frayed pieces fell to the floor. Today she decided it didn’t much matter.

She brushed her hair and put on some lipstick. Pomegranate Ice. A bold, bright shade she bought on a whim. Cold that lasts…they got cute, sometimes, with those crossword clues.

At noon, Louella went out to the mailbox. Her neighbors, George and Joyce Timball, walked by. They laughed and talked baby talk to their Bichon Frise, Wuzzy: wuz he a good boy oh yes he wuz

George waved, Joyce smiled. Wuzzy strutted and pranced. Louella waved back, and reached deep in the mailbox as if something were caught in the soft metal creases. Louella Breeds lived a nice, quiet life. She waited for the Timballs, and Wuzzy, to pass. 

Back inside, she sat at the table and looked through her mail. Lawn care ads. Arby’s coupons. An envelope with “Just a Reminder!” and a smiley face stamp. A new seed and bulb catalog.

Past the begonias, beyond the lilies. She stopped at the page where the peace roses were; beautiful flowers. Like petal-shaped prayers. Cream-colored, with pale pink and pale green centers.

Six letters. Two words. She freshened her lipstick. Cold that lasts a really long time…

They lay in their rows. Down and across, like the blocks in the puzzle. She made a small pot of orange-mint tea. Louella had planned to wait until dark. Now, she wondered why; gnats buzzed and hummed. But it didn’t much matter.

She poured the tea and Louella began.

 

***

 

He rang the doorbell. He knocked on the door. He looked at the bright orange bags on the porch. Jimmy waited. No answer.  

He pushed on the door and sucked in his breath.

A coffee mug. What used to be coffee. Arby’s. A crossword. A picture of roses. Jimmy leaned over. Ice age, he whispered. Fat black flies smacked at the window.

The roses were cream, and pale pink and green. The colors he painted his granddaughter's nursery.