Mental Pause

By Anne Louise O'Connell

Crime & mystery, Women's fiction

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7 mins

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Abbie opened the freezer, pulled out a loaf of bread and held it against her cheek. It was such a relief. She grabbed the eggs and milk from the fridge and began setting the table. She hadn’t slept well and her head was pounding. It felt as if she was standing in the middle of a 21-gun salute. How long were these night sweats going to last? It seemed to be getting worse rather than better.
“Morning Mom.” Her eldest son, Trevor shuffled into the kitchen and grabbed the glass of orange juice Abbie had poured. He downed it in one long swig. He was actually only four minutes older than his twin brother, Winston, yet Winston was the one who seemed to have wisdom beyond his 17 years. Both boys were very bright and usually lit up her days.
“Is your brother up yet? You’ll have to get crackin’ or you’ll be late for school.”
Trevor laughed and jerked his head to get what Abbie considered the way too long blonde bangs out of his eyes. He thought she was being funny. Abbie wasn’t in the mood and just scowled at him, holding the spatula so tightly in her hand that the jagged edge of the handle that had broken off years ago, dug into her palm. “How many times do I have to tell you, I hate looking at you through that stringy hair…you need to get it cut before graduation. Now, go get your brother.” Abbie waved the spatula in the direction of the kitchen door.
“Okay, chill…I’m going… morning Dad.” Trevor squeezed by his father both of them turning sideways to get through the kitchen doorway at the same time. Both boys had their father’s tall, broad-shouldered build. She caught him as he shrugged his shoulders at his dad and motioned his head in her direction. Conrad shrugged back. Abbie quickly turned and busied herself trying to open the bread bag so they wouldn’t see that she had noticed the exchange. Someone had tied a knot in the top and it had frozen solid. She slammed it into the sink. “I guess I need some scissors,” she mumbled under her breath.
“Morning babe. Whatcha doin’? Need some help?” He walked over and planted a kiss on the top of her head. She usually loved it when he did that… used to think it was sweet. This morning Abbie felt an unreasonable irritation burbling up.
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m making breakfast,” she snipped.
Conrad had been a beat cop for 15 years. He was desperately hoping for a promotion to detective. And, he constantly questioned everything, practicing for the day he would become an investigator. It used to be a fun game, like playing 20 questions and she and the boys always tried to stump him, but he usually guessed within 10. She wasn’t in a playful mood.
“No, I mean with that?” He pointed to the Teflon pan sitting on the stove.
“I was going to scramble some eggs.” Her thumb caressed the egg that was settled in the palm of her hand and she imagined bits of shell, yolk and egg white dripping down the side of his face. She clenched her teeth and with all the restraint she could muster, set it on the counter turned to face him and crossed her arms.
“Not with that you’re not. Are you trying to kill us all?” Conrad shook his head and plunked onto the bar stool at the kitchen island and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Well?”
Abbie realized he was obviously waiting for an answer. She felt as if she was in the interrogation room at the police station.
“What in God’s name are you talking about? And, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t be so patronizing.” She was desperately holding on to her last thread of patience and the cannons in her head were getting closer and going off more often. She rubbed her temples and tried to focus on what he was saying.
What she really wanted to say was that he was such an asshole. And, maybe she was trying to kill him. That would certainly get a reaction out of him. She wasn’t a child. How dare he scold her like that! A hundred comebacks rolled around in her head but she just couldn’t form the words. She didn’t want to fight. They never usually did. They had always been able to resolve their differences calmly, without any name-calling or shouting. But lately, it didn’t take much to make her want to jump down his throat. He really wasn’t an asshole. He was actually a very sweet, kind and loving husband and father. He was a real anomaly in the law enforcement world. She had heard so many stories from the other wives about how the job had made their husbands cold and remote. Conrad seemed to be able to separate his work life and home life and was always in a good mood at home.
She looked at him leaning on the island that they had installed together and tried to bring back the memories of how much fun they had doing odd jobs around the house. They were a real team. They had installed the island to make more counter space to enjoy their other favorite hobby. They loved to cook, which was a good thing since the whole family loved to eat too. Unfortunately, the recollection wasn’t helping her mood any. EVERYTHING… IRRITATES… ME! Her mind screamed but she pursed her lips, grit her teeth and swallowed the bitter retort and just glared at Conrad waiting for him to reply.
“The Teflon in that pan is scratched and as soon as that seal breaks, poison starts seeping out of it. I’ve told you that before,” he continued in his typical, matter-of-fact, non-accusing, yet somehow scolding manner.
Abbie just kept boring holes with her eyes, wanting to tell him to make his own damn breakfast. But she took a deep breath, counted to ten and, knowing he was right, turned the burner off, grabbed the pan and turned toward the back door. She took a few more deep, cleansing breaths, remembering her yoga teacher’s instructions, unclenched her teeth and waited for her heart to stop pounding.
“Jeez. I’m so sorry. You’re absolutely right. I meant to throw this out when I noticed the scratches last week. I’ll do it now. Will you put on some toast, please, so the boys have at least something to eat before school?” It took all of her willpower to sound semi-normal. I sound like a stepford wife… he must think I’ve totally lost it.
“Sure.” Conrad picked up the loaf of bread out of the sink and effortlessly undid the knot. “Rough night, eh?” Abbie knew Conrad was trying. It seemed to her that he was struggling to understand.
“How the hell did you get that friggin’ bag open so easily?” Abbie whispered under her breath. Conrad didn’t hear her or chose to ignore her. He was probably wondering what was happening to his typically efficient and sweet wife, who took everything in stride and was usually the referee and cheerleader. Abbie wondered what had happened to her too.
“Yes, last night was rough… A real sauna,” she agreed as she shuffled into her flip-flops sitting by the back door and felt another flush of heat starting in her bone marrow. She unbelted her robe and opened the back door, welcoming the cool morning breeze that wafted in around her and up through her night gown… the third one she had put on after changing twice through the night.
The breeze felt good but didn’t eliminate the memory. There she was, lying flat on her back in bed with the bedclothes tossed to the side, trying not to let anything touch… her skin so hot that it felt as if it was going to melt off the bones. The sweat hadn’t started just yet but she knew it wasn’t too far behind. Oh, there it was… the prickly feeling, followed by a pool of sweat forming in that little pocket at the base of the throat, just above the collarbone. The sun was coming up and Abbie could see the light through the crack in the black out curtains. Conrad slept at odd times of the day so they were special curtains that made the room dark enough to trick his body clock into thinking it might still be night and time to sleep. The cat was crying to go out and Conrad subconsciously reached over to stroke her arm… ow! It seared.
The night sweats. Abbie had been experiencing them every night for months. It’s a slow boil that builds up to spontaneous combustion. It starts simmering in the bone marrow and then seeps into the blood stream. Then it comes to a boil and spreads through the whole circulatory system continuing until it emanates into the muscles and eventually breaks the barrier through to the skin’s surface where it hovers for a moment as you’re seared from the inside. The skin is momentarily dry and hot to the touch then bursts into droplets of salty, stingy, evil bands of sweat beads that roll en masse and group into pools. They sit in troughs under the eyes, camp out in crevices between and under the breasts, at the base of the throat and on the upper lip. The skin becomes slimy and slippery – the sweat demons then retreat, evaporating and leaving a tacky stickiness behind. Then the shivering starts.
Abbie had slipped quietly out of bed, reached into her cupboard and blindly pulled out a random t-shirt to put on to soak up the sweat and be a barrier to any touch. She went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Oh my God… how ironic is that? The t-shirt she was wearing said, “I’m out of estrogen and I have a hand gun… any more questions?” It had a yellow-eyed, glaring, scrawny, black cat on it. Maybe she would feel better if she had a shower. She took off the t-shirt she had just put on, pulled back the curtain and stepped into the tub. Abbie felt the relief as the tepid water rinsed the stickiness off. She toweled off, put her t-shirt back on and climbed quietly back into bed hoping she hadn’t totally grossed out Conrad who, Abbie knew, was pretending to sleep soundly. She figured he just wasn’t quite sure what to say. Poor guy. She really felt for him but couldn’t quite bring herself to sympathize with his plight in understanding it, or her, when she was trying to deal with the shifting, swirling, swinging emotional and physical turmoil herself.
Abbie sighed. This was going to be a long summer. She stepped out onto the back porch and braced herself as she felt the telltale pinpricks. Oh joy! This is the first time it’s happened in the morning. She crossed the back yard, carrying the poisonous pan in one hand and flapping her robe with the other trying to get some air circulating. She started to sweat profusely. Rivers flowed down every fold in her body, in some parts she hadn’t realized had become crevices. She knew she must look pretty disheveled as she hadn’t had a chance to comb the knots out of her hair after tossing and turning and sweating all friggin’ night. She giggled to herself imagining her neighbor Bess’s reaction if she happened to look out the window right at that very moment. Abbie was sure she looked like the wild woman from Borneo. The kids had to be at school so damn early so she was always up before six a.m. She hoped it was too early for Bess, or any of the other neighbors for that matter, to be up.
She opened the back gate onto the alleyway where they kept the garbage bins. Oh shit! What a bloody mess. Abbie looked in dismay at the remnants of the barbequed T-bones from the night before that were now strewn all over the back walkway. The bin lay on its side wobbling slightly to and fro in the breeze.
“Damn cats! This is all I need. How about a little break, hey?” She glanced up at the sky her free hand on her hips. A whimper caught in her throat, distracted for just a second, as she pinched the roll on her waist and thought about its ever-widening girth. She exhaled with an ‘oh woe is me’ moan and bent over to start collecting the debris as she wiped the sweat from her forehead with her forearm before it could drip into her eyes. She caught some movement out of the corner of her eye… and then heard a low, guttural, growl.
Abbie slowly turned toward the sound and there, about five feet away, snarling and growling was the mangy pit bull from down the street that had been terrorizing the neighborhood for years. His owner had been court-ordered to keep the thing muzzled and chained in the back yard after it had attacked and seriously injured a young child but it kept getting out. Abbie had called the police several times, to no avail. She had just commented to Conrad the day before that it was going to kill someone before anything would be done about it. He had shrugged it off saying that there were more pressing cases they were dealing with.
Abbie stood frozen to the spot as the guttural growls intensified. She could feel the rumbling vibration in the pit of her stomach. New sweat rivulets had sprung out and were pouring into her eyes and stinging. She couldn’t see very well, not only because of the sweat dripping in her eyes, but she had also forgotten to put on her glasses. She could see he was getting closer though and the snarling was getting more menacing. She felt her arm starting to rise above her head in slow motion. It was as if it was under someone else’s control. The frying pan in her hand had been forgotten as she was distracted by the sensation of every single pore in her body pulsing with heat and the shear panic rising in her throat.
He meant business. Abbie sure didn’t want to be the next person he mauled. Suddenly, her panic turned to anger. How dare he come into my back yard and threaten me? Abbie’s jaw clenched. She closed her eyes against the stinging sweat, tightened her grip… and followed through with an arcing swing like all her years of tennis lessons had taught her.



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