Copyright © Charlotte Boyett-Compo, 2014
Margeaux sighed deeply as she scrubbed at the caked-on tomato sauce that clung to the plate. Her head was down, her eyes locked on the sudsy water and the pale blue plate shimmering beneath the bubbles. With her bottom lip tucked between her teeth, she worked at the dried red crust that clung to the plate like a leech. So intent was she on removing the offending scab that when the sudden blast of wind hit the window over the sink, she jumped. She snapped her head up to stare at her reflection in the frosted glass. Wincing, she put up a suds-coated hand to push back a strand of hair that had escaped the bun at her nape. As she ran the base of her thumb over the runaway, the clink of the snow pummeling the windowpane made her shiver. It was blizzard weather and the warmth from the radiant heaters was struggling to keep the kitchen bearable.
‘Ten to fourteen inches,’ she remembered the newscaster saying. ‘Whiteout conditions by midnight.’
It was Wythentide Eve and snow always fell on Wythentide. Ice carnivals were held all over the planet during the holidays between the Winter Solstice and Fairing Night but the most important one was Wythentide. It was on that day the doorway between this world and the next opened. When a whiteout occurred on the eve of the great day, it was considered an omen.
And not a very good omen at that.
Well, she thought as she stared out the window at the snow blowing across her backyard, it was going to have to step it up if there was going to be a dreaded whiteout. While the snow was coming down in a thick curtain, she could still see the fence at the back of her property and that was about eighty feet away. Not that she cared if there was a whiteout. She didn’t believe in omens. Wasn’t superstitious. She never ventured beyond her front door even in the heat of summer so it matter little to her if the snow obscured her vision. Being an agoraphobic in an An Rúis did have its upside.
Lowering her head once more, she scrubbed more vigorously at the accumulated sauce until something her Aunt Therese had once said stole through her memory.
‘Scrub lightly and not hard. The light strokes will wear away the dirt quicker. The harder you scrub, the more you push the grime into the carpet.’
She stopped, flipped the sponge over and very gently ran it over the caked-on sauce. The spot came away easily.
“Huh,” she said aloud as she lifted the plate out of the water to inspect it. The scab was gone and the plate was sparkling clean. Turning on the faucet, she ran it under the cold water then slid it into the slot in the drainer.
Squeezing out the sponge, she poked it into the mouth of the whimsical little ceramic green frog perched on the back of the sink and fished under the water to remove the sink stopper. As the water began to drain, she returned her gaze to the window.
And nearly screamed.
Her heart stuttered as she stared at the figure of a man standing under the security lamp in the falling snow. He was facing the house with his hands jammed into the pockets of a dark pea coat, his hair blowing in the wild whip of glacial wind. The broad shoulders of the coat were rimed with snow. She could not see his face but instinct told her his eyes were locked on her.
Fear closed her throat and she backed away from the sink. Her hands were dripping wet. Cutting her eyes to the backdoor beside the sink, she could feel her heart thudding hard in her chest; hear it pounding in her ears.
Was the door locked?
She shook her head.
When wasn’t it? She rarely opened it except in the sweltering heat of mid-summer and then she never unhooked the screen door.
The very flimsy screen door that lay behind the multi-paned door that was her only protection between her and the outside world.
She bit down on her lip.
Slowly she swung her gaze to the window over the sink—hoping the dark figure was gone then praying it wasn’t.
He was still standing there hunched into his coat with the snow cascading thickly around him. It didn’t seem as if he’d moved at all. He was ankle-deep in a drift with the light from the security lamp washing over him in a faint yellow pyramid.
Reasoning she had more than ample time before he could wade through the snowbank to reach the stoop, she shifted her gaze to the door to make sure it was securely locked. Trembling now, she saw that it was but the relief she felt was short lived. Her mind shot to the front door.
Had she locked it behind Jon when he had come to deliver her groceries?
Loathe to leave the kitchen for fear the stranger lurking in her backyard would break through the primarily glass door, she reached out to grip the edge of the sink. Her knees felt like water—about to run out from under her—as she clamped her fingers onto the porcelain to stare at the stranger.
He might as well have been a statue for he hadn’t moved at all. The only thing stirring was his hair as it was tousled by the strong gusts of wind.
“What do you want?” she asked aloud. Her heart was trip hammering behind her ribcage to make her feel lightheaded. She hadn’t expected at answer but when one came, she nearly fainted.
You. I want you, Margeaux.