by T. Maxim Simmler
Four and a half minutes.
He checked his watch, compared it with the clock on the kitchen wall, and checked again. Timing was important; a few seconds more or less and she’d notice. Forty years and he still didn’t know how she did it.
“Exquisite taste buds,” she said, irritating him for a moment, so he glanced at the ticker again, counted silently the last seconds up to the full minute before he carefully lowered the egg into the boiling water with a spoon.
“You sure have, dear,” he said with a smile and a wink.
There was a new post-it note on the cupboard. He patted down his cardigan, but he had forgotten his glasses. And where he had put them.
He got easily distracted nowadays. Nothing serious, for sure — just these random, abstract thoughts and memories, flashing up and dissolving too quickly to hold on to. He wanted to put names to them and places, but whenever they stayed a bit longer, he could feel them growing, pressing against his skull like tumours. Still they always evaded him, and the hurt and desperation left him edgy.
“How long have they been in there now?” His eyes darted from his clock to the watch and back. He got nervous, jumpy. Something itched inside of him.
“Who cares, darling? Come on, why don’t you sit down with me a bit?”
The kindness in her voice angered him. He opened the cupboards, slammed them shut.
“And the bloody salt is never in the same place twice.”
Two minutes? Three minutes? Four? Well, it wouldn’t matter without some salt anyway. His ire grew, and grew barbs. He looked at her for help, but she just sat and smiled.
A woman made of flowers, he thought; but it was only the wallpaper he saw through her when she started to fade away.
“Don’t go. Please!” he screamed, grabbed the pot and threw it at the empty table.
The lights went on, a hand rested on his shoulder. He felt cold.
“What are you doing, Dad?” she asked, though, of course, she knew the answer. Just another nightly ritual to go through.
“I … I was making Ellie’s breakfast, but she …” He looked around, trembling, small and frail, his shoulder bones under her palm brittle and fragile like the wing of a bird.
“Daddy. Mom is … she’s … Come on, Dad, please — it’s three in the morning.”
She switched off the gas.
“Why don’t we go back to your room, right? Try and get some sleep?”
They looked at each other, lost. Him, trying to find a memory fitting her face. Her, trying to remember better times, many nights ago.
She turned off the lights and stared back into the dark, looking for a remnant of her mother, a trace of the woman he conjured up with the mists of his mind.
But like every night only the dark stared back.
T. Maxim Simmler writes crime, horror and assorted weird stuff. His stories have appeared in various anthologies and magazines, from Thuglit to Shotgun Honey to Near To The Knuckle, and his first novella, The Shakes, will be out in spring. Please stop by on probably the most swear word riddled page in the history of social media: