I nudged the refrigerator door closed with my knee. Oops, too hard. The door shut with a thunk, and the clatter of bottles on the door reverberated around the kitchen. I winced, waited a moment, and tiptoed across the living room to our bedroom. Ear to the door, I listened to Mary’s slow and regular breathing; her sleep was undisturbed. The rumble and rattle of wind buffeting the house had covered me. Chuckling, quietly, and with a plate of Stilton, king of cheese, and a bottle of port, I headed to my recliner in a corner of the living room where a bowl of walnuts and a book awaited me.
Mary and my cardiologist banned this snack a year ago. I whispered Mary’s “Stilton and Port” lecture as I tiptoed across the living room carpet. “Jack, you know better. Port and Stilton raise your blood pressure, and Doc Rupe said you’re only a good sneeze away from a stroke. For God’s sake, have an apple.”
Captured the tone perfectly that time, I thought as I snuggled into my recliner. I’d been on back roads and in and out of dairy barns all day and into the night, trying to catch up on the farm calls for our veterinary clinic. Mary and the kids were asleep when I got home, and I needed time to wind down. It was minus thirty degrees outside with a wind chill of minus sixty, but I was showered, warm, and comfortable in a thick robe. It was the perfect time for my favorite treat.
The house was dark except for the pool of light thrown by a lamp behind my chair and small multi-colored Christmas lights surrounding the window on my left. The lights gave a dim but cheerful glow to the edge of the room. The crystal, silver, and pastel globes on the Christmas tree standing against the opposite wall reflected that light, and as the furnace kicked in, the reflections danced across the wall, betraying currents of warm air moving gently about the room.
Heat, wonderful heat. I gave my wine glass a twist to celebrate feeling my toes again. The liquid ruby swirled round the glass, as I offered a silent toast to Mary, may she sleep soundly tonight.
On the second glass, I was startled by a swoosh of air exhaled by the cushion of a wing-backed chair to my left. I glanced at the chair, but couldn’t bring it into focus. Contacts must be dirty, I thought and returned to my book. I’d barely read a paragraph when I caught a whiff of cows, a stench, really. I didn’t mind it, but Mary would have my hide if I’d tracked anything from a barn onto the carpet. I hauled myself from the recliner and checked the carpet all the way to the front door.
Clean. No problem there.
Nose must be playing tricks on me. I returned to my chair and poured a third glass. This had to be the last. Tomorrow would be another fourteen-hour workday. I took another bite of Stilton, crumbly yet creamy, a pungent and savory blue with a background of cheddar, when I heard a throat clear. I put my book down and looked around the room. Empty.
It had to be one of the kids. Nobody but veterinarians and dairy farmers go out in weather like this, but we’re not rational. Ask our wives. The only crimes committed in this weather are done in a warm office with an electric heater under the desk. I hadn’t even locked the doors tonight. Never did, in this weather.
“Josh, is that you?” I called softly. Our youngest son was a light sleeper and up at odd hours. More to the point, he knew this snack was off limits, and he wasn’t above blackmail.
The silence unnerved me. A shadow moved in the dining room to my right. “Who’s there? What the hell is going on?” I whispered.
A man’s voice came from the kitchen. “Cripes, some host you are. Ya wouldn’t have a cold beer and some cheese curls, would ya?” A clunk and squish came from the kitchen as the refrigerator door closed and a beer can opened.
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