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Norma looked at the clock. 4:52. Pete would be home soon.

(Bright light, and voices, and screams: she thinks the screams are coming from her, but they can't be, because this is Fullerville, nothing like this happens in Fullerville, and they had only gone down to the ShopCo for some eggs, five minutes is all it would have taken, just a routine trip to the market, but the blood and the glass on the floor is telling her it's NOT a routine trip, no indeedy, because routine trips don't end with glass on the floor, blood on the floor, too much blood, oceans of blood on the white-and-black tiles; she thinks inanely that it looks like a checkerboard, a red-and-black checkerboard, and then the screaming starts and she realizes she is screaming, she is and it's because the tiles aren't red, they're white, but now they're red because of the blood, and the blood is --)

Norma and Pete had been married in 1986, and Norma had never had cause to complain about her husband. Her mother predicted naught but doom for the young couple. Norma, however, had learned long ago that her mother was not always right. It seemed mamie was calling more and more often lately, her voice full of concern as Norma insisted she and Pete were fine, just peachy, how's your back, mom? The last conversation had been just last week, in fact, December 17, 1998, the phone ringing, mamie's voice answering Norma's hello with

("How are you holding up, sweetie?"

How do you think I feel, she thinks, but she only says she's fine, fine, fine, why do you ask? No reason I shouldn't be doing great, we -- but she stops there, and the voice on the line is saying

"Poor baby, I heard it, they had it on the news here, I just can't believe it would happen, not in Fullerville, it's such a nice city," and the voice goes on, but she doesn't listen, because her caller has touched on that one thing: how could it happen in Fullerville, this nice safe city, how could a trip to the store for eggs leave her screaming, screaming because the blood on the floor is --)

"How are you, Norma?"

Norma had paused for a moment, the phone cradled between her jaw and shoulder as she went back to kneading her bread. She'd have to get it in the oven soon for it to be ready when Pete came home. "I'm fine, mamie. Couldn't be better."

"Well, you know me, dear, I just like to check in on my babies from time to time. Did you get the job?"

Norma paused in the act of reaching for a towel, her mind blank. "Job?"

"At the ShopCo?"

The towel had fallen from her hand, forgotten; her doughy hands had locked together on her breast; she instantly forgot everything she had been doing as a wave of terror swept over her, leaving her senseless. Red dots swam before her eyes, spreading into each other, looking like pools of --

"Norma? Norma, are you there?"

Her mother's voice, worried and shrill, had brought her back to herself. The terror that had gripped her so fully only a moment before was forgotten. "I'm okay. No, I didn't get hired. Mr. Vance didn't even ask me to interview for the job."

Mamie's voice was still anxious. "Are you sure you're okay, Norma? I mean, Peter -- "

"Pete's fine, mom," Norma interrupted tersely. "We're both just fine. He makes enough for both of us, after all; I just would've liked to have the job. After all, might as well put my English degree to work bagging groceries at the market, right?" Norma had laughed, a little too long, a little too loud.

Silence. Then: "Norma, listen honey. I know being alone for so long can be hard on you. After your dad died, Lord knows, I was devastated. But professional counseling can -- "

"Mom, Pete's only been gone since 9:00 this morning! He'll be back in a few hours. I'm okay. We're both okay. Why do I need counseling?"

Her mother had sounded worried now, all right. "Norma, listen. You have to listen to me very carefully, because this is important. Norma, Peter is -- "

The phone fell from Norma's shoulder, bouncing off the counter and snapping to a halt at the end of its cord. "Damn!" Norma picked it back up, her eyes on the clock, and held the mouthpiece to her lips. "Dropped the phone. Sorry, mom, I gotta go. This bread has got to get in the oven pronto, or it won't be done when Pete gets home." She had hung up without waiting for an answer. Mamie hadn't called back since then.

For some reason she didn't quite understand, Norma was glad.

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