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Day Eighteen: Business

“Where do these people keep the spice section? I can never remember…” I pushed the cart through the supermarket. True to the worst stand-up routines, it pulled to the left – a Liberal supermarket cart. It tried to steer me into the egregiously sweet breakfast cereals, none of which (to my knowledge) contained any useful spices.

“Maybe the next aisle, I don’t know.” Rosie sounded exhausted. But she always did, these days. I tried to help as much as possible, to take some of the pressure off, what with her job and everything. I did the cooking, of course, and did the cleaning most days. But there were some things I couldn’t do for her. Things she wouldn’t let me do even if I could.

We hadn’t had a good dinner together in weeks, and it was starting to wear on me. I had grown up cooking, being able to whip up something… well, maybe not wonderful, but certainly edible and enjoyable. From my mom and my grandfather I managed to inherit a bunch of recipes, the kind that are perfect for big families with little time, even though our family was just the two of us. I learned enough of the basics – what went with what – to make a decent meal nine times out of ten.

When I married Rosie, my love of cooking was probably what won her mother over. “Rosie needs a man who knows how to take care of the house,” she had told me over several glasses of wine. “Our Rosie is busy, you understand, with her… Her business.” She winked at me, but I couldn’t tell if that was the alcohol of her attempt at being subtle.

Rosie’s business.

I would never tell her, you understand. I would never even for a moment complain to her about it, because I know how important it is to her, and to everyone, really. I know she’s doing a hard job, one that she never really wanted and can’t really give up. She should get medals, accolades, high schools named after her. But I hated her “business.” I hated what it did to her, how it made her feel, how it made her think. If I could take it away, I would. But then she wouldn’t be Rosie.

“Over there, honey,” she said. “Cumin.” I turned to look where she was pointing and took her in. She was beautiful. Shiny black hair, smooth dark skin… except for the scar on her cheek. Even that, I wouldn’t ask her to give up.

I guided the recalcitrant cart dawn the aisle. There was a full shelf of spices there – my own little candy store. I pulled off a bottle of cumin and then, after a thought, some turmeric and red pepper. Maybe spicy beef tonight. “Rosie, do we have green peppers at home?” She didn’t answer. “Rosie?”

When I turned around she was standing behind the card, her hands clenched on the handle and eyes closed. She was straining, the muscles on her arms twitching. “Get out, Paulie,” she said quietly.

“Again, Rosie?” I looked around. “Here?”

“Get out slowly or he’ll see you.”

I couldn’t quite hold back the frustrated sigh, and I hated myself for it. I dropped a package of noodles into the cart and walked up to her. I knew what this was. Same thing every time. “Be careful, hon,” I said, and kissed her on the cheek. I don’t think she noticed.

Before I got to the end of the aisle, I heard the sound I’d heard so many times before. Like a great, wet tearing noise. When I turned around, there was a gaping wound in the world, torn through as though the supermarket and everything in it was just a facade, a matte painting that we all pretended was real. The wound dripped something that my brain could only interpret as blood, but I knew that wasn’t what it was. And in the darkness beyond, I could see shapes that had no business calling themselves shapes, and heard screams that only barely qualified as noises.

The Hunter was coming again.

Rosie stood up, all the tiredness leaving her body. She’d pay for it later, I knew.

From behind, silhouetted against the utter darkness of the rift, she seemed to shine with a light that came from nowhere and everywhere at once. Her back straightened, and flickers of silver brilliance danced around her. I shielded my eyes against my wife as her left hand whipped to her side, pulling a greatsword from whatever sideways place she always kept it.

Sword in hand, guarded by the light, she stood ready as a great, inchoate, unspeakable thing pushed and tore and slid its way out of the widening rift, squeezed itself down to our paltry three dimensions, and took a thunderous wet step into the baking aisle of our local supermarket.

Rosie shifted her grip, ready to do business with The Hunter.

I shook my head and started walking slowly and calmly to the exit as great living tongues of darkness began to catch and dissolve the people who had decided to run out of perfectly understandable panic. It took a few times of being utterly unmade and then reconstituted – painfully – before you were able to hold back the gibbering terror. The air behind me shook. Glass broke, the shelves tipped, toppled, and emptied. The air itself bent and twisted, and I stopped for a moment as up and down redefined themselves. When I got to the door, I felt – not heard – a howl of pain and anger and fear.

And I smiled. He never learned.

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