Mrs. Tobias Goes to the Dogs by Susan Kuchinskas

Dark damps the house. She rests cocooned in the air conditioner’s hum. Above it, outside, she imagines the howling of dogs.

They made a mistake on the headstone. Too grey, that was not the granite on the sample. This is not a perfect grave.

A pound of sugar. The crème fraiche imported from France. Will there be raspberries? The success of this next endeavor may hinge on raspberries.

Mrs. Tobias heads for the supermarket. The Volvo purrs. It’s a pussy whose constitution hasn’t been destroyed by too much cream. All goes well. On a table covered in green Astroturf, the baskets of raspberries twinkle like lush labia. If only there hadn’t been that problem with the headstone.

The dogs have been in the flower beds again. Gladiolas have toppled. Lobelia purple lies crushed to the earth like a bruise. Heavy paws have gouged the damp and tender lawn. Although Mr. Tobias is no longer here to shepherd it through the hot August, the grass remains sweet and green, thanks to the sprinkler system he had the foresight to install. Too tender, though, for those claws.

Creaming a pound of butter can be tedious and hard on the wrist. The secret is focus. Make every stroke a perfect one. Push the pastry tool firmly through the butter till you hit the bottom of the bowl. A twisting motion divides the chunk, sending the pieces with a flick of your fingers up onto the pile of grainy sugar along the side of the bowl. Then, all it takes is a brisk curving pass of the tool along the top of the mound to bring the next clot to the center.

A cheesecake needs to rest, so she’ll finish it tonight. Tomorrow, she’ll do the leg of lamb.

Cicadas scree against the window screens. Here in the throat of the night, the air conditioner falls nearly silent, too involved in its own dreams to fight back. Mrs. Tobias drifts within the house on humid currents. Loneliness leaves greasy fingerprints on the wooden furniture. Tomorrow, in the sunlight, she’ll grind them off again with lemon polish. Outside, the dogs snuffle like the thunder that comes with heat lightning.

When she gets up in the morning, she sees their muddy foot prints have marked the flagstone patio.

Mrs. Tobias does everything well. Except for that matter of the headstone. It weighs on her mind as she inserts the flexible spatula into the spring-form pan, working it down against the stainless steel, gently pushing, not cutting, the slightly browned surface of the cheesecake away from the pan.

Tomorrow, the house will sing with the fluting voices of her friends. The filmy pastels of their blouses will waft out into the garden like nectar-seeking insects.

Now she unwraps the bloody leg. She rinses the sodden butcher’s paper before folding it and stuffing it into the bottom of the kitchen garbage pail. The bone’s carnal heft fills her hands. Cicadas drone in the soupy August air.

From the window over the sink, she sees that her careful hosing has missed a single paw print on the flagstone. It lies like a brand. Mrs. Tobias puts onion, leeks, garlic, ginger and a little wine into her iron saucepan and lets them simmer on the stove.

She lies on the sofa in the dimness. The air conditioning does nothing on days like these. Moisture blooms on her forehead. Mr. Tobias’ long grey arms reach up from under the sofa and wrap around her. The dogs are loose in her garden. She imagines the ground shaking as they throw their heavy bodies down to roll in her flower beds. She knows it’s only her heartbeat.

She should get up, turn the hose on them, bang pots and yell at them. But the muzzy atmosphere has sucked the juice from her limbs and she doesn’t have the strength to unwind her husband’s vining arms. She believes she can hear strong jaws crunching dahlias.

She lies there long past dark. Sometime in the early evening, his arms unwrap themselves from around her and the sofa and creep away like slugs. She is starving.

In the kitchen, she spills the raspberries from their dainty plastic basket onto the cheesecake. They roil off, so she smears them into the cake’s fissured surface with her hand. She pulls out a chunk with her fingers. As she eats it, she listens for snuffles, footsteps, howling. She thinks she can make out dog voices caroling.

She pulls the pan with the leg of lamb from the refrigerator and hauls it from the marinade, leaving a trail of pink spatters on the way to the cutting board. She hacks gobs of meat off the bone until it lies exposed and pearly.

She gathers the chunks of meat in her hands and uses her hip to push the door outward against the pressure of the sopping air. Her wrist is delicate, but she heaves the chunks far out into the garden, past the flowerbeds.

In the kitchen again, she grasps the bone where it’s slenderest. It smells like rusty earth. She bites it.

By day, Susan Kuchinskas writes about technology and business. At night, she dreams and, sometimes, weaves those dreams into stories that reflect the magic that can be found everywhere, even in the light of day. She’s the author of The Chemistry of Connection, a book about how the brain chemical oxytocin affects our relationships and our lives. She’s a potter, organic gardener and beekeeper.