Ellis Baker was deep in an early morning slumber when a scream woke him. He bolted upright and leaped to the floor, ignoring the immense pain stemming from his back and the icy cold touch of the floor on his bare feet. He burst into the kitchen to find his wife Anna across the room, holding a greasy spatula, and staring at the kitchen table as if it had stricken her. A pan of scrambled eggs sizzled loudly on the eye of the stove. Ellis moved them over quickly then went to his wife.
"Anna, what's wrong?" He asked, placing his boney hands against her equally boney shoulders. Being only 70 and having very little fat or muscle, Ellis feared that he and his wife would be nothing but withered husks by the age of 80. There was a brief moment of silence as he stared into Anna's eyes, wide and bulging, and saw the fear in them.
"The…salt…" She finally croaked, seeming to struggle and choke up her own words.
"What? What about it?" The clear glass shaker was sitting in its customary location next to the pepper in the center of the kitchen table. Ellis reached out for it and saw Anna cover her face, as if bracing for an attack. He liberated the salt from the table and removed the cap to take a look inside, maybe to find a bug or something that would drive Anna to scream like that. Instead he saw nothing but fine white grains. Ellis twisted the cap on and placed it back on the table, turning to his wife who was still pressing hard against the kitchen wall.
"What about the salt honey?" Ellis asked. Anna struggled once again before uttering.
Ellis gave a slight shrug and laughed to himself quietly. "Anna, it was probably the wind blowing the table cloth." He grabbed the edge of the cloth closest to him and gave it a little wave, making everything on the table dance slightly.
"No, no, NO!" Anna protested loudly, so loudly in fact that it caused Ellis to jump startled. "I was cooking and I placed the salt on the counter close to me so I could reach it easier. When I tried to grab it, there was nothing there. I turned and it was back on the table."
Ellis raised an eyebrow in concern which was a look that Anna always despised. It meant that he doubted her mental state, and yet again he did. They were getting older and they knew that as went their bodies, then their minds might surely follow. Anna had been slowly losing touch with herself. She would forget where she placed things, wandering off in the middle of conversations, and the scariest of which was when Ellis catches her staring out the back door in a kind of blank stare. She doesn't move, speak, or even blink. It barely looks like she was breathing. Ellis had thought about taking her to the doctor for a checkup, but thought better of it when he remembered the argument they had the last time he brought up the subject of medical treatment.
"Anna, you probably placed the salt back on the table and didn't remember doing it."
"NO!" She yelled again. "I thought that was what happened so I moved it back, then again and again. Ellis, I moved it three times and every time I turned around its back on the table." She cried out, throwing the spatula at the table, making contact with both shakers that fell and mixed together on the tiled floor. As she sobbed, she began to scratch nervously at her neck, leaving a long red line of irritation across its length.
"Why don't you go sit down in the den? I'll clean this up and finish your eggs. You can eat them in there." Anna looked up at him and smiled.
"That sounds nice dear." She walked away, still whimpering softly and scratching at her neck.
Ellis grabbed a small broom and dust pan and bent over to clean his wife's mess. The pain in his back flared more at the action and he protested the process of the aging body with a few choice words under his breath. He was finishing the work when he heard Anna shuffling through the doorway behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw her with her eyes and neck blossoming red.
"I'm sorry." She muttered quietly.
"It's ok honey. Just go back into the den and rest." She started to turn, stopped, then turned back, and pointed at Ellis.
"You've got a spot on you."
"Where is it?"
"It's on your back." Ellis turned to look, but it was hard to see. He shrugged and stood with the dustpan of salt and pepper in his hand.
"It'll come off in the shower." Ellis groaned as he went back to the stove.
Anna sat comfortably in her seat, digging a fork deep into her food but not lifting them to her mouth. Instead she stared blankly at the wall before her. Ellis walked by her, passing through for the bedroom to make up the bed and get his clothes ready for the day. As he passed, Anna grabbed his arm. She looked up at him, her eyes still blank but yet somehow still aware.
"I'm sorry." She whispered.
"It's ok." Ellis gave her hand a loving pat and she released her grip. He stepped into the bedroom and saw that the bed was perfectly made after he threw the sheets in the floor after the events of this morning. He looked back at his wife, lifting an eyebrow, and then went back to the task of his clothing and a shower. As he walked back through the house, heading for the bathroom which was through the kitchen, the pain in his back flared then subsided rapidly. He flipped on the bathroom light and noticed that the bathtub seat, which he had bought for Anna because she grows tired while standing in the shower, was out of the tub and sitting in the middle of the floor. Above the seat was a ragged brown rope looped into a makeshift noose.
"I'm sorry." Anna whispered from behind him. He caught his reflection from the corner of his eye and saw a large gash running a few inches along the middle of his back. Skin was lifting and stained red along the outside. Ellis turned to his wife who staring up at the noose hanging from the support in the ceiling.
"Anna?" He asked, placing his hands on her shoulders once again. "What did you do?" Anna looked away from the noose and into her husband's eyes, still not speaking. "WHAT DID YOU DO!?"
"I'm sorry." She whispered once more, this time her face twisted into a sick smile. As Ellis looked into his wife's eyes, those cold, dead eyes, everything became clear.
"I'm sorry." The smile on her face disappeared and she turned, making her way back to the stove, and starting cooking again.