"You'll live with this mess for an age," said Mrs. Munro, nodding at the mail stacks. After lowering the empty wicker basket to the floor, she turned to him, saying, "There's more, too, you know, out in the front hall closetthem boxes was cluttering up everything."
"Very well, Mrs. Munro," he said sharply, hoping to thwart any elaboration on her part.
"Should I bring the others in? Or should I wait for this bunch to be finished?"
"You can wait."
He glanced at the doorway, indicating with his eyes that he wished for her withdrawal. But she ignored his stare, pausing instead to smooth her apron before continuing: "There's an awful lotin that hall closet, you knowI can't tell you how much."
"So I have gathered. I think for the moment I will focus on what is here."
"I'd say you've got your hands full, sir. If you're needing help"
"I can take care of itthank you."
Intently this time, he gazed at the doorway, inclining his head in its direction.
"Are you hungry?" she asked, tentatively stepping onto the Persian rug and into the sunlight.
A scowl halted her approach, softening a bit as he sighed. "Not in the slightest" was his answer.
"Will you be eating this evening?"
"It is inevitable, I suppose." He briefly envisioned her laboring recklessly in the kitchen, spilling offal on the countertops, or dropping bread crumbs and perfectly good slices of Stilton to the floor. "Are you intent on concocting your unsavory toad-in-the-hole?"
"You told me you didn't like that," she said, sounding surprised.
"I don't, Mrs. Munro, I truly don'tat least not your interpretation of it. Your shepherd's pie, on the other hand, is a rare thing."
Her expression brightened, even as she knitted her brow in contemplation. "Well, let's see, I got leftover beef from the Sunday roast. I could use thatexcept I know how you prefer the lamb."
"Leftover beef is acceptable."
"Shepherd's pie it is, then," she said, her voice taking on a sudden urgency. "And so you'll know, I've got your bags unpacked. Didn't know what to do with that funny knife you brought, so it's by your pillow. Mind you don't cut yourself." He sighed with greater effect, shutting his eyes completely, removing her from his sight altogether: "It is called a kusun-gobu, my dear, and I appreciate your concernwouldn't want to be stilettoed in my own bed."
His right hand fumbled into a coat pocket, his fingers feeling for the remainder of a half-consumed Jamaican. But, to his dismay, he had somehow misplaced the cigar (perhaps lost as he disembarked from the train earlier, as he stooped to retrieve a cane that had slipped from his grasppossibly the Jamaican had escaped his pocket then, falling to the platform, only to get flattened underfoot). "Maybe," he mumbled, "or maybe"
He searched another pocket, listening while Mrs. Munro's shoes went from the rug and crossed the slats and moved onward through the doorway (seven steps, enough to take her from the library). His fingers curled around a cylindrical tube (nearly the same length and circumference of the halved Jamaican, although by its weight and firmness, he readily discerned it wasn't the cigar). And when lifting his eyelids, he beheld a clear glass vial sitting upright on his open palm; and peering closer, the sunlight glinting off the metal cap, he studied the two dead honeybees sealed withinone mingling upon the other, their legs intertwined, as if both had succumbed during an intimate embrace.
Excerpted from A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin Copyright © 2005 by Mitch Cullin. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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