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Cold Comfort

His words sound muffled to her, as if a Kleenex has been stuffed into the phone line: slightly smaller than a tennis ball … surgery Wednesday … back to work … home for dinner … love ya … and she sets the phone down and looks at the clock, and dinner is a yawning five, maybe six hours away, and her mind is filling with fragments-why didn't he just come home?-unconnected and uninvited thoughts that pour in through some leak in her skull, and if she continues to sit here she'll drown-why didn't he just come home?-but minutes later, in her car, the steering wheel locks, and it takes all of her concentration to remember how to jiggle the wheel, then when she finally does, the car takes over: it backs out of the driveway, slows to twenty mph in the school zone, stops at the stop sign, turns right onto Main Street, signals a left turn into Nordstrom's parking lot, and then somehow she's inside the shoe department, where sleek pumps are perched on pedestals, and two orderly rows of chairs face one another as if waiting for a cordial debate to begin, and even the boxes are exactly the right size for the salesman with the yellow bow-tie to tuck three-at-a-time under his arm, and when he gently places her foot against the heel cup of the foot measurer, the metal through her stocking feels cold and familiar, and she stands and her big toe slides imperceptibly forward, until it just reaches the size eight line, the way it has done ever since she was twelve.

©Stephanie Harrison, first published in Limestone Review