Paul woke up from a nightmare, sweating profusely, and shot straight up in bed; his heart palpitating. In the dull morning light he could see well enough to note that, as he looked around the room, nothing was out of place. He looked over at Martha: she was soundly sleeping.
The weather unseasonably warm for early October, he pushed the blankets to the back of the bed, laid back down next to his wife whose breathing remained slow and regular. He folded his arms across his bare chest, and, looking up at the ceiling, noticed a crack running down the middle of it. "How long had it been there?" he wondered. "Why hadn’t I noticed it before?"
He closed his eyes and was about to fall back asleep when a thwitt-thwitt-thwitt sound startled him; he opened his eyes, heart again reverberating through his chest. He looked toward where the sound was coming from, out the open window, and noticed the neigbor’s sprinkler system had kicked on. He laughed at his puerile trepidation at something so simple; those sprinklers went off every morning, he thought, only he normally slept right through it; perhaps even incorporating the soft sputtering sound into his dreams.
He closed his eyes and tried to fall back asleep, but this time he couldn’t get his mind off the dead kid at work the day before. The 8-yr-old boy had choked on a hotdog, but by the time his dad had driven the boy to the hospital, placed him on the ER cot, the boy was blue: there was no chance of reviving him.
The boy’s dad, probably modest on a normal day, cried vehemently; blaming himself. Paul comforted him at the loss of his only child; cried with him too. It was a long rest of the day.
Paul, two days past his 60th birthday, hopped out of bed, sauntered to the kitchen, and prepared a glass of ice cold water. He looked out the kitchen window and watched as the neighbor across the street backed his Jeep out of his driveway and drove off. Then, as by habit, Paul saw the antique bottle that sat on the window sill.
He wondered, as he had many times before, what poison had been stored in it over 120 years ago, and what it was used for.