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Had I been a superstitious sort, I would have taken the smell as an omen. I had wanted the morning of our leaving to be smooth and now it was down to the wire. The last thing I needed was Dennis annoyed.
But I was a trusting soul. Entering the kitchen that October Friday, I sensed nothing of the broader picture. All I knew was that something had gone bad. A rank smell sullied what should have been the sweetness of fall--the scent of crisp leaves drifting in from the backyard, cranberry candles on the glass table top, a basket of newly picked Macouns.
I checked under the sink for fishy paper from last night's scrod, but the air there was fine. Same with the inside of the oven. Nothing hit me when I opened the refrigerator, still I checked the milk that my daughter too often left on the counter, the chicken that was ready for Dennis to eat while we were gone, the cheese bin where plastic wrap might hide something fuzzy and blue.
But the odor remained, offensive and strong, another glitch in a godawful week of glitches. With a husband, two young children, and a career to juggle, preparing to go away for more than two days was always a challenge, but I was going away for eleven days this time, in part on a dreaded mission. My mother was dying. My equilibrium was shaky, even without complicating glitches.
Having ruled out the obvious, I was beginning to wonder if something wasn't rotting under the two-hundred-year-old floorboards of the house, when my son padded in in his stockinged feet. He looked more sober than any nine year old with mussed hair, an authentic Red Sox baseball shirt, and battered jeans should look, but he was a serious child under any conditions, and perceptive. Much as I had tried to minimize the meaning of our trip, I suspected he knew.
"I can't find my sneakers, Mom. They're not in my room, and if I can't find them, I don't know what I'll wear at Grandma's. They were my best pair."
"'Were' being the operative word." I draped my arms over his shoulders. The top of his head reached my chest. "I had to scrape mud from the bottoms last night. What were you up to, Johnny? We agreed you wouldn't wear good sneaks to play football."
"It was basketball. Jordan's dad put in a hoop, but nothing's paved yet." He made a face. "Peewww. What stinks?"
I slid a despairing glance around the kitchen. "Good question. Any ideas?"
"Don't ask me. Ask Kikit. She's the one always leaving things lying around. Are you sure I'll be home in time for practice Tuesday?"
"The plane lands at one. Practice isn't until five."
"If I miss practice, I'll be benched."
I took his face in my hands. His cheeks were boy-smooth, deep into the lean and cool of preadolescent limbo. "The only way you'll miss practice is if the flight is delayed, in which case Daddy or I will talk with the man--"
"It's a rule," Johnny broke in and took a step back. "No practice, no play. Where are my sneakers?"
"On the landing in the garage." My voice rose to follow him there. "Want something to eat? Brody will be here in forty-five minutes. They'll feed us on the plane, but I can't guarantee you'll like it. Unless you want some of Kikit's food." Silence. He was through the mudroom and into the garage. I used the pause to shout upstairs for my youngest. "Kikit?"
"She changed her mind again and is moving the menagerie from her bedroom to the den," my husband announced, tossing the morning Globe, minus the business section, which he held, onto the table. "I have never seen so many stuffed things in my life. Does she really need all those things?" He sniffed and screwed up his face. "What's that?"
The question was more damning coming from Dennis.
A Woman's PlaceBy: Barbara Delinsky