A police detective in a small town, discovers that the oddball suspect to a series of murders is someone who seems to be just as damaged as he is.
Esma Hale dropped two bags of her special blend into the teapot and put the lid back on, imagining the water swirling with streaks of red-brown until the color became uniform. She added milk to her china cup, waiting patiently after that, because a good pot of tea was always worth the time it took to prepare it.
Two cookies on a side plate, and everything was ready for her precious daily ritual, the ceremony that announced to all dissenting voices that civilization was not yet dead. With as much dignity as eighty-five years of living in the same body would allow her, she sat down and poured for herself. Sipping, she stared out the window across the fields, now barren except for the brown fragments of stubble that stood out like the surviving tufts of hair on a bald man. She relished the flatness of this rich river delta full of farms and surrounded by the mountains of the Coast Range and the Cascades. Cold today. Maybe snow by nightfall.
Carefully, she sipped from her cup, pleased that the temperature of the tea was just right. Her kitchen was looking fine now that Walter had painted the cabinets - beige with yellow trim - and Alice had added a border of small blue flowers. She suspected the new decor was the reason why her tea time gave her such pleasure today. Eating her cookies, she hurried slightly, knowing that Alice would be calling at 4:15, more of a bother than a help really.
Esma knew she was old, but not aged, not doddering. Her mind was sound, and her body, despite not being twenty anymore, seemed to work just fine. Why did everyone assume...She paused in mid-thought as a few snowflakes began falling outside.
"I knew it was too cold for rain," she murmured.
The farm looked stark now, and she shivered at memories of working out there in winters long gone. At least she had no animals to bed down anymore. She'd sold the last cow years ago, and the non-resident tenants were only interested in growing corn.
She finished her tea and got up to wash the dishes, drying each one carefully and putting it away so that the kitchen would stay looking like a picture in Home & Garden. Let Alice or Walter utter a word, and she'd show them her kitchen - every part of it spotless, without a swarm of cats roaming through it or food going bad on the counter.
The phone rang. She answered, listening until her patience faltered. "Yes, dear, I am fully aware that it is snowing. Don't you worry, I have lots of food, and the furnace is fine."
She usually tried to hear Alice out, but it was a trial sometimes. "No, it's not a good idea. I've weathered more storms than you have, young lady, so you just stay there and take care of the children. I'm perfectly fine here by myself."
Eventually the conversation ended, and Esma went to the living room to watch the five o'clock early news. She always turned it up more than Walter or Alice could stand, but a person has to be able to hear things. She was grateful to Walter for installing the amplifier on her phone.
As she sat there in her big flowered chair, observing the day's record of sorrows, it seemed like the world was drifting farther from her all the time, like the circus when she was young - her father could only afford the cheapest seats at the top, the ones they called the nosebleed seats now, and the clowns seemed to her like little more than dancing specks, so far away that she could only vaguely understand why the people down there were laughing. She didn't mind, because she was afraid of clowns.
Certainly there were robberies in her day, the occasional murder, even other things. But the world was not so alien, so...She almost wanted to use the word "nasty," but it wasn't a perfect fit.
So distant and alien it all seemed to her, like the clowns of her childhood running around far below, and one could only hope that they wouldn't take it into their heads to run up into the audience, wreaking havoc.
At 5:15, a weather bulletin interrupted the newscaster. Snow was expected, perhaps three or four inches, and Esma smiled, still surprised at the way these coastal people made such a fuss over a little winter weather. On the prairies, no one even mentioned a storm unless most of the roads were closed.
For awhile she picked up her knitting, amusing herself with the picture she must have made
- sweet little old lady making sweaters for the grandkids. Being old was nothing like she thought it would be. Inside, where it counted, she still felt like twenty and still longed to run another mile- long race as she had so many times when she was young. Only the body is old, she told herself.
Her living room was pleasantly warm, not just because of the temperature but because of the gently patterned rug, the light brown panelling, the rose-colored drapes. All of these enveloped her like a hug.
On the TV now there was one of those new hip comedies, people with dirty mouths and sly looks. She thought of changing the channel, but the TV was really only background anyway.
To look at her sitting there, you'd imagine she had nothing on her horizon except the prospect of dying in her bed, but she had far more to occupy her life than merely waiting for death. Every day was a new world created just for her to inhabit. No one could accuse her of a loss of purpose.