They drove down on a Saturday morning, when no one in the world would miss them. He worried about the bills and she daydreamed about how it would turn out. They were on the edge: the credit card out of room, the rent due in another week, and now, with the baby… It seemed like the only solution.
The old woman had lived alone for the last three decades, stubbornly clinging to independence when no one in the family thought it wise. Over time the family died, faded away, still worried about her living alone until the couple in the expensive car that needed a tune up were the last, desperate, relatives. The old woman loved the old house and the land it stood on, rolling green hills worth millions to developers. The couple did not.
She greeted them with a smile, her arms spread wide. Arthritic hands shook and so the couple offered to make breakfast. They ate at her table, she complained the eggs were gritty. They both smiled. Guilt didn’t join them, but death did. Eggs laced with sugar, breakfast potatoes with sugar, toast with sugar, all served with orange juice.
“I don’t usually eat like this,” the old woman admitted. “My diabetes…”
Her grandniece smiled at her, and offered a second cup of coffee. Her grandnephew-in-law slipped the insulin in the refrigerator into his pocket.
“You know you surprised me.” The old woman tried to smile, but only half her face moved. “I haven’t had my shot this morning. Haven’t gotten my day started at all.”
They urged her to go back to bed, wake up and start it all over again. She agreed, suddenly feeling so very, very tired. They saw her to bed, nodding at each other as they noted her rapid breathing. Every dish was cleaned, stacked back where it belonged. They wiped the counter tops, took away any trace of their presence. As extra insurance the grandnephew-in-law hide her car keys, and left the cordless phone in another room to lose its charge.
Back in the car, back on the rural highway and the grandniece let out a sigh of relief. She listed the things she would do, shopping, getting a new car. He wondered out loud how long the will would take to go through and if they should sell the house separate from the land or just knock it down. An hour long drive home to the city, and neither noticed the rolling hills around them, the land the old woman had loved.
Except the drive kept going, through the same land, the same hills, and now it was easily eleven o’clock, and both were hungry. Tempers flared. Did they have enough money to stop? Did it matter? They should be home soon.
But the drive kept going.
“She’s dead by now,” the grandnephew-in-law sneered. “And we’re still in this car.”
“You missed a turn off, stop and ask for directions.”
Hills upon hills, flat green space rolling around them, and the gas gauge persistently stuck at half a tank. Only the clock seemed to march forward, eleven, then twelve, digital numbers turning back to three, then four. Shifting again to five and then six. The sun faded and the hills stayed the same, but the car ate up the miles. They drove hungry and tired, cramped in the car, angry but dreaming about their inheritance. Day turned to night, then back to day again, and the one hour drive never ended.