It used to annoy Mrs. Burridge, especially the crumbs, but now she watches him with a kind of sadness; she once thought their life together would go on forever but she has come to realize this is not the case.
On paper Frank is making more money than he ever has: yet they seem to have less to spend. They could always sell the farm, she supposes, to people from the city who would use it as a weekend place; they could get what seems like a very high price, several of the farms south of them have gone that way. But Mrs. Burridge does not have much faith in money; also it is a waste of the land, this is her home, she has it arranged the way she wants it.
When the second batch is on and simmering she goes to the back door, opens it and stands with her arms folded across her stomach, looking out. She catches herself doing this four or five times a day now and she doesn’t quite know why . . . She isn’t sure what she is looking for but she has the odd idea she may see something burning, smoke coming up from the horizon, a column of it or perhaps more than one column, off to the south.
The cellar is the old kind, with stone walls and a dirt floor. Mrs. Burridge likes to have everything neat . . . The pickles go on one side, jams and jellies on the other, and the quarts of preserves along the bottom. It used to make her feel safe to have all that food in the cellar; she would think to herself, Well, if there’s a snowstorm or anything and we’re cut off, it won’t be so bad. It doesn’t make her feel safe any more. Instead she thinks that if she has to leave suddenly she won’t be able to take any of the jars with her, they’d be too heavy to carry.
She comes back up the stairs after the last trip. It’s not as easy as it used to be, her knee still bothers her as it has ever since she fell six years ago, she tripped on the second-last step. She’s asked Frank a million times to fix the stairs but he hasn’t done it, that’s what she means by pig-headed. If she asks him more than twice to do something he calls it nagging, and maybe it is, but who’s going to do it if he won’t? The cold vacant hole at the back of this question is too much for her.
He can’t protect me. She doesn’t think this on purpose, it simply occurs to her, and it isn’t only him, it’s all of them, they’ve lost the power, you can tell by the way they walk. They are all waiting, just as Mrs. Burridge is, for whatever it is to happen. Whether they realize it or not.
All her life, ever since she got married, she has made lists of things that have to be bought, sewed, planed, cooked, stored; she already has her list made for next Christmas, all the names and the gift she will buy for each, and the list of what she needs for Christmas dinner. But she can’t seem to get interested in it, it’s too far away. She can’t believe in a distant future that is orderly like the past, she no longer seems to have the energy; it’s as if she is saving it up for when she will have to use it.
Mrs. Burridge wishes someone would be more precise, so she could make better plans. Everyone knows something is going to happen, you can tell by reading the newspapers and watching the television, but nobody is sure what it will be, nobody can be exact.
It is about this time too that she takes one of the guns, she thinks it will be the shotgun as she will have a better chance of hitting something, and hides it along with the shells, under a piece of roofing behind the barn. She does not tell Frank; he will have the twenty-two. She has already picked out the spot.
He comes out, kisses her goodbye, which is unusual too, and says he’ll be back in a couple of hours. She watches the three of them drive off in Henry Clarke’s truck, towards the smoke, she knows he will not come back. She supposes she ought to feel more emotional about it, but she is well prepared, she has been saying goodbye to him silently for years.
She must wait until they are close enough and then she must raise the gun and shoot them, using one barrel for each, aiming at the faces. Otherwise, they will kill her, she has no doubt about that. She will have to be fast, which is too bad because her hands feel thick and wooden; she is afraid, she does not want the loud noise of the burst of red that will follow, she has never killed anything in her life. She has no pictures beyond this point. You never know how you will act in a thing like that until it actually happens.