Frank was on the counter between the dishwasher and the sink, one leg dangling over the edge, the other bent at the knee with one crooked arm resting on top. This is how I found him most mornings, usually with a smarmy grin on his glowing face.
“You look rather pleased with yourself. Another satisfying night of havoc under your belt?”
“I find it ironic,” Frank said, looking at me with his eyes but otherwise unmoving, “that you and I have absolutely nothing to do, yet these—people are constantly busy.” I looked down at the large table in the center of the room and saw Angela weighing out a large amount of flour. “Always preparing for something.”
“You say that as if you’re any different,” I replied. Frank snorted, eyes back on Angela’s toil.
I lounged atop the bread racks. As the wee hours merged into dawn, the racks would be filled up, the hot tendrils of yeasty steam gently dancing around me. And as the dawn continued into daylight, the racks would be emptied again, leaving me in a musty warmth until night returned. It was a daily ritual I relished, and one which Frank would find to be stifling. His only ritual was to be sitting on the counter when I returned from my nightly wanderings, presumably to check in on his oldest friend. But I know it is only to make sure I haven’t somehow found an exit and left without him.
Although Frank despised tedium, I believe he also visited to witness Angela’s. For years she had been dedicated to her work and inspired others to be the same. It was after her only son was run down by a motorist outside the shop that her dedication turned into obsession. She worked every day, arriving at least an hour earlier than any employee, and remaining at the shop until the last crumb was swept away. In the early mornings, thinking she was alone, she would sometimes talk to her dead child, as if he were right there with her. Frank and I knew better.
This was one of those mornings, as Angela spoke softly about a zoo trip long passed. A gentle smile broke through her usual melancholic countenance. But this only served to rile Frank. “Hey!” he yelled to her, coming out of his pose and leaning from the edge of the counter. “Knock it off!” Angela was oblivious.
Frank came down from the counter to slowly circle the table, keeping his gaze on his prey. I leaned forward on an elbow to get a better look. He walked deliberately, passing the ovens, then the wall with pegs still holding children’s things aloft – a small satchel, a tiny parka, some toys. Angela continued her reverie on caged beasts, unaware of her own predator. When Frank made his way around to her side of the table, he came close enough to stir the air touching her skin. Her body shivered at the sensation, but it gave her no indication that she was not alone. Frank kept going around the table until he was on the opposite side from Angela. He stopped, placed both hands flat on the tabletop, and leaned forward.
“Angela,” he sang. “Angela, your boy’s gone away-ay. He’s no longer he-ere.” There was malice in his voice, but only I could hear it. I relaxed into my lounging posture; I’d seen his taunting act more than enough. I rolled onto my back, and closed my eyes, waiting for his sing-song mockery to end. Soon there was a crash. I was at Frank’s side even before Angela could react to the disturbance. He was at the wall of pegs and had pulled everything down.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked.
“I’m showing dear Angela that things change.”
“By throwing all her kid’s stuff on the floor?”
Angela, her heart pounding heavily, looked around the room for a reasonable explanation for why her son’s belongings were at one moment safely hanging on the wall and the next moment falling to the ground. Not finding one, she walked over to the now desecrated shrine, and knelt next to it. She touched each item one by one, ending with the parka which she then held to her chest. I watched her face as it turned from stunned to heartbroken.
In a moment, Frank was behind her. With all his effort, he pushed her down with one foot to her back. When her face was against the floor, he turned to me. “It’s all I can do to hold her down. You have to get that jump rope and pull it around her neck.”
“What are you trying to do?”
“She has to know. I have to make her know.”
“By choking her?” I asked, as I pulled the two little plastic handles over either shoulder. I crossed the two ends until I could see I was causing her discomfort.
“She begs for that boy to stay with her, talks to him as if he were right beside her. Meanwhile, he’s gone forever, and you and me? We will never leave. She’ll be gone, too, and we’ll still be here. She has to know!”
Angela’s arms flailed, reaching behind her back seeking her attacker but finding nothing. I pulled tighter on the jump rope. I didn’t have it in me to do any real damage, and killing her – releasing her – would only have angered Frank more. Soon, her body did go limp, and I let go. Frank stepped back with a heavy sigh.
Moments passed and we heard a key rattling out front. Frank disappeared. I bent down and blew into Angela’s face. Her eyes opened and looked right through mine, bewildered. One hand pulled the rope from her throat, the other still clutched her boy’s parka. Her employee entered the kitchen, and that’s when I disappeared, too.