A MATTER OF TIMING
After Charlote Armstrong
There was a black thread tied around
her right forefinger…
Jane paid for the groceries and looked at the wall clock. Good. She had made it. She put the paper bag on her left hip.
“It’s not too heavy,” she said kindly to the boy who offered to help.
She batted through the door and out into the sunshine, her mind running down its list, in case she had forgotten something important.
There was a black thread tied around her right forefinger. Mike had tied it there, this morning, over the breakfast eggs. Black was for pepper. They had been out of pepper for four days.
Jane didn’t like pepper. Mike said that explained it – she wasn’t motivated. Jane said she had it written down on her shopping lists, but every time she went to market, she forgot to take the list.
So Mike had tied the black thread around her finger, telling their daughter Sally that old-fashioned methods are sometimes best, especially with an old-fashioned character like Mammy. Sally had thought Daddy was a riot.
Smiling to herself, Jane resolved that the thread would be removed at dinner with all due ceremony. Yes, she had the pepper. She was a good housekeeper, she didn’t always remember everything, but then, who did?
Jane pranced round the corner of the building into the parking lot. Her car was over there. How strange that one always remembers where one leaves a car. Memory is odd, thought Jane; maybe there are instinctive priorities.
She crossed the big lot. It had its usual complement of cars, and a few people were coming in and going out. There was a man standing beside her car – he was tucked in between Jane’s and the next one.
She walked into the slot, toward her driver’s seat, saying in her usual friendly fashion, “Excuse me?” The man shuffled and let her pass.
Then he turned and said to
her startled ear, “Don’t yell, lady, or I’ll give it to you.” He was a thin, pale, red-eyed man, with a wicked-looking knife in his hand. “Get in, lady. You drive. And do as I say.”
Nobody was noticing. A woman in blue was getting into a car at the far end of the lot. Jane didn’t yell. She said, “What do you want me to do?”
“I said do as I say. Drive. I’m getting out of here. I said drive.”
Jane was remembering, as clear as bells ringing, everything that was really important. She pushed the bag against the car, lifting her knee under it. She put her right hand down into it. She scrabbled inside, watching him. He looked miserable, more frightened than she – but dangerous.
Jane said, “I’ve got to find my keys, don’t I?”
“Hurry up.” The knife was pointed at her stomach. He didn’t care; she could see that.
And an automobile is not important – not as important as a life.
Jane said, “I’ll give you the keys. You want the car, don’t you? Take it.”
“Nope. Nope. Get in, lady. I’m not leaving you behind. You’d call the cops.”
“That’s right,” she said. “I would.”
Jane widened her eyes, holding his gaze. Her thumb had to be strong enough. She felt it scrape past sharp metal and lose skin. “Hah,” she grunted in triumph.
She pulled her hand out of the bag and threw pepper out of the now-open can straight into his eyes. Then Jane hurled herself to the ground.
The man screamed, lunged, tripped over her body, fell, screamed again. Jane crawled out of the parking slot, somehow, anyhow, around him, over him, then out and free.