32 - Weird News

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Liz woke early, her eyes snapping open as though a switch had been flipped. She could tell from the pale light filtering around the edges of the curtains that it was early, too early to be contemplating being awake on a Saturday morning. 

But her mind stubbornly refused to be sleepy, and so she lay in bed for a while and stared at the ceiling, listening to the deep, even breaths of Nat sleeping next to her. Fluff, also not known for being an early-riser, was curled at the foot of the bed, his black-and-white body twisted up into a sleepy doughnut. 

Normally, an early Saturday morning would mean venturing out to buy new things for the shop, but Nat hadn't been keeping up with her auction-hunting, and Liz was in no mood to try to figure it out herself. Besides: Liam was home, and would be home for the foreseeable future. Despite her protests, Kyle had gotten what he wanted -- Liam would be at her house the majority of the summer, give or take a few holiday weekends, and once school started, he'd be spending four out of seven days with his dad. 

Four days where he would be at school most of the time, leaving Kyle to look like a great full-time dad without any of the actual parenting and no sacrifices to his workday. 

Mulling over all of this left Liz feeling hot and irritable, and she kicked free of the blankets and tangle of sheets, disturbing Fluff in the process. He let out a grumbling mewl and hopped down, seeking refuge under the bed. 

Nat, beside her, continued to sleep, making the quiet inarticulate whimpers of someone with unsettling dreams. 

Liz sighed and flung herself from the bed. It was early, and her body was exhausted. But at least it was quiet. She could make the most of the morning, try to salvage some measure of productivity from it. 

That couch hadn't been reupholstered. She'd start there. A proper weekend project, something to keep her busy, and maybe get her that much closer to a nice big sale and a reasonable profit for a change. 

Her body resisted her as her feet hit the floor and she heaved herself to a standing position. Her brain was wide awake and alert, but her body felt like it hadn't slept for weeks: itchy eyes, leaden limbs, deep aches in all of her joints. A quiet, pulsing headache began to throb at her temples. When she used to drink -- a lot, all-night-party benders, not the pretentious wine-mom cocktail hour bullshit -- she'd feel this way after having too much hard liquor. She'd always wake up after just a few hours of sleep, wide-alert and brittle like someone who's been mainlining a pot of coffee. 

Still, she made her way down the hall, pulling on a pair of sweat pants and some random t-shirt that had been piled on top of the washing machine. Dirty or clean, it didn't make that much difference. 

Liam was awake and watching cartoons in the den by the time she made her way out into the living areas of the house. The den, unlike the sitting room, felt lived-in; it was furnished for comfort more than style, lacking in the saturation of antiques and oddities. A few art pieces on the wall; a well-worn couch, actually brought from Nat's old apartment, its cushions lumpy in all the right places. The television was old, too, in the way of things that were old without value. A hand-me-down, dredged up from a garage somewhere when Kyle had left with the nicer, newer technology. But good enough for a child, at least, and Liam was the only one to regularly use the device.

"You want some breakfast?" Liz asked, hovering in the doorway.

The boy, his eyes glued to the TV, just shook his head. There was a bowl in front of him, overloaded with colorful cereal that was bleeding into the milk.

"Okay. I'm going to be in the garage, working on some things," she said, relieved at his self-sufficiency.  "Come get me if you need anything, okay? I'll come check on you in a little bit."

"Okay." He shoveled a spoonful of cereal into his mouth and continued watching his cartoons, and she let him be.

The couch was where they'd left it in the garage, a sad monument to distraction. It had been the most exciting part of the auction, the thing that had captured her attention in the unit, the thing she was so certain would turn a profit. But it had sat neglected while she was pulled in so many opposing directions, tending to things that didn't matter, or shouldn't matter, and of course Nat hadn't stepped in to work on it either. 

She sighed, circling it, trying to think of a plan. She didn't have the materials to reupholster it right now, but at least she could begin with loosening seams and straightening springs. She wanted to get into it and get a good look at the stuffing, at least, to see what sort of condition it was in. Make a list for herself of materials to buy. Maybe she could slip out once Nat was awake and buy the rest of what they needed. 

She had left the door open, so that she could listen for Liam, but the television sounds were distant and muffled. The garage opened into the sitting room, and its sounds seemed to bleed into the garage itself, echoing and distorting oddly against the concrete wall and bare, unfinished walls. The ticking of clocks. The creaking and settling of old furniture, with its occasional random 'pop' as wood expanded or shifted.

She reached for the radio that sat perched on a tool shelf, turning it to a local rock station that she liked. She caught the end of a song, and then a talk radio hour — one of those morning shows, meant for lonely people caught in traffic, people who could listen to personalities and pretend they were friends. Liz only half-listened, growing absorbed with her work.

"...weird news of the day. A man was found dead in his suburban home, apparently killed by a piece of taxidermy."

She frowned, spine going suddenly rigid, the bottom dropping out of her stomach.

"...Matthew Cook, a museum curator and taxidermy enthusiast, was apparently working in his home when — get this — a mounted moose head reportedly came free of the wall and fell on him, crushing him."

Matthew Cook.

Her blood froze. She tasted bile at the back of her throat.

She had just talked to him on the phone a few days ago. Nat had just been to his house. 

"Apparently -- and who would have thought about this -- but a mounted moose head weighs more than fifty pounds, and authorities say it fell from a height of almost eight feet. Talk about getting buried by your work!"

The radio personalities laughed, exchanging some quip or banter, but Liz rapidly shut off the radio, not wanting to hear any more. 

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