33 - Auntie Nat

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Matt Cook's obituary appeared in the Sunday paper, and Liz surprised Nat by clipping it out and highlighting the date and time of the funeral service. Even then, Nat had not expected to wake the morning of the event to see Liz -- rarely a sharp dresser -- pawing through the closet for a black dress and sensible shoes. 

"Isn't this...a little weird?" Nat ventured. Having come from a small family and tending to keep a small social circle, funerals were not something she was particularly familiar with. She could count the number of them that she'd attended on one hand, and none had been for relative strangers. "I mean. How well did you actually know the guy?" 

Liz had looked irritated by the question, as though Nat were insinuating something. She squinted at her, an expression that deepened the dark circles that had grown under her eyes -- a whole family of raccoons, none of them sleeping well of late, it seemed. 

"Just watch Liam. I'll be home later." 

Liz shifted away from her then, busying herself with getting dressed and ready for this event that Nat did not understand the urgency of attending and to which she was clearly uninvited. She stood in the hall and stared, feeling awkward and displaced, and a weird mixture of emotions started to bubble up in her chest -- exasperation and confusion and jealousy and fear. 

She thought of the dog, and how she had been certain she'd left it in the desert. 

She thought of that cold look in Liz's eyes that night when the dreams had started. 

She wanted to talk to her about all of this. She wanted to close the distance between them and just spill out everything, all of the worries and fears at the back of her mind that she had not been able to voice: the growing distance between them, the story of the Riveras and the bloody memories tied to the belongings that were now in their home, the nightmares. What had happened in the desert with the dog, and how incomprehensible Matt Cook's death had been, how she couldn't even wrap her head around it, how on some level she couldn't imagine attending the funeral because she couldn't even really believe he had died. 

How she felt guilty, somehow, for this thing that could not possibly have been her fault, for this thing that 

(burn it all) 

she'd had nothing to do with. 

But she couldn't find the words to say any of it. They caught in her throat, and Liz finished getting ready and left the house without a backwards glance or a goodbye, and Nat continued to stand in the hallway staring after the empty place her wife had occupied long after the house went silent in her absence. 

~*~ 

"Auntie-Nat?"

Liam's voice caught her as if calling from some far-away place, dragging her back bodily into the present. She looked up, feeling temporarily disoriented. She was folded into a chair in the living room -- she had taken to avoiding the sitting room with its clocks and forever-staring hound -- with a book open in her lap, but she couldn't really remember a word of what she had been reading. 

The golden light at the window suggested it was mid-morning. Liz couldn't have been gone more than an hour yet. The day was young, and Nat would be here alone with Liam for a good while longer. She turned to look for him, prepping her game face. 

"What's up, kiddo?"

"Can you make me a sandwich?"

He was still in his pajamas. A milk stain darkened the front of his shirt, white flakes of dried milk caught in the fibers of the flannel. 

"Sure. I'll make you a deal."

His eyes widened, slightly, as if taken off-guard by the offer of negotiations. 

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