Katherine started to wonder about her husband when he bought a new shovel. It was an expensive shovel, one with a sharp edge on the blade and a metal handle. She noticed it leaning up against the drywall in the garage, unused with the price sticker still on the shaft. After taking out the garbage she came inside and approached her husband sitting in his armchair, flipping through baseball games on the TV.

“Honey, when did you get that shovel?” Katherine asked. It came out as an accusation.

Rick looked over his shoulder at her briefly before turning back to the TV guide. “Just yesterday. Your mom asked me if I could come by and plant some flowers for her.”

“Don’t they have a shovel?”

Rick snorted. “Your dad hasn’t done a lick of yard work in his life. We didn’t have one either, babe.”

Katherine shrugged. “You’ve got a point.” She leaned over and took the empty beer bottle out of his hand, grabbing him a new one from the fridge. They had their little clockwork moments like that, two trapeze artists meeting perfectly midair. It told Katherine that they were still working. Most of her friends had been divorced by now, so she was always looking for signs that she and Rick must have been different. He planted a kiss on her cheek at the handoff of the bottle, the scent of hops carried on his warm breath.

After pouring herself a glass of wine, Katherine walked out onto the porch to sit in her wicker chair and listen to the breeze. With the sun setting behind the house, she could watch the shadows from the roof and trees stretch down the driveway and across the street. It was the most typical suburban neighborhood she could imagine, and it sometimes gave her a stomachache.

Katherine heard the garage door open and watched her daughter ride her pink push scooter down the slanted driveway, coming back in a loop on the sidewalk. Her body clenched with the sort of fear that only gripped her since she became a parent.

“Annie, be careful!” she called.

“Daddy said I didn’t need to wear my helmet!” she responded, giggles bubbling out between her tiny teeth.

Katherine sighed and rose out of her seat. “Well, Mommy says you have to!” She spent the next several minutes chasing Annie around on her scooter until she inevitably tipped over into the grass and burst into hysterics.

While she tended to her daughter’s skinned knee, Katherine looked into the open garage. Rick stood with his arms crossed over his chest, having surveyed the series of events. “Rick, seriously?” she chided.

Unmoved, Rick said, “Well, she didn’t hit her head, did she?” As Katherine opened her mouth to respond, her husband turned mechanically on the ball of his foot and went inside.

Rick held the reins much looser than Katherine—showing Annie PG-13 movies, allowing her to walk a few blocks on her own to meet up with friends, and sometimes forgetting to read the labels on granola bars for trace amounts of her few mild allergies. Usually, though, he wasn’t so callous. One minute, he was volunteering to landscape for his in-laws, and the next he was turning his back on his crying daughter. Katherine felt the same disgust toward him that she imagined her divorced friends used to feel, and she swallowed it down. Annie was back on her scooter with a bandage and helmet shortly.

The next day, Rick came home from work in new hiking boots. He and Katherine had gone hiking on their honeymoon in Jackson Hole nine years ago, but he hadn’t expressed much interest in the outdoors since then.

“Those are pretty fancy, hon,” Katherine said from the couch, her tone bristly by accident. She was holding knitting needles like drumsticks and a bundle of dark green yarn in her lap. A long, knitted rectangle draped over her legs onto the floor. She took up knitting a few months ago when she decided she needed a hobby. Using her hands for something so meticulous sent her brain to worry about her extremities. She only picked it up for a few minutes at a time, every few days, and she hadn’t finished her first project yet: a blanket. At first, she found herself having to redo a row here and there, but by now she just couldn’t figure out how long the blanket should be. She was constantly undoing the yarn, pulling it apart, and then knitting the same rows again when she changed her mind.

Rick propped one foot up on the heel and waved the boot around. “Oh, these? I thought I should have something for when it gets colder out. My socks always end up getting wet through my other shoes.”

Katherine nodded to his explanation, despite it being early August.

He added, “It’ll help me at your parents’ house, too. You know, when I’m helping with the yard.”

Later, parked in her wicker chair after dinner, she considered her husband’s two latest purchases. He was the least handy guy she knew, and didn’t talk to her parents enough for them to ask him for a favor like that. She peeked into the garage to see if the shovel had been used yet; it hadn’t. Rick had left the new hiking boots beside it against the wall, perfectly parallel like a prison lineup.

The day after that, he showed up with a new garden hose. Katherine was sitting on the porch when he pulled in, and she met him in the garage as he hefted the box out of his trunk.

“You starting a landscaping business?” she asked as a greeting.

Rick laughed but only briefly, perhaps reacting to the tightness in her voice. “Your parents haven’t touched their yard in years. No shovel, and their hose is full of holes. Now, this one…” He pointed to the yellow graphic on the box. “…this one is ‘indestructible.’” He dropped the box down beside the shovel and the boots, a tiny cloud of dust and dirt puffing off the concrete floor. Brushing off his hands, he walked around Katherine and into the house.

She paced back and forth near the small collection of gardening tools, chewing on her thumb nail. The idea of Rick having a life outside of this one, a life that involved gardening for his mother-in-law, bothered her. They didn’t do secrets. That’s why they were still married, Katherine thought, because they had their work and their knitting and their Annie and everything out on the table. And why would he keep this, of all things, a secret?

The homicidal nature of the objects, together in a line against the wall, was not lost on Katherine.

The next night, Rick said he was having drinks with some coworkers. This wasn’t unlike him; she would portion out his dinner and cover it with cling wrap, making sure to keep the sides separate on the plate from the entree. He would get home after she put Annie to bed and he would usually be horny, engaging Katherine in quick, sloppy sex before rolling over snoring without setting an alarm for the morning.

When she got the text from Rick that he would be out late, she felt the skin on her face tighten and her mouth press into a thin line.

Annie, who was setting the table for the three of them, asked, “Mommy, what’s wrong?”

Katherine straightened up and smiled. “Nothing, baby. Daddy just won’t be home for dinner tonight.”

Annie frowned and turned around, returning to the table and picking up one of the place settings. “Will he be back to tuck me in?” she asked, although Katherine knew she was smart enough to probably know the answer.

“We’ll just have to see.” Katherine kissed her daughter on the top of the head. “Go work on your homework while I finish up dinner, okay?” Annie reluctantly left for the living room where her math workbook sat open on the couch.

When she was sure Annie was occupied with her work, Katherine stepped out of the kitchen to the garage. She peeked outside the door and scanned the walls. The shovel, boots, and hose were gone.

That night she stayed up watching TV instead of going to bed before Rick got home. She hadn’t been able to eat at dinner, and the movements of each joint in her hand sent electric currents down her fingers as she compulsively ran them over the TV remote’s buttons. Her gaze sat unfocused ahead of her while her mind raced, overly aware of the breath whistling in and out of her nose. She ran through the conversation she meant to have about the shovel, over and over. Where and why and what could he possibly be digging for at the bar? What would he need with a hose this late? But then she heard the garage door open, and Katherine snapped to attention, mentally scolding herself for worrying so much about gardening tools.

Rick came into the house without his shoes on but obviously sober. “What are you doing up?” he asked, flipping a light on as he entered the kitchen to look through the fridge.

“Just feeling antsy tonight, I guess.” Katherine turned the TV off and rose from her chair. “How were drinks?”

Rick shrugged without making eye contact. “Boring. Reggie and Paul couldn’t come out tonight so it was just Hank and Walter.”

Katherine nodded, not attempting to put names to faces.

Rick looked at her briefly before pulling his perfectly made plate out of the fridge. “Something wrong?”

Katherine realized she was standing in the middle of the kitchen, staring, wringing her hands. “Oh, no, sorry. Probably just overly tired, that’s all.”

Rick looked at her again, longer this time. “All right. Why don’t you go up to bed, and I’ll meet you after I eat?”

She nodded and smiled. “I’m just going to grab a bottle of water out of the garage.” She hurried out of the kitchen and toward the garage door before he could respond.

Katherine peered her head out the door before stepping onto the concrete floor barefoot. The shovel was returned against the wall, and beside it were the new hiking boots, replaced in just the same configuration as if they hadn’t moved. The garden hose was out of the box, resting in a pile of loose coils and twists beside the other items. She approached to get a better look: the shovel had some dirt on the blade that looked to have been mostly scraped off. It wasn’t shiny anymore and the price sticker was crudely picked off by hand, small bits of white residue and adhesive remaining. The boots were caked on all sides with mud. The ends of the laces were dark from being stepped on and dragged along the ground. The shiny green of the hose had dulled in a few places as if it had been sitting in someone’s yard for years. Half-formed, drying footprints led from the garage door to where the shoes rested beside the shovel against the wall. Both the shovel’s blade and the tops of the brown boots were speckled with small, dark spots. Even the hose had a few small rust-colored streaks along its length. Faint aromas of disinfectant and metal permeated the garage.

The floor waved and ebbed in Katherine’s vision; she leaned against the wall briefly as the nausea passed. She nearly forgot to grab a bottle of water out of the fridge on her way in. When she opened the door, she almost collided with Rick’s broad chest.

“You alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Katherine swallowed and nodded. “Really, do I?” she sputtered, touching her cool cheeks and trying to smile. “Like I said, I must just be antsy.”

Rick narrowed his eyes but nodded, angling his body for Katherine to get inside. She felt her pulse rise into her throat and beat in her ears as she climbed the stairs, crunching the plastic of the water bottle between tense fingers. Taking a moment to collect herself in the dark hallway, she gently knocked on Annie’s bedroom door and entered.

“Hey, baby,” she said, lowering onto the white comforter.

Annie pulled her covers up to her chin and smiled. “Mommy, is Daddy home?”

“Yeah, he is, but he’s tired I think.” Annie’s little shoulders fell under the blanket. Katherine petted her hair. “I’m sorry. I think we need to give Daddy a little alone time tonight.” Her breaths were thin and whistled out from her nostrils shakily. Feeling herself straighten, she added, “But I have an idea. You’re getting older, after all.”

Annie sat up against her pink pillow. “What do you mean?”

“I think it’s about time you have a little more…privacy.” Katherine stood up from the bed and motioned for Annie to follow her to the door. Approaching the doorknob, she pointed to the raised circle at the center. “This is how you lock your door. If you press that button, you become the only person that can open it.”

Annie took the doorknob in her hand herself. “Daddy said I’m not allowed to lock my door, in case of an emergency.”

Wringing her hands, Katherine said, “Well, think of it this way. What if there’s an emergency somewhere else in the house? What if someone bad gets inside, and you need to be safe?” Annie’s eyes widened, and Katherine bent down beside her, touching her cheek. “Oh, baby, I don’t mean to scare you. This is for…just in case, alright?”

Annie nodded, still holding the doorknob.

“Here, I’ll go out in the hall and you try it,” Katherine said, quickly squeezing Annie against her chest in a tight hug and then walking into the hallway. After she closed the door behind her, she pressed her hands against the wood and spoke to Annie. “Okay, press the button.”

Annie pressed the lock and the metal made a dull click. Katherine’s spine loosened with a sigh. “Good girl. Now, just in case, how about you keep it locked tonight? And then I’ll knock in the morning. It’s just a test. Just to try it out and see if you like it. For privacy, and safety.” Her forehead was now pressed against the door, and she felt her warm breath tickle the tip of her nose as it bounced back at her. She knew she was scaring Annie, and her words betrayed her own fear, but she needed her daughter safe.

“Okay, I’ll keep it locked,” Annie answered through the door. “Goodnight, Mommy. I love you.”

Katherine let a small smile cross her face for the first time all day. “I love you too, baby.” She finally pushed away from her daughter’s bedroom door and turned to face the rest of the house. At the end of the hall were the open double doors to the master bedroom, the TV glowing from within. Katherine stood in place, breathing rhythmically with the soft flashes from the screen. After pushing her doubts deep within her gut, she walked down the hall and entered the bedroom, where her husband was not asleep.


Allison Plourde is an NYC-based prose writer from the suburbs of Chicago. She holds an MFA from Stony Brook Southampton. Her work can be found in Bending Genres and Broadside Literary Arts Journal.

Diana Branzan is an illustrator and designer based in New York, NY.