Homecoming – No. 73

Hannah swept the beam of her flashlight over the drenched debris. “Rascal!?”

A breeze kicked up, washing grassy musk into her face, stirring what leaves remained on the trees and fluttering the litter bobbing in the driveway’s puddles. The setting sun glinted through hurricane-torn branches, flecking the standing water and casting suggestive shadows across the backyard.

She’s got to be here, Hannah reasoned.

Pivoting to the garage, she depressed the clicker. The rolling door drew back with a groan and whine. A mildew aroma, twined with rust, spilled out. Hannah put a hand to her nose until the smell dissipated into the dusk.

Squinting along her flashlight’s beam, she spotted their sodden push-lawnmower sitting like a used napkin alongside a stack of plastic crates, the bottom row glistening wetly. A waterline, as high as her ankles, stained the cardboard boxes towering along the right hand wall. The clutter receded, blotting out the side windows and nearly reaching the crossbeams. Darkness skittered between the nooks and crevices as she cast her light over the dented cubes containing winter clothes, books, Christmas ornaments and tools.

“Rascal!” Hannah’s heart crawled another inch into her throat at each suspect shade.

Moist footsteps squished closer, and Hannah found Bruce’s face with the flashlight. His three day-old scruff added to his weary droop as he lifted his hand to intercept the beam.

The sight of his empty arms sent a boulder rolling into Hannah’s stomach. “Any luck?”

“No,” he said, with a shake of his head. “Good news though is most of the inside looks okay. I think only the basement took on water.”

“I don’t care about that.” Hannah passed the light over the wilted rhododendrons and what remained of her vegetable garden clutching the edge of the driveway. She hugged her other arm around herself as Bruce delved into the garage. She crept to the edge of their stored possessions, illuminating the darkest pits while Bruce inspected boxes and lifted crates.

Hannah’s stomach clenched as he returned and braced himself with one hand on the rolling-door’s frame.

“I don’t think she’s here, honey.”

Hannah tightened her grip on herself as evening dropped into a humid night. “We shouldn’t have left without her.”

Stepping out of the musty garage, Bruce pulled her close. “We had to go.”

“I know, but…”

“She’s tough old minx, she can handle a few extra nights outside.” He kissed the top of her head. “And now we’re back, she’ll have someone waiting when she comes home.”

Hannah looked up, her view of his face obscured by fading light and the tears pooling in her eyes. “You think so?”

“Yeah. Come on, let’s head in and leave a light on for her.”

“And a little dish outside,” said Hannah as Bruce turned them from the garage.

“And a little dish outside.”

Hannah pressed the clicker, the garage thudding closed behind them. She flicked off the flashlight as the living room lamp poured out of the framed window, revealing the brief stretch of lawn half-hidden beneath murky water. They mounted the stoop, reached the screen door and Hannah paused.

“I’ll get the can,” said Bruce. The screen door gave the same screech, one that had accompanied each of Rascal’s demanded entrances and tugged at her heartstrings.

Nodding absently, Hannah made a mental note to finally put in a cat door while gazing over the flooded patches and trees dividing their lot from the Andersen’s. “Come home, Rascal,” she whispered.

The nighttime hush descending on the soaked neighborhood coiled around her, and she shivered. In the kitchen, Bruce pulled out a can, fork, and dish, the scrape of aluminum and porcelain adding to the chill. The screen door squeaked open again.

“Here,” said Bruce, offering the collection.

Hannah popped the tab on the can and with a prod from the fork and following thump, had a lump of fishy-scented food in the center. She set the dish onto the stoop. Standing, she cast one last look into the night. Another rattling shiver traced up her spine.

“Come on, honey,” said Bruce, plucking the empty can and dirty fork from her white-knuckled grasp, “you’re getting cold.”

“Yeah.” Hannah gave her arms a rub and turned toward the threshold with another moan from the screen door.

A familiar mew replied and Hannah glanced over her shoulder.

“Did you hear that?” she asked, unsure if feline cry emanated from the darkness or her imagination.

“Maybe….”

They both froze. Seizing the door and Bruce’s arm, Hannah held her breath.

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