Helen’s grandfather snarled and pounded his cane on the floor boards.

She went into the living room and adjusted the tube in his nostrils, checked the settings on the oxygen tank. She pressed her fingers against his wrist and watched the second hand on her watch for six seconds, counted out his pulse.

“You’re fine,” she said, and squeezed his hand. It was the third time this morning he’d complained of some discrepancy, some phantom pain, but in four months as his roundtheclock caretaker Helen had gotten used to his complaints as cries for attention. A smellfungus, if she ever saw one, but she felt for him, condemned to a wheelchair and bottled oxygen and a granddaughter turned live-in nurse.


Charlie shook the snow from his hat, stamped his boots on the mat. The wind whistled through the porte cochere and he pressed the doorbell again. This time, the door swung open and his sister barred the doorway.

“What, no butler?” he asked.

“You’re two hours late,” Claudia said.

“Let me in.” Charlie moved to step into the house but Claudia held the door firmly against her body.

“Come on,” he said. “It’s cold.”

Claudia looked past him into the street. “Where’s your car?”

Charlie laughed and nodded toward the back of the house. “Don’t worry. I parked the beater in the back. No one will see it.”

She sneered, “No one will see it because you’re two hours late to your father’s own wake.”

Charlies clapped his hands together for warmth and took a few steps back. “Let me in, Claudia.”

“If you think you can just get away with waltzing in here, when my decent, hardworking–”

He guffawed. “I believe the word you’re looking for is pecksniffian.”

She held the door more tightly and glared at him. “Listen, Jack’s put out a lot of energy into Dad’s affairs this week, so don’t be a jackass, just this once.”

She held the door for him to enter and a wall of hot air swept over him as he stepped inside the hall.

“Just this once,” Charlie sniffed. “Says you, the mistress with no butler.”