2004-07-23 - 5:26 p.m.

short, but so's my time

Chapter 10

Gil appraised the room with a practiced eye. “He changes such subtle things.” Sara ran her finger along the height markings on e last time before joining him. “Like?”

“The sofa cushions. This one belongs on the right, that one on the left.”

She looked dubious, “Uh, you know which cushion belongs where?”

His mouth twisted as he considered, “The wear pattern. We’d sit here together and watch TV, or play cards. He sat on the left; I was on the right, when he was taken no one ever sat in his spot. Eventually the right side got a little threadbare while the left stayed intact.

“And now it’s the opposite. Maybe he just made up for lost time sitting on his side.” “The right side isn’t worn at all Sara.” It was a quiet declaration, made as he turned for the kitchen, Sara at his heels.

“Check the dates on the perishables.” While she did he looked in cabinets and drawers.

“Milk went bad about a month and a half ago, eggs same time, those are the most recent dates.”

“Red.”

“Huh?”

“Red dishes, red bowls, red cups. Mom’s few things she left behind and his red ones. No blue.”

“Didn’t she take the blue with you when you moved?”

“No. It was as if looking at the blue only reminded her of the missing red. The morning we made the discovery I had my breakfast in a white dish, grown up dishware I suppose, and from then on it stayed the same.”

Sara chewed her lip and narrowed her eyes. “He’s erasing you.”

“Not exactly. I exist until the kidnapping.”

“So he’s playing it out as if he was left behind and you were taken.”

“It seems that way. Yes.”

She stood close to him and touched his shoulder. “You okay?” He favored her with a smile that never quite reached his eyes, “So far. You?”

“I keep trying to picture you as a child, see you in this place.”

He looked at the room through memory and tried to recreate it for her.

“She would come home from the gallery around 4:30 and pay the sitter. I used to play outside watching the ants march in lines or creating forts from branches that had fallen. I never stayed inside when the sitter was here. She snapped her gum and tried to make me practice dancing to chubby checker records with her.”

Sara hid her smile behind her hair, charmed at the image of a young Gil Grissom doing the twist with poodle skirted gum snapper.

“As soon as mom got home though I’d come in. She’d always ask what I learned that day, even when I wasn’t in school. She said a day we didn’t learn was a day we weren’t fully alive. I’d try to invent something important to say and then I’d return the question. She’d respond with elaborate stories of colorful artists and patrons, always with a moral at the end. She would sign it as she spoke I would try to mimic the signs. When she’d begin dinner I’d sit right here on the floor and…” he reached behind a cupboard and pulled a largish matchbox out. “ah, yes, right where I left them.”

He slid open the box to reveal 10 old silver jacks and a red rubber ball. “She would cook and I would play jacks almost obsessively.”

“Orderly and repetitive, that sounds right.”

“There’s a rhythm to it, a solid game of jacks is like a good piece of music, it builds, gains intensity…” His voice trailed off and he looked at the jacks in his hand. Sara watched him quietly for a moment and then theorized, “Great for increasing manual dexterity too, right? Made your hands faster for signing?”

“And bug catching.” This time the smile did reach his eyes. He put the jacks in the box and returned it to it’s hiding spot with a sort of reverence, a small ceremony that enabled Sara to imagine the complicated, deliberate boy he had been.

“Anything else moved in here?” “Not that seems significant. He used the kitchen and living room but the entryway looks like he never went there except to dump mail.” “So some of you mom’s mail still comes here, after all of this time?” “That’s an assumption I’m not ready to make, let’s not get ahead of ourselves honey, there’s more house to see.”

She flattened her hand against the white painted wood of a door off the kitchen, “What’s behind this door?” “That’s the thing. I know what was there 45 years ago, canned food, cereal, peanut butter. Now? I don’t dare guess.”

Sara took a deep breath and tugged at the door. Swollen with humidity it stuck, groaned and relented so fast it sent her back a few steps, nearly enough to land her in Grissom’s extended hands, but not quite. Steadying herself she timidly stepped closer and pulled the string that would illuminate the contents.

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