Anne had to buy eggs because her boyfriend, Tim, wanted to make a quiche. Tim was an engineer whose company built skyways and pedestrian tunnels. Anne wrote sentence completion questions for a standardized testing company called TESTI, which was not an acronym for anything.
Because Tim's job was so lucrative and ____________, Anne was expected to complete all the ____________ duties.
It was an unseasonably warm day in March. Anne preferred cold weather, which kept nature's unhygienic parts gelled into place. Warm days made everything soften and ooze.
Anne's office was abuzz with outdoor lunch plans. Tanya, a dumb woman who worked a few desks over, kept asking loud, rhetorical questions about the weather.
"How about that weather today? Did you ever see a finer day in March?"
Anne put on headphones and kept her face close to the computer screen.
Anne hadn't brought anything for lunch. She waited until Tanya and the others had gone outside to eat their lunches on a patch of grass under the flagpole. Then she went into the break room. From the communal fridge, she borrowed someone's apple and a container of Greek yogurt. She went to the supply room to eat these things, one hand gripping the door handle.
Anne got off at four. She took the stairs down from her tenth floor office, so she wouldn't have to talk to anyone in the elevator. On the western horizon a band of storm clouds loomed, fuzzily bordered, the color of bruises.
Because that day's weather had been ____________, the villagers were ____________ when their homes were leveled by a category five tornado.
Anne stopped at Hy-Vee Grocery on her way home. It should have been a simple errand, but Anne could not find the eggs. They were not in the cheese and yogurt aisle, nor in some annex to the milk case.
Anne finally found the eggs where they had no right to be, in the alcohol section, at the end of a refrigerated wall of six packs. There were many kinds to choose from. Anne was annoyed at Tim for wanting to cook. Usually they got take-out or ate simple things from a box.
While Anne was mulling the implications of her preference for white eggs over brown ones, she felt something jab the tender skin of her back, above her right kidney. She turned to find that an old man had poked her with his rubber-tipped cane.
"You mind?" the old man said. "I need to get at them eggs. You're in my way."
The cane was still extended, ready for another prodding. Anne moved aside, and the old man hobbled forward and leaned close to the eggs.
"Excuse me, sir," Anne said. "I don't appreciate you touching me like that."
The old man mumbled into the eggs.
"Hey. I'm talking to you." A ball of anger had formed in Anne's chest. The same ache as when she swallowed a large pill without water. Anne touched the old man's arm.
"Get your hands off me!"
"You can't go around poking people with your cane. A simple 'excuse me' would have sufficed."
"Don't make me take you over my knee," the old man growled.
The ball of anger had sprouted tendrils that clutched at Anne's chest. Blood rushed to her extremities, and her fingertips tingled. All her constituent parts lusted for retaliation.
The geriatric man's ____________ appearance was deceptive, as his behavior revealed him to be a ____________.
Anne went to the cleaning aisle and found a mop, its rectangular head sealed in plastic. She stood behind the old man and pushed the mop's handle into the folds of his cardigan.
At the moment of contact, the old man shrieked and collapsed. Anne imagined the xylophone sound of bones clattering together. Her anger was absorbed into a spongelike apparatus of fear. The ceilings were dotted with cameras, concealed within black semi-domes. Anne was careful not to look up as she edged into the wine aisle, set down her basket and walked out of the store.
The purple band had swelled to a seething purple mass that choked the western third of the sky. Anne stopped at a gas station, bought a pack of Camels, and lit one just as the first fat raindrops hit her windshield.
Anne was chain smoking on the front porch when Tim's BMW pulled into the carport. She waited for him to say something about the cigarettes, so she could point out that he'd finished the last of the ice cream without telling her so she could buy more. But Tim just smiled and went inside. Anne stood in the doorway while Tim loosened his silk tie.
"I tried to get groceries today," Anne said.
"I know you wanted eggs so you could make a quiche."
"Not tonight. Too tired. Thought we'd get Chinese."
Tim began to whistle. He climbed the stairs. "Can you call? You know what I like, but get whatever you want."
Tim, a typically ____________ person, was surprisingly ____________ when it came to his girlfriend's feelings.
Anne could have wept. She hit 6 on the speed dial. She had China Delight's menu memorized, and rattled off items like lottery numbers. The food arrived quickly, delivered by an overweight teenager who appeared to be on drugs. He had taken no precautions against the rain. His bushy eyebrows provided awnings for his sad, red eyes.
Tim came back downstairs, having showered and donned his Ralph Lauren pajamas. Anne set out chopsticks and glasses of wine. She bristled when Tim asked for a fork; she had long suspected that Tim only pretended not to know how to use chopsticks.
They opened the cartons, and the dining room filled with steam. Anne picked at her food while Tim told a story about a practical joke they'd played on one of the temps.
"You should've seen the look on his face!" Tim said, slapping his thigh. His face sobered when he realized Anne wasn't laughing. "How was your day? Write some good fill-in-the-blank questions?"
Anne couldn't tell Tim about the old man. He wouldn't understand. He might even insist she call Hy-Vee and turn herself in. So Anne just said, "Nice day, huh?"
"Gorgeous, just gorgeous!" Tim gushed. "Me and the guys threw a Frisbee around at lunch!"
The rain continued through the night. Toward morning, Anne woke from a disturbing dream about the sentient mops in Disney's Fantasia.
The sky was clear the next morning. The rain had driven up earthworms from the soil, and their swollen purple bodies littered the sidewalks. On the short walk to her car, Anne impaled four worms under the sharp heels of her shoes.
The worms were so ____________ that killing them seemed an act not of cruelty, but of ____________.
Anne read the local news online, refreshing the page every ten minutes. She found no reports of the old man's condition, so she switched to the obituary page to see if he'd turned up there. Nothing.
What had she done with the mop? This sudden thought sucked the air from her lungs. She must have leaned it against something. Not the glass case; she would have been disturbed, even in her panic, to have created an obstacle to the imported beer. Nor would she have simply let the mop clatter to the floor. Anne cursed herself for not wiping the handle clean of her fingerprints.
11:30 a.m., and still no news on the old man. Anne strolled casually through the break room. Several people were in there, waiting in an informal queue for the microwave. Anne couldn't risk sampling someone else's food, and her dollar bills were too damp and crumpled for the vending machine.
Anne returned to her desk. She was tortured by hunger and remorse. Her work was suffering.
The ____________ girl had no friends; eventually, she drowned herself.
Anne was forced to scrap all the questions she wrote that day. She knew it was time to confide in someone about the old man.
When she got home, Anne vacuumed, showered, and put on a crisp white dress. She sat on the couch with her legs folded beneath her. She knew that a wholesome first impression would be vital to Tim's reception of her tale.
Tim whistled his way across the front porch and into the house. Anne asked him to sit.
"I'm gonna hit the showers."
"It'll only take a minute. I have something to tell you."
Tim's eyes widened predictably when Anne described poking the old man with the mop.
"I thought you were over this shit," Tim said.
Anne's eyes shone with incipient tears.
"You need to go back to therapy."
"He started it."
"He's an old man!"
"So that means he gets to assault people?"
"He could have been senile. He could have Alzheimer's. He could be a veteran, Anne!"
The threat of tears hadn't worked, so Anne drew her knees in to her chest and glared at Tim.
"Fuck him," Anne said. "He's an asshole."
"I'm calling Hy-Vee," Tim said. He plucked the phone from its charging cradle.
"No!" Anne leaped off the couch and wrestled the phone from him. She promised to confess the next day.
"And buy some damn groceries, while you're at it," Tim said.
Anne loathed Tim's fits of sanctimony. She had long allowed him to suckle self-esteem from her pathological quirks. Though she didn't want to hurt him, Anne knew Tim would have to pay for his disloyalty.
The next day, Thursday, was Anne's day off. She drove across town to the Super Walmart, where she bought groceries. She also bought a Styrofoam tray of discounted pork chops.
When Anne got home, she unwrapped the pork and put it on the back patio to let it sweat in the sun. An hour later, she hosed it off.
When Tim came home, a steaming pot of sweet and sour pork chops awaited him. Anne had also prepared rice pilaf and a spinach salad.
Annette, an already ____________ woman, sometimes pretended to be on a diet so that she wouldn't be expected to eat certain ____________ foods.
Tim sat down and rolled up his sleeves.
"Jesus, this looks amazing," Tim said. "All I had for lunch was a hot dog."
But before he pierced the meat with his fork, Tim paused and fixed Anne with a stern look.
"Anne, did you ask about the old man?"
"He was fine," Anne said quickly. "He's given them trouble before. I talked to his son."
"Good for you, Anne! I'm glad you did that. Don't you feel better?"
Anne nodded. She watched Tim devour three pork chops, which she'd made according to his mother's recipe.
The next morning, Tim had diarrhea. He called in sick. Though physically weakened, he was still in good spirits.
"I've been working too hard," he said. "This must be my body's way of telling me to take it easy!"
Anne received the call shortly after lunch; Tim had taken a cab to the emergency room. Anne continued writing sentence completion questions until four o'clock. Then she went to the hospital.
Tim was hitched to machines by tubes in his chest and left arm. His skin had the smooth, waxen appearance of processed cheese.
"The doctors said it must be something I ate," Tim said. "Probably the hot dog."
Anne dabbed Tim's sweaty forehead with a paper towel. "Definitely the hot dog," she said. "Those street vendors are filthy."
The nurse came in, and said that Tim would have to stay overnight. Anne was alarmed, and felt a twinge of remorse. She had not expected him to suffer quite so much.
At work the next day, Anne accidentally mentioned Tim's illness to Tanya. Tanya promptly created an email prayer chain for Tim. Then she lingered by Anne's desk, racking her feeble brain for new ways to inquire about Tim's condition. She told Anne stories of her own experiences with food poisoning.
"Dehydration's the real killer," Tanya said.
Anne couldn't let Tanya's prayer email take credit for Tim's recovery. She went into the supply closet to make her own deal with God. Kneeling in the dark next to the broken copy machine, she whispered the terms of the agreement. If she went to Hy-Vee and confessed about the old man, Tim would recover.
Anne worked through lunch and left at three, driving straight to Hy-Vee. She approached the first employee she saw. A pudgy girl, chewing gum and fumbling in the pockets of her apron.
"Excuse me," Anne said. "On Monday, I had an incident with an old man. It was in the egg and beer aisle."
The girl's bovine jaw worked the wad of gum.
"The eggs are in a very impractical place," Anne said. "By the beer. Across from the wine."
"Oh. Aisle two."
"He screamed and fell down. He might have been injured."
The girl shrugged. "I don't know nothing about that."
Anne turned from the useless girl and stalked the perimeter of the store, finding no trace of the old man. She sat on a bench outside to wait and watch. After an hour, Anne decided that since God probably didn't exist anyway, she might as well go home and watch Wheel of Fortune.
When Anne got home, an unfamiliar car was in the driveway. A white Kia, in Anne's spot.
"Anne!" Tanya said. She waved from the kitchen, where she stood over the stove, stirring a pot of something. Tim was in his recliner, reading the newspaper.
"Where have you been?" Tim said. "I called your phone about fifty times."
"Oh, I hope you don't mind, Anne!" Tanya said. "Your work line kept ringing and ringing. Finally I thought I should answer the darn thing, it could be important!"
"Tanya's been wonderful. She's making chicken noodle soup."
Tanya turned down the heat and put a lid on the pot. She wiped her fingers on Anne's favorite dish towel. "Just let it simmer. In an hour it'll be good to go."
"Tanya, please stay for dinner," Tim said.
"Oh, I don't know . . . would that be okay with you, Anne?"
Tanya and Tim looked at her expectantly. Inches from Anne's left shoulder, Tanya's purse hung from the coatrack like an ugly gray fruit.
Anne closed her eyes and breathed the smell of soup.
"Of course you should stay for dinner," Anne said. Tim nodded and looked back to his paper. Tanya affected a small celebratory dance, then resumed her vigil over the soup.
Anne plunged her hand into Tanya's purse and grabbed her keys. "I have to borrow your car," Anne said. She ran out before they could react.
Anne drove east. In two hours she had crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. She continued driving to O'Hare airport, where she dumped Tanya's car in the long term parking garage. As she drove, Anne's thoughts centered on the last sentence completion question she would ever write.
Although a potentially ___________ food to those with illnesses affecting the throat, soup is an ______________ choice for people suffering gastric maladies.
Anne wrote the question on a scrap of paper and placed it on the dashboard. She locked the keys in the car and walked toward the elevators, prepared for some sort of surrender.
BIO: Kate Folk has had fiction published in several journals, including PANK and Specter Magazine. She lives in San Francisco and works as an English teacher. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco, and has completed a first novel.