Matilda sighed as she turned off the porch light. Now that the trick-or-treaters were gone, the house seemed even quieter than it had three weeks ago, after the funeral when the remnants of their family and a couple of neighbors had left. John would have said good riddance to all of them. Toward the end, his dementia had made him suspicious of everyone and everything, including her. She’d plastered a smile over her hurt every time he’d lashed out at her. She was still struggling to adjust to his absence, but even in her grief she was beginning to realize she now had the freedom to pamper herself. That meant brewing a proper cup of tea, settling her aching bones into the comfortable chair, and reading something that made her feel forty years younger.
She puttered around the kitchen, filling the kettle, polishing her mug, and carefully scooping level teaspoons of tea leaves into the strainer. The scent of jasmine wafted into the air. John had sneered at her “fancy tea leaves,” saying they were too expensive and complicated to use when bagged tea, dipped in water heated in a microwave, worked just as well. Even when their daughter, Susan, gave her loose-leaf tea at Christmas, Matilda hid it in the back of the cupboard so John wouldn’t find it.
When the kettle whistled, she let the water cool. In the meantime, she hunted for the sugar. Where had she left it? John had always accused her of losing things or mixing them up. She knew she’d gotten his last dose of medicine right. Why had everyone questioned her so much about it? All their doubts had made her wonder about it herself. What if it had been the right dose but the wrong medicine, or she’d given it to him at the wrong time? Matilda shook her head. She would never have her rest if she let questions worry her to death.
She poured the tea, brought it to the chair, and read for a while, sipping her tea every few pages. When the words began to blur, she picked up her cup to rinse it out. But a glance inside it made her shriek and drop the cup. Seconds later, she fell too.
* * *
“Mother?” Susan called a few days later as she entered the living room. “Where are you? Why aren’t you answering your phone….Oh no!” She hurried to Matilda, but it was obviously too late to do anything.
At the instructions of the emergency responders, Susan left the room exactly as she found it, even the pottery shards on the floor. But the autopsy never found the true cause of Matilda’s death. No one else would ever see “Your fault” written in the scattered tea leaves.