Outside, the air smelled as if it had been cooked, as if it had been altered by the heat and was no longer life sustaining.
"Don't leave me!" Emma shouted from the porch.
I did not direct my answer to her. I was cupping my hand over the yellow cat's face while it went wild with the prospect of near suffocation. During the next tantrum I would have to tell Emma that I was going to count to infinity, that I would give her that much time to compose herself. I was hissing, shaking the poor cat as I lectured him, when Howard said, "What are you doing, Alice?"
He was standing in the doorway of the milk house, wearing his rubber overalls and his rubber boots, each the length of a basset hound. The open buckles on the boots and the metal hooks on the overalls jangled when he moved. I felt a rush of admiration for him, in his stiff, clattery suit that on anyone else would have looked oafish. Because he himself was commanding he gave even a rubbery old hillbilly getup dignity.
"What am I doing?" I asked myself, prying the cat's claws from my shirt. "I'm about to suffocate this cat instead of our daughter, that's all," I said, snorting, as if I'd made a joke. Without saying, he'd know I meant Emma.
"I'll be in soon, as soon as I can." He turned and shuffled into his barn. His overalls were pulled too tight in the back and had the beguiling effect of the wicked schoolboy's trick known as Chinese laundry.
"I'm handling it fine, Howard, I really think I am." I sometimes felt dismayed because he didn't seem to trust me the way he should have. "I'm pretty sure I'm doing the right thing," I said under my breath, "strangling the cat instead of Emma."