Perfection by Julie Metz
January 8-12, 2003

It happened like this: Henry's footsteps on the old wooden floorboards. The toilet flushing. More footsteps, perhaps on the stairs. Silence. Then the thud.

I was working downstairs in my office on a bitterly cold Wednesday afternoon. My workspace was an enclosed sunporch off our living room, the small-paned windows on three sides framing a view of the snowy hills across the road. Wrapped in a shawl, wearing fuzzy socks on my chilled feet, I continued studying the project on my computer screen. I had been a graphic designer for nearly twenty years, a freelancer, specializing in cover designs for book publishers. Today's project was a novel about hard-luck cowboys, due yesterday, as always. I stopped fiddling with type design possibilities as I glanced at the computer clock—in an hour I would have to make a dash out to the car to pick up our six-and a half-year-old daughter Liza just before school let out at 3:10. Henry had been sick in bed all morning. There would be the freezing cold wait and the daily social milling with the other mothers on the school playground, then the quick drive home to finish my work. I'd wear my new sheepskin coat today and feel guilty about its expense on a warmer day. On second thought, the distressed sans serif type worked better with the moody image of a cowboy leaning against a split rail fence.

Suddenly my brain rewound sharply.

It wasn't a package dropped outside by the UPS guy.

My office phone rang. Instinctively, I answered. The photographer on the line asked me how I liked the images he had emailed.

It wasn't the cats knocking groceries off the kitchen counter.

"I can't talk now—something bad is happening." I ended the call abruptly.