Cynthia J. McGean
Excerpt from The Quiet Cross
a short story
by Cynthia J. McGean

	Mrs. O’Rourke moved through the morning silence with a cautious reverence, as if the slightest sound might prematurely set the day in motion. She was already dressed. She would never emerge from her room unprepared to face the eyes of the world. Still, she relished the Sunday morning pause. Through the kitchen window, she watched a curtain of willow leaves sway gently in the morning breeze, tossing sunlight around like tiny soap bubbles. The light played across the water in the sink, where last night’s dishes waited for her, well-soaked and demanding action. With a sigh, she picked up a sponge and began scrubbing.
    Mrs. O’Rourke heard her children padding around in bare feet upstairs.	She knew they were listening through the floor, straining for the sound of their father’s voice. But he hadn’t come home from the bar last night. It was the third night that week. Mrs. O’Rourke knew the children kept track. She had seen her daughter’s little log book, hidden under the bed where she thought her mother wouldn’t find it. But Mrs. O’Rourke knew about secret hiding places. She had to.
    She dried the plates and stacked them back on the shelf. Clink, clink, clink. Three plates. She dried three forks and knives and spoons, and three glasses. Then she turned to the dining room table, where her husband’s plate sat, clean and untouched. She put it away with the others. Clink. The sound lingered in the air, an echo of broken promises. Mrs. O’Rourke scooped up his unused flatware and returned it to the drawer.
    She didn’t ask him where he went anymore and he no longer made the effort to lie. At least he tried with the children. He had promised them a trip to the zoo. “This weekend for certain,” he said. The boy still talked about the last time they went, how they watched the tigers pacing in their cages and ate cotton candy and saw the elephant bathe. When was it? Last year already? His father had promised this weekend they would go again. But here it was Sunday morning and he hadn’t come home.
    Mrs. O’Rourke looked up at the clock and shook herself. They would be late again. “Time for church,” she called up the stairs.
She took down her green hat and perched it carefully on ripples of short red hair. She clutched her black leather purse and green gloves with the air of a soldier going into battle. The children scrambled down the stairs, slowing as they hit the landing. Mrs. O’Rourke adjusted her son’s tie and smoothed her daughter’s hair. She wet her finger to clean a smudge from her son’s cheek and gave a final inspection before ushering them into the morning sunlight and locking the door behind them.
    The church was a few blocks away. The children gripped hands and looked straight ahead. Mrs. O’Rourke led them like a protecting angel. She braced herself as they passed the people returning from the early service.
First came their neighbor, her eyes searching for fault. Would she remark on Mr. O’Rourke’s absence?	

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