From the kitchen, she eyed the lottery ticket.
The last square gnawed at her, its final, decisive shape still hidden. There was an urgency all through her body, a pressure building. She could break into a run at any moment, her muscles all pushed into a forward slant, coiled and compressed, like a spring. She could not wait any longer. She spread the ticket flat on the table, and with the coin clutched in her fingers, she scratched at the shiny surface. A palm tree appeared, curved cartoonishly to the left, with two coconuts nestled in the leaves—the whole thing looked practically perverted.
“Merde,” she said. She crushed the worthless ticket in her palm and threw it across the room.
Frustrated, she turned on the television, found the channel which showed game show reruns all day long, and settled back into a cushy leather armchair.
Match Game was her favorite. On the screen, Gene Rayburn crossed the stage wearing a disaster of a suit, and a tie that started out as red, was met halfway with a diagonal brown stripe, and ended with a diamond of pastel blue. He was a complicated, gangly mess, all legs and arms, completely devoid of the square-jawed charm that she preferred in a game show host. Rayburn was missing something—ego, perhaps, a broadness. He lacked fakeness. He never seemed in control of the game, rather he was running just behind it, trying to catch up to the celebrity panel, who never looked as if they had much at stake. “Mister Gene,” Lucy said aloud, “what sort of necktie are we wearing today?”
They spent countless Sunday afternoons, bleeding into evening and on into the night, on Helena’s frumpy sectional sofa, passing a bowl of popcorn back and forth, brushing salt and brewer’s yeast off their laps, sucking it from their fingertips—Helena’s nails thick and colorless; Lucy’s perfectly manicured in the old style, the pale half-moons left unpainted—solving puzzles and admiring (or not) the contestants’ clothing. Lucy wanted her friend home immediately.
Baroness crept into view, stretched her back toward the ceiling, and then sat silently in the doorway, not in or out of the kitchen. The cat stared at her with a look that was half boredom, half subtle judgment—engaged but still distant, remaining an external observer; Daniel sometimes called her The Auditor. Lucy thought perhaps she had been sent from heaven, or some greater place, to record the doings and misdoings of this particular household. The quality and consistency of meals provided. Toy mouse allotment, treat-time frequency. Crinkly plastic bag on the floor availability.
“Where is mother?” Lucy said.
Baroness merely blinked, as if she were seeing through a new pair of eyes.