At sixty-seven, Agatha Smalley’s face looked haggard. Her dull blue eyes whispered loneliness and regret. In years past several men showed interest in her, but she never had much time for dating. The boys and girls in Wakesfield snickered and called her the town “spinster”, as though spinster was a dirty word. Agatha’s anger at herself for not taking advantage of a life for herself welled up within her heart.
She grew up in the rural town of Wakesfield. When her older sister, Edith, married, Edith moved to Springfield and left Agatha to take care of their aged mother. Shortly after their mother died, Edith and her husband were in a car accident. Edith’s husband died instantly.
Edith was left paralyzed and required near constant care. Once again, Agatha lost an opportunity for a life of her own. While Edith was alive, Agatha’s days were always busy. When her older sister died, life became routine again.
While at the supermarket one day, Agatha met John, a butcher, with smooth black hair, a small frame and slightly protruding eyes. He was new in town and soon became very friendly toward her. Whenever Agatha went to the meat counter, he would smile at her as he wiped his bloodstained hands on his apron. Sometimes he would talk to her and tell her that he had saved a special steak or chicken for her. Agatha’s cheeks would grow red when he said, “See you next week.”
One morning when John handed her a chicken that he had saved for her he cleared his throat and said, “Would you like to go to a movie with me next week?”
Agatha’s hands began to shake. It had been years since she had dated and for a moment, she couldn’t answer his question. “Yes, I would,” she finally replied.
“I already know where you live,” he said quickly. “Is Friday night all right?” She looked down at her trembling hands. “That’s fine,” she answered.
On Friday evening, she put a conditioner in her lifeless gray hair and applied makeup and blush to her face. Her shaking hands made her drop and break her favorite bottle of perfume.
That night John arrived right on time. As they drove to the movie, Agatha began to relax and talk about herself. ‘Now that my sister is gone, life seems dull again,” she said.
“You should get out more,” John said. “What about coming over to my place for dinner next Saturday?”
“That sounds very nice,” she said.
“I can’t promise you a gourmet meal but I can cook a pretty good tuna casserole,” he said.
For their date, Agatha wore a light blue linen suit that she only wore on special occasions. Since John’s car was at the repair shop, Agatha drove herself to his house. At the end of the long dirt driveway was a small, freshly painted white and green cottage. When she arrived, John and many cats greeted her. “Where did you get all these cats?” she asked.
“I’m a sucker for strays,” he admitted. “They just show up at my doorstep. They come and go like friends.”
An odd look came into his eyes. Agatha’s face twitched with nervousness. It was then that Agatha noticed the living room furniture, a stained blue overstuffed sofa and two faded chairs.
John observed Agatha’s eyes. “I’ve been meaning to buy new furniture,” he remarked, “but I haven’t had much time.”
“Well, I’d better see about dinner,” he said as his dark eyes stared straight ahead. “I’ll help you,” said Agatha.
No,” he said firmly. “You’re a guest. Anyway, everything is almost ready.” The dinner was delicious. John had prepared a casserole with a special cheese sauce.
Days turned into weeks. John and Agatha continued to see more of each other. Usually Agatha went over to John’s house. She became attached to a calico cat named Spruce and a white cat named Tinker. One spring afternoon she asked, “Where are Tinker and Spruce?”
A hazy look came into John’s penetrative eyes. “Oh, I guess they wandered off somewhere,” he answered.
She felt a faint chill at his remark. However, she was so glad to have John as a friend that she didn’t question him any further. John was usually mild mannered and good-natured but Agatha observed that his personality could alter unexpectantly.
One thing John made perfectly clear to Agatha was that she was never to come to his home unless he invited her. She thought that was peculiar especially since they had developed a close friendship. Agatha had waited many years for a relationship. John hadn’t mentioned marriage, but secretly she hoped that he would. Maybe soon she would be rid of the name “spinster”.
Weeks passed and John’s behavior continued to bewilder Agatha. At times, he seemed pleased to be with her. At other times, the distant look in his eyes frightened her. ”Why don’t I cook dinner for you?” she asked one evening.
“No,” he answered abruptly. The way he grimaced made her uncomfortable. The following day Agatha received a phone call from a magazine sweepstakes contest “Agatha Smalley?” the voice asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“We are happy to tell you that we selected your name from our lottery drawing. You have won a color TV as your gift.”
Eager to share her good news with John, she ignored his request about going over to his house unless invited. She drove quickly to his white bungalow and knocked on the front door. When no one answered, she went around to the back of the house. As she passed underneath some pine trees, she saw John. He stood there with his jet-black hair disheveled and a wild look in his eyes. His butcher’s apron was stained red and his hands were dripping blood. In his bluish-veined right hand, he held an axe.
Agatha’s eyes welled with tears.