All of her life Mrs. Fletcher had an almost pathological fear of missing the train to work. She had worked in the same office doing the same thing for over 20 years. She could not be late today of all days, her final day. Each day before work she would wake up four hours early and get out of bed and summon the butler, Charles, who would in turn summon the cook, Julie, who would rush into the kitchen to cook Mrs. Fletcher’s breakfast. Each morning was the same breakfast. Julie would cook two eggs over easy, cut up exactly two and a half bananas lengthwise, toast two pieces of sourdough bread lightly and add a teaspoon of butter on each piece, then she would add exactly four blueberries to the perimeter of the plate. Her coffee had to be warm, not hot and she took one sugar and a teaspoon of heavy cream. The cook would set the plate on the far end of the table away from the kitchen door in the dining room and leave.
Mrs. Fletcher’s husband, rightly so, always found her morning routine just a bit irritating. But, after almost 30 years of marriage there was little he could or wanted to do about it. Mrs. Fletcher called her butler and instructed him to call the driver to get the car ready for the drive to the train station. Mr. Fletcher never understood why she would not just let the driver take her all the way in to work but it was not his job to understand anything she did. It was his job to stand at the door and hold her coat and hat as she went out of the door to work and to give her a peck on her right cheek as a symbol of good bye at exactly 7:29 am each morning. That gave her enough time for the 12 minute drive to the train station and the 15 minute train ride to work.
“What time is it?” Mrs. Fletcher asked her butler who was standing beside her near her front door as he did every morning.
“It’s a quarter after.” He said looking at his wrist watch.
“Oh dear, he better come down. I don’t want to be late.” She stared at the top of the winding staircase which led to the bedrooms and the upstairs bathrooms.
“Mr. Fletcher will be here. He’s always on time.” The butler reassured her.
Mr. Fletcher moved deliberately slowly as he went from his office to the steps and descended them towards his wife. He was at the point of the staircase where he could see the top of her head and pretty soon he was at eye level with the back of her greying head. He walked slowly to his wife and held out his hand for the butler to pass him her winter coat.
“What time is it now?” She asked her husband. By now Mrs. Fletcher was starting to get nervous. Her eyes blinked rapidly and her head turned slightly to the right.
“Relax, dear, you have plenty of time.”
Mr. Fletcher glanced at his gold wrist watch his wife had given him for Christmas ten years ago and announced the time. “It’s exactly 7:28.” He looked at his wife’s face, handed her the coat and hat and quickly and gently in one move kissed her cheek and whispered goodbye.
Mrs. Fletcher hurried down the steps to the waiting car and pulled the waiting blanket in the back seat over her chilly legs and motioned for the driver to drive to the train station. The weather was quite foggy and she hoped that the trains would be running on time. She hated San Francisco's foggy winter mornings but there was nothing she could do about the fog.
“Are we going to make it to the station in time?” She asked the driver.
“Yes, Mrs. Fletcher. We have plenty of time. I will drive as quickly as I can.”
“Do that Hyeon, but be safe. These people drive silly when it is foggy weather.”
Mrs. Fletcher pulled the blanket up closer to her waist and looked out of the window. She could barely make out what neighborhood she was in. The street signs were hard to see behind the fog and she could barely make out any of the names. She knew that she was only a few minutes from the train station. She opened her purse as she always did when they were a few minutes away. She searched the contents of purse, almost digging like her hound dog, Bruce, looking for it. It had to be there. But, it was not. Mrs. Fletcher did something she had never done in her life. She ordered the driver to turn back around and take her back to her house.
“Are you sure? Mrs. Fletcher, we are almost to the train station.” The driver said looking through the rearview mirror.
“Yes, yes, I am sure. Turn around and go back. I need to get something important that I left at home. I was sure it was in my purse. It is always in my purse. I don’t know what could have happened to it.”
“Okay, Mrs. Fletcher, when it is safe I will make a U-turn and take you back to Stockton Street and then back home.”
“Yes, yes, thank you.” Mrs. Fletcher's eyes started to twitch again and her head was leaning slightly to one side. But, she had to return home.
Twenty minutes later Mrs. Fletcher was parked out in front of her home again. She hurried out of the car and up the stairs to the front door, holding her key in her right hand. She slid the key into the lock and was about to turn it then she stopped. Her head came up and she stood motionless at her door. In the middle of her hurriedness to get inside of the house she waited and waited. The driver counted, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten seconds. She was still waiting. She tossed her head in the air and her body tensed. She was listening. She was listening to the repetition of some noise in the house and she was trying to process it in her head. Yes, she was obviously listening. She moved one ear closer to the door until it was right up against the door. She remained in that position for a few minutes. Her head was up, her keys in her hand as if she was going to unlock the door but instead she continued to listen as if she was still analyzing something on the other side. She stood there and moved her body slowly away from the door. She turned and looked at her driver a few feet away. Her face had turned ghastly white. She walked back down the stairs back to the car.
“Are you okay, Mrs. Fletcher?” The driver asked.
“Fine.” She answered looking down at the keys still in her hand.
“But, you didn’t get what you wanted inside the house.” The driver continued.
“That’s not important anymore. Just drive me to the train station.”
“You got it. We should be there in about twenty minutes.” Her driver answered, turning on the ignition again.
Mrs. Fletcher came home from work at her usual time, 5:03 pm on the dot. She walked up the steps and rang the bell. She waited. She rang the bell again and waited. When nobody answered the door she reached in her purse and got her key out. She turned the key in the lock and went inside. The house was dark and there was a sheet over the grandfather clock in the dining room. Mrs. Fletcher walked past the clock and up the stairs into her husband’s office. She picked up the phone and dialed.
“Yes, this is Mrs. Fletcher on 234 Sanford Street. Yes, can you send someone over tomorrow morning to change the locks? Yes, that will be just fine.”
Mrs. Fletcher hung up the phone and packed her husband’s suitcases.