I didn’t know where I was going until I got there. I knew the side door to the garage would be open. Nyla was one of those trusting (and forgetful) souls who believed that no one was going to enter her home to do her harm or take her things. And she had already replaced the side door and three window screens from having to break her way into her own house. The way she figured it, trying to keep strangers out was costing her way too much—and the only person who seemed to be breaking in was her.
I let myself in, gingerly stepping over the full trash bag she’d left by the garage door so she wouldn’t forget to take it to the bin in the morning. I softly padded across cold cement, up two stairs, and noiselessly opened the kitchen door. The light over the stove was on. A nightlight to guide her to the sink for a 3am glass of water. One year I had given her a crystal carafe and tumbler set designed specifically to quench middle-of-the-night thirst, but she still stumbled out of bed and poured a fresh glass from the tap.
I opened the fridge. I was instantly dazzled by the display of sparkling green bottles full of fresh, mountain spring water, various organic foods in mostly-recycled containers, free-range brown eggs, soy milk, and hiding shamefully in a dark, lonely corner—the Reddi-whip. I grabbed it, popped off the cap, opened my mouth, and covered my greedy tongue with sweet, dairy goodness. I replaced the contraband, closed the fridge and made my way to the hallway. I opened the coat closet and started rifling through bags and coats. Without even thinking I put all the cash I came across into the pocket of my sweater, along with a random credit card and the Starbucks gift card I think one of her students gave her for Christmas. While checking the pockets of Nyla’s brown tweed coat, I felt something unexpected: a cigarette. She quit last winter, so it must have been there for a while. I found some matches, sat down on the floral love seat and watched the minute hand on the giant wall clock while I smoked Nyla’s secret, stale cigarette. When it was finished, I let myself out the way I came, took a moment to make sure the stars were still where I left them, and walked down the gritty driveway to the sidewalk.