Mary Stuart appeared on the wall again. Jane gasped when she entered the kitchen and saw the silhouette of the kneeling woman with her hands in prayer, like the unfortunate Queen of Scots.
Jane’s rational mind knew it had something to do with the sunlight traversing through branches and shrubs and appliances on the countertop as it streamed through the open window and cast shadows on the wall. But she also knew it did not happen every day, and when the shadow appeared, a sense of dread followed, a certain premonition, an augury, an omen. Hence, Mary Stuart, because the shadow evoked an ax about to drop and a head about to roll.
Jane prepared to bake a cake; as she gathered the ingredients and instruments, she snuck uneasy glances at the wall. Mary Stuart was still there, though fading as the breeze wiggled the tree leaves and all the other shadows shimmered. Jane’s heart relaxed a little, and she let out a soft “phew”. The intensity of the shadow was proportional to the intensity of the calamity, and with three reckless, rambunctious, and daredevil sons with flesh of glue and bones of rubber, Mary Stuart had visited her many times over the years.
Jane continued baking her cake, and the ominous feeling did not subside, nor did the ax swing. The aroma of lemon drizzle soon filled the room, and the oven warmed the kitchen, and the light shifted, and red sunset streamed through the window. Jane sat at the table, waiting for the cake to bake and scrutinizing Mary Stuart still visible upon the wall.
“It’s Mike,” she stated, “it’s his favorite cake in the oven, and I’ve been thinking about him all day.”
The shadow on the wall twinkled in reply.
“It’s nothing terrible, nothing life-altering. It’s somewhere in between Jason’s fall from the tree and Eric’s skydiving incident.”
She rolled her eyes as she recalled the hectic drives to the hospital with her heart in her mouth, only to find a beaming and joking boy each time.
Mary Stuart nodded as the breeze rustled the tree leaves, though the persistent dread choked Jane’s sigh of relief.
The blazing sun sank into the horizon and cast long shadows on the wall that grew like tall bony trees and surrounded Mary Stuart, who oscillated between the visible and the invisible world.
The oven dinged, and the ax dropped. Squealing brakes and broken glass flashed before Jane’s eyes. Mike’s surprised yelp cut her chest, but she loosened her sweaty fists when his heart pumped loud and steady in her ears, muffling his nervous giggles. Jane took a deep breath, Mary Stuart vanished, and the dying day tinged the kitchen in blue and purple and green, like the bruises on Mike’s living body.
Jane took the cake out of the oven and checked its doneness with a toothpick. She set it to cool by the window, then grabbed her purse, put on her shoes, and waited for the telephone to ring.