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If one more person says, “You're so strong” or “She's in a better place” or “It's God's will,” Hope thinks she will grab the person by the hair, jerk her head down, and slug her in the mouth, break all of her teeth.

        “Damn that Linda Buchanan,” Hope murmurs, “coming over here and messing up my day.” She catches turds and dirt and balls of fur in her dustpan and dumps them in the trash.

        Preacher's wife they call her. A saint they say. A shame they describe her this way, with Hope barely able to tolerate them, with all their feigned sadness and stupid platitudes, pretending that they feel or care, pretending that they understand anything about her grief.

        The Santa Ana wind is fitting, hot relentless heat and hellish whistling. She looks out at the day, the swirling autumn leaves and dust. Caleb will not be home for hours. Tonight he works late, stuck leading a grief support group, something Hope knows he could get out of if he wanted to.

        Until Linda Buchanan's unwelcome appearance, Hope had been able to distract herself cleaning the garage. But in walked Linda Buchanan with a tuna casserole and a bunch of daisies, expecting gratitude and uttering clichés Hope's heard too many times.

        She glances around the garage. It's spotless, everything moved out, the concrete swept clean, muddy water washed down the drive and into the gutter. Hope tries not to gag as she carries boxes that reek of cat pee and mold back into the garage, boxes that must be saved, boxes filled with tax returns and Caleb's sermon notes. She arranges them neatly beside the small child's bed, dismantled against the wall, held in place by a matching dresser, and listens to the wind rattle the roll up door. She looks at her watch and begins to search the rafters for the cat cage.

        When the idea first occurred to Hope, she had berated herself for a fiend, her jealousy such that she could even consider dumping a declawed cat in the coyote-filled foothills a few miles away, settling on a trip to the pound instead. She wishes she were ashamed. Missy dead, and the cat her only comfort as she lay dying.

        Hope tosses a wadded Kleenex into the trash.

        “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”

        She hears a soft meow and turns toward the cracked, rain-stained window. She watches a lump of striped gray fur run across the lawn, through the garage door.

        “Come on, kitty,” she says. And she crouches down, extending a handful of cat food, lets the cat sniff it, watches it back away. It sits on its haunches and looks at her suspiciously, the cage open on the floor beside the dresser. She tosses the food inside.