Tuesday, November 30, 2004


I knew a woman once, a long time ago, who had murdered her children. She had killed them, I was told, and tried to kill herself, but failed. I never learned more than that.

She was quiet intelligent well-put-together woman, good at her job, maybe a little too well-dressed, and a little too formal, for the office. The odd woman out, always. I had known her for years before I learned of her history. Everyone knew but me -- it was the sort of thing that was so striking, I guess, that everyone assumed I knew it. But when I did learn of it, I remembered her and the coffee.

I had seen her in the cafeteria one day, a briefcase under one arm and a cup of scalding-hot coffee in the other hand. The coffee slopped over onto her wrist. She jerked in response, and the coffee slopped again. Her hand was shaking now, and she couldn't stop it from shaking. But she couldn't move to set the coffee down, either, without spilling more. And she couldn't make up her mind to drop it. More coffee spilling. More trembling. For ten long seconds she struggled, standing rooted to the tile floor. I don't think I've ever seen more pain and panic in a human face.

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