She doesn’t know what woke her up. Befuddled and sleepy she lies there, rubbing her eyes and trying to figure out what day it is. It is still dark, and as far as she knows, she could have been asleep for minutes or days.
Patty struggles out of bed. She is all tangled in the covers as always, and the dog sleeping up against her back isn’t inclined to move. Finally she sits up, looks at the clock and groans. “Why in hell am I awake at five in the morning?” She steps off of the bed onto the other dog’s tail. He always sleeps there on the floor at her side. She apologizes, pats him on the head and stumbles to the bathroom.
There is no way she will be able to go back to sleep in spite of the early awakening, so she pads down the stairs with the dogs to make some coffee. As she turns to head for the kitchen, she steps in something wet. “Are you fucking kidding me?” She whines to herself and walks on tiptoe to get paper towels. “Who did it?” Patty looks at the dogs. Neither looks guilty, so it is impossible to tell. It must be pee she stepped in. She lives alone other than the dogs, and she hasn’t spilled anything yet.
With a wad of paper towels in hand she cleans her feet off at the sink and goes back to the puddle. She squints after flipping the light switch, and as she starts wiping up the mess, she realizes it isn’t urine at all. In fact, it smells like beer. But that doesn’t make sense. Patty quit drinking last year for good, and no one else has been here.
Back in the kitchen she makes her coffee and decides maybe it was bile from one of the dogs and it just smelled weird. That has to be it. She takes them out and comes back in and looks at them in the light and feels their bellies. They both seem alright, and they gobble their breakfast while Patty drinks her coffee.
Late in the afternoon there is a foot of snow on the ground and with the wind chill it is 30 below zero, but Patty takes the dogs out a last time, puts on five layers of clothing, stuffs her essentials into her myriad pockets and walks a couple of miles across town to Ms. Brook’s house to babysit Mikey.
Mikey is a total pain in the butt because he is 11 years old. He feels he doesn’t need a keeper, but his mother knows him best and she knows he is an idiot so he needs a keeper. Patty has been babysitting Mikey off and on for a few years. It is rare now, but the extra few bucks will help, especially since the vet clinic cut back her hours. Ms. Brook is in a hurry and has already overly made herself up, so she is out the door while Patty takes off a few of layers and finishes shivering.
Mikey falls asleep watching TV in the basement rec room, so Patty sits upstairs drinking Mountain Dew while she reads one of Ms. Brook’s umpteen romance novels. The men are all closet princes and the women beautiful and uncertain, often suffering from a vague but lovely illness. It’s enough to make Patty gag, but she forgot her own book and she would rather read dreck than stare at the wall in silence.
She shuffles into the kitchen, still reading while she walks, and grabs another can of pop. Something makes the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She snaps her head up with a jolt. It is strange, because she didn’t hear anything but she has the creeps, big time. She looks around and catches movement from the corner of her eye. As she pivots and drops the book, Patty sees a large shadow outside the kitchen window. It is a man. He hesitates for a moment when he realizes she sees him, and then ducks into the darkness. Patty calls the police.
The police come after a while. In a small town, when a girl of 20 calls because she sees a creeper, they just don’t hurry. Small town cops sometimes have small town minds, and they figure Patty is just some nervous girl who is afraid of being alone at night. They don’t know her, or they’d know better.
The squad car circles the block, and then the officers come to the door. They only talk for a moment, and are clearly unimpressed with Patty’s story, but they agree to walk a circuit around the house in the hopes of shutting her up. They want to get back into the warm car, so they walk fast. But when they walk past that back kitchen window, they don’t even need their flashlights to see the footprints in the crunchy snow. Someone had been standing there for a while. They could see a trail to and from the window, and a lot of tramping and position changing directly outside. The snow is recent enough that there are no other tracks in the yard.
Patty is even more disturbed when they tell her of the footprints. Unfortunately, they stop at the shoveled sidewalk, so the officers cannot easily see where the man has gone. They tell Patty to close the blinds and keep the doors locked, and they will make extra neighborhood patrols. They also tell her it was probably just a peeping Tom and he won’t return tonight. This would not be the first case of a peeper in this neighborhood, according to the cops. Patty offers them hot chocolate. She really wants them to stay a while. But they are cold and in a hurry to leave.
Once the police are gone, Patty locks the door behind them and methodically goes through the small house, checking every door and window to be sure they are locked. She closes all the blinds and curtains, but she keeps finding herself peeking out the kitchen window. She hates having everything closed up like this. What if he is out there again and she just can’t tell because the blinds are closed? Is it worse knowing or wondering what is going on out there? Patty can’t decide.