Peter looked around, squinted, and looked again. No one. He hoped his hearing aid detected every patter of Mildred’s feet. He couldn’t risk getting caught. Not now. He slipped his right hand into his pocket and pulled it out. Funny how a flat, rough square of paper meant so much.
He pulled the small carpet aside and smiled. Divots, perfectly wrought. Peter didn’t kneel by his side of the bed. He sat, legs splayed like a crooked formation of birds flying to Mexico. He looked around again. For a moment, he touched the sandpaper to his heart, wondering how long it would keep ticking. This time, if it stopped, he didn’t want to be rewound.
Peter bent forward. With his pajama sleeve, he wiped the two identical indentations clean. From his bedside drawer, he pulled out mineral oil, dropped a dab on a hankie, and polished the wood wells—a ridiculous thing to do, considering there was more sanding to do. All of Peter’s life distilled down to the two knee-shaped wells in front of him. His culmination. Polishing them was simply a kindness he gave to himself in a world that seldom smiled upon him.
Still, he sanded the shiny wood. A little here. A touch there. Instead of saying prayers that reached the heavens, Peter pictured Mildred going through his things, smelling his lingering scent on clothes never worn again. He watched with delight as she pulled away the carpet beside the bed and discovered his prayer spot. He could even hear her gasp.
“I never knew he was such a man of prayer,” she’d tell the women at church.
“I always knew Peter was that quiet sort who prayed the night away,” Betty Fletcher would remark.
Soon Pastor Frank would join the ladies in the coffee line. He’d nod, smile, place a limp hand on Mildred’s shoulder and remark how godly Peter was, how deeply he’d be missed. He’d stand up and preach a sermon on prayer, orating platitudes to the aging congregation. “That Peter Sampson, he loved Jesus. He prayed. Why, Mildred here just told me when she pulled away the carpet next to his bedside, there were two knee-shaped holes Peter had worn into the wood. How does that happen, folks? By praying, praying, praying.”
Peter smiled. Yes. This is how it would play out. All thanks to a little sandpaper.
He pulled himself to the bed, careful to put the carpet back and stash away the mineral oil. Mildred thought him the kindest man on earth to volunteer to always sweep and mop their bedroom. All a part of his plan.