Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Story A Week: Stranger

This week's story is a piece of flash fiction -- less than 500 words -- and is based on a nightmare I had the other night. I couldn't get it out of my head, so decided to write it down.

In the new apartment at last, my eyes lingered on what was mine, set in all the wrong places. The girls had been great. They’d bustled into my old home, packed away my belongings, and brought them here in boxes, while I stayed hidden in the hotel.

This afternoon they were taking me to the Caribbean, on a cruise.

“Get in there and get packed!” Emily told me when she dropped me off that morning. “We’re not going to let you lie around moping.”

I wasn’t lying around. I wandered and touched. My fingers rested on the porcelain cherub Thomas had saved up his money for and given me three years ago for Christmas; the recipe box Harold had given me for my birthday, oh, maybe a year after we got married. I told him at the time it was the wrong gift to give a girl on her birthday, when she was hoping for a diamond necklace or a window box of marigolds – something that described who she was. Because a girl always hopes her husband knows who she is on the inside, hopes he can see past the cook, clothes-washer, floor-mopper. Getting a recipe box for a present was almost as bad as the vacuum cleaner he gave me the next year.

These objects had meaning in my old home. Here, they lost their significance. I moved, feeling nothing between my ribs, like the vacuum from my second married birthday had sucked my heart and organs right out.

When my cell phone sang, I answered it automatically. Emily, of course. “Are you packing?”

“No, not yet.”

“Well, why not? I’m coming to get you in an hour. We have a plane to catch.”

“I need to see the new place, figure it out.”

“There’ll be time for that when you get back. Right now you need a little sun and a change of scenery.”

I flipped the phone shut. A blank wall was all the scenery I wanted. I found it in my bedroom, a single wall they’d left alone. Plain white, not all the sassy colors they’d splashed everywhere else – colors picked to make me happy. Bless their hearts, it wasn’t working.

I heard someone knocking at the door. There was my heart, in my chest after all, speeding up, doing somersaults. I raced out the bedroom door and through the living room before I knew what I was doing, exactly.

Harold didn’t make eye contact. He set the baby down and she waddled over to the bookshelf where there was a pot of African violets within reach. “The girls wanted to see you.”

Heart squeezed, I reached for my baby, trying to scoop my three-year-old into my other arm, but she wiggled out of reach. “I missed you,” I breathed in the baby’s ear, taking in her smell – apple sauce and milk – and the delectable softness of her skin.

She stretched her arms toward Daddy and let out a screech. I was nothing but a stranger.

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