A short story about a man and a woman...
| Maybe it was fate, maybe it was dumb luck, and maybe it was just coincidence. Whatever it was, things that day seemed to fall into place all by themselves. It was the perfect day, the sun was shining, birds were singing as if they also knew how good the day was. Women were smiling at me, the lights were green everywhere I went, everything was perfect. Until eight o’clock.
It had been a productive day. I’d gotten groceries, changed the oil in my car, gotten a haircut, I was getting things done. Then the phone rang.
I paid the bills, washed the dishes, and did the laundry; I even got some reading in. It was her.
I went for a run that morning, visited my grandparents in the home, called my brother in California, I even sorted the recycling. She was coming into town.
I spent some time cleaning. I swept the floors, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed the rugs. She was going to be here in an hour.
It was like the world wanted me to see its best side. My usually optimistic outlook on life was twice as bright as usual. I hadn’t had a negative thought all day. I couldn’t believe it; a person sees a day like that about as often as they see a movie star in a small Midwest town. Nothing could ruin my day, except maybe Maggie.
It was two years, three months, fourteen days and one and a half hours since the last time I had seen or heard from Maggie. We were engaged at the time. She went to the store for a pack of cigarettes and never came back. That was a lifetime ago.
The whole thing had been a whirlwind. Not just her leaving but the entire relationship. We met at a Halloween party. I went as James Dean; she made one hell of a Marilyn Monroe. We did what seemed natural given the circumstances. Two months later, I proposed on New Year’s Eve, a decision that by the night she called I had second guessed a thousand times over.
Don’t get me wrong, it was great at the time. I couldn’t have asked for more. We were madly in love. She moved in to my apartment shortly after we started seeing each other and gave it and the rest of my world the life it had been lacking. We played all day and made love all night. Nothing could shake us, or so I thought.
It was St. Patrick’s Day; we were getting ready to go to my best friend’s house for the evenings festivities. Maggie said she was going to the store for a pack of cigarettes, and that’s when she left. At six-thirty on March 17th, 2006, with no explanation, no warning, and no good bye Maggie left for the store, and left me.
She left me to explain, to wonder, to myself. After that I had to tell everyone either of us knew what happened. She didn’t explain herself to her friends, she didn’t tell her family, she didn’t warn her coworkers, she didn’t even tell the clerk that sold her the bus ticket. Sure, the nametag behind the counter knew she was going somewhere, but they didn’t know where she was going or what she was leaving behind.
After several days of hearing too much from me and not at all from Maggie, her parents had reported her missing. There was an investigation; all they found was Maggie’s car at the bus station. They couldn’t figure out where she went, or even if she had bought a ticket. I guess the teller wasn’t paying enough attention to actually keep track of who bought tickets and the security cameras weren’t working. The detective said they couldn’t track down every bus that left that night just to see if she was on it. I disagreed, but they didn’t they didn’t ask for my opinion on this one, kind of like Maggie.
Even if the police couldn’t, or wouldn’t, prove it, I knew she had gotten on a bus that night. Maggie was like a cottonwood seed, she seemed to go where ever the breeze took her. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had seen a street sign that read Delaware and gone there. I knew there was a bus driver somewhere that remembered where he dropped her off, that there was a waitress somewhere that had served her coffee, that there was someone somewhere that knew where Maggie had gone. I just didn’t know where they were or what that damn street sign had said.
Everyone told me to move on, that it wasn’t good to dwell on things we couldn’t blah, blah, blah. I heard so many “everything’s going to be alright” and “time heals all wounds” in the following days and weeks that I thought I was going to be sick. I fell into a depression so dark that a mole couldn’t see.
It took almost a year for me to come out of it. It was a year of blind dates, of disappointments, of lowering my expectations and still being disappointed. I tried, I really did. I dealt with my friends trying to fix me up, I tried to meet girls at bars and coffee shops, but it was useless, none of them were good enough, they all failed my test. In their defense, it wasn’t a fair test. There was no way they could pass, even as simple as it was. It had only one question, ‘Is she Maggie?’
It was summertime when I finally started to pull my head out of the sand and come to terms with the fact that Maggie wasn’t coming back. After a year of disappointments, unfair tests and unfounded hopes, I had finally come to my senses. The mole could see again.
It was July when I met Cara; she was working at the coffee shop next to my apartment building. I went out for a smoke and there she was, beautifully distorted by the cloud of smoke that she was exhaling in my direction. After two weeks of awkward hellos and all too brief, cigarette fueled conversations, I gathered my courage and asked her to dinner. That was exactly one year before Maggie’s call. I was making her dinner to celebrate our anniversary; she was going to be there at nine. Maggie was going to be there at nine.
By the time I met Cara I had made a decision to forget Maggie. Not that you can ever really forget a girl like Maggie. She was the kind of person that once they were a part of your life they were permanently etched into your memory. Like an image on a broken etch-a-sketch that no matter how hard you try, you can’t quite shake off. Either way I had decided to put Maggie behind me, not think about her, not talk about her, nothing. I hadn’t told Cara about Maggie, she didn’t even know she existed. She was about to find out.
I wasn’t sure which part made me more nervous, Cara finding out about Maggie or Maggie finding out that I hadn’t waited for her. As I was debating this point with myself it hit me, I wasn’t over her. If I was over her I wouldn’t have told her she could come over, if I was over her I wouldn’t care what she thought, if I was over her I would have stopped her.
It was the door bell that finally startled me out my introspective; I didn’t know who would be there when I answered the door. I didn’t know who I wanted to be there when I answered the door. It had to be one of them but I didn’t know which. I opened the door to see the girl that I was convinced I would spend the rest of my life with. Two years, three months, fourteen days and two and a half hours later, Maggie was back from the store.
She invited herself in while I searched for words, any words. I’m not sure which part of my setup for the evening she noticed first, the soft music, the smell of home cooked food coming from the kitchen or the candles on the table but that’s when it hit her that I had left something out when she called.
I told her everything, I didn’t really mean to but it all sort of spilled out. I told her about the investigation, about my depression, about the fix-ups, and eventually about Cara. When I finished she was silent, it was a lot to absorb and I was sure that she would have questions, but all she said was “Cara.”
It was one of those statements that almost got to be a question but didn’t quite cut it. As if to give her statement the answer that it almost demanded, I went for the picture of Cara and I that I kept in my wallet, but in its place was the weathered picture of Maggie and I on our first date that I used to keep with me. Confused, I went to the drawer in my nightstand where I kept Cara’s love letters. Nothing, just old notes from Maggie. I couldn’t find her number in my phone and the drawer that she kept in my dresser was filled with the things that Maggie had left so long ago. I didn’t know what was happening. I went back to the living room and just stared at Maggie in disbelief. It was as if she knew everything that had happened since she left. She simply smiled at me and said “It’s OK.” In that instant I knew that Maggie knew me better than anyone could.
I never heard from Cara again, I never found her number, the people at the coffee shop didn’t remember her, and it seemed that there wasn’t a trace of her anywhere. It was almost like she hadn’t ever happened. There was no explanation for it, except maybe Maggie.