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Russell Huneke
Copyright 2012 by Russell Huneke

She slid the card over to him and he glanced at it.
“What’s that?” asked Henry, sipping his coffee.
“It’s John and Marie’s phone number. Remember them?”
Henry’s mouth filled with a sour taste that was not the coffee, and his tone turned acerbic as he mused over the phone number that sat splayed out before him.
“I think I’m still trying to forget them!” he said with a tinge of anger wagging off the end of his tongue.
Joan’s fingers pressed over the card that had come out of the old rolodex she had pulled from the drawer of the chest she was cleaning out. She had made up her mind today to start eviscerating the old chest that had been lingering like a squalid eyesore in the corner of the den for years, never replaced by anything new. It was a fixture that seemed to stay year after year, but this morning her eye had caught sight of its morose sulking façade once too often and she decided out it should finally go. She hadn’t banked on finding anything like this. A sore memory wedged in the back of her mind. Finding the card with the number was like reopening a deep old wound. She winced with regret of it.
“Aren’t you going to throw it away,” asked Henry, in an almost commanding tone as his coffee cup hovered just inches below his lips. Joan looked at it for a moment, her mind half woven in a web of reverie; she didn’t answer immediately.
“I guess I should,” she said with a wan little smile that looked more like a frown bent forcibly upwards. “After all, it’s been ten years since we’ve even seen them!”
“Good riddance!” said Henry, and slugged down another swallow of coffee with a scowl. “Throw it away, Joan. We don’t need to hang on to them…for any reason!”
Joan nodded her assent and looked up.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“I am,” said Henry and turned away, moving into the living room toward the glow of the television light that lit that room. Joan watched him walk away and pressed her lips together. She looked at the card, more pensively now than she had before. Not only was there the phone number on it, but the address of John and Marie’s house in Heightstown. She thought briefly of their house, happy times flittering through her head. Times her and Henry had spent with them. Times before…
Her hand moved toward the wastepaper basket with the card dangling loosely from her fingers. She parted her grip and dropped it in, the sole piece of debris in the basket. Then she turned quickly away from it and tried to wipe her mind clean of tangled thoughts that knotted in her brain. Henry was right! They were old news. Yesterday’s news. And yesterday belongs to yesterday. So she thought!
She was on the phone with Helen for at least an hour, catching up and filling in the empty spaces of the afternoon with compressed chatter and the latest up to date news of what was happening in each of their lives.
“I’ve been chewing at your ear for over an hour now, Joan. I completely lost track of time. I guess I should be letting you go now?”
“It’s ok, I can chat a few more minutes. I’m not in any rush to take out the garbage.” And with that comment Joan’s eyes swept down to peer into the den wastebasket she was standing next to. The card she had thrown away earlier was still sitting lonely in the basket, she had thrown most of the other stuff away in large black plastic garbage bags, but the card with the phone number and address still lay there in the bucket a solitary item. She reached down and grabbed at it. She couldn’t seem to help it. It was like an impulse action, like yelling “ouch” after you burn yourself or hit your thumb with the hammer. No thought was involved in the action.
“Garbage,” chortled Helen in a snort over the line. “How enjoyable!”
“Yes,” said Joan in a slightly detached voice as she turned the card over and over in her hand again, perusing the worn script writing. Her own handwriting, faded over the years like a ghost. “I was cleaning out the den chest and you’ll never guess what I found?”
“What’s that,” asked Helen, curiosity peaking in her voice.
“John and Marie’s old phone number. The address too! Can you believe it?”
“John and Marie? Why you haven’t spoken to them in years, have you? Not since that big blow up about…what was it about anyway, Joan?”
“Oh, …personal stuff. I can tell you it had to do with Matt, but I don’t want to get into any more or we might be on this phone for another hour!”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
Joan sighed. “You didn’t. It’s old news anyway.”
“At the risk of prying even more Joan, did you ever think about patching things up with them?”
For a moment there was silence on the phone and Helen spoke again to make sure Joan was still there.
“Actually it had crossed my mind, but you know how Henry can be once you’ve crossed him. Once crossed…you’re crossed out! That’s just the way he is. You bring up their names and he just shuts down and walks away.”
“So what are ya gonna do?”
“Not sure. I don’t want to upset him but…” Her voice seemed to fade, and then came back in a wave. “Helen can I call you tomorrow. It’s getting late and I want to get dinner started before Henry gets home. You know how it is when a man reaches his fifties. So set in his ways, he just has to have dinner at five o’clock sharp!”
“I know what you mean. Frank’s the same way. Ok, girl. I’ll catch up with ya t’morra. Sleep well!”
“You too, kiddo!”
The connection was broken with a click. Joan found herself staring more and more at the card, moving it over in her hands like a fragment of memory she couldn’t let go of. Her gaze turned up and met the clock on the wall. 4:00pm. Another hour before Henry would be home. She could have dinner ready in about thirty five minutes if she was efficient, which she always was.
Joan put the card down on the table top. It didn’t go back into the basket this time. She walked over to the kitchen desk and rifled though some intermingled boxes and bric-a-brac on the desktop until she came across the notepaper and envelopes. Her hand paused a moment over these items and then something in her face shifted and clicked as she made up her mind. She took a single piece of paper and envelope and sat down at the table and moved the card closer to her. Her script was edgy and awkwardly slanted. Her nervousness showed in the uneven scrawl but she had decided in her mind to do it. And she was the type of woman whom, once she had decided to do something, she rarely reversed her decision. With a slightly trembling hand, she began:
Dear Marie and John,
I know it has been some time since we have spoken or contacted each other in any manner. I know that things ended badly with us, and I am not sure if I will even mail this letter. For one thing you could have moved away long ago. I guess I wouldn’t know since it has been so many years. I found your address and phone number on a rolodex card while cleaning out the den. I remember how good things used to be between us all…even Henry. But…oh, dear, you know how he can be sometimes. I suppose I could have tried your number, but I feared once your voice came on the line…well, I just wouldn’t have the guts to talk…and would hang up.
Now I don’t blame you if you still are angry, but life is very short indeed. If by some chance you should receive this note (if you are still even living at the address I have here), I was wondering if you two might consider…would please consider, maybe a meeting at “Monterey Jack’s” out on Highway 22? Remember how much we used to love that place. It’s still there. I drove by just a few weeks ago, only now it’s under new management.
Anyway, if you would consider…you don’t even have to write me back. Just show up at…let’s say 8pm on Friday the 18th? I think maybe we were wrong about a lot of things. When I saw the card with your names there was hurt…but there was also loss. The loss of two dear friends. Don’t worry about Henry, I’ll get him to go somehow. He may kick like a mule and be a bit irascible about it…but I have a way with getting him to do things he doesn’t want to do! So what do you say? Friday, November 18th at 8:00pm? If you decide not to come, I will assume that you either moved, or are still too hurt to talk again. Either way…I assure you I will understand. But it doesn’t hurt to try. K? Here’s to hoping we see you…soon.
Hopefully Yours,
She had folded the letter up and addressed it about fifteen minutes ago. No return address. She typed their address on the outside of the envelope using her old green Olivetti manual she kept stashed in the crawlspace behind one of their closets downstairs, just in case they were to recognize her handwriting. She kind of liked typing on a typewriter instead of a computer keyboard. There was something about the hammers of the typewriter hitting the paper that made everything seem so much more definite, more permanent…more real.
The letter sat on the kitchen countertop for the full fifteen minutes before she found the nerve to actually pick in up. She’d made sure she put extra postage on the letter, to be sure it got there. She looked up toward the kitchen clock again. It was 4:15. Ten minutes to walk to the corner and back again would give her just a little more than a half an hour to have Henry’s dinner for him when he got home. And he was rarely ever late.
Without delaying any further, she snatched up the letter and stuffed it into her purse as she strode out the door of their second story apartment. By the time she reached ground level and opened the door she felt the bitter snap of a late fall wind as it side-swiped her skin and tussled her hair. She drew up the collar of her windbreaker and pushed through the wind as it continued to lick at her in full, heavy gusts.
The mailbox was only about a hundred feet or so down the street. She preferred to mail it there on the chance that Henry might see it in their own mailbox and notice the address. She didn’t want to open up that can of worms. She could just imagine what a tangled argument she would get into over that one! No, she’d deal with him after it had been mailed. It was going to take all of her art of persuasion to get him to go along for the meeting anyhow. She supposed if worst came to worst she’d go alone, but she would really rather have him with her. She didn’t relish trying to talk to him about that, but she supposed that she would cross that bridge when she came to it.
She reached the mailbox and fished the letter out of her purse and held it by its corners with the thumb and index fingers of both her hands. The wind growled at it, making it shake and ruffle in her hands. If she didn’t keep a good grip it could get snapped up by the wind and she didn’t think she had the guts to write the letter again.
Clenching the envelope close to her bosom with one hand, she tilted back the metal mouth of the mail monster and forced the letter down its throat. Quickly she let the metal door swing closed to avoid any possibility of the letter being sucked out by the sighing lungs of the wind as it continued to swirl around her. Cautiously she sneaked the mailbox door open again to peer down into the gullet of the postal box. Yes, it had made it into the innards of the box. There was no going back now. A little part of her wanted to reach into the mailbox mouth and try to grab the letter back. But the urge was just a twinkle, and it died off quickly, like a sparkler burning off into a smoky hiss.
What’s done is done! she thought to herself, resolutely. Besides, she doubted that they would even show up for the meeting. Still…it was possible. After all, they had all been friends prior to the falling out for nearly twenty years. She supposed it was all in God’s hands now. And God how she needed Him!
She had waited until Henry had gotten home, ate dinner, and was properly satisfied and drinking his after dinner coffee before she sprung it on him, or rather not so much sprung as gradually slipped into the conversation by way of segue.
“How was the steak, Henry?” asked Joan.
“Delicious,” he said, slapping the sides of his somewhat pendulous stomach with great appeasement. His midriff had crept up as he’d encroached further into his fifties, knocking back several belt notches in the process. Joan had exhorted him about his growing beer-belly, and to some extent he had tried to keep it in check. But still, Henry loved his food. “I know at least half the reason I married you, Joanie was your cooking. That rib-eye was done just right! Not too much fat or gristle. And the potatoes were to die for. It must be the mayonnaise you put in that gives it the extra zing!”
“I’m glad you liked it.”
“Would you like your coffee now?”
“Indeed I would. Dinner isn’t complete without that last cup of Joe.”
Henry was in unusually bright spirits. Perhaps this was her lucky day. It was Friday, and Henry, like most working people, was always in a better humor on Fridays. It might not be as painful as she had dreaded…telling him about the whole John and Marie thing. Well, she could hope, couldn’t she?
She poured the coffee into Henry’s cup, giving him a beneficent little smile as she did so. He mustered a shy little grin back at her and added his cream and sugar, stirring after with the spoon making a strident “clink” against the cup's interior that slightly unnerved Joan.
“What did you do today?” asked Henry with an abruptness that seemed almost as though he were probing.
            “Oh, not too much. Just continued cleaning out the den,” she paused and then added, somewhat reluctantly, “and did some writing”.
            Henry’s eyes poked at her over the rim of his tilting coffee cup.
            “Writing? You mean your poetry again?”
            “Nnnn-o.  Not that kind of writing. More like…like letter writing.”
            Henry lowered his cup to connect with the saucer with another disquieting “clink” and Joan felt herself tremor ever so slightly.
            Into the valley of the shadow of death, Joanie! Don’t chicken out now!
            “Letters? Who do you have to write letters to? Most of our friends are local.”
            Joan’s eyes snuck away from Henry’s trenchant gaze and her shoulders drew up near her cheeks, as if protecting herself. Her head turned slightly away as she fingered the rim of her own teacup.
            “Well…these are people I haven’t talked to in a while and I just thought…”
            “-Now wait just a damn minute here! Does this have anything to do with that number you found earlier. About those two!"
            “John and M-marie,’ she said, bracing herself for the worst that was to come.
            “I know their names!” he scoffed, slapping the meaty palm of his large hand down onto the tabletop; upsetting the coffee cup as it swished hot coffee over the lip of the cup and into the saucer and across the table. “I’d just rather not hear them, if you please!”
            “You don’t have to shout,” said Joan in a placid tone, trying to contain the verbal gunfire. The walls of the two family home were thin, and the people downstairs were liable to hear. “Please, keep it down. We have neighbors…remember?”
            “Nevermind about them! They can mind their own business. I want to know what you think you’re doing?”
            Henry rose from his seat abruptly, the chair scraping gutturally across the floor with a blunt, wooden sound. He paced fitfully while wringing his hands together in little manic spasms.
            “You know how I feel about them, Joan! You know how I feel!
            “Yes…I know,” said Joan in as tranquil a voice as she could muster. “But Henry it’s been ten years now. Don’t you think this thing has gone one long enough between us and them?”
            “Not for my taste it hasn’t! Have you forgotten?”
            “No I haven’t forgotten.”
            Henry felt he had blown off enough steam to sit down again and try and compose himself. He took another slug of coffee and tried to regain his composure.
            “They were our supposed best friends, Joan. Matt was the miracle child. You had him late and the doctors had always told you you wouldn’t be able to have children at all, and there he is. And completely healthy to boot! So we turn to our dear friends and figure they’d be honored to be his Godparents! Our “friends” for nearly twenty years and you’d think they’d be thrilled! What do they tell us instead? No! Not “maybe”, not “we’ll think about it”, just flat out “NO”! Oh…I’ll tell you it still grinds my gears to even think about them. And they didn’t even give us a reason! Not one God-forsaken attempt at a reason!”
            “I know, but maybe it was just too…too personal. Maybe they didn’t want to have the responsibility?”
            “Oh c’mon Joanie. The chances were nothing would happen to us! Real friends would have been honored to be named! Couldn’t they at least give us some kind of an excuse? Even if it was a half assed one? Something?”
            “I remember. The more I asked Marie about it, the more agitated she got. We were moving at the time to this house anyway, so I figured it best not to press. Just to let it go…and we did. For ten long years Henry, we’ve let it go. Doesn’t there seem something wrong with that to you?”
            “I call it a stroke of luck. Happening to be moving at a time when we find out what kind of friends we had may have just been a blessing in disguise, Joan. And besides, they never bothered to call on us throughout this whole time. They can stay in New York, and we can stay in Pennsylvania and that’s just fine with me!”
            “Oh Henry, you know we never gave them either our new address or number.”
            “Don’t give me that, Joan! It’s the modern age. Computers! They could have Googled us probably had our address and phone number in five minutes!”
            “We’re unlisted.”
            “Well then the house address at least. No, Joanie, don’t shovel this back on me like I’m the bad guy. They had just as much ability to make things right as we did. Now that’ll be end of it. I don’t want to talk any more about it. I don’t want to hear another word about John and Marie Wilson! Clear?”
            Something heated up inside Joan’s guts, and for the first time in ages she found herself genuinely angry with Henry.
            "Now you just listen to me, Henry Morrison. For ten years I've gone along with your resentment, your refusal to budge on this matter. Often I felt it was against my better judgment to do so. Are you going to take your grudge to the grave with you? I think it's long overdue that we hear them out. If they will even let us hear them out!"
            "Joanie, I just don't think..."
            She reached across the table and grabbed his bolt-like bony hand in her own and squeezed it. It was part intensity, part stifling, and part insistence...with love mixed in there somewhere between the layers.
            "Then don't think, Henry! Just do!"
            She squeezed his hand a little tighter as if to punctuate the emphatic tone of her request.
            "I don't know, Joanie," he said, the words tumbling off of his tongue like wooden blocks. "I..just..."
            "Henry, I never ask you for very much. Just this once? Please. Just try?"
            Henry looked at her, the pleading in her eyes, like a wounded animal. His anger was quelled by his sympathy. He just couldn't say no to Joan when she looked at him like that. And he gathered, after giving it some thought, that no one could say no to Joan...if she looked at them like that.
            "Just go with me, Henry. They probably won't even show up. I don't even know if they still live at the same address. If we go and they're not there, at least we can say we tried to reconcile, right?"
            Henry folded Joan's hand into his own. Their grip dissolved from firm to warm and affectionate.
            "Well, I guess I can at least meet them. And who knows, they might not even show up. Probably won't. And we can both go to our graves with clear consciences!"
            Joan patted Henry's back hand and let her grip fall away.
            "Thank you, Henry. I appreciate it," she said.
            Henry just nodded and sipped at his coffee as Joan collected the dishes for washing. It was quiet the rest of that evening.
            Joan was the one who drove to Monterey Jack's, figuring Henry would be tense enough without having to deal with late rush hour traffic. Besides, there was every possibility that they would just be turning around and going back home.
            "This is probably just a waste of time and gas," said Henry, offhandedly. His face looked hard and crimped with sternness.
            "What in the world am I supposed to say to them...if they even show, that is?"
            "Stop premeditating things so much," she said as she reached over and rubbed his knee, consolingly. "Just let things unfold naturally."
            "Naturally?" he said, turning to her with a cocked eyebrow and quirky look in his eyes. He shook his head. "Gonna be damned awkward after all of these years, Joan!"
            "I know, but just do your best, kay?"
            "I'll try," said Henry, gazing errantly out the window at the string of sequined headlights that marched out ahead of them slowly, as if adding to the whole drama of the situation.
            "What time are we supposed to be there?" asked Henry.
            "Eight o’clock."
            "It's nearly eight o’clock now. If this traffic doesn't break, we may miss them all together!"
            "Don't worry. It's just a couple more miles to the exit. We'll make it in plenty of time!"
            “What the hell happened up there anyway? It’s locked up tight as a drum”
            Joan craned her neck and peered up at the siren lights that smeared through the night as several cop cars and then an ambulance stitched through the throng of choked traffic toward some instance that could not be seen by them at this distance.
            “Looks like a pretty bad accident. There goes the ambulance,” said Joan with a cringing in her voice. She hated seeing ambulances.
            “Probably some damn fool wrapped himself around a telephone pole again! When will people in this world learn how to drive. It makes me mad!”
            “Me too…and sad. But we should be getting off before we even reach the accident. It’s undoubtedly rubbernecking causing most of the delay.”
            “People are ghouls, I tell ya!”
            "Getting back to cases, I'll tell you this much, Joanie. I'll wait fifteen minutes past eight for them to show. Not one minute more!"
            "Of course. Like you said, they may not even show. But let's just see what happens. “
            Their Chevy Malibu pulled up outside of Monterey Jack’s restaurant and Joan killed the engine. They both sat idle in the car, observing the awninged windows and the parade of lights that marched down the railing of the iron banisters that crawled up the ramp to the front door. Monterey was one of those restaurants that had a sparse adornment of small, white lights all year around, keeping an errant flavor of Christmas pervading its atmosphere…even when it wasn’t anywhere near Christmas.
            As it happened this was mid November, near Thanksgiving. Joan and Henry exited the car and stared at the façade of the restaurant for a moment with a palpable pause. Both felt a slight quiver in their stomach, but neither told the other.
            “What time is it now?” asked Henry, his voice feeling flat and apathetic to her ears.
            “Mmmm…around five of eight,” she said, twisting her watch quickly into view. “Guess we should go in and wait…if they aren’t there already.”
            “Joanie, you’re the eternal optimist!”
            Joan turned and looked at him, pursing her lips. It was not quite a smile. There was something uneasy in her lips. Perhaps it was trepidation…or may uncertainty. In truth she was as unsure about what she had committed to as he was. But she felt she had to follow through with it. She’d never be able to sleep well at night again if she didn’t get this thing resolved-one way or another.
            Joan began to walk, and Henry snatched at her wrist firmly, but not painfully-forcing her to stop in her tracks.
            “Joanie, are you sure you want to do this?” he asked, his gaze was pointed and somber; a dark jasper gleam in his deep brown eyes.
            “I’m scared, Henry. I’m more scared than I’ve been in a while. But I think I…I think we have to do it. It’s the only way now.”
            Henry’s eyes banked to and fro, scanning over her face with a movement like pinballs. She was quite serious about this whole thing. He had to admit he was somewhat curious as to what-if anything-would transpire tonight. And he also felt the fluttering queasiness of unease writhing in his guts. But let it be done with, he thought.
            “Joanie, what do we say to them? If they do show, I mean?”
            Joan’s pursed lips blossomed a little, like flower petals, and she gripped his hand affectionately.
            “I’m not sure.” She paused a moment. “C’mon, let’s go.”
            Harold squeezed her hand slightly and smiled dimly, his eyes softening as he looked at her as a small grin lit on his cheeks.
            They walked up the ramp and into the restaurant.
            By the time they waited in line and reached the hostess for seating it was eight o’clock on the nose.
            “Table for four, please,” said Joan.
            The hostess looked slightly askance at her and Joan added: “Two of our party hasn’t arrived yet.”
            “Oh,” said the pretty brunette girl with the large twinkling eyes as she stood behind her podium. “Your name please?”
            “Last name is Morrison.”
            “About a fifteen minute wait, is that okay?”
            “That’s fine,” said Joan.
            “We’ll call your name when your table is ready. Please have a seat”
            “Thank you very much,” said Henry, chiming in. His eyes glanced errantly at the young brunette with the kind of distant appreciation of young beauty that a man of his age felt willing to allow himself. He loved Joan, yet still he was taken by the appeal of the girl, if only in a displaced kind of way.
            The hostess scribbled their name down, flashed another full lipped smile, and clutched some menus to her breast as the previous party followed her into the dining room.
            Joan and Henry took a seat on the leather benches that surrounded the waiting area and sat quietly. It was an uncommonly placid atmosphere for a Friday night. Joan though more people would be coming out to eat on the weekend, but perhaps it was the economy keeping them home with a bowl of popcorn and an on-demand movie over Netflix or a DVD. Whatever the case, the sturdy silence only heightened their sense of disquiet, yet neither would stir the other. For a while they only sat quietly and waited as bodies streamed in and out of view. Joan kept craning and looking for Marie’s familiar shape, or maybe even a coat of hers she might recognize. Unless of course they had really changed a lot in the ten years since they had seen them. There were so many unknown variables. She was beginning to wish she had never found that card with their number on it. Maybe Henry was right? Maybe it really was all in the past and should stay that way. Still-she couldn’t help but want to speak with them again. Even if they never spoke again. Even if their differences were irreconcilable. If that were the case in the end, no one would be able to say that she, Joan Morrison, hadn’t given it the old college try!
            Time slipped away as the minutes ticked away-sometimes feeling quick, at other times agonizingly slow. And all of the time their eyes kept moving over the people as they came in the door. Every face was checked for familiarity, ears were tuned for a familiar voice floating ethereally in the air. Thus far nothing recognizable.
            Wrists twisted and snatched glances at watches. First ten after eight, then fifteen.
            “Let’s face it, Joanie. They probably aren’t coming. They’re either still too mad, or…or never even got the letter. Maybe not even in this state anymore. We’re wasting our time. But we gave it a shot.”
            “Well, now hold on Henry…they could still show. Besides the hostess said at least fifteen minutes for the table. And anyway, what’s to say that we can’t still have dinner even if they don’t show?”
            “Joanie, both you and I know good and well that neither of us is going to be in the mood to eat after this! You know how punctual they always were! If they aren’t here by now…”
            “Just five more minutes, Henry…please?”
            Joan’s face looked haggard, desperate, and pleading; a mix of emotions coalescing into one confused expression on her face.
            “All right, Joan. Five more minutes…and that’s all.”
            Her head tilted back against the wall and her eyes closed. She could feel the warm moisture of tears beginning to well up in her ducts. She wanted to break out balling, but that kind of thing wouldn’t do in public. She would have to be brave. And she would also have to accept the cold reality that maybe friends once had were gone for good from their lives. And maybe she would just have to learn to live with it-all over again.
            The chipper little brunette’s voice chirped in the air and at first Joan hadn’t been coherent enough to hear it. She had dozed slightly with her head there against the wall, and Henry shook her arm with some urgency to rouse her.
            “Mr. and Mrs. Morrison, your table is ready, if you will come with me.”
            Joan crawled up out of slumber, her eyes banking around. Still no sign of them.
            “Well, you see, it doesn’t look like our other party has arrived, so we might have to cancel on the table…”
            Joan’s eyes darted toward Henry with a stifling look.
            “What was the name of your other party, perhaps they called and I can check that if you like?”
            “No, that won’t be…”
            “YES!!! Could you check on that please?” snapped Joan, obliterating the rest of Henry’s sentence and leaving him looking at her with grim disapproval in his fiery eyes.
            “Their last name is Wilson. Mr. and Mrs. John and Marie Wilson.”
            “One moment, please,” said the brunette as she turned to a pad on the podium to check for a notation of any kind. She leafed through a few sheets before the expression on her face changed. As if she recognized something. Then she walked back toward Joan and Henry and said, “If you will follow me please?”
            Both of their throats felt clenched. They both wanted to say something, but it was as if their vocal chords were frozen and they found themselves helpless to do anything more than follow the directions of the small brunette girl as she stitched through the dining room crowd to the back corner of the room. As the murky lighting grew clearer on the sconces at the back booth, two faces came into view and both Joan and Henry felt themselves stiffen in surprise.
            “I’m sorry for the mix up. We forgot to note your names when the Wilson’s arrived. I hope you can forgive us,” said the girl, laying out the menus onto the table as Joan and Henry’s eyes connected with the eyes of the couple in the dimly lit booth who were John and Marie Wilson. They were smiling pleasantly at them and only after the hostess made her departing comment did they begin to realize just what had happened.
            “A waiter will be with you shortly. Again, please accept our apologies and enjoy your meal.”
            The bubbly brunette strode away as Joan and Henry’s knees began to break into a sitting position in the booth. Joan sitting next to Marie, and likewise Henry next to John.
            “It is a bit much to process at first, isn’t it Joanie,” said Marie, breaking the fragile silence between them and thus eliminating the gap that had separated them like an abyss for ten long years. Her voice was gentle and smooth, with a calmness to it that connoted tranquility. “We’ve been waiting. You know how we always come early to everything.”
            “Marie…John! It’s…been…”
            “A long time, Joan,” said John, both his voice and his face emerging from the darkened booth like cool air emitting from a darkened cave.
            “Yes it has,” said Henry.
            “I…I don’t even know where to start.”
            “Don’t think of it as starting, Joanie,” said Marie reaching over and touching her hand gingerly. “Let’s…let’s just call it picking up where we left off, ok?”
            Joan looked at Marie’s hand as it cupped over her own. It was a little more vein stripped and aged spotted with the passing of the years, but she could feel the compassion in her touch. Joan put her own hand over Marie’s in an equally warm manner and returned a smile.
            John’s voice pulled the conversation toward Henry as he said, “And what about you, Henry old man. How’s the hardware business been treating you?”
            Henry’s voice was more rigid and less jovial than John’s, the injury of the years past bubbling up again, but he did the best he could to make conversation.
            “Oh…not too bad,” said Henry, fondling at his knife and fork errantly and, unlike Marie, quite unwilling to make solid eye contact with his counterpart. “It’s a bit rough these days being an independent in this economy. It’s all about the giants no matter what. You know the big guys like Home Depot and Lowes and such. It’s a struggle…”
            John kept his eyes on Henry and smiled attentively as he listened. Henry continued: “…but you know me, John. I can be a very stubborn sort.” Henry’s tongue seemed to underscore the word "stubborn" as his eyes met John’s for the first time in less of a look and more of a glare.
            “I dare say you are, Henry. I must admit you have always been a very tenacious sort indeed,” said John in his polished English accent.
            John’s voice fluttered a little in a humored little chuckle as he watched Henry’s glare bloom into a glower. John took it all in stride, though. Not so much as a furrowing of brow or a gnashing of teeth as he looked at Henry, who was obviously uptight and determined to reignite the angry flames of the past and fan them into the present…but not just yet.
            With Henry near derailing the good nature of the moment, Joan steered the conversation in another direction.
            “You still live in Heightstown? Well…that’s a silly question, isn’t it? You must, I mean…you got my letter, obviously.”
            “Actually, we moved over a year ago,” said Marie, “but somehow the forwarding was still active and it was quite a shock to get it. I never thought to hear from you again after what happened. But, I was touched by your words, Joan. I really was. I guess you could call it something of a minor miracle that we received your letter at all. One of the few times the post office has fowled up for the better I suppose.”
            “And they were her words, not mine!” chided Henry as his voice morphed into an angry snarl.
            “HENRY!” blurted Joan aghast.
            “It’s all right, Joanie,” said John. “A man has a right to say what’s on his mind. Let’s have it then.”
            “Henry, how rude! What is your problem?” said Joan. “These are our friends!”
            “They were our friends, Joan! So why don’t we drop the whole charade of pretending that nothing went wrong between us. We all know that’s a load of crap!”
            “I must apologize for him, Marie…John. He wasn’t up for this meeting and I forced him into it. I guess it’s really my fault.”
            “If there’s fault to be placed here Joanie, it isn’t on you and I know exactly what I’m talking about.”
            Henry’s penetrating gaze grew fiery as he scowled at Marie, and then more so at John.
            “Going right for the throat, aye, old boy?”
            “You bet your sweet life, old boy!” The sarcasm in Henry’s voice dripped heavily from his lips like viscous tree sap. Round one had begun. After a ten year sabbatical, it was on again. The great Morrison/Wilson feud…part two!
            “I’m sorry, John…Marie. Perhaps this was a bad idea. Perhaps we should go!”
            Marie reached out toward Joan’s wrist and grasped it with enough strength to stop her, but delicate enough to let her know she felt no animosity.
            “No, Joanie. Please don’t go. Let Henry say what he feels he needs to say. Let’s clear the air once and for all.” Marie’s eyes slid toward Henry, her gaze easy and light and without acrimony. “Please Henry, do continue.”
            Henry’s face beaded with sweat and he withdrew a hanky from his rear pocket and mopped at his forehead aggressively.
            “You were supposed to be our friends. Of all the people in the world we wanted to be Godparents to our only son, it was you two. And you refused to have any part of it. I would have thought you would have been honored to be asked. And we would want no other two people on Earth to take care of Matt in the event that we…weren’t around. Yet time after time…without reason…you refused. Didn’t you care? Didn’t you know how much that hurt…to have your own friends reject you like that?”
            “I have to admit, Marie…John, it was a slap in the face to us…that you didn’t care enough to even…”
            “Is that what you thought? That we didn’t care!” said Marie, her voice a mixture of hurt and, for the first time, incipient sternness. There was hurt on both sides of the table and it was just beginning to leak into the tone of Marie’s voice… in the way of sorrow and despair.
            “What else were we to think?” insisted Henry.
            “You’ve got it all wrong, old man. I assure you,” said John.
            “Then what was it?” demanded Henry.
            “I suppose we shall have to tell them, John,” said Marie looking at her husband, leaky eyed and her face taking on an ashen tinge.
            “I suppose we shall, my dear.”
            Joan and Henry pinned their attention to Marie as she sunk into a deep sigh.
            “How long have you two known us…these last ten silent years included.”
            “All in all, about thirty years I’d say.”
            “Well…you see, before we met you…”
            “And when I was a roaring young buck of twenty-five,” added John with a slight laugh meant to ease the moment.
            “Yes…way back then. Well…we had a son. His name was Jeremy.”
            John slid closer to his wife and wove his fingers into her left hand and slung his arm around her shoulder to bolster her strength and display his compassion. It wasn’t an easy story to tell.
            “A fine young lad with all the charm of his mother,” said John.
            Joan and Henry’s eyes widened at this dark secret and they exchanged quick, astonished glances.
            “You mean, you two had a child?” asked Henry.
            “Yes. We did.”
            “The boy only lived four years…there was an…an accident you see,” added John.
            Joan and Marie didn’t need to ask what happened as the answer came to them before they could form the words.
            “Jeremy loved animals. Small wildlife, birds, butterflies, squirrels, what have you.”
            Marie sucked another breath and tried to gain her composure, John gripped her hand more tightly. She continued: “One day we went out marketing. North Main was very busy that day. One of those streets you dread crossing at rush hour. I had Jeremy by the hand. I thought I had a secure hold on him when he caught sight of a squirrel and wanted to run to it and pet it I suppose…”
            Marie broke down and began to cry profusely. Picking up where she left off, John continued with the story: “You see the boy pulled away from his mother and ran out into the street. A car caught him head on and…well. Medics did all they could. Jeremy died the next day after a long struggle on the ventilator. He’d sustained a massive head injury from the impact. He was our only son.”
            Henry’s eyes turned moist, the rage that had previously encompassed him evaporated under the grief of the story. Joan gripped his hand as if the loss were her own, her other hand clasping at her mouth, stifling her own anguished sighs.
            “So you see,” said Marie, taking the handkerchief that Henry had offered to her. “We never had any more children after that. We couldn’t bear the idea that it could happen again. And we couldn’t bear the memory of Jeremy that such a child would bring back to us. I suppose we didn’t trust ourselves to be in care of any child. The pain was too great!”
            “Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Joan in a strangled, pleading voice.
            “We were too ashamed,” said Marie. “So when you brought up the guardianship of Matt, it brought back all the memories of Jeremy. I suppose we should have fessed up, but somehow…we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Even in the face of losing our closest friends, we couldn’t tell you. Pain like that has roots deep in your heart, dear friends. I’m sorry we didn’t have the courage.”
            “It’s our fault too,” said Henry, seeming to take the reigns of consolation and burying his animosity under a newly sprouted compassion. “We shouldn’t have pushed so hard. We should have known there was some very good reason why you had refused us.”
            “Can you ever forgive us,” entreated Joan.
            “All is forgiven…it was long ago. Let this be forgiven…and forgotten. You are our friends, and always shall be,” insisted Marie.
            “Amen to that,” said John.
            “We…can understand if you don’t feel much like eating now. We had no idea about…”
            Marie waved her off with her hand, still holding the handkerchief that she had been blotting her eyes with.
            “No, my dear. Let’s enjoy ourselves. A good cry always makes me hungry anyway.” Marie mustered a small giggle.
            “Quite right,” said John, hoisting a water class up as Joan, Marie, and Henry followed suit. “Let’s have some merriment here. ‘Fraid this will have to do in the absence of wine.”
            Glasses clinked together and smiles exchanged. Around that time conversation began to flow freely and a waiter finally arrived to collect orders and recite specials. The night went well, as did the dinner. Closure had finally seemed to come to them all.
            They all stood in entranceway of the restaurant after a very satisfying meal and a very liberating conversation. They had caught up on so many things. Laughed at a lot of old things, as well as many new things. Even Henry was in good humor and willing to admit he was wrong about his opposition to the meeting. They gathered under the sparkle of a crystal chandelier with mirrors reflecting around them, seeming to expound their happiness.
            “Marie…John, it is so good to have seen you again. We must never let anything like this come between us again,” said Joan.
            John and Marie smiled beneficently back at her and nodded. They were smiling, but somehow Joan detected a note of sadness in their eyes…as if their emotions were torn; like something bittersweet.
            “I believe we have all learned a lesson from this, Joan,” said Marie. “Life is much too short to quarrel like this. You can’t buy back years. But we can start anew…and make up for a lot of lost time.”
            “We agree, totally,” said Joan. “Don’t we, Henry.”
            “I must admit,” said Henry, rocking almost jovially on his heals. “I’ve never been more in agreement!”
            Marie and John shot back passive smiles, again somewhat subdued; somewhat melancholy.
            “Oh!” chirped Joan. “We must get your number. You do have a new number, or a cell phone where we can reach you?”
            “I’m afraid we’re rather old fashioned, Joan. We don’t have a cell phone. I know it sounds odd in this day and age. But that’s just us.”
            “Too much interruption and jangling about those mobiles are,” said John.
            “Well then we must get your home phone.”
            Marie and John’s eyes shifted, catching each other out of the corners of their eye.         
            “Oh my dear, I’m afraid we’ve been having some frightful trouble with our home phone. The phone company can’t seem to figure it out. It would be useless for us to give you that number right now. They might even have to change it.”
            “Confounded modern conveniences,” added John with a plucky laugh.
            “Oh, I see,” said Joan, deflated.
            Marie and John exchanged looks as they could see the sadness brewing in Joan’s eyes like an overcast just before a storm.
            “But let me give you our new address. Do you have a pen, Joan?”
            Joan’s mood suddenly lifted and a shimmering smile graced her face.
            “Oh, yes of course!” she said, brightly and fished through her purse. She waded through the snarl of junk she had never found time to clean up until finally she found a ballpoint and an old business card from the bank she went to. She handed Marie the pen and card.
            “There you go.”
            Marie smiled, took the pen and card and scrawled out their address.
            “There you are, love.”
            “Thank you,” said Joan, adding: “Will we see you soon?”
            “Well we have some personal business to attend to so we may be away for a little bit. But leave me your number and we’ll ring you up as soon as we can”
            Marie looked a little nonplussed at the comment, as did Henry, but she withdrew another errant scrap of paper from her purse and scrawled down their number and handed it back to Marie.
            “Please do call as soon as you can.”
            “Of course, dear,” said Marie and turned to John.
            “Well, dear friends, I’m afraid we must be off now. Henry…” said John, gripping Henry’s hand in a warm grip while pumping his arm. “It has been bloody well wonderful to see you again, old man.”
            “Same here,” said Henry, “we must meet for a game of golf soon. You remember? It’s been a long time since I beat the pants off you, John!”
            “Ah yes, the links. Yes it has been quite a time, hasn’t it.”
            They all walked toward the coat check booth and Marie handed the attendant her ticket and claimed her coat. John did the same.
            Joan embraced Marie after helping her on with her rabbit coat. The fur was so soft and smelled so nice.
            “I just love your coat,” said Joan, not quite looking at Marie. Not wanting to say goodbye. She looked up and met Marie’s eyes. She thought she saw tears forming near the ridges of Marie’s eyes. They had become glassy. John’s looked almost the same way, and even a little bloodshot.
            “Oh Marie, take care of yourself! John, you too. Goodbye…for now.”
            “Be well, friends. Be well,” said John.
            “Goodbye dear friends,” said Marie, giving Joan and Henry both a kiss on the cheek before swooping her arm into John’s bent elbow. “Be well and stay safe!” said Marie as she and John began for the door, their thin veiled smiles seeming to try and hide a deeper, more somber mood as they waved goodbye. Joan wasn’t sure what it was about their manner that was strange. Perhaps they were just overcome with emotion…as she was. Far too quickly they were gone from them.
            Marie turned to Henry.
            “Now aren’t you glad you came?”
            “Yes, Joan, my dear. You were right again…as always.”
            “Pardon me, ma’am, is this yours?” asked the coat check girl, holding a small black purse in front of Joan. Joan took it and inspected it.
            “No…not mine. I have mine-“
            “That’s Marie’s purse,” said Henry. “I remember her carrying it when we came over to the coat check kiosk. See? It has her initials on the front in gold letters.”
            “Oh dear,” said Joan, holding the purse to her breast. “She must have left it on the counter when she claimed her coat and forgot to pick it up. She’s going to be frantic without it.”
            “Damn,” said Henry.
            “Maybe I can catch her!”
            “Oh, Joan, they’re probably gone by now!”
            “Well, you never know…I’m going to dash out and see if they’re still here!”
            Henry only shook his head as Joan hurried toward the parking lot and stood at the entrance steps, scanning the lot for them. She ran down a little further with the purse clenched in her hand and called out:
            “Marie! John!”
            A pause to listen, but no answer came back.
            She only saw the faint jewel twinkling of red tail lights as a car pulled out of the lot. But it could have been any car, as she didn’t know what type of automobile they drove. Finally the lights oozed out of sight and she mounted the steps and returned to the inside of the restaurant. She swung around the corner to the coat check kiosk and was met by Henry’s half humored, insinuating gaze.
            “I told you, you weren’t going to be able to catch them.”
            “Never mind, smarty,” said Joan as Henry helped her on with her own coat; him already wearing his own fleeced leather jacket.
            Suddenly Joan stiffened and she perked up.
            “Hey! This turns out even better!”
            “Whatcha talkin about?”
            “I mean now we have the perfect excuse to drop in on them and see them again! To return this!”
            Her face had bloomed ecstatic as her small hands gripped the leather bag. She hopped up and down several times and Henry looked away, slightly embarrassed.
            “Joanie, contain yourself!”
            “And the very best part is that we can go out and see them…tomorrow!”
            “Tomorrow? Oh Joanie I don’t know about-“
            “But we have to, Henry. Don’t you remember? They said they’d be going away for a while, so the only time we could see them again before they leave would be tomorrow.”
            “But we have no idea when they are leaving, Joan?”
            “Then we’ll just have to get there very early in the morning. I’m sure they won’t mind, under the circumstances. She must be going crazy without it anyway!”
            Henry sighed deep, socked his hands deep into his pockets and tilted his head back.
            “What time?”
            “Better make it pretty early so we don’t miss them. Figure…six am.”
            “Six am!” blurted Henry, his voice coming out louder than even he imagined. He looked at her with a little furrow in his brow. She returned a sheepish smile. He smiled reluctantly back at her.
            “There goes my Saturday!”
            “Twenty-Four White Eagle Lane. That’s what she has written here. Twenty-Four White Eagle Lane, Nanuet New York.”
            “I probably could have found it myself in half the time it takes this damn GPS to!”
            “Oh Henry, we both know you couldn’t find your way out of a paper bag without it!”
            “T’aint so!” said Henry, eying the street signs for White Eagle. “Technology…bah!….a lot of bloody rubbish it all is, may-tah!”
            Joan turned to him and crimped her forehead a little saying, “That has to be the most God-awful English accent I’ve ever heard!”
            “Yeah, well I try…”
            The car oozed on, slipping down side roads as the mechanical feminine GPS voice droned out instructions.
            “There! Up ahead! Doesn’t that say White Eagle?”
            “To your right. Look. LOOK!”
            “Well SHE hasn’t said anything about it yet,” barked Henry, jabbing a finger toward the dashboard mounted contraption.
            In point four miles make a right turn onto…White Eagle Lane.
            “There you go,” yelped Joan. “She agrees. Make a right…quick!”
            “I AM turning!”
            As they turned and cruised down the road, a large white bi-level with a roofed porch and small rounded front steps and a circular driveway came into view. The mailbox had the number 24 inscribed on it in ornate script numbers.
            “This must be it.”
            “Wow,” said Henry. “Looks like ol' Johnny must have moved up in the world since we last saw them. This is a far cry from that small cape cod he used to have! They must be rich now!”
            “It certainly looks like it. I should have guessed by the fancy rabbit coat that Marie was wearing. Before she used to wear imitation fur.”
            “They got the bucks, that’s for sure!”
            Their Malibu pulled in front of the large, contemporary house and parked in the street.
            “Oh, but Joanie, look. No cars in the driveway.”
            “They must have them in the garage,” said Joan, getting out of the car and slamming the Malibu’s door. Henry followed suit. The aging Malibu doors sounded weary as they creaked on their metal hinges. “You know rich people don’t leave their cars outside to oxidize!”
            “Oh yes. With all my millions I forgot!”
            “Let’s ring the bell.”
            “What if we wake them up?”
            “So what…we buried the hatchet, remember. They’ll be only too happy to see us!”
            “I hope we’re not pushing our luck here, Joanie,” said Henry as they moved up the driveway and up the front porch steps. “That hatchet was only just buried!”
            “Shush!” said Joan, and rang the doorbell.
            “Would you look at this spread,” said Henry, unable to get over the lavish atmosphere of the house and grounds.
            “Be quiet!”
            Henry bit his tongue and they both stood silent, listening.
            “Do you hear anything?”
            “Not a thing. I tell you Joanie, they must still be asleep. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea?”
            “Should I ring again?”
            “I don’t-“
            “May I help you folks?” came a striking voice from behind them as an elder man in work overalls and a cap strode up the front lawn. He looked like a landscaper, or a yard-worker of sorts.
            “Who are you?” asked Joan.
            “Well, Miss, I could very well ask the same question of you. I’m the groundskeeper here, Wimfred’s the name.”
            “Oh…you work for the Wilson’s?”
            “Yep, worked for them for over five years or so, I reckon.”
            “Oh. I see,” said Joan, feeling somewhat awkward. “Well we just came by to return something to them. We’re old friends. We rang the bell here but-“
            “T’ain’t no one gonna answer that bell there, Miss.”
            “Why…I don’t understand,” said Joan, looking at Henry who’s expression was equally confounded.
            “I’m afraid you’re a day late and a dollar short to be callin on the Wilson’s”
            “Why?” asked Joan, something creepy beginning to shiver her bones. “What do you mean?”
            “Sorry to be the one to break this to ya, Miss, but the Wilson’s ain’t with us no more.”
            “You mean?”
            “Yep. Dead. Died just last night, matter-o-fact. Ugly accident out there on Route 22. Some crazy drunken kids slammed into em. I heard about it late last night. Shameful thing it is. Damn shame!”
            Joan felt faint, but forced herself to push for more information.
            “Did they die immediately?”
            “From what I hear from my sources, through the grapevine of course, they lived for a spell. Paramedics worked on em. Tried to save em. But all too much busted up. Weren’t nuthin more the could do!”
            “Oh, Henry,…it must have been right after they left us. It must’ve been late last night…right after we said goodbye. I…I never thought it would be goodbye for good!”
            Joan collapsed into Henry’s arm, snuffling and sobbing and him petting her and trying to get her under control. He turned toward Wimfred, his eyes looking foggy like smoked glass and said, “Mr. Wimfred, you don’t know what time it happened, do you. I assume it was late…maybe around twelve midnight. We left them around 11:00pm.”
            “Mmmm, not that late, son. From what I understand from my friends at the paramedics it was closer to 8:00pm, earlier in the evening.”
            “That’s not possible,” said Henry, his eyes shimmering with uncertainty as Joan pealed her face from his shoulder.
            “Fraid it is possible. You folks must have yer times mixed up. Crash was around 8:00 pm, give or take a little.”
            Joan and Henry exchanged incredulous looks.
            “Did your friends…the paramedics…did they tell you anything else about the accident.”
            “Well…hmmm…come to think of it they did bring up something that was rather peculiar. They said all the way to the hospital in the amb-u-lance and even into the ER, they both were muttering to themselves. They was barely conscious. It was almost as though they was talking to someone. Like…like they was havin a conversation with someone. Odd kind of thing to happen. For them both to be doin the same kinda thing, doncha think?”
            “Yes…yes it is odd,” said Henry.
            “Anyways, they both passed near midnight. Poor souls. And they was good people. They got all this from investing smart…that is before the crash you see. Still, all in all they were very cautious in how they invested their money and it paid off. But they ain’t got no kids or heir to their estate, so I guess the state gets it. Now ain’t that a bitch! Don’t even know if they even had a will…whole thing could be intestate for all I know.”
            “Thank you very much for the information, Mr. Wimfred. Please excuse us. It’s just…just such a shock. They were good friend’s of ours. It still doesn’t seem real. I still can’t believe it.”
            “I know how you feel, son. The circle of life is a crazy thing. You don’t know when yer comin, and ya don’t know when yas goin. And they was mighty fine people too.”
            “They certainly were.”
            “Generous to a fault. Never forget me and the missus every Christmas. Shoot now I’m fixing to gush up! I sure will miss em.”
            “We will miss them too,” said Henry in a voice that sounded like it was crumbling.
            “Well, I guess I done enough damage for now. I’m sorry to be the bearer of such bad news.” Wimfred reached over and patted Joan on the should as her mascara streaked down her cheeks in tarry runnels. “Be strong, miss.”
            “I’ll try,” croaked Joan with a rasp that scraped up her throat like sandpaper.
            “Well…I be seein ya.”
            They watched the old man shamble off, the tattered bottoms of his overall pants brushing over the grass as he walked around the corner of the house, and then out of sight. As quick as he seemed to appear he was soon gone. And for a while there was only silence between them.
            “Now just take it easy Joan. Don’t go on and on!” said Henry as he and Joan sat in the front seat of the Malibu, her head resting on his shoulder, drawing comfort. Henry slung his arm around her and stroked her hair slowly, not knowing quite what to say…or what to do.
            “But Henry, how can it be?”
            “I don’t know Joanie.”
            “They were with us just last night. Just last night…and they were fine. And now they’re dead and gone! It isn’t fair!”
            “No one said life is fair, Joanie. More than not…it isn’t.”
            “But that man. He says they were in the crash at around 8:00 pm, and they couldn’t have been! They were with us around that time. I know what I saw. I saw them clear as day. I felt them, touched  them, and heard them! You did too!”
            “I know it. They were as there as there can be.”
            “So what is that funny old man talking about? Maybe he’s the one with his times mixed up?” She peered out the window a second toward the house. “He must’ve slipped a few gears in his old age. Nice old gent…but really!”
            Joan’s head slunk down and she looked at the purse she still held gripped in her tight, small hands. The purse that was Marie’s.
            “And I still have her purse.”
            She looked into the purse and waded around in it a little, feeling guilty doing so.
            “If she has money in here, maybe we can donate it to some charity or worthy organization in her name. I think she’d like that.”
            “I think so too.”
            “Hey, what’s this,” said Joan.
            “What’s what?”
            Joan reached into the purse and pulled out an envelope. An envelope that looked faintly familiar judging by the typewritten address with several characters dropped lower than the others. She knew in and instant what it was. She opened the envelope and unfurled it.
            “This is my letter!”
            “The letter, the one I wrote to Marie asking her to meet us. The one I almost didn’t mail to her!”
            “So, she kept the letter? So what?”
            “Well, wait a minute. She has something scrawled down here at the bottom. It says…it looks like, ‘urgent’ and then after it- it says…’must make this appointment!’…with several exclamation points next to it.”
            “I guess she didn’t want to forget it?”
            Joan’s eyes went fixed and far away, her stare looked vacuous, but her mind was racing.
            “Henry…what if that old man was right?”
            “Whaddaya mean?”
            “I mean,” she said turning to him with alacrity in her voice and her eyes wide like saucers. “What if they really did have that accident at the time he said…sometime near 8:00pm?”
            “Oh, Joanie, you’re talking crazy talk. How could they be in an accident and on the edge of death in one place, and still be with us at the restaurant at the same time. It…it doesn’t make any logical sense!”
            “This isn’t about logic, Henry!”
            “Oh…what are you talking about?”
            “I’ve heard of it, Henry. It’s when people are present in two places at the same time. They had a story about it on the Discovery Channel. Many reports of it. That when something was urgent enough…if the need was critical enough…a person could somehow some…way, be in two physical locations at the same time!”
            “Oh go on Joanie!” said Henry half laughing, and a little creeped-out by the idea.
            “You’re probably right about what you said before, Joan. The old man just had his facts wrong and the accident took place later rather than earlier. That sounds more sane.”
            “Well, then what about the accident on Route 22 at nearly 8:00pm? The traffic we were stuck in…the ambulance? And how about the fact that we never actually saw them come into the restaurant…and when I ran after them for the purse…they seemed to have just disappeared as well too? And the fact that they wouldn’t give us a phone number, and seemed to want to hurry off? And the purse! Henry, maybe it wasn’t an accident that she left it there? Maybe she wanted us to find this letter…and the notation she made at the bottom! See? ‘MUST make this appointment!’ Must, Henry. MUST! How do you explain all of that?”
            “I…I don’t know Joanie. I can’t I guess. But do you really think?-“
            “I don’t know for sure either, Henry. But maybe…just maybe…for however short of time, they came back to us…”
            She turned to Henry, their eyes twitching and studying one another.
            “For the sake of forgiveness, Henry. They came back to us…one last time.”


  1. Excellent story, Russ! It kept me riveted till the end! A lot of it reminded me of the style of Roald Dahl, one of my favorite short story writers, in the way you played the tension between the husband and wife, and the wife's secret plan. Dahl could make a story about a dinner party read as tense as a horror story (in fact, he DID: in the story "Taste". That story taught me more about writing than anything in Writer's Digest).

    My only criticisms (uh oh!) would be that some of your transitions are a little jarring (like when the scene changes from the end of the restaurant bit, to the next morning). You really need to put a space between scene changes, to keep your reader from getting confused. Although now that I think about it, this might be a formatting error in the transfer of manuscript to Blogger (the Preview button is helpful for that---it's saved my arse many a time). Another thing to remember is that anything that comes after the final big revelation is liable to be anticlimactic, so you should try to prune it down to keep it short and punchy.

    All in all, a fantastic story! Kudos! (And sorry for the wall of text).

  2. Thanks again for the great advise Lazlo! This one is a bit more on the sentimental side. I see your points and they are well taken! Hoping to get some other opinions on these stories too. Thanks so much for taking the time to read! It IS greatly appreciated!!!