Fiction, Short Story, Unpublished

Absence

Absence

(Unpublished – contact author if you’d like to publish this story)

Lydia was folding clothes. The light in their laundry closet bounced off her bright hair and against their kitchen window and back to him. As usual, she was not paying attention to him. She was focused on her task. He faced the window, and her reflection bobbed into and out of sight as she bent to pick up clothes from the dryer. The reflection seemed wrong. It looked so unlike her that he had to keep both Lydia and her reflection in sight for a sequence of moves to convince himself that both were Lydia. But even while he watched them moving together, Lydia and her reflection seemed to have two entirely different purposes.

As he finished soaping the dishes, Lydia bent down, picked up a napkin, shook it with a pop, folded it in the air and put it into the basket on the other folded clothes of like color. He looked at the soapy dishes. He didn’t look back at Lydia’s image in the window because he didn’t like the idea that her reflection could have a purpose beyond that of its creator.

He picked up each plate and ran it under the hot water and kept his attention on the dishes until he couldn’t stand it anymore. When he looked back to the window, Lydia’s reflection had moved on without a sound and he saw only his own head, which was oddly shaped from the back-lighting.

Leaning up close to the glass, he looked around the room to see where Lydia might’ve gone. He leaned over the dish drainer, bristling with silverware, and nearly lost his balance. Even though he could see all but the dark corners of the room in the window glass, there was no sign of Lydia or her errant reflection.

Still facing out of his apartment, he picked up the dish towel and massaged his hands dry with the worn, damp, cloth. “I’m going to take a bath,” he thought he heard her say. It startled him because he hadn’t seen her in the window, but when he turned back to the glass her reflection was walking away.

 

He lay down on the sofa. The radio played classic jazz, soft, and felt the strain of worried days begin to flee his body. He was paralyzed with comfort. The sofa was soft and firm at the same time and he closed his eyes, just for a moment. He heard the water in the bathroom, or maybe it was rain.

 

The cushions felt too soft. Lydia was standing over him wearing her straight black dress, pushing simple pearl earrings, black pearl studs, through her lobes. “Come on, you don’t want to be late, you’ll have to sit in front,” she said, smiling. She had turned his radio off.

His lips worked to say “I love you,” but he was unable to speak. No air came through his lips, and she was gone down the hall, her black pumps clicking on the heart pine.

 

He woke again. It felt like he’d been waking at this time, on this sofa, for weeks, but as soon as he was fully awake he realized that he’d just awakened the once. Lydia in black was a dream.

 

Off the sofa and back in the kitchen, he thought he saw something in the glass. He threw open the window. It was outside his apartment. It was a possum, its gray fur matted and dripping. The possum was startled by the sliding window and bonging of counter weights in the sash. It stopped in its tracks. It faced him sideways and hissed through open mouth, jagged teeth on full display, and then continued on its slow, wobbly track along the top of the fence beside his building.

He turned around, expecting Lydia might be standing behind him, also watching. But she was not there. What he’d thought was her perfume was the blossoming tea olive just outside the window. He inhaled, drawing the damp, evening air deep inside, looking for that perfume. But now he could smell only the old window screen.

 

In the living room he looked at his image in the dark television, its curved gray screen a poor mirror. He hadn’t turned it on since Lydia left. His image looked old. He was tired and he didn’t want to think about Lydia any more today, so he looked around the room for a distraction. His shoes were on the rug under the coffee table. There was a ring on the table, just one ring, where he fell asleep on the sofa with a glass of ice and bourbon when he realized that Lydia wasn’t coming back.

He tied his shoes and went out into the hall and breathed. The old paint had a flat smell. He liked the smell before. He thought he and Lydia had talked about it. After a minute he decided it was stupid to be standing there thinking about Lydia. He walked down the stairs and out onto the street.

The rain had stopped and darkness enveloped his building like a bully he preferred not to run into, but who didn’t frighten him anymore. He didn’t have the right shoes, but he walked on. He thought about how Lydia looked in warm clothes, walking fast through chill autumn rain, jacket pulled up over her dark hair, shirt un-tucked, flashing a slight curve of belly, looking at him sideways all the time, as she walked. The way she had when things were new. He thought about the way he’d looked at her – or was it her catching him – the line was a little blurred. There were times, back then, when he had to reach out and touch her, just a little, just with the side of his hand or with his shoulder against hers, to remind him, assure himself that they were actually two separate people, with separate destinies. Now he wondered if that had really happened.

His destiny tonight, he realized as he moved past the plate glass window of the jewelry store, its scissor steel grate locked over the glass, was to walk these rain-slick streets alone.

 

On the sidewalk, his steps gradually slowed until he wasn’t moving. He glanced into the window of the salon he’d told Lydia about and it too was closed. There was a light inside. When he turned toward the glass his face was imposed on a scene that was a little disturbing. In his reflection he tried to see what Lydia saw in him, but he was distracted by a motion inside the salon. A mouse scampered along the back wall casting a large shadow.

He walked on. Now that the rain had stopped, his hard shoes made sharp clips on the sidewalk and these bounced back to him so crisply that it could’ve been someone else’s foot falls, someone walking behind him, someone with a lighter, faster stride. He stopped short. When he stopped the sound stopped with him.

 

Back in the foyer of his building the blinds were drawn against the late hour as they always were. He got to his door without seeing another reflection and held his key and listened before sliding it home and jiggle-turning it in the old lock. He went quickly to his room without turning on a light. Stripping to his underwear he lay on his back in the dark and listened, willing Lydia back into his life; willing her to reach out to him at this moment. He shut his eyes tight until he saw sparks and breathed slow, deep, breaths with all his attention on Lydia. In his mind he tried to see her thinking about him. He visualized her lying in bed alone, but she fell asleep.

 

 

 

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