For the third time that week, Flora’s nightgown was wet. She had the original sense of it in a dream which was soft and round, like an egg. Her dreams had no sharp corners anymore, no shocking conclusions or dropping from great heights, only to wake seconds before the cement. When she was a child, her dreams were high-pitched and precise; she had a recurring one of being chased by the Statue of Liberty whose glow had a sound, like landing spacecraft. But now, in this new house, she was older and dreamt in a vague contentment that she could take with her into her day, tucked between her breasts like a soft handkerchief.
It was lost to her now, but the dream did involve some sort of water; warm liquid and syrupy light. Which she now found all around her hips, the nightgown heavy against her skin. She knew it meant something, but couldn’t quite place it. The man next to her snored loudly. She turned toward him, his sharp nose and features set tightly against the pillow. His breath was not quite sour, but harbored tinges of tobacco and the yellow Listerine her father used to gargle with before work. Not a bad smell, but not one to linger on at any rate. The chin was familiar, the eyebrows set like toy trains above his sleeping eyes, but the name and identity of the face drained from her mind like the water from her bladder.
Just to be sure, she coughed loudly. Nothing. She got out of bed and made her way into the bathroom, unbuttoning herself. By the time she got to the toilet, she was naked, leaving her soiled nightgown in a damp clump by the sink. She closed the door behind her, turning on the lights over the mirror. Unlike the slumbering man, her body was familiar, if not friendly, and Flora stood for a moment taking in the moles across her neckline and the bright puckering of her nipples. She pouted her lips like them and suddenly she had three nipples and she laughed quietly at the marvelous joke.
Garrett would have laughed, too. He would have thrown his head back in delight and from then on, when he wanted to kiss her, he would have asked things like, “Darling, may I smooch your third nipple, please?” And they would have reveled in their shared intimacy. She wanted to reach right into her heart and pull Garrett out so she could see him, hear his laugh. But she couldn’t find him, and what would he think of the man in her bed?
The bathtub had been moved in the night from the left side to the right and Flora found this terribly annoying. It worked quite wonderfully on the left, and now she would need to create a whole new routine for lifting her legs safely up and over into the deep tub to take a shower. She had great legs, everyone said so. Garrett liked to hold them on his lap as they’d watch their favorite television programs, circling his fingers around her knees as if they held all her secrets. She looked at her knees, which now seemed to be melting down her legs, and sighed. She turned on the faucet until the water ran hot and steaming from the tap, pulled up the shower button and, lifting her once exquisite legs, stepped into the storm.
By the time she had toweled off and put on her terry cloth robe, the bed was empty. The bedroom door was closed, and her nightgown, which she had tossed aside in the bathroom, was no longer there, a slightly chemical smell rising from the spot where it had been. She was used to things disappearing like this, things moving in the night, or even right in front of her. In the afternoons she liked to sit in the living room next to the big picture window and watch the construction. It seemed that every day they were moving a wall, altering a roofline, expanding a terrace. What money must be flowing through the walls of this building to afford such construction! And the men who were building were the smallest human beings you had ever seen; they reminded her of the men from the fairytale who all worked in the mine. There were seven of them, she thought. So tiny and efficient. They worked all hours – one night she woke up and they were working right in her bedroom, painting the walls a color that she couldn’t quite make out in the dark, but that seemed quite elegant and refined. They did not speak to her, obviously concerned about disturbing her sleep, and she never forgot their hospitality.
She could hear the man in the other room, moving through the apartment, opening cabinet doors, and running the faucet in the kitchen. He seemed to know his way around. It had always taken her so long to get used to a new space and this one, with the walls and windows and bathtubs and toilets constantly on the move, it was hard to imagine anyone knowing where to find the paper towels or the steak knives on any given day. Often, she would find the strangest things in the drawers of the kitchen. One afternoon, the sun coming into the apartment like gold, what did she find in the cupboard above the microwave? The treehouse her father had built Flora and her sisters in Connecticut! But it wasn’t time for treehouses just yet, so she shut the cupboard quite smartly and continued with her day. So, who’s to say what he was finding there! Such exciting discoveries to be had at every turn!
She didn’t feel comfortable yet, wearing just a robe in front of him, despite their sleeping next to one another. She turned to the closet door and pushed it to the side in one smooth motion. Before her, sat rows of garish ensembles. Flora remembered, years ago, sitting in the formal living room of a woman whom she had hired to tell her what “color” she was. It was called “getting one’s colors done” if she recalled correctly. Everyone was doing it. You could be a spring, a summer, a fall, or a winter. There was quite a bit of flipping through color wheels, and questions that seemed quite personal to Flora at the time, but in the end, she was so pleased to find that she was a winter. Secretly, she had hoped for that result. To be a fall, wrapped in those nauseating oranges and browns like a reheated tv dinner. Flora couldn’t imagine. But a winter…of teals and cranberries and deep forest greens, Flora felt like a woodland creature. And she simply had to get rid of every bit of gold jewelry – only silver and platinum for a winter. Garrett had been horrified when she refused to wear her simple gold wedding band anymore, shocked at her apparent lack of sentimentality. But she held her ground, and Garrett, God bless him, finally played along and bought her the platinum ring she wears today. She looked down at the ring, which now could never fit back over her knuckle, stout and gnarled, and frowned. She missed her Garrett. Who bought her rings he didn’t agree with, and never knew the correct lyrics to songs. Perhaps finding him was as easy as opening the right cupboard.
She finally settled on an oversized tunic and black pants. All of the clothes in the closet were sizes too big for Flora’s slight frame, and having to wear them was more than irritating. The fabrics were cheap and grabbed at the small hairs on her thighs and upper arms, and the necklines plunged so that she found herself securing them around her neck with a safety pin. The overall effect was unsightly, but what could she do? It was the best this room had to offer.
Flora took a deep breath, steadied herself, and opened the bedroom door. In the small living room, music was playing from a radio somewhere. Violins and a piano, she thought, not altogether unappealing. He did have tolerable taste in music, this roommate of hers, and she supposed she could add this to his more unobjectionable traits.
And then she caught a glimpse of him. Strange, yet not unfamiliar. His shape – a slender line of angles and gray hair – did not irritate her. On the contrary, there was an economy to it, as if should one pluck him, a long, thin note would rise from his body. He moved from one room to the other as she listened, staring at a small piece of paper on the coffee table that read “Today is Sunday.” Well, of course it is, she thought. What else would come after Saturday? Perhaps the note was not for her. Perhaps he was losing track of time. Poor dear. She’d have to remember to be overly polite to him today. Such a shame to lose track of important pieces of information like that.
He had obviously dropped something in a room with a hard floor. She could hear the thud, but no shatter, which made her think it must have fallen on a rug. Thank goodness nothing broke. What could it have been? A coffee mug? A trophy of some sort? She remembered all of the trophies that used to sit on her son’s bookshelf – baseball, basketball, spelling bee – he was the cleverest child in the world. She wondered if he knew who the man in the other room was. Perhaps he had hired this stranger to clean the house for her! Now that’s a riot. A man? Cleaning a house? Not to mention, a man, cleaning a house, who also slept in her bed? Her son may have been smart, but this did not seem like the smartest arrangement.
And then he was there, standing before her with a dishtowel in one hand and what looked like a bar of soap in the other, looking down at her in a way that was both caring and cautious. My God, was he going to clean her?
“No, thank you,” she said, matter of factly and brushed right past him into the kitchen where she turned on the water so if he said anything, she couldn’t hear it. She was perfectly capable of cleaning herself, thank you very much. And she did, right then and there, performing what, in college, all the girls referred to as a “P and P” – Pits and Privates. If she was honest, her mind always went to another P-word that was much more fun, but she never let on. She grabbed a nearby dishcloth, covered it in the vanilla-scented soap at the sink, and rubbed each of her P’s efficiently until she felt adequately bathed. He must have been watching her, which was odd. She didn’t really mind, she was fully clothed, after all. The washcloth merely zipped in and out of her top and bottom. But she could definitely feel his gaze on her, a gaze both disconcerting and comforting. Flora had been taught at a very young age to welcome the eyes of men – to seek them out, really. She remembered when she was first allowed to go out at night with her girlfriends in high school – how she could feel all those eyes on her, warm and erotic. She used to like to make eye contact, and then turn away, knowing full well they were still staring at her, her hair, her legs, her small waist. Her mother, beautiful and quiet and cold, had told her that there was a currency in those stares, a value to the judgement of men. Flora could feel that judgement now, standing in the kitchen, rinsing out her P&P cloth in front of a total stranger.
“Flora?” he asked. And she turned, surprised at the sound of her own name. “Can I help you?”
He stood in the doorway, tall and angular, his hands resting quietly at his sides.
“No,” she said, her words clipped. “I’m fine.”
“Alright, darling,” he said, his eyes lingering on her.
“Excuse me?” she said. “What did you call me?”
He paused and his mouth opened slightly as if he were considering what to say next. He closed it again, and looked down.
“I’m sorry. Flora,” he said, and turned.
The impertinence! Really, you’d think they’d train these people to be more respectful. And why in the world had they hired such an elderly man? They must be incredibly short-staffed, she thought.
Once clean, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with the dirty washcloth. For a moment, she stood, the soiled rag in her hand, peering at it intently. And then it was a beautiful purple flower, like an iris and she knew immediately to put it in water.
She wanted to ask him if there was a vase somewhere, but she didn’t want to encourage his assistance. Instead, she grabbed a nearby bowl, filled it with water, and placed the flower inside. It bloomed a bit, thirsty from sitting for so long, its stems out in the open. She felt much better, and the flower brightened the room immensely.
“Can I do anything for you?” he called from the other room. not imploringly, but with worry in his voice. Perhaps he felt he had been neglectful. “I’d be happy to go get you a book from the library. We’ve just finished the one about the circus,” he said.
Circus? She thought. What a hideous subject for a novel. Sounded more like a book for children than an educated woman such as herself. She’d read all the greats in college. She was a bit of a bookworm in her day, gobbling books like sweets in her bedroom. Her mother didn’t approve of all that reading. “You’ll ruin your eyes,” she used to say. Ironic, given the hours her mother spent in front of the television in later years, alone, inert, the laughter on the screen a soundtrack to her existence. But, Flora had learned to read clandestinely; under the covers, behind the door, in the bathtub. She ruined at least four Agatha Christies in bathwater over the years, but she never lost the thirst for the next book. When she first met Garrett in college, one of her litmus tests was whether or not he loved books as much as she did. On their first date, she had brought a well-worn copy of Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day and plunked it down in front of him at the cafe. Her thinking was, if he recognized it, if he’d read it, she’d say yes to another date no matter what. If he didn’t, she had every intention of walking right out the door. But tall, striking Garrett, with his head of brown curls and smoky aftershave had taken one glance at the book and remarked, “I do think it blows Augie March out of the water, don’t you?” And she’d decided to marry him right then and there.
Roughly fifteen years into their marriage, Flora read an article in one of the local newspapers suggesting that people should, as they put it, de-clutter. To take stock of possessions and decide what was really necessary and what was not. And since she and Garrett never did anything halfway, they decided to part with a cacophony of items: patio furniture that never quite fit, record albums (which neither checked for scratches), purses, dishes, wine glasses. What fun it was to pare down and see the kitchen counters and cupboards breathe again! One of the harder decisions they made was to get rid of at least 100 books. Old, tattered copies of Hardy Boys, a dog-eared collection of Rosamunde Pilchers (Flora did love The Shell Seekers), college textbooks, children’s books from their son’s elementary school years. She’d had a hard time parting with a few of them, a collection of Rod McKuen poems about a particular street in San Francisco that she couldn’t recall, the copies of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle that their son adored. But for the most part, it was a clean break.
But then, about three or four months later, after the bookshelves had been repurposed as displays for succulents and African violets, Flora felt a sudden desperation; a mourning for those books whose covers had fit just-so into her hands and whose words had carried her through most of her childhood. She had to get them back, all those Fieldings and Brontes and Fitzgeralds. Perhaps they missed her. She felt as if she’d left the family dog off in a field somewhere, its whining a lament in her ears. She woke Garrett up immediately,
“We have to rescue them,” she implored.
“We have to what?” Garrett yawned, rubbing his eyes.
“We have to get the books back,” she said, sitting straight up in bed and turning on the light. “We should never have done it.”
Somehow, perhaps because he loved her, or perhaps because he wasn’t altogether awake, Garrett seemed to know what Flora meant.
“We’ll get them back, darling,” he said, taking her to him, his arms warm around her. “Every last one.”
It became a game. Visiting every used bookstore, every library, every garage sale, in the hopes that one of their books could be found. They spent most Saturdays together, driving through their town and the neighboring ones, like two private detectives on the hunt for lost literature.
Garrett found Wuthering Heights at a yard sale two towns over, hiding behind a toaster and a lava lamp. The Young Lions was Flora’s discovery when the Friends of the Library shop first opened. Fortunately, Flora had written her name in every book, a cursive flourish inside the front cover, so a quick flip inside was all it took to find her abandoned treasures. They never did find her copy of The Awakening. Poor Edna Pontillier was doomed to an uncertain fate at a small library or middle-class garage or student locker. But Flora always felt as if her books could speak to her, might communicate their location if she listened intently; her heart a compass for them to follow. And so they kept looking. Even on vacations to exotic places, they inevitably found a small bookstore or stack of books outside with a sign that said “FREE.” The two of them had never stopped trying to bring them home.
“You enjoyed the circus book, didn’t you Flora?” The man interrupted her reverie once again. She sighed.
“I’m not sure you understand my tastes, sir. I’m well beyond circuses,” she stated haughtily. “But if you have any of the classics about, I’d be much obliged.”
She doubted he knew what classics were, but at least she had stopped the circus train for now.
For the rest of the morning, the male nurse? cleaner? companion? and Flora kept a friendly distance. She wasn’t exactly sure what the day’s schedule was, everything seemed so open and unrushed, but she had the vaguest idea that there was something to be done, to be accomplished. In an attempt to find it, she opened the drawers of the living room sideboard, pulled back the drapes in case the little men working might remind her. She was surprised to find an entire dining room in the oven, but none of these treasures revealed what today’s purpose might be. She made her way back into the kitchen and stood in front of the refrigerator, white and imposing. Stuck to it was a calendar with a beautiful picture of a desert of some sort, the sand long and curved toward the sun. She liked how the picture made her feel and she thought she might like to be there with Garrett. A white dress, leather sandals, his hand in hers. She clasped her hands in front of her, pretending one hand was his, and squeezed. Perhaps he was stuck in that picture. She leaned in to take a closer look, hoping to find him, stranded behind the dune. Maybe he was hiding. He often liked to hide behind things and then jump out to startle her. It was their little game. And when she’d shriek, he’d laugh and gather her in his arms and tuck her hair behind her ear. And that delicious mixture of fear and love would fold itself into her stomach and she’d lean in closer and smell his shirt.
“Can I make you a cup of coffee?” a voice interrupted from behind.
Him again. And right in the middle of that wonderful moment. Was he always this interruptive? She’d have to complain to someone upstairs. And yet, a cup of coffee did sound lovely, and here he was, offering a service. She might as well make him earn his keep.
“That would be nice,” she said, sitting down at the kitchen table. She rubbed her fingers over the red woven placemat in front of her. He fussed behind her, pouring something into a black machine and then a really wonderful smell started to waft out and around her and she could feel her mouth water. But when he put the bright blue mug in front of her, she reared back, almost immediately.
“Oh, no you don’t.” She said, smirking and shaking her head. “I see what you’re doing.”
“But…” he faltered.
“I will not be taking a nap now. I am not tired and I couldn’t possibly fit into this small bed here.” She pointed accusingly at the coffee mug. She’d wanted a coffee and he’d brought her a bedroom. But she was onto all of their tricks, despite the ever-so-innocent face he was making.
But he didn’t seem shocked at all. He merely smiled at her, took the bedroom away, and poured it down the sink without a word. Clearly, he’d recognized his mistake, and Flora respected his quiet acknowledgement of his error. She warmed to him immensely.
“Have you been with this service long?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” he said, kindly. “I’ve been helping for some time.”
“Well,” she said, “I must say you are doing a fine job. It must not be easy, you know, a man in this position. When one usually finds only women. And young women at that! You’re a bit of a groundbreaker!”
He laughed, a deep rumble that she felt in her hips.
“Yes,” he chuckled. “That I am.” His eyes held hers. Blue. Searching.
Flora felt that it wasn’t altogether unpleasant sitting here, with this man in this kitchen. She didn’t know anyone else here, after all, and why couldn’t a helper be a friend? He was a nice-looking man. A bit too skinny and his shirt needed to be tucked in correctly, but she could overlook all that for a nice chat. The sleeping arrangements were odd, though, she had to admit.
“Is there a reason you sleep with me?” she asked. “I’m not saying I mind altogether, but it is rather strange. Don’t you think?”
He paused, as if finding the right words.
“I won’t if it bothers you, Flora. I just want what’s best for you.”
And she believed him. And the chorus of little men right outside the window all waved at her enthusiastically, so she waved back.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she said. And she meant it. Sooner or later they’d have someone new in here who might not be as gentle, so she might as well enjoy it while he was here. “I quite like it.”
Was he tearing up? No. Cataracts, more likely. Devastating things. She’d found one in her handbag just last week.
Later in the afternoon, he made Flora a sandwich. It was as if he knew the exact ratio of mustard to mayonnaise that she preferred, and she marveled for a moment at his capacity to fulfill her needs without clamor or fuss. She had watched his hands as they sliced the bread, selected the nicest leaves of lettuce for her, poured her a cold glass of milk. He was taking care of her, wasn’t he? Perhaps her son had been worthy of those trophies after all. And his smell was familiar, the weight of his feet on the ground a gravity she’d experienced before.
She stood up, upon finishing the delicious sandwich, and was prepared to compliment him on his culinary skills, but his face changed. The warm gaze that he had held her within was replaced by a sharp intake of breath. He glanced down.
“Dar…Flora,” he said, taking a step toward her. “I think we may need to visit the bathroom.”
A smell arose from somewhere nearby. She immediately assumed that he had, God forbid, passed gas. In front of her? Dear Lord.
“Well, I don’t think WE need to do anything! It seems you might have to visit it all by yourself!” She looked at him with disgust. Imagine. The nerve.
“No, I…” he hesitated. “Let’s just come into the bathroom for a moment and I can fix you.” He placed his hand on her shoulder, as if to lead her toward the other room. She backed away, and in doing so, felt an odd sensation in her lower half. A crowded heat on the backs of her legs.
“Oh, no. We have covered this already! You just get away from me.” Flora turned, desperate to find a door with a lock. She walked quickly into the bathroom and locked the door. The smell was terrible, but she’d rather endure that than face him again.
“Flora?” He was right outside the door. The doorknob jiggled.
She’d been here before. She could feel it. But when? This morning? Yesterday? Last week? The lights were familiar but the sink, which was usually affixed to the ceiling, was firmly planted at waist level. Much more convenient, she thought. But then again, convenient for what? She washed her hands with the floral-smelling soap from the pump, the scent almost masking the terrible smell she couldn’t seem to place. It was a bathroom, after all, but whomever had just visited had not done the next guest any favors. She looked at herself in the mirror, surprised by the bluish tint below her eyes, and applied a small dab of powder from a puff in the drawer. This must have been why she’d come in – a woman does need to check her appearance, especially in the presence of a strange man. She regarded herself in the mirror, content with the relative lack of seeds in her teeth, and opened the door.
He was standing there, wringing his hands like a sad seal. And next to him, a woman she didn’t recognize. She was petite, with a wealth of dark hair, wearing a light pink uniform of sorts. A candy striper, maybe! Flora liked candy stripers. She remembered them from when Garrett had been in the hospital years before, his tonsils, which should have been taken out in childhood, suddenly swelling up and requiring removal. The candy striper had brought by a little cart of candies and other treats. Flora remembered how her shoes didn’t make any sound on the linoleum as she snuck up with her trolley of delights. What delicious items might this one have brought?
“I’ll have Licorice All-Sorts if you have them,” Flora said. “But if not, then I’ll take a Three Musketeers. Or a Big Hunk! I do like a Big Hunk!” She laughed, waiting for them to follow suit, but they just stood there, mouths agape like two open nutcrackers.
“Hello, Miss Flora,” the little woman said, approaching. She wore a nametag that read “Yvonne.”
“Hello…Yvonne,” Flora said, feeling pleased with her quick reading of the nametag. Always polite to use someone’s name when greeting. Her mother taught her that. She looked at the man. “And what is your name, sir? You could do me the courtesy of introducing yourself. You know my name, and that seems awfully unfair.”
Yvonne suddenly turned to him. She nodded slightly.
“It’s Garrett,” he said, his eyes not leaving hers.
“Certainly not,” Flora said. “That’s my husband’s name.”
“Yes,” he said, his eyes downcast.
“Well, now that is just a small world, isn’t it!” She was delighted at this news. To think. Two Garretts! And they were both hers in a way. What could the odds possibly be?
“Well, isn’t that fun!” she said. What would the next helper’s name be? Flora?
“Well, now, Garrett and Yvonne. What can I do for you?” she asked.
There was a flurry of activity. Yvonne had Flora by the arm, quite sternly, and went with her into the bathroom. Flora couldn’t understand what was happening. This small woman, who was supposed to bring candy, was trying to take off her leggings, but Flora, not one to be manhandled, particularly by a candy striper, resisted heartily.
“You get your hands off of me!” she screamed, reaching out frantically for anything to hold onto – a shower rod, a faucet. She tried hitting the woman with the toilet plunger, but it was swiped out of her hands before she could get a good grip. Tears were ripping down Flora’s face now, the humiliation of what was happening to her like a shard of glass. Naked from the waist down, yelling, Yvonne rubbing her with a collection of scented cloths and then discarding them haphazardly all over the floor. The smell was overwhelming. Flora thought she might faint from exhaustion. There was a knock at the door and just as Flora thought she might make a run for it, a wrinkled hand inserted itself through the space, a pair of women’s underwear and what looked like a rust-colored pants in its grasp.
“But I’m a winter!” she blared.
To Flora, this was worse than the nudity. Worse than the smell. The pants were being put on her, one desperate leg at a time. The elastic waistband (her mother would be horrified- elastic was for women who had given up) was suddenly around her waist, the offensive cloths gathered and Yvonne, that devil woman, slipped out the door without a word.
Flora stood, violated. The little men working on the shower drain had done nothing to help her and she stuck out her tongue at them angrily. Her face was red and hot in the mirror and she could hear voices outside, rough and guttural. She tried to make out the words, but couldn’t so she leaned her ear against the door. The words were gibberish, but the door felt cool against her cheek, like a shell, and she thought of all those vacations at the Cape and the shells she’d gathered with Garrett and she turned to flush the toilet, for that must be why she was there, after all. A little lipstick before she left, one must never enter a room without lipstick. She caught of glimpse of the rust-colored pants in the mirror and guffawed. What could she have been thinking, putting those on this morning? It must have been dark when she got dressed.
She opened the door. The man stood there, his hair slightly ruffled as if he’d just done a somersault.
“I must have new pants,” she said, smiling. “These just will not do!” She breezed past him to the closet and chose a pair of navy-blue palazzo pants, a slight shimmer to the fabric. Now, these were lovely, she thought. The former tenant had beautiful taste in clothes, whoever she was.
The man, whose name escaped her now, continued to watch her.
“Are you alright?” he asked. He seemed rather distraught, really. Perhaps he had picked out the pants this morning. Poor dear. Men really had no fashion sense whatsoever. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings after all. He was trying his best, she was sure.
“Oh yes,” she said. “Don’t you worry. I just felt that navy fit my mood! A bit more stately, you know?”
He rubbed his hands over his face, as if to wipe something sad away, as Flora walked into the living room.
On the bookshelf, arranged in a row, sat a number of small framed photographs. Flora peered at them, her nose high in the air. The first, a small wooden frame with the word “Family” painted on the base, showed a very handsome foursome. A man, perhaps around 40, his arm wrapped around a buxom blonde woman. In front of them stood three little girls, all wearing identical pink bows in their hair. And a dog, too! A fluffy, rumpled looking thing that, Flora swore, was smiling at her. Flora wondered if this was just the picture that came in the frame, or if perhaps her elderly helper had brought it with him when he moved in. And why shouldn’t he have photos around the place? And such an attractive family. Perhaps it was his son’s family! The son looked just like him – tall, wiry. The next picture was of Flora, younger, tan, sitting in some sort of chaise lounge on a deck, wearing a fantastic straw hat. Flora remembered that hat – she had bought it before their vacation to Aruba, thinking it made her look devastatingly elegant. It cast shade just over half of her face in a way that made her feel like a movie star and Garrett loved it when it was on her head almost as much as he loved it when it was all that she wore. The thought of that hat being tossed away and Garrett’s hands on her made her spine vibrate.
The man was rumbling around in some other room. She continued looking at the photos. There was a lovely one of her and a man who looked like Garrett, but then again it did look quite like the man here. How silly to see Garrett everywhere! So like her, Flora thought, to imagine him as everyone around her. She used to see his face on the train, at the grocery store. One time she actually called out “Garrett” at the movie theatre, only to find it wasn’t Garrett at all. He was everywhere. In the bathroom, in her bed, in the photographs, in the drawer.
“Did you know my husband?” she asked. She waited. The man did not respond.
“Excuse me,” she said, louder. “Did you know my husband?”
He came into the room quietly.
“Yes,” he said. “I did.”
“Oh, that’s marvelous,” Flora said. “I thought you might have. You have many of the same characteristics. Are you a friend of his?”
The man seemed to consider this for a moment. Perhaps they weren’t close, Flora thought. How awkward.
“Yes,” he said finally. “We were very close. Almost the same, really.”
“Well, I’m not sure about that,” she said. “There could never be another Garrett!” She was proud to say it. Proud to feel that way. Proud to be his.
The man looked at her and dropped the glass of water he had been holding. It shattered against the hard linoleum. And the two of them, together, considered the pieces and left them where they lay.
Katie M Zeigler, 46, is a writer and professor living in Walnut Creek, CA. Zeigler holds a BA and MA in English from Stanford University and completed coursework at Oxford University in British Literature. She has had short fiction and non-fiction published in a variety of outlets, including A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, Wilson Quarterly, Fish Anthology, and Stanford Magazine. She currently teaches creative writing at Diablo Valley College and is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at St. Mary’s College.