Updated: Jun 14
This short story is dedicated to the memory of Cormac McCarthy
Gray rain lightly peppered the window pane in the blue light of Saturday morning. He rolled over away from the heat of her body. His head lowered as he shuffled to the bathroom, tripping over her dirty laundry on the floor. He stepped softly as he passed his daughter’s room, her various toys and stuffed animals scattered about the halfway. He was careful to not cause her to wake. This was his time, how much of it he had he did not know. An hour. Ten minutes perhaps which belonged to him. He stood in the near silence waiting for the water to boil in the electric kettle. He made his coffee in a french press that had been given to him for father’s day last year. As he poured the boiling water over the black grounds a shaggy tuft of golden blonde hair poked out from behind a bedroom door.
Good morning sweet pea he said.
She squinted her little eyes, made a soft huffing sound and disappeared back into her room.
He pressed down on the small wooden plunger and thought, what luck.
He sat in the enclosed porch reading and sipping his coffee from an old orange mug to the static patter of late spring rain. The world seemed still and this stillness was comforting. He had finished two chapters before his wife awoke. She was disheveled and beautiful. Her face had the light glow often seen in the first weeks of pregnancy. She began talking to him about her feelings and her dreams and her feelings about her dreams. He set down his book to listen. He sipped at his coffee. When she paused he said, good morning.
Their daughter joined them on the porch. She complained about the rain then complained that dada had woken her up. She rubbed her eyes and started to tell her mother that she was hungry.
Good morning, he said to her.
She scrunched her face into a childish scowl.
Good morning, he repeated.
As she made breakfast she said, I thought we could go down to the farmer’s market today, the one down by the pier. Her daughter sat on the couch sucking her thumb. He agreed from behind his book.
It was a short wet drive to the market which was held indoors. It was the first market of the season. The parking lot was full. He pulled the green SUV into the overflow lot across the street. They walked swiftly in the cold and misty morning. The little girl darted from one puddle to the next hidden beneath a blue umbrella. Her father held the door as she found another enticing ankle deep body of water. He was not wearing a raincoat. He felt the cold water seeping through and touching the skin of his shoulders. A chill dropping down his spine then back up again.
The market was a swarm of people. Her mother smiled down at her. Don’t suck your thumb, she said as she looked up at the rows of vendors. A young man played a violin just inside the doorway where they stood. She smiled a devious smile at her husband not trying at all to contain her excitement. She’d waited through the bleak winter and endless spring. She’d waited since the final market of the previous summer. She’d waited for the locally grown yams and the fresh asparagus. She’d waited to talk to the little old lady who made the pot pies. She walked down the first row. Her daughter by her side with her little pink rain jacket tied around her tiny waist.
He turned to the booth in the corner where they sold coffee and tea. As he waited in line he looked over his shoulder and watched the two of them disappear into the crowd.
The coffee he bought out of habit rather than want. It was thin and tasted slightly of paper due to the cheap cup. It did not warm his body the way he had hopped. Instead it seemed to make his head light. He stepped to the where the second row opened knowing they would have to walk by if they followed the logical serpentine flow. He stood sipping the paper coffee holding a tea for his wife. He felt like a stone in the middle of a flowing river. People passed around him from every direction going in every direction.
He stood feeling hollow. A glass balloon, transparent and fragile. He wondered if anyone could see him at all. He wondered if any of them were real. He sipped his coffee and for a brief moment, an instant, felt nothing at all.
Suddenly he felt the weight of the cup of tea in his hand. He wondered where they were. He wondered how long he had been standing there feeling nothing. He looked around the large industrial building. His coffee was nearly gone and he began to walk down between the rows of vendors. He saw a woman with several facial piercings selling soap. He saw a man wearing a skirt selling jewelry. He saw families walking the isles buying croissants and muffins. He saw no farmers.
When he reached the end of the row he discarded his empty paper coffee cup into the recycling bin. He scratched his chin with his free hand and wondered where they were. He went back down the first row sure that they must have stopped at a booth. He would find his wife chatting and his daughter sucking her thumb. But he got all the way back to the front entrance where he’d bought the coffee and he had not seen them.
He went to the third row. Calmly he walked from one end of the building to the other. Still he did not see them. The tea in his hand was tepid. He saw a hand waving above the crowd. His head snapping in the direction of his eyes. It was not her but another woman signaling to a man behind him. He walked down another row and another still until he had walked down each of the eight isles. From the far corner of the building he could still see the entrance. He saw the signs for the bathrooms and thought maybe they could be in the ladies room.
The tea in his hand had become cold as he stood at the bathroom entrance. All the while he scanned the faces in the crowd. He filtered out anyone with dark hair. He filtered out any one with a hat or a man’s face. Every child began to look like his daughter. Every small voice sounded like hers, causing him to jerk his head to the right then back to the left at the sound of a child’s laugh.
He sent his wife a message asking where she’d gone. It did not seem to be delivered. He had this funny thought, he thought about all of the times they’d traveled together, all of the seemingly dangerous places far away from home. He thought about how he never let them out of his sight.
He called his wife. He heard a strange automated message about universal data plans.
He stood feeling naked and detached from all that was around him. He looked towards the front entrance. He saw the bow of the violin player sawing back and forth across the strings yet he heard no sound. A cold wind was blowing gently around his hollow insides yet the air around him was dead and stale. He could not tell if the people floating around him were in fact people or apparitions. Figments of a terrible dream. He could not tell if he was the river or the stone.
He stood by the exit for an hour, for a lifetime. More people left than entered until finally vendors began placing their jars of honey and homemade coasters and artisanal dog toys into boxes.
He walked out into the late afternoon sunlight and across the empty parking lot. A green SUV was parked in the lot across the street. He stood there waiting until inky pools of night began to accumulate around the corners of the building. He went back to the building but it was locked. Not a soul around. He looked at his phone. None of the two dozen messages he’d sent had gone through, as though the number didn’t exist. As he tried again his phone died.
A heavy toxic fear coursed through his veins clouding his every thought. If he moved a step to the left his fear told him that they may be to the right. When he stepped to the right, he couldn’t help but fear that they were off to his left. Finally, near midnight, he drove home.
He entered their small two bedroom home. A light was on in his daughter’s room. Hope shot through him like adrenaline. He opened the door hoping to find her laying in bed beneath her pink comforter. But there was no comforter. There was no bed. There was no box of toys spilled out across the floor. No tiny socks or Roald Dahl books. A desk sat pushed up against the wall. A chair. A bookshelf. Neatly organized. Wrong house? He thought.
He looked into the kitchen where his orange coffee cup sat by the sink. He slowly pushed open the door to his bedroom. He sat on the floor. The pile of dirty laundry was not there. The faint smell of lavender was not there and as far as he could tell, never had been. Alone in the silver moonlight he wept.
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