It's a departure. Sorry -- I didn't mean to. :-)
She is dizzy with panic. Her hand on the phone on the kitchen wall, her palms are slick with the sweat borne of fear.
She has been calling everyone she can think of since Saturday morning.
He hadn’t come home Friday, had simply left a message on the answering machine: Going out after work. Talk to you later.
And since then, she’d made a nuisance of herself, first among friends, then relatives, into a downward spiral of increasingly frantic calls to her mother, to the police, and, finally, to the hospitals.
There are a lot of police departments and hospitals between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
She starts cooking dinner late that Sunday afternoon, but the seasoned chops never make it to the oven. She strips the corn on the cob, but can’t bring herself to cook it. Adrenaline runs through her veins; and every now and then her muscles jump, as if she’s been startled.
Off in the distance, a small yellow sports car shoots toward the house, takes a right at the county road just a half-mile away.
Her chest pounds with such ferocity that she places a hand on it, the better to keep her heart from breaking through.
She runs out the kitchen door, onto the deck. The sun is just setting, and it casts a warm, amber light over the simple summer day.
The car rolls into the parking lot. He steps out, lopes easily up the flight of steps to their second-floor duplex, long hair and long limbs.
The smile on his face breaks her heart.
“What’s going on?” he grins.
A rage washes over her. She picks up the hockey stick leaning against the side of the house, shakes it at him.
“What’s going on?” She bursts into tears, swings wildly. “Where have you been since Friday?”
He sneers at her, so young, so beautiful. “What are you, my mother?”
She sees spots before her eyes. She lifts the hockey stick and swings with all her might, connects solidly with his upper arm.
“OW!” he shouts. “What the hell are you doing?”
“What am I doing?” she screams. “What am I doing?” She swings again, hits him.
“OW!” he screams. “Back off!”
He opens the door, moves from the diffused light of a failing summer day to the blue-and-white cheer of a country kitchen. She throws the hockey stick down, follows him, tears running down her face.
“Where have you been? Where have you been?”
He opens the oven. “No pork chops?”
Her lips quiver uncontrollably, her chin weak. “Where have you been?” she whispers.
He whirls on her. “You’re my girlfriend, Pearl, not my mother.” He walks to the table, sits down, stares at her. The room falls silent. “I was with friends – guy friends. We were just drinking.”
She turns away.
He was just drinking.
And just like that, she knows this to be true.
He was just drinking.
Suddenly she is dizzy. She starts to laugh.
She walks to the fridge, pulls out a bottle of wine given to them almost a year ago.
Neither one of them drink wine.
She twists the cap off of it.
“What are you doing?” he says.
“What’s it look like I’m doing?” she says.
“Don’t,” he says.
She throws the cap in the sink. “Yeah, but I wanna be like YOU.”
She raises the bottle, takes several hasty drinks.
“Stop it,” he says, sharply. “You suck at drinking.”
“Why should I? You drink.”
He stands, walks toward her. “Give me the bottle.”
She raises the bottle again, holds her left arm out. Stay away. She turns away from him, spins to keep her back to him.
She drinks. And drinks and drinks and drinks and –
He grabs the bottle, now almost three-quarters gone, pushes her away. She stumbles toward the fridge, knocks into it.
He pours the last of the bottle into the sink.
“You could’ve called,” she whispers.
He looks into her eyes, looks away.
“Where were you?”
“At my cousin’s.”
Tears roll down her face. “I called your cousin. She said you weren’t there.”
He looks at her and swallows.
“No.” She shakes her head. “She lied? I’ve been sick with worry, and she lied?” She leans against the fridge, slides down the front of it into a splayed-leg seat on the kitchen floor. “I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I thought you were –“
She looks up at him. “I thought you were dead. I called everywhere. I wanted to make dinner tonight, you know? For us? For our Sunday dinner?”
He nods, his eyes filling with tears.
“But I coulden. I coulden do it ‘cause if you were dead, then the police would come while I was settin the table. They would tell me, oh, that guy you love? He’s dead. Sorry.” Her words grew heavier, simpler. “And then for the res’ o’ my life, I could never ever eat pork chops again. I would never eat another ear of corn, because that’s what I was cookin’ the day he died.”
He drops to his knees, his arms out and she presses into him. “I love you,” he says. “You know how much I love you. I’m so sorry. I’m not dead. See? I’m not dead.”
She pushes her face into his neck, sobs his name. “But I thought you were. You coulda been, and I wouldn’t have known ‘til the police came during my Sunday dinner!”
He puts a finger under her chin. She looks into his eyes. “I didn’t know,” he says. “I didn’t know.”
She belches suddenly, leans away from him. “I’m gonna be sick. Oh, God.”
She pushes away from the floor, pushes away from him, veers into the oven, then the kitchen table.
“Here,” he says, laughing. “I’ll help you.”
He puts his arms around her, helps her to the bathroom, where she collapses in front of the toilet.
"I luh you," she says.
"I know you do. I love you, too."
“Don’t looka me,” she says.
He sits on the edge of the tub. “I won’t,” he says.