This story is by Darrell Eugene McGuire and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The room was smaller than Willa had expected. As she entered through a narrow doorway from the dimly lit hall, she could see a queen-sized bed over to the left. On the right side facing the bed there was a small television receiver bracketed down and pushed back atop a dresser that was itself up against the wall. Beyond the dresser, a diminutive alcove pointed northward with a bay window view toward Squaw Peak. A basket shaped lamp hung from a pole that asserted itself between the alcove and the bed. The lamp had a beaded chain hanging from it. The carpet was only lightly worn, not too many travelers up this way since the hotel had been built a short time ago here in this shopping center in the north-central area of Phoenix.
She walked over and stood there in the tiny alcove and looked out through the window, out and down upon the little shops that lined the narrow section of street that ran through the plaza. She watched the bustling crowd of tourists and townspeople and visitors from nearby communities as they rushed about, into and out of the boutiques, with their packages of gifts and trinkets. The district’s characteristic gas lamps illuminated shops and shoppers in little splashes of color among the darkness. Long strings of colored lights hung down between the gas lamps in celebration of the Christmas holidays.
Paul would be getting home about now. He would notice the emptiness of the house and wonder where she might be. The closets partially emptied out, beds strewn with coat hangers. He will know, he will understand. She was gone. Again.
She felt her fingers clutching about her throat without having noticed that they were there. Tears softly felt their way down her cheeks. She tasted their salt in the corners of her mouth.
How would he react? She knew that he would break down into the sobs that came so easily to him these days. He would go outside and search the darkening sky for some semblance of reasoning as to how he might address the problem. And then he would go to his car and drive over to Seventh Avenue to the Brick Cavern. He would sit there for the rest of the night until closing time, when the alcohol had soothed his brow. He would walk home from there. He wouldn’t drive after drinking. No more of that, not ever again. There was his resolve in that respect, she thought. He had tried so hard in so many ways.
After the accident, no matter that the police and insurance companies and all involved had declared that it was not his fault, that he was in no way to blame, that there was no way he could have prevented it, even then Paul could not excuse himself. Even then he had thought she blamed him for it. He continued to hold himself responsible for Lindie’s death. No, she had told him, she understood that the truck had crossed over the line just as it was passing him, it had been the driver of that vehicle who had caused the accident. Their twelve-year old daughter was the victim of an accident that he could not have prevented.
Willa assured him that she had not suspected him of drinking at the time. She knew even back then that he had recovered from the alcoholism that had previously plagued their marriage. It was the war that had brought that on, and the war was long over. He had finally released himself from those days. But now, since Lindie’s death, it had all come back. The late nights, the long walks home, the early morning phone calls asking her to come and pick him up when the police had released him. He had tried, really tried, to fight his way back from all of that.
Now? Now it was too late. Surely, he could see that this time it was too late. She had always gone back to him in days past. Not this time. Surely, he could see that. It was too hard for her, too damaging to her.
She wondered: could she see it so clearly as all that herself? She would have to consider that and decide: stay or go. Tonight, she would make that decision. And this time it would stick.
And so, she decided.
Tomorrow morning she would call the human resources woman at the company in San Diego and accept the offered position. She would remain in Phoenix another day to collect her material matters together and then drive to the coast on the weekend. Another place, another life.
Willa raised her hand cautiously to the little chain that hung from the basket lamp above her and wrapped her fingers gently about the round plastic beads that were strung together along that chain. As she watched the night work its way toward a close, she wondered where she would go when morning came — away, perhaps, away from all of this. Ever so softly, she allowed the weight of her hand to pull the chain taut, to move it down in a straight line toward the end of its travel. The light from the lamp winked out. And the day was done.
All here was done.