This story is by Michael Guishard and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Wilson decided to take the whole day off. He thought he’d make breakfast for everyone, just like he’d done once when the children were younger, and Cheryl was laid up with the flu.
Both of his children asked “What are you doing here, dad?” when they entered the kitchen about 20 minutes apart, which irritated him. When he reminded them it was Robin’s graduation, and countered with “Where else would I be?” they reminded him that he’d missed Junior’s graduation. “That was different. I mean, I wanted to be there but I had that business trip, remember?”
It was annoying but not surprising when they grabbed their plates and retreated back to their rooms.
The chilly response from his wife when he greeted her at the breakfast table was a bit surprising, though.
“What are you still doing here, Wilson?”
“Why the hell does everyone keep asking me that? Today’s Robin’s graduation. Where else would I be?!”
He flipped two pancakes on a plate and started to hand it to her, but she waved it off, patting her stomach. She took a glass of juice, and sat down at the table.
“Have the kids eaten yet?” Cheryl asked without looking up at him
“Yeah, they took theirs to go” He said, sitting across from her.
“You know, Cheryl, I’ve been thinking, wouldn’t it be great to go back to Vegas this summer?” “We could take that drive back to the Grand Canyon like we did when the kids were –“
“Wilson, I want a divorce” Cheryl said, just before taking a mouthful of juice.
“A divor – wh – what are you talking about?”
He tried to ask what he’d done, but she told him the standard “It’s not you, it’s me”, and went on to explain that she’d met someone else online, and that they had been chatting for months. A few weeks ago, they met in person for lunch, and recently, they decided that they should be together.
“Are you screwing this guy, Cheryl? Is that it? And right under my nose!”
“No, Wilson, I’m not ‘screwing’ anyone, it’s not like that.”
“Well is he some rich prick, preying on other men’s wives – or he could be a crazy serial killer living in his mom’s basement. You don’t know, Cheryl. He could be an ax murderer for all you …”
“Daisy is not an ax murderer. She is a sweet, caring person who I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
Wilson was stunned.
They barely spoke the rest of that day. After the graduation, Robin went to a party / sleepover, and Junior went back to his dorm. Wilson quietly packed a few things and went to a hotel.
Now, almost a year later, something Cheryl said on that day had been ringing in his ears for weeks: “I didn’t realize how lonely I’d been until the day I met Daisy”.
Wilson soon began to understand the mind-set of someone who could take his own life. Over the past several months, he would sit in his car some evenings, and just ponder leaving the car running, windows turned up and the garage door closed. He never actually attempted it, but the last time when he contemplated it, he ended up flinging a bunch of his CD’s out the window; he couldn’t decide what song he wanted to ‘die to’.
Wilson and the kids were supposed to go out for breakfast, and then on to the Grand Canyon, although they had griped the entire day before about the long drive through the desert.
Didn’t they know or even give a shit how much he needed this trip?
He decided to leave the kids a note and go get breakfast, but he just kept on driving. Angry that no one seemed to care about how he was feeling. Not even his kids.
The Vegas strip became US-93 South, and before long he was in Arizona.
His mind reeled at the thought that his greatest fear – dying alone – was a very real possibility. He had married Cheryl because she was the ‘safe choice’; but now, his ‘safe choice’ was prepared to spend the rest of her life with some ‘Daisy’. What the hell was happening?
Wilson recently started having panic attacks – he’d struggle to breathe and everything would just go black for a few minutes. He felt one coming on, and pulled off to the side of the road. They usually occurred while he was at home – whenever he thought about buying a dog, or one of those goddamn medical alert panic buttons, so at least someone would be there when he, as an elderly man yelled out – “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
He shut off the ignition, resting his head on the steering wheel. The cool, mid-March, Arizona breeze soothed his aching head as he closed his eyes.
He was startled by the sound of a passing vehicle, not having realized he’d been asleep. The sun was lower in the sky, suggesting he’d been sleeping for hours. Thinking his children might be missing him (maybe), he attempted to call them but there was no cell signal. Also, the car wouldn’t start. “Great! Now what am I gonna do?” Wilson thought,
Stepping out of the car, he could smell potatoes and onions cooking. His growling stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten all day. A little diner was 20 yards from where he was parked. “How did I miss that place before” he thought as he strolled over. The sign out front read: “Desert Diamond’s Everything Café” “I guess the owner couldn’t decide on a name.”
When he walked through the door the woman behind the counter looked at him expectantly, “Well, I was wondering when you were coming in! I’ve been waiting on you”
“Sorry, do I know…”
“Honey, you’ve been parked outside for hours. C’mon sit here at the counter”
When he sat down, she placed a plate of fried potatoes with onions before him, and a tall glass of ice tea.
“It’s just what you wanted, right? I can always guess”
“Wow, well you guessed right” Wilson was too hungry to wonder what was happening. He thanked her, and started eating ravenously.
She came out from behind the counter and sat on the stool next to him.
“Careful you don’t chew off your tongue, sweetie” she chuckled, watching as he gobbled the food.
“So sorry, haven’t eaten all day” Wilson said, slowing his pace.
“I kinda figured. You been parked out there a long time. I would’ve called the cops or an ambulance, but…”
“Call! That’s right! Can I please use your phone? I need to call my kids”
“I was just gonna say, sugar, I don’t have a phone”
“You’re way out here in the desert with no phone?” Wilson asked
“I enjoy the peace” “Besides, your kids will be just fine”
“You don’t know that! They’re probably worried …”
“Oh, I know all kinds of things about you, Wilson. And just like you, I know your children probably haven’t even noticed you were gone”
Wilson mouth fell open, and he sat frozen.
“Where are my manners, I should introduce myself, I’m Diamond” she said extending her hand.
He leaned forward instinctively to shake her hand “How do you know my name?”
“Oh, like I said, I know all sorts of interesting things about you. Like I know you better sit your behind down and finish those potatoes I made for you”
“Made for me?” “Wait, is this a dream?”
“The potatoes ain’t that good, honey” she said pinching him on the hand
“Nope, not a dream,” she laughed
“What the hell’s going on? What am I doing here?”
“You tell me, you’re the one who came in”
“I – I don’t understand” he felt himself beginning to panic. Perhaps he was losing his mind
“Why don’t you just calm down, finish your potatoes…” she said sliding the plate back in front of him, “…and tell me all about it”
Too tired and hungry to argue, or question any further, Wilson ran down the many things that were wrong: Everything from his ungrateful wife divorcing him, to his undeserving kids complaining about this great trip.
“It sounds to me like you think there’s a whole lot wrong with everybody else, but you’re not seeing the real problem” Diamond said, a placid grin on her face.
“And what’s that?” Wilson asked, scooping the last bite of potatoes into his mouth.
“It’s you, Wily”
“What – me?! How can I be the problem when I’m the one being hurt here?!”
“Wily, your problem has always been that you’re so selfish. You never even try to see anyone else’s point of view.”
Wilson sat quietly, not able to dispute her.
“Think about it – you were selfish with your time, which is why your kids don’t know you, and you were selfish with your affection, which is why Cheryl had to leave” “Did you ever ask that poor woman how her day was, and actually listen for her answer?”
He could only ever recall asking rhetorically and then quickly uttering “That’s nice, sweetheart” before going back to watching TV, or shoveling food into his mouth.
“And now, you’re thinking about hurting yourself? Instead of working to get your family back? Umph, disgraceful, chile”
Wilson began weeping uncontrollably, “But they don’t need me. And I feel so . . . alone”
Diamond rested his head on her chest, “Hush now, baby. They need you. They always gonna need you. But you have to show them that you want to be a part of their life” “Start with your wife – tell her you love her, and that you’re sorry. Then tell your kids that you’re sorry for all the time you missed, but that you want to be there for them from now on”
“But I’m afraid it might be too late”
“Baby, as long as your heart is beatin’, you still got time”
He heard the word ‘time’ echo in his head. He thought he was having another panic attack as the room suddenly grew dark.
Wilson was startled awake by a phone ringing loudly. Somehow he was back at work, sitting at his desk.
“Hello? Wilson honey, I’m so sorry to bother you at work, but I feel terrible, and I was hoping you could bring home dinner”
He recognized the voice – it was Cheryl. But how? His desk calendar said December 2007.
“Wilson, are you there” Cheryl said, suppressing a cough
“Yes, I’m here” he hurriedly checked the calendar on his computer. It was indeed December 2007
“I know you’re busy, and I’m sorry…”
“No, sweetheart, I’m not busy at all! In fact, I’m leaving here in 10 minutes, so I can come take care of you, OK?”
“O-Kay?” she said sounding confused.
“I’ll pick up dinner for the kids. You go get some rest, and I’ll be there in 30 minutes.”
“Sure . . . Thanks”
“Of course” “I love you, Cheryl”
“Wait, are you feeling OK, Wilson?” she asked only half joking.
“Never better!” “See you soon”
Wilson did make everyone pancakes that following morning. He took care of Cheryl, and made a point of letting her know how much she meant to him. He also spent time with his children after work every day, instead of ‘hanging around’ the office.
Wilson and his family were driving through the Arizona desert on their way to the Grand Canyon for the first time. The children were excited initially, but by now everyone was asleep having sung for hours about bottles of beer on the wall. As he drove past a billboard Wilson suddenly burst into laughter, waking Cheryl
“What is it, Wilson honey? What’s so funny?”
“Oh nothing, sweetheart, I’m sorry I woke you”
The billboard read “Coming soon: Desert Diamond’s Everything Café”