This story is by Darrell Eugene McGuire and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Dora pushed aside the hangers until she found the brown-striped suit with the smart, short-waisted jacket and the knee-length skirt and pulled it out of the closet. Jack’s favorite. And the red shoes that Jack had given her last Christmas. “Just click them together whenever you need me.”
Jack had phoned and told her the good news. He had been promoted and received a nice pay raise. Her hair up and carefully groomed, makeup applied, she was ready to go out the door. They were going to their favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner tonight to celebrate their good fortune.
At 5:15, she slung over her shoulder the red purse that matched the shoes Jack had given her, closed up her apartment and walked toward the corner of Fourth and Elm. Jack would pick up Marcie from her pre-school and then meet Dora at the curb on the corner. Entry into their apartment’s garage was so difficult this time of day due to the heavy traffic, and the corner pickup was much more manageable.
There was no foot traffic on her side of the street. As she approached the corner, a car stopped across the way, and the driver rolled down her window, looked over at Dora, and held her hand up in a slow wave. The driver looked somehow familiar. Was she a friend? She wore a sad-looking face; perhaps the day had not gone well for her. Dora waved back and turned her attention to the traffic coming down Elm. It was nearly 5:45 by now, and Jack should be nearing her location.
Jack’s driving was always a concern to her. He was simply not a very good driver. He wasn’t rude, didn’t have reckless driving habits, but he never did have a good command of his automobile and was often unaware of all that was happening in the traffic around him. There were a number of citations for running red lights and illegally negotiating turns from one street to another. His demeanor was always pleasant and apologetic, and the citing officer would caution him to be more careful as he went about his day. Admittedly, his driving had improved after he went through the driver’s course that the auto club offered.
At 6:30, Dora headed back to her apartment. She pulled some leftover stew from the refrigerator and set up a TV tray for her table. With her dinner finished, she moved the tray over onto the little round stand where the telephone had been set up before it was given up for lack of payment. That left her room to stretch out her feet from the big easy chair that Jack liked so much. Television was all full of the Iran Contra hearings in Congress and held no interest for her. She moved to the chair by the window to watch the rest of the evening go by, and after a while she went off to bed.
On a Wednesday, the sky began to cloud over, and a few raindrops pattered down outside her window. Dora selected the brown-striped suit with the short-waisted jacket and the red shoes that Jack had given her last Christmas, did up her hair, and took an umbrella from the closet. After closing up the apartment, she walked down to the corner. It was 6:15. Jack and Marcie should be coming down Elm by now. Two cars stopped on the other side of the street, and the people inside watched her for a while. The driver of the first car, who had the appearance of a middle-aged man, said something to the woman beside him and shook his head before they slowly pulled out and drove back into traffic. It was hard to tell at that distance, but the teenaged girl in the back seat of the second car seemed to be wiping at her eyes as though she might be crying. How sad. There were so many unhappy people around these days.
When her wristwatch indicated 8:00, darkness had closed in. Dora held the umbrella low over her head as the rain intensified, and she worked her way against the downpour back to the door of her apartment.
It was a Monday evening. The sun had warmed the day. When Dora took the short-waisted brown-striped suit off the hanger she noticed the elbows and cuffs had become visibly thread-worn. As she pulled on the red shoes that Jack had given her last Christmas, she could see the soles were thinning, and the heels were heavily worn on the edges. They were of high quality. She was surprised they would have worn so much so soon. The snap closures on her purse no longer held, but there wasn’t much to put into it anyway.
It was going to be such a pleasure to watch Marcie as she dug into her favorite tacos and splashed salsa all over her face and hands. The Montoya was the restaurant they all enjoyed above all others in the city.
Her stars had sparkled and the sun lit up brighter than ever before on the day she met Jack. They had lived similar lives, both orphaned in childhood. Both had passed from one foster home to another until early adulthood. Jack had found salvation in the US Army where he’d learned all about welding and metalwork. Dora became an efficient secretary in a title insurance company. An evening business administration class at a local community college brought them together. Like Dora, Jack tended to keep to himself and shy away from socializing. After a month of dating Jack had said one evening, “I bought this ring last week. Will you wear it and marry me?”
As she stood there in anticipation of her family’s arrival, several cars stopped on the other side of the street and watched her for a while. One young man rolled down his window and called out, “Are you all right? Is there some way we can help you?”
“No, I’m fine,” Dora smiled back, and he rolled up his window as his car crept away from the curb and went on down the street.
Dora stayed at the corner and waited for Jack’s car to come, waited until well after nightfall before she returned to the apartment and heated a bowl of soup for her dinner.
Jack telephoned and told Dora of his promotion and pay raise. She dressed in the brown-striped suit and the red shoes that he had given her last Christmas and went down to the corner to wait for Jack and Marcie to pick her up. Shortly after nightfall she returned to her apartment. Just as she had done every evening for the past four years.
On my way home from work, I drove by the intersection of Fourth and Elm on July 7, 1988 and noticed that she was not there. I pored over the newspaper the next day and found a brief mention that the young woman who had stood on the corner for so long waiting for her deceased husband and daughter was no longer to be seen. There was no follow-up.