This story is by Lisa Walton and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A police car goes screaming by, red and blue lights blinking subtly through the gray mist. My pulse quickens. I glance over my shoulder at the door.
You should have been here by now. We said 1:15.
I reach into my leather handbag, knowing you will likely “moo” at me when you arrive, and retrieve my phone from the inner pocket. Mom always told me to never buy a handbag without pockets. “Life is too short to waste time hunting through handbags.”
I smile to myself and think how much I miss her. She was always sharing practical advice. Advice I try to follow. Most of the time . . . .
Three years gone and still the weight of missing her makes it hard to breathe.
I am glad she’s not here to see me now. Sitting here. Waiting for you.
I slide the phone onto the table and tap the screen. 1:29.
I exhale. Fourteen minutes. You’re hardly even late. Yet.
Outside another squad car goes racing by. This one silent, but commanding attention with its speed and dancing lights. Cars pull off to the side of the road. I hear you cursing at the audacity of the officer, rushing down a crowded street without bothering to use his siren.
Or her. The officer might be a her.
But you would have said him. Even with all your liberal rhetoric you are ironically entrenched in traditional gender roles.
And policing is a job for men.
Along with mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, practicing jiu-jitsu and going to NFL games.
Women are responsible for making dinner, scrubbing toilets, buying groceries, and doing laundry. Jobs you never wanted to do. Jobs I never did well enough. Particularly the ironing. My mother’s method of tossing clothes in the dryer with a damp towel didn’t prepare me for your standards.
And you were not swayed by her belief that life is too short to iron.
Through the window I see a third police car speeding by. This one is quiet. The lights are still. But there is urgency in its motion.
Where are you? I’ve been sitting here since 12:39.
I slide my arms into my gray cardigan, shivering, and wrap it around my chest. The chill moves through my body and I decide to order. Hot coffee to warm me from the inside out.
I’m not being rude. You should have been here twenty-six minutes ago.
Soft light radiates from electric lanterns on the walls. Instrumental jazz hums in the background. I’m relieved there aren’t any vocals to punctuate the music. You hate “swoons jazz singers”.
I plan to order a large black coffee. But the “Daily Specials” board draws me in and I order a Dark Chocolate Caramel Swirl Latte instead. You would insist its proper name is “mocha,” not “latte”. And, regardless, it’s a “pretentious drink for immature posers.”
Before we met, I hadn’t heard the word “poser” since high school. I laughed out loud when you first used it. You were describing the DJs on the alternative radio station we listened to. Your assessment was spot-on and I loved that you resurrected a word from my past. I felt so connected to you.
But then I realized my mistake. You didn’t see the humor in the situation. You just saw me laughing at you. I learned not to do that again.
I ask the barista for a lid, hoping to secret away the contents of my cup. I know you will be here soon. You never were good at sticking to a schedule.
I return to my table and run my finger over the names carved into the wood. Sarah + Ben. Terrence wuz here. Carly & Karli BFFs 4-ever!
The bells chime and I glance at the door. A middle-aged woman walks in dragging a small child by the hand.
I wonder what our child would have looked like. Would she have looked like you, with thick dark hair and brooding eyes? Or would she have favored me? Porcelain skin, dusty blonde waves and eyes that change color depending on my mood.
My eyes dance around the coffee shop. I hadn’t realized it was so crowded.
Two men sit at the table in the corner, huddled together over a laptop and sip from tall iced-coffees.
A couple reads separate newspapers in front of the counter. Her tea bag dangles from her cup. He slurps his coffee. They don’t speak, but they are happy together.
Teenage girls sit at a high-top. Each has a drink more sugary than the next. Whipped cream. Sprinkles. All they need is the cherry on top. Their thumbs fly over cellphones, texting and snapping, or whatever it is teenage girls do these days. They giggle and pose for selfies.
A young couple cuddles together on the leather couch. His hand on her knee. Her hand on his thigh. Their eyes lost in one another.
The mom tells the boy to sit still on the stool and wait while she gets him a treat. He wobbles and I catch my breath, waiting for him to fall.
The clang of a bell draws my attention back to the window and I watch as a crimson fire truck goes flying up the street. My heart beats more quickly. I worry about the misfortune.
A house fire? A car wreck? A cat stuck in a tree?
Maybe it’s a bank robbery or a hostage situation.
I glance at my phone sitting on the table and try to resist checking the news. But my finger taps the screen and I am greeted with our smiling faces in front of a sunset superimposed by the time. 2:09.
I sigh. Six more minutes.
Then I will know.
Then I will go.
I sip my drink. The bitter dark chocolate contrasts with the smoky sweet caramel. Delicious. For a moment I am glad you are late.
Then I remember the police cars and flashing lights.
A two-tone siren wails in the distance. I peer out the window, anticipating the ambulance before I see it.
Woo-ooo! Woo-ooo! Woo-ooo! it calls. Announcing catastrophe to all within earshot.
The door chimes again and I spin around. I don’t know whether to greet you with a smile or a glare.
But a stranger enters. A man shaking water from his hair and frowning. He looks weary.
I look out the window and see the raindrops falling onto the pavement. Had it been raining a second ago?
“If any of you are headed up Elm Street, I’d just stay right where you are,” the newcomer says. “Road’s shut down and traffic is backed up clear to 64. They say it’s going to be awhile.”
Who said? Why? What’s happened?
A couple sitting near the door speaks up. I didn’t see them arrive. “It’s terrible. We saw the whole thing. That poor biker didn’t have a chance,” she says.
“We just got around the whole mess before they closed the road,” the man adds.
“The car didn’t make out much better. Did you see it over the guard rail?”
The cafe begins to buzz with chatter about the accident.
I sigh. Relieved.
It’s not your fault.
Then my stomach twists. I can’t get enough air.
I grab my bag and race out the door.
The rain pelts my face and soaks my hair. My sweater grows heavy. My boots collect water as I stomp through puddles, splashing droplets as I go.
I draw in hefty breaths, pumping my legs faster as I push through the rain.
I see taillights up ahead, glowing red like beacons in the night. Not much father now.
Four police cars are parked sideways blocking the road. And the view.
Officers in plastic-covered hats stand like sentinels, keeping people away from the carnage.
I rush up to one with my arms in front of me. “Please, I need to get through.”
He grabs my arm and tries to steer me away. “Ma’am, you can’t go back there.”
My eyes search the scene behind him.
I know you are there. I need to get you. I will get to you.
I am coming.
“I need to . . . . My husband . . . hurt . . . . “
The officer shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t let you through.”
“That’s my husband. My husband . . . the bike . . . . He needs me.”
The officer raises his eyebrows. “I think there’s been some mistake.”
“Please. Let me through.”
He puts his hand on my shoulder. His eyes are kind, but I know his words will change my life.
“Listen, there’s not much I can say. But, the motorcycle rider was not your husband.”
“Yes . . . “
“No. She was a woman. Okay? Your husband is not here. He’s not here.”
I look into his eyes. Process his words.
Of course. Of course you are not here.
I sink to the ground and start to weep.