by William Michaelian
Every morning before work, he apologized for not giving her a better life. And, every morning, she smiled and told him not to be silly. It was their ritual. Then they parted, knowing their day would be spent toiling for far too little money, and even less satisfaction.
In the evening, they scarcely had energy to make a meal or to talk with their three daughters. The girls were getting older. Every week their problems were more complicated. Instead of toys and games, they now had to contend with the anxious, absurd idea of what the modern world wanted them to be.
The deadly grind took its toll. His health suffered. Something was wrong with his stomach. His heart seemed to play tricks on him when he was in bed, drifting off to sleep. Not wanting to bother his wife, he kept the changes to himself. At the same time, she suspected something was wrong, but was too tired to confront it.
He had a heart attack and died. Three years later, she remarried. The house was sold. The girls found jobs and moved out on their own.
Something was wrong. Though her new husband earned a good living and she no longer had to work, she realized she didn�t care. Alone during the day, she thought about her first husband, and remembered how he had apologized to her each and every day for something that was beyond his control. Her present husband never apologized. He didn�t feel the need. And he obviously didn�t share her concern for her daughters. He had a son, but they rarely saw him because the men didn�t get along very well.
One day, feeling especially low, she decided to take a drive. Before long, she found herself in their old neighborhood. When she saw the house they�d lived in, she stopped. It looked almost exactly the same. She turned off the engine. Without really thinking, she walked up the sidewalk that led to the front door. She knocked. There were footsteps. The door opened. Yes? a pleasant-looking young woman said.
Excuse me, she said. I used to live here.
The young woman smiled. Would you like to come in? she said. I can show you around if you like.
She went inside. The place radiated comfort. The young woman made coffee and they sat down to talk. She told her guest how much she and her husband liked the house, and that they�d just found out they were expecting a baby. Jay works so hard, she said. He has two jobs. I�d be happy to go to work so he could quit one of them, but he refuses. He says he feels bad enough as it is, not being able to afford better furniture. But I don�t care about the furniture. I care about him. The young woman smiled. I just want him to be happy, that�s all. He gets so tired. Sometimes it�s hard to wake him up in the morning.
The time passed quickly. As much as she hated the idea, she knew she had to leave. You�ve been so nice, she said. Here I am, a perfect stranger, and you invited me into your home. Thank you for showing me everything. And thank you for the coffee.
Before they said good-bye, the young woman insisted she was welcome to stop by whenever she wanted. They even exchanged telephone numbers.
That night, she had a dream about her first husband. It was terrible. Somehow, a tree had fallen on him and crushed his legs. When she saw him, she said, What on earth are you doing? Why do you always have to work so hard? Though he was in great pain, he still managed to smile. I�m sorry, he said. I was trying to make things better for you. But it looks like I failed. Then he closed his eyes. Don�t go! she cried. Don�t go!
A few months later, she drove by their old house for the first time since having coffee with the present owner. Much to her surprise, there was a real estate sign in the front lawn with a bright banner on it proclaiming the house had been sold. She went to the door. No one answered. She went to the window and peeked in. The house was empty. Instead of going back to her car, she walked slowly around the house, thinking. She looked in each of the other windows, wondering what had happened, hoping nothing was wrong. Then another car stopped by the curb and a man got out. It was the agent who had sold the house, there to remove his sign. Hi, he said. Can I help you?
I don�t think so, she said. I used to live here, that�s all. What happened to the couple who was here?
Oh, he said. That was sad. The husband died. Had a heart attack, right out of the blue. Poor guy. I guess he was just a kid.
Where did his wife go? she said. I know she was expecting.
Michigan was the answer. Michigan, to stay with her mother.
They talked a minute or two longer, then she got into her car and drove. But she didn�t go home. Or to Michigan. She just drove, and drove, and drove.
William Michaelian�s newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelian�s other books and links to this site�s other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.