Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: REMEMBER (10/19/17)
- TITLE: Gone
By Jan Ackerson
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When we came home two weeks later, windblown and laughing, Hal returned to work in his father’s garage and we moved into a cozy little trailer.
We were crazy in love, desperately happy, for almost three years. Hal’s father died suddenly while we were still newlyweds, and Hal took over the garage. He did well, too, and we moved into a pretty bungalow where I tossed aside my teenage rebellion and discovered, to my great surprise, a keen desire to be some kind of domestic princess: I filled the house with flowers, made fancy desserts from puff pastry, wrote notes for Hal’s lunchbox using a fountain pen, in fine calligraphy. We defied expectations; our marriage was bliss.
And then he disappeared. Simply left for work one morning, kissing me soundly, and never came back.
The police found his car parked outside his workshop. No dents, no blood, no notes. They looked for months; no sign of him was ever found. He never called, and never appeared in any police station, jail, or hospital. He was just gone. Eventually, the case was closed, as cold as ice.
I spent years looking for him. I’d see a man in the distance with a familiar set to his shoulders and rush up to him, startling a complete stranger by grabbing his arm and crying Hal. I’d capture a whiff of his scent—a mixture of sweat, oil, and leather—and gasp, but the concerned eyes of the man in the vicinity of my gasping were not Hal’s eyes. Once I even saw his name appear on my television screen: a witness to a fire, interviewed by a reporter. But this Hal was a young man—in his thirties—and by this time, I was sixty-two.
I finally found him, the day after I moved into Forest Acres Retirement Village. He was in the community room, watching a football game. I gazed at him for ten seconds, twenty—then sat beside him and took his hand. “Hello, Hal,” I said. “Remember me?”
Some women have the extraordinary gift of aging beautifully. She was one of them—as trim as a girl and lovely smooth skin, with only a few small lines around her mouth and eyes. I started to pull my hand away, but decided in half a second to let her keep it. “Hello,” I said, a little shy. She was very pretty.
“I’ve been looking for you for over fifty years,” she said. “Where did you…” She stopped, and I saw tears in her eyes. “I suppose you’ll tell me when you’re ready.”
I pulled my hand back, feeling somewhat ashamed.
One of the Village staffers entered the community room with a tray of cookies, and she stood up and joined the crowd that had instantly gathered there. I turned to watch her. She brought back a plate with four cookies, smiling—though her eyes were still shining. “Do you remember those cookies I used to make for you? Pfeffernüsse. You never could pronounce them right; you called them ‘pepper nooses.’
I laughed and took a cookie from her pretty hand. Her fingernails were painted pink.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in two of the comfortable chairs, scooted close enough that our knees were almost touching, drinking gallons of coffee. “Remember when you took me to Luigi’s and I had raw oysters for the first time? I spat it out just when the waiter was bringing your steak…remember that trip to the beach when the seagulls dive-bombed our picnic…remember when that lady came to your garage because her husband told her to switch the ‘winter air’ in her tires…remember the kitten we found curled up on the doormat…remember, remember, remember…
She was so charming, so funny. I wanted to look at her forever, so I just let her talk, enjoying her occasional fleeting touch on my arm, my knee. She stopped talking once, searching my eyes as if to find an answer there. I had no answer for her, though, and she swallowed hard and pulled out another memory.
I wish I was that man in her memories. My name is George; it always has been. If I was Hal, I never would have left her. I think, perhaps, I’ll never leave her now.
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