Bob evaporated from her life on a Sunday morning. Mary had driven to Costco for canned peaches and paper towels, toilet paper, etcetera and when she returned—no Bob. Weekend section left open on the kitchen table, Bob seems to have beamed himself to California and according to the private detective, rented a Ford Taurus at an Avis office.
Later, the car was abandoned. Avis was trying to get their money back, foul play was only vaguely suspected. It appears there is a woman in the picture. Someone he probably met online. What did the detectives find in the abandoned rental car? Pressed flowers, a few dog-eared poetry books, an empty peanut butter jar filled with seashells. Cherry pits and apple cores.
Mary thinks that at least Bob is probably healthier, eating more fiber than he was at home. She feels filled with the patter of irreverent things to say about this, witticisms she hasn’t thought of in decades, and she mouths them to the cat. “An apple a day keeps the wife away,” she says, and laughs at the idea. She can’t help wondering about what the mystery woman sees in Bob. Bob with his pot belly and bald head, his love of ukulele music.
A week before Bob disappeared, she had purchased a garden gnome from Home Depot. She’d presented the gnome to Bob the way the cat will drag a dead bird to the back door. Tada! she had said guiltily. She remembers how Bob grimaced. Many homes on the block had garden gnomes and Bob hated them. Mary imagines Bob telling his mystery lover about the garden gnome, how it was the final straw, imagines the two of them laughing, chomping their apples.
Mary’s neighbour becomes helpful. No way to knock her off the scent, Mary has to tell the neighbour about Bob being gone and the two of them spend hours discussing the habits and fates of fairies and elves and how a woman can lose her husband so easily in middle age. It happened to her too, many years ago, and her garden has since filled with plastic fairies. I’m myself again, she says.
Since Bob left, Mary’s eyes in the mirror appear less impatient. Feelings of freedom develop like webs in the corners of her mind and she doesn’t vacuum them clean.
“Maybe Bob has always been gone,” she says to the cat. The cat walks around their bedroom, an unaffected stranger, not offering suggestions, not pissed, not anything. Mary’s skin appears smooth and full of freckles, maybe from the shock of it, maybe from the Spanish Absinthe in the glowing evenings. When she floats to the mirror at night, her face looks careful and sad. In the morning it appears drunk and ready for mischief. What are you? she asks her face in the morning mirror. Who do you still want to be? Some days she feels the bruise of loss has softened her heart like water damage, but other days she wakes up green, new, and ready to be plucked.
In the years to come, she stands at the living room window in the evenings, still as a statue, waiting for a sign from Bob. She imagines him growing old alone, sitting on an old tree-branch in someone’s garden, slouching. These thoughts of Bob light her up like an inner moon.
NFFR’s Founding Editor, Meg Pokrass, is the U.K. based author of seven flash fiction collections, an award-winning collection of prose poetry, a flash fiction chapbook, and two novellas-in-flash. Her latest books are The Dog Seated Next to Me (Pelekinsis, 2019), Alice In Wonderland Syndrome (V. Press, 2020), An Object At Rest (Ravenna Press, 2020), and The Loss Detector (Bamboo Dart Press 2020).