Who could that be at this hour? My mother will wonder. Because in the end he will have to call her.
“She’s gone” he will say, his voice traversing oceans on fibre-optic cables.
“Who is this? Do you have any idea what time it is?”
The sound he makes will be guttural, nonsensical, eyes closed against the reality.
“Oh. It’s you” she will say. And then, with a softness that belies the harshness of her words “well, I did warn you.”
If you can call what she said at the wedding a warning.
Earlier, in the playground, the kids will have come out of their classrooms looking around for me. They won’t worry when at first they do not see me. I’m late sometimes. They will play with their friends, they won’t even pause. They cannot fathom a scenario where I won’t be just a few minutes away. They will have no anxiety. They have been fooled into thinking that I love them more than I love my own freedom. As my mother also fooled me.
I will look for my passport.
As I pack I will hear his words in my mind “Why should I believe you? You always lie to me.” And I will wonder whether telling a person what they want to hear is necessarily a lie. I always never tell you the truth. Which is different to I always lie to you.
I will look at the hard drives by the computer, favoured memories diligently preserved on megabytes. What is not recorded there I carry on my skin. Stretch marks glinting like snail trails beneath drooping breasts. The purple varicose on my left leg laying like a knotted rope beneath a translucent sheet. Three long scars running north-to-south on the inside of my left forearm. I will leave the hard drives and print the manuscripts of the novels instead. Barely started those stories, like dolls without clothes.
The kids will be called over by a teacher. “Where’s your Mum?”
“She’s not here yet.” My eldest.
“It’s 3.15.” Mrs. Russell will send me a text message.
My phone will vibrate on the desk where I left it six hours earlier. My plane, by then, long in the air. I will still be able to feel the spines of the books as I drummed my fingers across them on my way to the door. A farewell kiss. You would think I would have smelled the kids’ sheets, or stashed a worn T.shirt from the laundry so that I might find their scent again in some distant land. Perhaps I might have taken the shells from the beach that he and I collected, hand in hand, that crisp winter morning in Raglan. Or one of the dozens of letters my youngest wrote me the summer she learned to write. Happy Birfday Mum. And I love you so, so, so, so much.
But no. Leave them. Leave it all. Mourn only the books, the majority of which were unread anyway. I loved them for what they represented even if only in terms of potential. I loved them because they expected nothing in return. There were no conditions.
When I can’t be raised on the phone Mrs Russell will round up the kids and take them to the deputy head.
“Oh dear, lost your Mum have we?” Janice will look up from her desk when the kids walk in.
“Maybe she thought we had soccer training?” Offers the middle child, the logical one.
“Alright. Not to worry. Mrs Russell did you say you sent her a text?”
“Yeah. No response. I can drop them off on my way home if you like?”
“No, that’s fine, she won’t be far away.” Janice will say it with confidence. She and I are friends from book club, the alarm bells won’t make a sound. “I don’t have to leave til late tonight so they can hang around with my lot.” She will motion to her boys shooting hoops on the basketball courts, then say to all three: “You’re happy to hang out with us for awhile?”
He’ll still be at the office when someone will finally think to call him. Well-meaning friends will offer sensible explanations, but he will know it in his gut even if he can’t confirm it with evidence. “She’s gone for good” he will tell them. The words will come down around the house like a curtain. A few weeks will pass. When the authorities finally come through with the information, date of departure, port of disembarkation, it will be delivered like an upper cut to the jaw while he’s already bent over. Later, he will pin those documents on the cork board and regard them ruefully. An itinerary for one, afterall.
Just then, a bell peels. Footsteps ring out in the hall and lockers slam. My eldest sees me across the quad and is upon me in a second. “Oh my god! Guess what? I made the water polo team!”
“That’s great!” I say, pulling the spare clothes and bags trailing from his body like dead skin.
“Yeah, it I would be – if I could swim!” he laughs.
I put my arm around his shoulders, grateful for his warmth under my wing. As we head across the playground towards the junior classes a plane flies overhead, casting a bleak shadow across the quad. I look up at its grey underbelly pulling effortlessly into the sky, and send it on its way with a smile.
Somewhere in a distant timezone my mother sleeps on undisturbed.
This is my (very first) submission for this week’s Speakeasy challenge #94. Submissions must be under 1000 words and must begin with the following line: Who could that be at this hour?