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Diner by Robin Parks

was shaggy with wisteria. Unusual, Alex thought, as he reached the porch steps. Why hadn’t she pulled the flowers from the vines yet, stuffed them into glass vases? Was she already too weak? He yanked off a withered blossom, tossed it behind the bougainvillea which was fluttering as usual with salmon-colored petals.


and knocked. He wiped the back of his neck with a handkerchief and waited. No response. He knocked again. Nothing. He pressed his ear to the door, certain a murmur—her voice—came from inside. “Laura?” he called, but she didn’t answer, although he thought he detected a slight pause in the murmur. He checked his watch again. Exactly 11:30 a.m. Exactly when he said he’d arrive. Why wasn’t she answering the door?

told himself, not because Laura may have completely forgotten he was coming—and when that thought crossed his mind, Alex felt a lump rise in his throat. Was he still so unimportant to her? Then why had she called him, called Alex, not someone else? Surely there was a space in her heart carved precisely to fit her husband?

than he had planned, the highway busier than it should have been for all the heat. One-hundred and three when he left the Inland Empire and headed west, toward the beach and Laura, who was dying, and not just dying of the heat.

the circumstance. I’ll be there, whatever you need, Laura, he had

She could have forgotten him entirely, given

said into the message machine two days before. She had called and he had picked up the phone and her voice—husky as it always was in the early morning— had stunned him awake. She hadn’t called him in all that time, not since the final call three years before.

He had been embarrassed at the scratchiness in his voice. He was alone in bed, as always. Maybe

18 The trip had seemed longer than usual, hotter Exasperated, mostly because of the heat he He checked his watch, stepped up to the door t was the end of summer and the porch trellis

he had been dreaming about a woman’s body when the phone rang, or maybe it was just Laura’s voice, the cadence, the timbre, as if she were whispering in his ear. For a moment Alex thought he was still asleep, having one of those luscious visceral dreams that stick like real memory. Then he felt the vacant, cold space beside him. He sat up. There couldn’t be a good reason for the call. His stomach sank. “What’s wrong?”

arrhythmia. He rubbed his chest, thought about how he could get away from work, how long she might need him. It never even occurred to him to say no.

She hesitated for so long his heart stumbled in

against his ear, pulled the warm blankets over his head and pretended she was right there on the bed next to him. “The thing is, I find out next week what the treatment will be.”

about to say the wrong thing. “You must tell me everything, Laura. Right


you,” she said, and hung up. After a few moments, after he was able to push away from a spiraling nausea, he called back. She didn’t pick up and he listened to the ringing, picturing her in her silk slip, covering her ears, angry and scared. He hung up, then called back. This time the message machine went off. He said he was coming and when.

muted voice paused, and he felt a flash of anger. “Laura?” he called out. “I’m here.” Silence.

neighborhood. She’d kept the house, changed it

And here he was on her doorstep. Alex knocked again. Again he thought the

He stood on the porch looking out at the old “I don’t know. Oh, I just shouldn’t have called

“Lung cancer. I’m just, I just—.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” She sighed deeply. Alex closed his eyes, pressed the receiver hard

Alex felt inordinately angry and knew he was

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