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FICTION


some. The paint was lighter, Navajo white, the trim Navajo red. He fingered the peeling paint with a little hopeful rush that Laura had no man around to take care of things. The murmur behind the door began again, and he felt foolish just standing there.


had seen her, and while he supposed it was always awkward and unpredictable when ex-spouses decided to meet again, especially at one of their homes, especially when one has just received word that the other was going to die. Still, he had promised. He kept his promises, not that she ever believed that. He had driven hundreds of miles, taken a leave of absence from work, just in case.


Laura to open the door and call out to him. At the sidewalk he stopped. The heat shimmered off the asphalt of the street, just as it had that last morning. He felt as helpless as now he had then, impotent against Laura’s stony resolve to excise him from her life. And now, her death.


perhaps he could call her. He scanned the street and thought how pretty it was still, every trim lawn edged with impatiens and sky-blue lobelia, with yellow portulacas and cactus. Laura had insisted on this small neighborhood too many blocks from the beach because the sound of the surf kept her up at night. At first Alex was skeptical, but the regularity of the street—same postman, same dogs, same paperboy—quickly cemented his own self-image, Alex, a married man.


Diner, might still be in business; if so, they’d have a phone.


was probably no place to park. The neighborhood so oddly zoned — a row of stucco houses, a mom-and- pop store with an apartment on top, a gas station, narrow streets, mostly one-way. He walked down Roswell past the elementary school and rounded the corner on 4th Street.


was Dell, the cook. Dell looked exactly the same, like a barrel in overalls. Then, as if Alex had never left, as if it were a Sunday years before and he and Laura had made their sleepy way to the cafe, Dell called out, “The usual?”


Mary, Dell’s wife, came sashaying into the


cafe from the back door, her enormous girth covered in a flowery shift. Mary always made Laura smile because Mary was clearly a sunny, happy person,


Alex entered the tiny stucco cafe and there There was no point in driving, since there He thought perhaps that tiny cafe, MarDel’s If she wouldn’t come to the door, then He walked slowly to the sidewalk, expecting It had been at least three years since he


even though she and Dell spent every day in this tiny space superheated by the fiery grill, serving scorched bacon and fried eggs to a handful of people in the know. Laura had shown Alex this place under protest: too divey, even for a lazy summer Sunday, he had thought. She pressed him and he became addicted quickly to the warm, smoky smells, the dance Dell and Mary did, spatulas waving, Mary ducking under Dell to grab coffee mugs and Tabasco, Dell flipping eggs onto plates.


black eyeglasses up against her eyes. Alex wanted to cry. He had loved these mornings. He had loved his wife, their routine. It had all been enough for him. Which Laura never believed, even before it became less than true.


exhaust fan. “Do you have a phone I could use?” She smiled and waved a hand toward the


back door. As Alex moved toward the door, Dell yelled, “No, Sit and eat!”


asphalt sticky. Alex was drenched in sweat. He lifted the receiver, dropped in the coins, and punched in Laura’s number. The phone rang and rang. He dialed again, and again it rang, he counted 20 times. Alex hung up. He looked at his watch. 12:15. He went back inside and headed toward the front door, past Mary and Dell, who stared at him, both standing with their hands on their hips, huge twins.


swallowed hard, “I’m here to meet an old friend, but we’re missing each other, so,” and sped out of the diner.


empty from the heat, past the liquor store, again past the elementary school. When he got to Laura’s house—their old house—he paused, overcome with nervousness, dizzy from the heat. This wasn’t turning out how he’d planned, although he truly had only planned on hugging his wife again, maybe more. On the freeway his fantasies had wandered too far. He had loved Laura as simply as anyone could, that was all. After spending his twenties and thirties in an endless series of dramatic, lustful, intense couplings, Alex found Laura working at a bookstore, her own store, and effortlessly left his old life, like a seal leaving the hot dry sun, slipping into a deep, cool, watery world.


19 He walked quickly past the laundromat, “Excuse me,” he said, “I have to go. I—,” Alex


Alex said, “I can’t. I’m sorry.” The alley was hotter than hell, the black


“Mary,” he called out over the noise of the Mary grinned at Alex, her cheeks pushing her


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