What He Couldn’t See
** This short story was written for a Writer’s Digest Prompt: When a man takes lunch to his wife’s office, he’s told that she hasn’t worked there in weeks.**
White hot anger oozed from his eyes like puss. A small piece of paper quivered in his hands. Why hadn’t he noticed the signs? They showed up a couple months ago.
Red and gold leaves had always been the canvas for their romance. When autumn came each year, they always spent more time together. Now they walked through their favourite park, hand in hand.
“Darling, work is getting to be exhausting,” she said.
“It’s what we do, sweetheart.”
“It’s what you do. Intelligence analysis is desk work. But I’m tired of it. Do you think I should go back into field work with you?”
He smiled. That was his only reply.
A week later his sources hinted that information was being leaked. Important people were being tracked by the wrong parties. Only someone on the inside could have known about specific rendezvous and routes.
Looking out the window, the snow looked like an easy burden for the neighbourhood to bear. Twilight hid details in surreal blue light. They sat on the couch enjoying the first snow.
“Darling, are you bored?”
She waited, then said, “I am.”
He looked at her, trying to read her expression. She looked bored, but that was all.
“You always were too smart for desk work.”
“It’s not the job.”
He shuffled uncomfortably, carefully putting together how to express his next thought.
“Do you need a break from us?”
She looked up in surprise, placing a hand on his cheek, “Darling, I would die before leaving you.”
An agent took early retirement, then went dark. He watched for a long time for signs of the agent’s new life as a civilian, but nothing came up. If there was a connection to the leaks, he couldn’t see it. Not yet anyway.
Slush slowed the morning commute. They weren’t far from her office building, but traffic was inching along as rain layered the car in misery.
“Darling, have you ever thought of moving?”
He glanced at her. A muted alarm sounded in the back of his mind.
“Why do you ask?”
She didn’t reply right away. Traffic started moving again, pulling his attention to the road. The question was left unanswered.
A body was found in a river two cities over. It was the retired agent. Forensics found nothing in his home. His relatives hadn’t even realized he had retired. They thought he was on vacation. Meanwhile, information continued to slowly leak from the agency.
He decided she needed something spontaneous for once. He packed lunch. They could eat in the park with the last decent day before the snow stayed.
When he asked to have her paged, the receptionist squinted a little and said, “She hasn’t been here for weeks.”
Awkward never suited him. He nodded, turned around and walked out the doors, as if nothing was wrong.
Sunset beamed down the street into his rear-view mirror. Sitting awkwardly behind the wheel to avoid the reflection, he waited. Home was only a block away, but strangers had been there.
There were no shadows, no faces, and no vehicles. The curtains were closed completely. They never closed the curtains when they left the house. When you’re in a home that isn’t yours, it’s instinct to close the curtains so no one peeks in and discovers your intrusion. Someone had intruded.
After he was certain that the intrusion was complete, he parked in his reserved spot and walked in. Everything was locked and in order. Except everything was wrong. The curtains were only the beginning. Picture frames, used utensils, the fruit basket and everything else was exactly where they were in the morning. But it was all wrong.
They hadn’t dusted in days, yet the place was spotless. The bedroom was the worst. The bed was exactly as messy as they had left it in the morning, but there was a piece of paper on his pillow.
It read, ‘Honey, I need space to think. Don’t look for me. You won’t find me.’
It was her handwriting and her signature. But it wasn’t her.