By Al Kratz
The first time I knew that The Lady was there was when I woke to feel her spooning me. On my side, her nestled against my back, I recalled my past and confirmed that I was supposed to be alone rather than in the warmth of an intimate snuggle.
I rolled over, and the comfort disappeared. The bed was empty, but the momentum of someone leaving the room lingered. I heard the creaks of soft feet slinking down the stairs.
Her potential was too sweet to be scary and didn’t seem as wrong as it should have. Maybe it fit with how things worked in the house. Changes happened before I saw them. Someone could be in the room without really being there. When I had been in bed next to my wife, I hadn’t known that he existed. Looking back, I don’t know how I didn’t see him when he probably was there the whole time.
“Why don’t you write me poems anymore?” my wife might ask me. While we watched a rom-com, she might say, “Why don’t you kiss me like that anymore?”
I didn’t have answers. My silence created the space that he moved into.
As time went by, he kept growing. A seed breaking through the dirt. A little bud bold enough to think it should become a full-sized plant. A real thing sprung from nothing into presence.
Her questions died. That world was compressing, slowly disappearing.
“I’m going out after work,” she might say in the morning. On the way out at night, she might say, “Don’t worry about staying up for me.” Sometimes work even pulled her out of town. The changes burned in my stomach.
Then one day, I came back to an empty house, walked to the bedroom, and knew that I had just missed something. The closet door was open, and all her clothes were gone. I read from a simple note that she was, too.
I lay down on the bed and held the note tight against my chest. I wished that I could push the note inside my body and make my heart circulate its message, converting it to a microscopic whisper, an artifact so small that a doctor in the future might ask me what happened here and I might say, oh, it was nothing.
On the ceiling fan, I watched two chains play, one with a weight attached so we could remember it controlled the fan. The light chain danced and batted at the weighted chain, running around it until it looked as though the two might become one. Three, four, five quick wraps, before the light chain unwound and broke free to return to a playful dance.
And then I was alone.
I had been that way until the night I felt The Lady holding on to my back as if she wanted to belong. Now I couldn’t stop thinking about spooning. I didn’t know what she was but understood her sweetness was enough to break a broken heart. Had she been there the whole time? Envying us having each other? Watching us drift apart, wanting to scream at us to respect our time? Did she see them in bed? Then watch my wife pack and leave? Did she watch me on my own, and was it too much to take? Or did her own loneliness lead her to break rules she had Eternity to follow?
Maybe it was too much to take. Maybe she had quietly crawled into bed to rest against me. Maybe she breathed me in and closed her eyes, soaked in the feeling of being with another soul. And maybe, as she sneaked down the stairs, she felt the guilt of the moment that she had stolen.
I thought about her the whole next day. I told people that I shouldn’t have told and didn’t care what they thought. I wanted someone to believe and help make her real.
She didn’t come back the next night. Or the next. On the third, before I went to bed, I said to the empty room, “It’s okay. You can lie down next to me if you want.” But she didn’t. On the fourth night, I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed all night with the needing but never felt her against my back.
In the morning, I went to the diner where I couldn’t look the waitress in the eyes. I couldn’t take the chance of seeing someone else not see me. I wanted to open my closed eyes and see The Lady sitting across from me. See her lean forward in a white nightgown. See her hold her hands together tentatively and smile softly. See her beautiful brunet hair that disguised loss. Put my hands on her hair and hold her head to mine. I wanted all of this, but The Lady was with the things to be unseen.
I returned to my empty bedroom and was back under the ceiling fan. As the blades went by, they reminded me of children chasing one another. I let my eyes go around with them until they let me play, too. A blink was all it took to make them pause like they had something good to whisper in my ear, but we didn’t have time. We had to keep running.
Al Kratz is a writer from Des Moines, Iowa, a reader for Wyvern Lit, and is currently working on a novel and a short story collection. He has had work featured in Red Savina Review, Wyvern Lit, Third Point Press, Daily Palette, Apeiron Review, Corvus Review, Gravel, Literary Orphans, 1000words, and elsewhere. He is the winner of the 2013 British Fantasy Society Flash Fiction Competition.
Story originally published on 5/3/15