The Visitor: A Short Short Story
The streets of this town are vaguely familiar to me. I must have visited here years ago although I barely remember. It’s a cool autumn evening, and I’m in a bustling downtown district.
I stand on a footbridge over a canal with a view of the shops that line the streets on either side. It is a pleasant place. The streets are not so busy with automobile traffic. People are content to walk or ride bicycles. Everyone seems to be going to or from somewhere. Except me of course.
The busy downtown eventually gives way to neighborhoods of houses with fenced-in yards. Dogs run and fetch balls thrown by giggling children. The aroma of meat being grilled overwhelms me for a moment with cloudy memories of relationships, celebrations, and good times.
The sky is growing dark, not because of the hour but because of the gathering clouds. The breeze turns cooler, and I sense it may rain soon. Families are busy moving their cookouts indoors. I continue with my walk. I know this town played a part in my life. But it seems very long ago.
A white house in the middle of a block catches my attention. All the windows on the two-story structure have faux shutters—burgundy, to match the roof and front door. Someone has carefully tended the front lawn. Flowers line the sidewalk from the front porch to the street. A gentle rain begins to fall. Thunder rolls in the distance.
Why does this house capture my attention? Who lived here or lives here? Someone I knew and visited, it seems. I suppose I could go to the door and ring the bell. Maybe I’ll see a familiar face that will bring it all back.
Before I can take a step onto the sidewalk, the front door opens. A young woman steps out and meets my gaze. She is beautiful with long dark hair and a smile that lights up her face. I am mesmerized for a moment until I begin feeling uncomfortable. I am, after all, probably old enough to be her grandfather. I wave and turn to continue walking. The woman takes a quick step toward me so I stop. She motions for me to follow her into the house.
She leads the way to the kitchen and points to a chair at the table. I remove my coat and hang it on the back of the chair. While she pours coffee, I sit down and watch her every move. When she turns, she sets a mug of black coffee in front of me. The first thing I notice is that she did not ask if I wanted cream or sugar. She just served it black, as though she knew.
The second is that the mug has writing on it. I read it out loud.
I loved you then,
I love you still,
With a shaking hand, I set the cup down and steady myself by holding onto the edge of the table. When I look up, the young woman has aged. She is still lovely, but much older. Our eyes meet, and I am overwhelmed with a sense of recognition. Then a name comes to mind.
“Yes, Glen, it’s me.”
"I went on one of my walks again, didn't I? And got lost?
"Yes, my dear, but don't worry. It was just a few hours."
"It isn't your fault. And it isn't the few hours when you are lost in this little town that are so painful. It is the weeks and months when you are lost in your own mind that cause me and the family so much sorrow and pain."
"I wish we could stop time right now when I can see you and know you."
“I’m just glad you found your way back to me today.”
“The children...how are they? And the grandchildren? And the great-grandchildren?”
“Everyone is fine.”
“I hope I can see them before—”
“Just enjoy the moment, my husband.”
We hold hands across the table with tears running down our faces. We talk about our life together and our family. She shows me photos of the grandchildren on her iPad. We’ve added a great-grandson since I’ve been gone. We laugh, cry, and love each other.
As the day wears on, Barbara serves dinner, and a growing uneasiness grips me like the tightening of a vice. While eating dessert, I am overcome with anxiety.
I push the plate away and look across a strange table in an unfamiliar kitchen at a woman I do not know. Why is she smiling with tears in her eyes? This esoteric stranger walks around the table and raises my chin with her fingers.
She kisses me and whispers, “I hope you can visit again soon.”
How sweet. How strangely sweet.
© 2019 Chris Mills