“Did I miss something?” he asked, approaching her where she stood on the customer side of the counter, one hand atop the register.
“Some insane woman,” she said, still shaking her head and regarding the street, “just went speeding like the proverbial bat out of hell down the wrong side of the street.” She looked at him. “I thought for a second she was gonna’ end up in here!”
Gordon peered out at the street, now calm and empty. “You think it’s safe for me to leave?”
“You going home?” She asked.
He nodded through the glass door in the direction from which he’d come. “Yeah.”
“Well,” she said, “that’s the way she was going. If she continued at that speed, she’s either piled it up somewhere by now or gotten well out of town.”
They stood silently for a moment, considering. “Well,” said Gordon, “I guess I’ll take my chances.”
Melinda placed a hand on his shoulder and locked her eyes on his. “You’ll be OK,” she said, suddenly serious. “Just be careful.”
Gordon returned her steady, earnest gaze, feeling that she was referring with her admonition to something more than a mere walk home. “Always,” he replied, the usual flippant confidence that might have informed such a riposte deflated by the sense of foreboding, vague though it was, that her words had evoked.
“You know that I mean it, don’t you?” she asked, gripping his shoulder now. “About being careful, I mean?”
Gordon nodded. “Yeah,” he said, a bit shaken by her intensity. “And I hope you’re serious about me being all right, too.”
He hoped she might laugh, or at least smile, but she did neither. “Yeah,” she said, nodding her head, “I think you will be. Just be careful.”
“Listen, Mel,” exclaimed Gordon, unable to stand the vague intimations of menace any longer, “what the hell are you talking about?”
She gazed at him blankly for a moment, then blinked her eyes. “I wish I could tell you, Gord.” She shook her head. “Just one of my feelings, you know?”
One of Melinda’s “feelings” meant vague intimations, shadowed glimpses of indefinite possibilities, a 50/70 chance that something specific, if unspecified, might transpire.
“Uh huh,” he said. “Like the feeling that I’d be in earlier than usual today?”
“Like that,” she agreed, “only stronger and less. . .specific.”
Gordon sighed, a sudden sinking feeling taking the few high spirits he had fluttering about inside him straight down to the murky basement of his heart. “OK,” he said. “Anything at all that I might look out for?”
Melinda closed her eyes a moment, a small frown curling her lips. “No,” she said, “just darkness.” She opened her eyes, but the frown remained. “And something, possibly unpleasant, coming out of the darkness.”
Gordon’s already subterranean spirits sank farther still. When Melinda leaned forward and placed a shining kiss on his cheek, they rallied and ascended slightly, rising toward the spot where the kiss shone on his face. “And also,” she continued, “that you’re gonna’ be OK, maybe even better than OK, whatever happens.”
“Better than OK?” he mused, “that would be an improvement.”
Melinda laughed. “Really,” she said, “remember that whatever happens, you’ll be better for it.”
“That’s reassuring.” Gordon offered her a pale smile. “Assuming you’re not bullshitting me about that last bit.”
He knew she wouldn’t and wasn’t, and Melinda, with a dramatic roll of her eyes, illustrated that she was aware of this. “I expect to see you in here next weekend,” she said.
Ironically, she was not so confident, or truthful, about this last bit as she had been about all the rest. Though it was not her nature to deceive, she let it stand because the firm date seemed to offer Gordon something that he needed at that particular moment. Something tangible to move toward, past the fear she had stirred into slithering life inside him.
As it transpired, many weeks passed before they saw one another again. When they did meet once more, Gordon would find himself pleased to report that not only was he all right, he was a better and stronger person.
R. Cody '06