I can tell by this late September morning that we are going to have a very cold winter this year. As I travel west bound, the horizon is a panorama of cumulus clouds like a line of puffy pop-up toys that are playing hide and seek behind the hips and gables as my car rises and falls with the hilly road. On the other hand, the puffs could have been of the nimbus kind since they were directly stacked against some of the blackest stratus thunderheads I have ever seen. I am sure they will all bring more rain or perhaps even a storm.
And there she goes again, the “highway patrol”. She caught my eye and I could not help turning my head to look at her out of my driver window – engulfed in her morning ritual of strolling up and down the highway in a mammy’s headwrap and lab coat. Someone might think she had a problem the way she stared ahead like she was entranced – never turning around, never diverting her attention eslewhere. And yet, her free swinging arms and pursed lips indicated a sense of determination.
I looked to my immediate right, where a two-story house sat on the corner. A long driveway extended from the road to the garage at the back of the house. And there stood Robert, dressed comfortably in shorts and a T-shirt – the punk mutha…fuhgeddit. I’ll let that slide. But he thinks he’s slick, unpacking his trunk like the perfect neighbor. Not to worry. He will get what’s coming to him.
I finally arrived at the housing community where I’m trying to maintain and made a right through the entrance. I saw a group of children walking to school and was appalled. The boys wore their pants far below their butts with red rags hanging out of their back pockets. Man, these kids just don’t know…how is anybody gonna bang in the burbs? Drop these punks off on Grape Street in Cali and they’ll be runnin’ for their lives.
When I pulled into the driveway, I reached into the passenger seat to gather my briefcase and jacket, leaned out of the driver seat, closed and locked the car. I trudged the narrow walkway like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, mounted the porch and unlocked the front door. I sighed at the decorative mirror that stood on the floor facing the wall – that six months ago held my reflection which greeted me religiously upon my crossing the threshold. Without giving it a third thought, I proceeded down the long hallway. There hung another mirror on the opposite wall but it was covered with a pillowcase. I followed the curve of the bar counter where the land line was plugged into the wall. A bright red number one stared back at me until I tapped the play button.
Derek, it’s your homeboy Rob. Meet me at the Starbucks on Beltline at five – got some information – later.
Having assumed a stance like a pillar of salt with the exception of darting eyes, I finally managed to press the delete button. I entered the master suite and dropped my things onto the floor. I stepped into the bathroom where I froze at the entrance. the blanket that once stretched across the expanse of the large, rectangular mirror had failed me. The top right corner had fallen and draped loosely over the top of the sink. I faced the mirror dead-on. Everything seemed normal – until – my reflection was leaning on the door jamb which was odd because I was standing upright, firmly planted on both my feet. The same tapered afro and sideburns. My eyes fluttered and then I frowned at the sinister grin on my face. My chest began to heave with rapid breath coursing through it.
“Why did you leave her, Derek?” It spoke.
“I didn’t leave her!” I shouted. “I took some time off to think,” I started pacing before the mirror. “And when I got back…” I turned away from my reflection.
“You left her!”
“I didn’t!” I grabbed the blanket and yanked it up and over the mirror, and held it in place as I groped for the staple gun in one of the drawers. Just as I shot a few staples across the top, hands protruded through the blanket and I jumped back and out of the bathroom, landing onto the bed.
I heard the splattering of large raindrops on the walls of the house and even louder on the panes when I came back to the world, almost like the clinking together of drinking glasses. I swiped a hand at some drool that had been escaping my lips and knew that I had blacked out in combination with taking a nap because the clock on the nightstand read 4:15pm.
I thought as I scrambled out of the bed to get ready for my appointment with Robert. The scent of freshly brewed coffee, berries, cinnamon and chocolates of hot pastries filled my nose when I opened the door to Starbuck’s. Robert acknowledged my entrance and motioned for me to sit with him at a square table for two adjacent to a glowing fireplace. The perfect ambiance for a dark, rainy day. Robert cocked his head to one side and leaned back in his chair.
“What’s up?” He asked.
“Nothin’.” I mumbled taking my seat.
He raised his eyebrows and folded his hands beneathe his chin – elbows propped on the table. “How’s business?”
I smirked at his sarcastic inquisitiveness. “C’mon man, you know I’m strugglin’, trying’ to make ends meet because you screwed me out of our business deal and left me hangin’ – all to pursue your new found career as a full time P.I.”
Robert rolled his eyes and leaned back in his chair.
“…And the only reason I’m talkin’ to you now is because of some information you’re suppose to have about my wife – assistance I solicited long before any business deal. So cut the crap.
“All right. He flashed flat open palms. There are no records of your wife after her release from the hospital.”
“What do you mean no records? I thought you said you had information – I mean, that’s why I’m here!”
“I know – that was it!” He gave a blank stare across the table when a thunder clap roared.
I stammered. “S-So that’s it?”
“I’m afraid so…” Robert was reaching into his breast pocket.
“No! Who was she released to?”
“You.” He handed me a document.
“I don’t remember signing this.”
“Isn’t that your signature?”
“Yeah but I couldn’t have signed this because she was gone when I came back. Besides,” I frowned. “…if I had signed this and she was released to me, she would be with me!”
The thunder was an angry lion on the roof.
“Shh…would you keep it down?” Robert’s eyes darted from one side of the building to the other.
I lowered my tone to a whisper. “…But she’s not, so where is she?”
“I can keep digging.” He stared reassuringly leaning into the table and nodding.
I sighed heavily in a great huff like a naughty child and leaned back into my seat.
So these were the adventures of my days: work the night shift, ride the road, go home, experience a mental trip and look for my wife. A crisp December morning found me on the road again – heading home. And there she was again, the Highway Patrol. She maintained the same steady pace, free swinging arms – and the lab coat? I squinted at the small figure traveling against traffic. That’s not a lab coat after all – that’s a man’s collared shirt – and the mammy’s headwrap is gone. Pretty light brown hair like my Lisa. Uh-oh, she’s turning this time? I continued my nosy gaze through the rear view mirror as I passed her. She turned into Robert’s driveway! I never knew he had anyone. When I pulled into my driveway and turned the car off, I gathered my things the way I always did. I approached the door, unlocked it and entered. I proceeded down the hallway not giving a thought to the covered mirrors this time. Although it was early, I was anxious to get to the phone. Once there, I raised it out of the cradle and dialed Robert’s number.
“Hello,” His weary voice answered.
“Hey,” I started. “I didn’t realize you were married.”
“What?” He yawned.
“The Highway Patrol – the woman who walks along the highway every morning – I saw her turn into your driveway.”
“Oh yeah, I’m sorry – I’m a little groggy this morning – I keep telling her to walk at the park down the street. She’s really determined to do what she wants you know?”
“Yeah, I guess women are that way.” I suggested.
“Well look, I gotta go – talk to you later.” He seemed to rush off the phone.
A gust of wind burst through the city the next day and snatched off a few window screens. It scattered them all over the yard. It blew sheets of rain through the sliding back door I had opened for fresh air. My dining room table was thoroughly drenched before I closed it. The temperature continued to drop and the wind did not cease to rustle the trees. I thought I could feel wisps of it trickling through the air vents and all through the house. It soon brought flurries through the neighborhood in droves.
The scene beyond the glass, back door held my interest. In an attempt to approach it and look out, I froze – planted in place. The pillow case that once covered the mirror on the wall opposite the hallway was GONE. I thought to turn away but had an impulse to approach it and obeyed. Already panting, the moment I peered into it, my reflection was chuckling.
“You’re gonna burn in hell for what you did.” It kept laughing.
“No!” I yelled, then managed the strength to growl back at it. “You burn in hell and leave me alone!”
“Why me? You’re the one who left her.”
“I did not leave her!”
“Yes, you did!”
“No! I didn’t know what to do! When that car accident messed up her face…” I stumbled back and forth before the mirror. “I gave the doctors all the information they needed for surgery and…” I looked back at the mirror unable to stop the tears.
“You left her…” It whispered.
“No, I went away to think!” My throat became dry and began to crack from the yelling. “Yeah I guess I stayed away too long,” I mumbled, facing my reflection when suddenly it grabbed me by the collar.
“No!” I struggled to free myself which was not successful until I yanked hard. I stumbled away from the mirror just knowing that groping hands were reaching for me. But without another look, I plunged down the hallway in a frantic pant. I snatched the front door open to escape and slipped in ice upon stepping onto the porch. I knocked someone down as I fell on my back. With my head in the person’s lap, I was able to gaze into a face.
“Derek, what’s going on?” A female voice asked. It was the “Highway Patrol”.
“What…Who are you?”
“What do you mean who am I? I’m your wife silly – I heard yelling from the sidewalk – I had an odd feeling that walking that road was somehow good for me. I heard your voice and it all came back to me so I came up to the house.”
“My wife…” I chattered a whisper.
“The doctor said my memory would return unexpectedly one day.” She stroked my face.
“But I saw you go to Robert’s house.”
“I’ve been staying with him ever since we left the hospital together.”
“But he said I signed the release papers.” I explained, finally sitting up.
“No, it had to be him. I once found a sheet of paper on his desk where he’d been practicing your signature. Even when you called him a friend long ago, I never trusted him – I always felt he was jealous of you and even caught him looking at me inappropriately a few times.”
“My Lisa?” I smiled and caressed her face. “You look so different.”
“I always felt something was wrong when I went home with him – he fixed the guest room for me until I felt comfortable but I never did.
“And you still have on that lab coat – I mean shirt – and it’s cold out here!”
She looked down at herself. “I don’t know why I…” She gaped, thinking. “It was in my bag at the hospital.”
Then I noticed a fine red thread peeking out from the armpit. “Hey, that’s my shirt!” I exclaimed raising her arm to get a better look.
“Yeah, I sewed the hole for you with red thread because I didn’t have any white!” She looked at me laughing and I saw those familiar, happy eyes. I threw my arms around her.
“I’m so sorry I left you.” I whispered in her ear just knowing she would forgive me, and never again would my guilty conscience pose as my reflection again.