The Return

by: T.E. Cowell ((Header art by Anthony Caruso.))

A work of flash fiction dripping with the thickly ozze of an unfounded paranoia…

Emma left without a word. Jim had been reading a book on the back porch and working on his third beer of the day, and when he went back inside the house Emma was no longer there. Jim walked through all the rooms before desperately peering through the windows at the empty driveway, where Emma’s car had been earlier. When he saw that her car was no longer there, he was reminded that his heart still beat in his chest.

Jim had a feeling that Emma wasn’t coming back anytime soon, if ever. Jim didn’t know this for sure, of course, because he didn’t know anything in his life for sure, but this is what he felt, what he thought, and what he feared.

Retrieving another beer from the fridge, Jim popped it open and drank it for Emma, in her memory and in her honor. He’d loved her and was devastated she’d decided to leave, but also, strangely enough, he was glad she’d left — glad for her, that is. He imagined her driving to somewhere her prospects would be better. Maybe down to California, where her mother lived. He imagined her driving not just away from him but away from everything that had until now stood in her way. It wasn’t him, Jim thought, but her. She was doing this for herself.

Jim could hardly blame her, if he was to be honest with himself. Because what was this, when you got right down to it, this life they’d been leading? It wasn’t much. Jim was well aware that what he could offer was a life lacking, a life of never-ending bills to pay, of never-ending headaches. Emma had been smart to leave. Good for her. If she’d stayed much longer, she might’ve gotten trapped. And then, well, then they’d both be trapped.

Emma could do better, Jim thought. She was still relatively young. She could go back to school and finish up college. She could figure out what she wanted to do with her life. She could kick her bad habits and adopt healthy ones. She could learn to smile and laugh more, and to stop being in a funk so often.

Yes, Jim decided, Emma had been smart to leave — she’d done the right thing. She was going nowhere staying with him. Good for her, he thought once more. Good for her.

He finished his fourth beer of the day and then thought: what the hell, I might as well have another. He would get over her in due time, he knew, though it might take a while. Either way, he’d find another woman eventually that’d help take his mind off of her. Or maybe he wouldn’t find another woman. Maybe he’d be alone for the rest of his life. Maybe it was better that way, not for him, necessarily, but for her, the future woman or women of his life.

Suddenly headlights lit up the front of Jim’s house, and he was reminded once more that he possessed a beating heart. He watched Emma get out of her car and start walking towards the front door. He saw that she was carrying something, a brown paper bag. She opened the front door and stepped inside. She looked at Jim and said, “Thought I’d get a few groceries.” Jim nodded, turned around, and went back out onto the back porch. He tried to read some more of his book but he was too inebriated now, so instead of reading he just sat there, unsure of what he felt more of, disappointment or relief.


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