Not a Game of Hide-and-Seek


This is the first assignment: Iowa Writing Workshop



Madelaine held the letter as she watched the door swing shut.  The engine was chu-chu-chu-ing in a repetitive beat, vibrating even the envelope between her fingers. Garish reflections pulsed across the window shield keeping time to neon signs and immobilizing her mind until she heard the psssss of the air brakes releasing, and felt the bus move away from the depot.

The letter was a complication. It was serendipitous that Madelaine had noticed it, for there had never been mail delivered for her. Only junk mail and, occasionally, something for Edward Carnes or current resident. After all this time with nothing coming for her, she had not troubled to either forward mail or to stop delivery.

After all, the nondescript apartment was only a stop-over, never any place she intended to stay. Her purpose had been to become lost, and Madelaine had successfully been lost for exactly three years, four months, and ten days. She asked herself if she stayed so long from a resolve not to be found, or was it simply to delay the inevitable conclusion. In the end she had counted the days down, measuring her time in dollars and cents.

To be embarrassingly frank, there was no money for rent. A Walmart greeter was never intended to support a life; rather to have something to do, away from a dismal life. There had been a gradual diminution of savings until there was only money for a one-way bus ticket to Newport with enough left over for an all-you-can-eat shrimp dinner at Sizzler: not much more.

She would eat her shrimp as she watched the Pacific Ocean disappear into darkness. Of course, Madelaine wasn’t on a bus, traversing three states, in order to watch the ocean dissolve into night while she ate shrimp. It had been a long time—three years, four months, and ten days—but if Robert was still fishing out of Newport, he would be at the Sizzler at eight o’clock on any Friday night of the world.

Madelaine didn’t look anything like the Madelaine Robert would remember. Leaving Robert had not been a game of hide-and-seek.  She had re-invented herself, intending never to be discovered. An overweight, mousy, blowsy brunette sitting in a corner eating shrimp would not attract his attention.

Watching him, unobserved, would corroborate her decision: or not. She must be sure, as there could be no do-overs. Madelaine had imagined herself disappearing under unforgiving water, being swept away; imagined it over and over again and was no longer terrified. To drown was her expectation. She didn’t expect that the slick wash of deceit could be expurgated, because she deep-down knew Robert. Still, Madelaine wanted to believe in miracles.

The letter was a complication. Madelaine found herself feeling remorseful–not for Robert, not for herself, and it was too late to be sorry for Barbara—only for Emily. She would sit in the corner booth and spy on Robert. If he was still in Newport he would be there—he was a predictable man. Then she would read Emily’s letter and decide if there was, perhaps, could possibly be, a different inevitability.

M L Spaulding Baisch © 2015