The dread twisted cold around her middle. She wanted to run from it. She drank her morning coffee, closed her eyes for a second. She needed a new jogging suit like Vivian’s, with stripes winding up the ankles and calves. Then she could run from her anxiety. Sweat sat on her forehead and scalp. She should calm herself before she descended into a panic. Nothing was wrong; the world was turning; her heart was beating; she just had a terrible fear for Stan. He was only going to Florida to see his mother. Yes, his mother was ill; yes, she’d had a stroke, but she was eighty-five; it was to be expected. That was life, that was death.
She heard a siren in the distance. Ice burned her windpipe, clung to her heart.
She tried to take in a deep breath: that was the way to combat it. The breath opposed the panic. Where had she put her knit shorts? Where? Where? She needed a run. The last time she wore them was a few days ago. Ah, they were in the locker at the gym.
Where was her old jogging suit? She stepped into the laundry room, pawed through the dirty-clothes basket: her socks, his socks, shirt, reddish stain on the cuff. Blood? Dear God, was he hurt? She swallowed hard.
Stan walked into the kitchen. “Sleep well?” he asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee. He had a band-aid on his finger. “Just a paper cut,” he explained.
She kissed him on the cheek.
He looked out the window. “I hope the traffic’s not bad.” His voice was a little hoarse.
“Your mother is probably all right.”
“Yes,” he said, but he didn’t meet her eyes.
So she drove him to the airport and drove back home and put on a t-shirt and jeans.
There: she had outsmarted the dread. She sat on the bed to tie her shoelaces.
She turned and saw in the doorway a bloody thing, blood dribbling in ragged ribbons down a ragged face and hands. The plane had crashed and this was a revenant. Hundreds of people died. She looked closer: not Stan. Some unknown creature. It stepped toward her. She leaned back. Above its neck flashed Stan’s face and then her own face, then an unknown face with lipless grin, howling, teeth sharp. She averted her eyes. A voice shrilled. She brought her gaze back.
She blinked and it disappeared. Just Stan’s bathrobe hanging on the hook.
She wiped her face with a towel to get rid of the sick feeling. She left no afterimage , no Shroud-of-Turin shadow. Not even a shapeless blob.
She tossed the towel into the hamper.
Ready for running. But she wouldn’t be at ease until she got a call from Stan that he’d landed and was driving to Miami, had settled into his motel room, was going to visit his mother.
The phone shrilled. She reached for it, hand shaking.
published 16 March 2016