For your viewing displeasure, I present to you another failed attempt at NPR’s Three Minute Fiction. This time, the story had to start with, “She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.” This one is based on a novel I’m working on.
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Upon her entry, there existed only whiteness. Her pupils constricted and gradually she saw green, and then blue, until the entirety of the spectrum adjusted into focus. What she saw was not what she expected. It looked so much like home yet maintained an eerie surrealism, as if too flawless, too precise. It was a collage of green grass and prairie daisies, oak trees, dandelions, and creeks with wooden bridges. Houses had picket fences and peony bushes, while others sat in the shadows of tall pines. Vicki saw the familiar red orbs of an apple tree and there, leaning against its trunk, was her husband wearing a smile like the sunrise. She ran to him and they embraced and kissed and cried. He held her and she looked at his face and ran her hand across his forehead.
The accident, she said, it —
Shhh, Rick replied. Let’s get you settled in.
Vicki looked at the tree and touched the bark. It looks just like the one we had, she said.
I planted it after I arrived. Do you like it?
I love it, she replied. But then she looked through him, past him, into a distance she did not comprehend. Rick, she said, after the accident, I —
Later, he said.
He took her hand and showed her their home. Everything was the same as it had been before. The patio had the chipped stone where Rick dropped a hammer. Behind the ferns was a bird bath, given up, it would seem, to antiquity.
But how did you do this? she asked.
Her husband smiled and kissed her on the cheek. I got bored.
They went inside and sat at the kitchen table. Rick started the coffee and toasted some English muffins and spread them with butter and strawberry jam. The two of them sat together and ate. Occasionally she glanced out the window, faintly aware of the splinter that sat entombed but aching in her mind. When Rick caught her in reverie, he rubbed the skin between her fingers and pinched at her fingertips.
Not everyone chooses to come through, he said.
Did you read it? he asked.
She nodded again.
I didn’t. I thought about it. I sat for a long time in that chair considering it, but in the end I just didn’t want to know.
Vicki wiped away a tear. I need to tell you, she said.
No you don’t.
She continued, After the accident, I — I met someone else. I was with him. For a long time. He was awful to me, but I stayed. He was everything you weren’t. But I was so angry at you after the accident. You left me. It wasn’t your fault, but I hated you for being gone. For leaving me.
Her husband pulled a soft pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket. He removed one and tapped it on the heel of his hand and he looked at her and didn’t blink or look away.
Did you love him? he asked.
She put her face in her hands. I thought I did.
Do you love me?
Yes, she said, barely above a whisper.
He leaned in close to her and she breathed in the familiar aroma of earth and sandalwood. He cupped her chin in his hand and waited for her to open her eyes. A tear fell.
This was after I died? he asked.
Then what does it matter, now that we’re together?