The Path Not Followed

It was raining hard. The wipers on my car thwapped back and forth, as fast as they could go, and still I couldn’t see much of anything out there. My hands, wrinkled and liver-spotted, gripped the wheel so hard my knuckles went white.

Lights from the city flashed by in a blur. Not a soul walked these streets on a night like tonight.

A few minutes later the rain seemed to part and I saw, illuminated under a streetlight, a lone figure standing. Water dripped from his hat, coat pulled tight.

I pulled my cab over to rescue this poor man. He climbed into the cab, sighing in quiet relief.

“Thanks,” he said. I knew that voice. My hands clenched tighter on the wheel. He took his hat off, his white hair glowing softly in the rearview mirror.

We made eye contact in the mirror.

In an instant, his expression changed from pleasant to repulsed.

“Harry,” he spat.

“Arlo,” I said mildly, willing my voice to be even. “Where to?”

Arlo reached for the door handle, but stopped halfway there. He looked out the window. The rain showed no signs of letting up. He closed his eyes for a moment, then looked back at me in the mirror.

He gave me an address halfway across the city.

“She broke my heart when she didn’t wait, you know.” After several minutes of silence, Arlo’s voice made me jump. “I thought she’d wait.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. After fifty years of marriage, I hardly thought about Arlo anymore. In the beginning, though, he was all I thought about.

“We thought you were dead,” I said. As if that could erase what we did. As if that explained our betrayal.

“She was all I thought about when I was over there. The thought of coming home to her kept me sane, even when my buddies were dying all around me. Even when they captured me. And then…”

“We thought you were dead,” I whispered again. I didn’t think he heard me over the rain hammering the roof.

“How is she? Marlene.” He said her name like it was holy. I wondered if I sounded like that when I said it.

“She died. Three years ago. Cancer.”

Arlo bowed his head. We had something else in common now. Missing the woman we both loved.

I pulled up in front of his address.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “For what it’s worth. She loved you. I was always second fiddle.” I reached into the glove box and pulled out a stack of envelopes. “She wrote these for you. One every year for Valentine’s Day. She didn’t think I knew.”

I turned around in my seat and handed them to Arlo. He took them in his shaking hands, the knuckles deformed and arthritic.

“Why do you have them in your taxi?” he asked.

“Guess I just couldn’t keep them in the house, but couldn’t get rid of them either. I know these don’t make up for what we did, but…”

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Silence descended again, but this time it wasn’t quite as heavy.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. those letters made me tear up. Sweet and sad.

    Liked by 1 person

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