Trey Mayfield is currently in the Creative and Professional Writing Program at Central Washington University. He is 23, happily married to his high school sweetheart, has a cat named August, and aspires to teach English. His first published work was a poem within Central Washington University’s annual journal The Manastash in 2016. When he isn’t writing in all different genres for the many classes he is taking, you can catch him fishing or making music with his friends.
“Honey, come on. I’m hungry. Hurry up and find your boots.” I sigh. My stomach complains loudly in agreement. After thirteen years, four months, and twenty-one days of marriage, you would think she could keep track of her boots. Sarah is always misplacing her things. Even in a closet of a room in a closet of a house, her things never turn up where she “left” them.
The apartment is not really an apartment. It never is in Tacoma. They are just small rooms with a toilet installed in each closet in a small shotgun house. The houses seem to be built for a family of four and maybe a dog, painted in colors that remind me of mom’s house. Instead, some wise guy thought it would be cool to turn a three-bedroom house into a five-bedroom apartment. My landlord calls it space optimization.
We look in every corner of the room: in the chest with the other shoes, underneath the curtains of the window, the sides of the bed pushed up against the wall, in the bathroom closet. Nowhere to be found. My stomach gargles again, making sure everyone can hear it.
“I’ll just go barefoot again. I like that better anyways.” She explains. I try to argue but hunger gets the best of me. She likes to splash her bare feet in the rain puddles as we walk. I swear, she is thirty-three, looks twenty-three, and acts fifteen. But if she is happy, I am happy.
I fasten my boots, tuck in my plaid pajama bottoms tightly into the boots, slug on my raincoat and begin the pat-down. Wallet. Check. Keys. Check. Flip-phone. Check. I reach for my keys and feel something circular, cold and familiar in my pocket. I pause. A shock flashes through my body, and a slow ache in the middle of my chest begins to form.
“Is everything alright, love?” Sarah asks, worry painted across her features. I shake it off, grab the keys to lock up the apartment, and walk out the door.
“Yeah, everything is fine, honey.” I try to convince her. We step out of the apartment and turn to lock the door. After, I give her a half-hearted smile, reach for her hand, and start down the stairs to the exit. The shock, it felt familiar. I try to remember, but I can’t think over my stomach yelling at me for a double-double burger. We step outside and start our Saturday morning trek down to our favorite Saturday morning restaurant. I squeeze her hand tightly, forgetting the weird exchange completely, rubbing the slow ache in the center of my chest.
“Isn’t the rain just lovely?” she says this every time it rains. She gazes out to Commencement Bay far past the blocks of houses and marvels at the droplets bouncing off the water. I watch her admire the rain as we walk. I love watching her. Her bright blue eyes wide with excitement, her auburn loose curls bouncing with every step, her washed out blue jeans cuffed up to her calf, her bare feet and her yellow rubber rain coat that is three sizes too big. She loves the coat. She says she feels like Curious George stomping in the rain puddles in her coat. Don’t get me wrong, it is ugly, but I adore her in it. People used to stare at her, wondering why a thirty-three-year-old woman is prancing around the rain with no shoes on like a five-year-old. I never cared. Her smile expresses an inner joy that warms me to my core. I will do anything, give anything, to keep that smile around. Then she turns to me and smiles brighter. She plants super-butterflies in my stomach, the kind that flutter so much, your stomach feels like it will burst. Her spirit is one of the many things I love about her.
We walk down the steep hill alongside North Tacoma Avenue not saying a word but enjoying the rain and good company. I see the tall pink neon sign hanging amidst the clouds: Shake Shake Shake.
“Wipe your feet before we go inside, alright baby? We don’t want a repeat of last time.” I tease.
She throws me a playful glare in return. “That hasn’t happened in a very long time. I didn’t know the mud was stuck to my feet.”
“You are just lucky they adore you. No one else gets in without shoes on.” She just smiles and walks toward the front door. She flips her curls over her shoulders in a mock sense of arrogance, and my heart flutters at the scent of coconut and vanilla her hair left behind.
“They can’t help it, I just have that effect on people.” She teases. I know she’s joking, but it is true. She has no idea the impact she leaves on people. I call her my little ball of sunshine.
I rush ahead of her in an earnest attempt to be a gentleman, grab the door, and hold it open for her. I gesture her into the establishment with a wave of my hand. She wipes her feet first.
“Oh, thank you, sir.” She mocks through a smile.
“your welcome, milady.”
We maneuver past the first cluster of tables and reach the bar. My stomach leaps for joy knowing what is to come. A calm soothes over me every time I look around this place. Splashes of pink and blue on the white walls, neon tubes of pink lining the underside of the bar, shiny aluminum counter-tops. The colors make me think of cotton candy. We served pink, blue and purple cotton-candy at our wedding. It looked like beautiful colorful clouds, bringing everyone joy. Cotton candy is Sarah’s favorite. I rub the ache in my chest as it wells up again.
I snap out of my reminiscing with the crawling feeling of eyes all over me. I glance around, everyone is watching carefully. Sarah looks around nervously as well. Strange. Then I remember: big yellow coat, no boots. She tends to get this sort of reaction from people. They act cautious at first, like a dog facing punishment. But not even five minutes later, she swoons them all with her radiance. She is like the sun; anyone who comes close have no choice but to orbit around her light and warmth to survive. I double check nothing gross is on me through the shiny napkin holder when the server comes up to take our order. Relief eases the crawling feeling when I recognize Jesse standing in front of us. A familiar, friendly face. Jesse would tell jokes to women in hopes to score their number. He is twenty-two and is bored at work, I don’t blame him. His jokes were always clever and funny too. His face is calculated and serious today though.
“Hey Ben, how you doin’?” He asks. There is a hint of carefulness in his tone.
“We’re good. Just enjoying the rain. ya’ know, the usual.” I respond, trying to lighten the mood. The look on his face tells me it didn’t seem to work.
“Okay. I just wanna make sure your feeling good today, alright?” I am completely lost. I continue to massage my chest to subdue the ache.
“Yeah, yeah, no problem, I guess.” I shoot Sarah an apologetic, nervous chuckle, and she reciprocates it. The air is starting to get weird. She whispers in my ear:
“People get weird on rainy days. Don’t let em’ ruin our Saturday, okay baby?” I flash her an understanding smile and breathe out the tense air. Jesse must have noticed.
“Hey, hey, don’t worry about it, okay? How’s my favorite guy today? You want the usual? The Double-Double Burger, fries, and a blueberry-strawberry swirl milkshake?” Jesse proceeds to bring the mood back up to Shake Shake Shake’s standard, happy atmosphere.
“Don’t forget Sarah, she wants the Saturday Special.” I reply. She lights up, adding a little jump in her seat trying to contain her excitement. I chuckle at her. She is a sucker for pancakes. He pauses for a quick second. She flashes her beautiful smile, which usually makes him blush. Instead, sorrow floods his eyes. As quick as the emotion came, it left his eyes, moving from his notepad with our orders back to us with a typical arrogant smile. He must be just having a bad day. Maybe struck out again this morning.
I scan my surroundings, hoping to change the subject. Just when I need it, I notice the paper calendar reading: Wednesday March 8. I chuckle
“Hey, Jesse, I think your super serving skills are slipping a little. It is Saturday, March 11th.” I point in the direction of the calendar.
“Huh… Oh, yeah, uh, I forgot to, uh, change it. Hold on a sec.” Jesse says between spurts of nervous chuckles. He walks over, hesitates to rip the calendar, then tears at the date until Saturday shows up. I notice he folds the other dates up into his pocket instead of tossing them into the trash. it’s Saturday, right? I don’t get Jesse today. The ache turns into a sharp pain and makes me clench my chest. Focus on breathing. Sarah puts her hand on my back and rubs it in circles. I am sure she means to take the pain away, and definitely helps. Jesse shakes his shaggy black hair in efforts to shake off the strangeness of the interaction.
“No, no, you’re right. My bad hombre. My mistake. Saturday pancakes for the beautiful lady, coming right up!” Jesse apologizes, then stalks off in an air of frustration. I wave off the exchange, but the fear isn’t shaking. I should call the doctor. This chest pain is not normal.
“Weird, right?” Sarah laughs, shaking her head. Seeing her curls bounce relaxes my breathing again. I don’t know what I would do without her.
“Yeah, super weird.” I agree. I pull out my old Motorola Razr to try to find Dr. Roberts’ number. I flip it open and hold the power button. No dice. I could have swore I charged it last night. I really don’t want to learn how to use those smart phones. I try the button again. Nothing. Shit. I tinker with it some more, giving the contraption my focus. I didn’t notice the bell above the front door ring. I didn’t notice two men maneuvering passed the first section of tables to reach the bar. I look up to see a man in an old-fashioned leather jacket grasping onto the back of Sarah’s seat. I tense up. She is staring off into space humming a song I can’t make out. She doesn’t notice him, and he doesn’t notice her. The man in the leather jacket is engulfed in conversation. He doesn’t notice Sarah as he lifts his leg to sit in her seat. My chest flares as I stand.
“Whoa, hey! What the hell are you doing?” I yell at the man. I must have startled him with my volume; he steps back in shock and then steps forward to confront me. the ache is sharp, but my anger keeps the adrenaline pumping. I have had enough with this day.
“What’s your problem? I am taking a seat. Everywhere else is full.” He replies. His gaze and fury met mine.
“don’t you see my wife sitting there? You almost sat on her. You need to open your eyes and move along.” I don’t want to fight the guy, but I’m losing my grip. The knot in my chest hurts so bad. Just as he steps closer, I lose my balance. The pain is too much: I grab at my chest and white knuckle the back of the seat. I hunch over, choking on the pain. My eyes shut, I see fragments in the blackness. I hear Sarah faintly calling. Ben. Ben! I try to regain my strength and coherence, but the room is blurry. She is probably furious with me for losing it. I talk myself back up. Come on, get ahold of yourself. Breathe in, breathe out. Stand up. Clutching my chest still not seeing clearly with the room spinning, I hoist myself back up.
“I.. I’m, sorry. I’m gonna… go… bathroom.” I barely get the words out over my breath. I don’t wait to see concerned or scared eyes from everyone around, including Sarah, and stalk off to the bathroom in the back.
Still hunched, I shrug to the bathroom door. Water. I turn on the faucet, plunge my head under it, and breathe. Happy thoughts. Sarah. Her jumping puddles. Twirling in the rain. Her smile. Sarah. The pain begins to ease, finally. I take a sip of the water, trying to ignore the sulfuric taste it brings. Breathing heavy, I glance at the mirror ahead of me. I haven’t shaven in awhile, and I look tired. Not just in my face, but in my eyes. I am getting old. I almost don’t recognize the thirty-three-year-old man staring back at me. I’ll call Dr. Roberts when I get home.
I gather myself to face Sarah and the others as I exit the bathroom. I will apologize for getting angry. The weird air must be me not feeling well. I peek around the corner, dreading the confrontation, and notice Sarah isn’t in her seat, but the man in the leather jacket and Jesse are still talking. The pain creeps back into my chest, pulsing at me.
“Don’t mind him, that’s just Ben. He comes here everyday thinkin’ his wife is still here. It’s been this way for months, thinks everyday is Saturday. It’s a damn shame n’ all, but lately things are gettin’ worse. I don’t know, just play along to keep the peace, will ya?” The man nods.
My ears burst from the rage in my chest. What the hell are they talking about? I can’t stop, I stomp in their direction. I am losing my grip.
The man in the leather jacket sees my coming in his direction and tenses up.
“Oh, hey, sorry. We will find somewhere else to sit. Didn’t see your, uh, wife sittin’ there.” The man explains. I can’t seem to catch my breath. I don’t get it. Where is she? I took another stride closer in fury and Jesse hops the counter to block my way. He presses firmly on my shoulders. Jesse is strong.
“Where did my, my wife, go?” I breathe.
“Hey Ben, man, I’m sure she’s coming back. Maybe the bathroom or somethin’. Don’t worry about it, alright? Take a seat, I’ll get you the usual, eh?” Jesse acts like he’s conversing with an angry bear. I take a step back. Everyone is watching me. I can’t think about sitting back down, I am still trying to breathe. My chest, the pain welling up, but deeper. It spread like a virus, now a crack in the concrete instead of a hole in the ground. I slowly bring my hand underneath my shirt and press against the pain. My fingers trace a line. It runs down the middle of my chest, like a baked potato cut open, then sowed back up again. The scar hurts, hurts bad. I hear Dr. Roberts’ words in my head: It will heal. It’s odd that it hurts, but it will heal. Just like all wounds, it takes time. I pull my trembling hand out, then slide it back to my keys pocket. The hard, cold circle. Tears crash onto the ground like raindrops on the bay as I stare at the ring. Her ring. No. No no no. I catch the flash of light from a car driving by. It seemed so bright, I felt blind. I stagger back into a table with a family sitting at it, just watching. Like watching a horror film. The tears flood my eyes, I can’t see. My mind’s eye racing with traces of flashing car lights, a stormy night, and Sarah yelling my name. Ben! The rooms spins as I grip my chest and repeat: no, no, no, no. Jesse takes a step closer.
“Ben, take it easy man. You will be okay. She will be back. She comes back everyday. Just breathe, man.” She comes back everyday. I stare at Jesse, looking in his brown eyes for something, anything to hold onto. Things go silent.
“Where is she?” I breathe
“She… She’s gone, man.” No. No. NO! I thrash backward, knocking the family’s table over, sending their fries and shakes all over the room, scaring a holler out of the wife and children. I push Jesse off. The door bell goes off as I throw myself out of the restaurant and into the rain. Sarah. My Sarah.
Outside, the rain blends with the tears, but I can still feel them coming. The sharp pain in my scar is accompanied by the crushing weight on my shoulders. How did I forget? Who have I been talking to? Everyday? Too heavy to walk home, I stop, lean against a street light pole, and watch the tears fill a puddle, breathing in her name in and out, trying to survive.
After a moment that felt like hours, listening to the cars splash by, I trudge up the hill alongside North Tacoma Avenue, each step harder than the last. I look toward the rain and stop again.
I hear Sarah: isn’t there rain lovely? My eyes shut. I breathe deeply….
I hear the splash of a puddle and peek an eye downward. A barefoot woman in a yellow rain coat smiles at the puddle her feet stomped into, then she stomps again. I breathe: coconut and vanilla. I level my head and the weight lifts off my shoulders. Sarah turns her head and smiles deviously.
“Sarah” I breathe through a grin. The pain dulls as I rub my chest. I feel tears on my face. No, that can’t be right. We must be outside taking a walk in the rain. I know she loves the rain. I must have been lost in thought while on auto-pilot. I return her smile.
“You’re gonna get my PJ’s all wet.” I tease. She gives another splash in my direction and laughs. There it is, the sun pulling me into orbit. The joyful euphoria succumbs to the growls of my stomach. She looks at me with radiance.
“What’s wrong, Ben?”
“come on, it’s Saturday. let’s go get some food.” Nothing is wrong when I am with you. I glance at her feet again and smile.
“But first, let’s go home and find your boots.”