Postscript's short fiction contest: first place

Morgan Vanek
Morgan Vanek

Gloria still tells people that her husband disappeared. She lets the rest linger, leaves it up to the imagination of the listener: her sister pictures the piles of clothes, ribbed sweaters and pleated slacks, that he left with his smell still strong in the creases; her father imagines the bills coming in his name and Gloria’s tearful telephone calls to the collectors.

That’s all true: he did leave clothes, and sometimes she sits in the dark holding them in her lap, still folded, and closes her eyes. She did make phone calls to all the people that still send her water and air and television, and sometimes she cried when they put her on hold. There was more, too: eating alone, standing up in the kitchen over the sink again; sleeping like a starfish in the bed, limbs spread wide over the newly vast cotton space; showering for a very long time, just standing there in the wet with her mouth open until the hot water ran out.

She thinks she might be strange for holding those details so close: the relief, the freedom, the hollowing, the waiting and wondering and yawning of time and silence that opened up when he disappeared. She thinks it might be wrong to like to be alone so much, to not even be surprised that he’s gone; she thinks the police officers could hear it in her voice when she called to make Richard a missing person. “He could be anywhere by now, ma’am.” In a ditch; on a plane.

Seventeen months, two weeks, and three days after Richard did not come home when he said he would, she found the receipts for all the clothes he must have brought with him, for the luggage he packed them in, for the rental car. She left the police on the case, but is just a little bit flirtatious when they call, so they know not to look too hard. She thinks they think she’s a tart—she wore very red lipstick when she issued the statement about her disappeared husband—but she guesses it’s better to be entertaining, good for a little gossip and a laugh, than to waste all that civic time and money. And Richard did still disappear, and if the raccoon hadn’t toppled all the trash cans in the garage that she never emptied in the middle of the night, and she hadn’t been woken with a start by the bang and come down to all those papers she didn’t recognize blowing all over the garage in the dark, she wouldn’t have known what sort of a disappearance it was—and she didn’t see any reason why anyone else should know. She thinks, now, that Richard is a little perverse for having left those receipts around at all—emptying that can was something they used to not do together—but she forgives him just the same. She forgives him, because it’s her story now: Richard has left the picture, so to speak, and so now all the stories and sentences that used to be about him just sort of topple off into the void that he left for himself. Other people remember things, good times with friends at cottages and around dinner tables, but no one is tasteless enough to bring them up, so now it’s very much like Richard was never there at all—she has always been as bubbly and vivacious as if she was being loved, and all on her own.

Gloria’s neighbour’s husband disappeared, too; he went to Shanghai on business, and didn’t ever come home. He wrote, months later—and here Gloria says something about these men and their cowardly hiding behind time, as if they hope that the panic and grieving we women (and she’s so empowered and vibrant, waving around her hands and her glass of wine) do in the interim will cushion the blow of the truth somehow—to explain that he had met this woman, a woman older than Leanne, at a conference. And you know what that means, Leanne says with her eyes and eyebrows, with the twisted down corner of her mouth. Leanne says that she knew, though, and didn’t ever call the police. After phoning the airport to make sure the plane landed safely—and they told her, “Ma’am, it’s May,” like planes always land safely in the spring—she just sorted the mail and sat down with the latest listing of the classes offered at the Unitarian Church on Thursday and Sunday evenings. She signed up for yoga and light stretching; she made herself a cup of coffee and did not mow the lawn. She sat on Gloria’s porch step and watched her, carrying a basket of laundry—all denim and purple lacy bras now—on her hip and waving at the police officers as they drove by.

The women think they should go on a trip together; they joke about leaving in the middle of the night, taking rental cars and buying clothes when they get there, about meeting men on the beach and at the bar and staying in paradise with them. Misunderstanding, their respective children agree, and tell them to get out of the house. “We’ll get somebody to watch the cats,” they say, “and we’ll come by to get the mail so nobody tries to break-in.” Gloria laughs at this, her mouth wide and her eyes tight. They are women alone in huge houses, houses made for families complete with bounding animals and teenagers. Nobody tries to break-in now, and there is, she and Leanne tell themselves, something to break-in for, something easily accessible there each evening, watching television alone on the couch and drinking one, maybe two bottles of wine apiece. They fall asleep snoring and wake up sweating, cotton-mouths edged with purple, when the sun rises to its afternoon high. If Leanne doesn’t come out for a few days, Gloria will knock once or twice and peer in the living room windows, but no more than that. If the blankets are heaped on the couch and it’s dark, why bother? Gloria shakes her head at her son and laughs. A trip, he recommends, and not to worry about the mail. Who would notice if they were gone, she asks—and are their houses worth more to the watching eyes of the world without the women inside?

Gloria goes shopping for an ottoman. Richard didn’t take any of his furniture with him, of course, but she says that the rooms seem empty—the word she wants is damning, but it’s a Tuesday morning—without him, and she has started to appreciate clutter. She finds comfort in it, she tells the salesgirls; they have seen her here before, buying endtables and lamps. Today’s salesgirl is chatty, young enough to have gone to school with Gloria’s children. How frightening, Gloria thinks, fingering the tassel on a wide, round chair, that she should also be old enough to hold a job, a real job, like this one. The girl says she doesn’t know what she would do if her boyfriend—they live together, she says, her voice rising to a squeal, and it’s going on fourth months—just disappeared. “I would think it was my fault, you know?” she says. “But I guess there’s nothing you could really do to prevent it. It’s not as if he chose to leave—you two always looked so happy. So I guess that’s got to be the worst part, doesn’t it?” Gloria nods absentmindedly. Another salesgirl, this one with an ear for gossip, walks by. There’s something in her eyes, circled with light blue pencil, that makes it easy for Gloria to imagine the two talking about her as soon as she leaves.

“What happened?” she asks, leaning over a couch. Gloria sits down on the ottoman that she will probably not buy today.

“My husband disappeared.”

“Just like that? That’s unbelievable.”

“Just like that,” Gloria says. “Totally unbelievable.”

Morgan Vanek, ArtSci '07

Morgan Vanek is alarmed that she will be completing her undergraduate degree in English, with a minor in development studies, in less than two months. She’s grateful that the Journal has been willing to publish her work so many times, and particularly gets a kick out of seeing her stories printed in their original forms shortly after she’s revised them; this one, for instance, is now about a very long boat ride and features more men with bigger beards. She’s excited by the sudden new interest in prose on the Queen’s creative writing scene, too, because she thinks that poems—for all their poignant brevity—have been stumping student writers for far too long now. Morgan is from Peterborough, originally, and Kingston, for a little while longer. Her work is forthcoming in Lake Effect 3.

This is her second time placing as a finalist in the Journal’s short fiction contest; she wins a $50 gift certificate from Novel Idea.

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