“Crash!” Tim Collins woke with a start and nearly toppled out of his rickety bar stool as the thunder outside grew louder and the ominous storm grew closer.
“Bad storm, huh Tim?” Asked John, the bartender, his brows furrowed with worry. This was the understatement of the year, the small town hadn’t had a storm this bad in decades. Tim set his creased forehead on his sweaty palm on the bar.
“Uhhh...” Tim rubbed his temples, trying to rid himself of the pounding headache, “how long have I been out?”
“A few hours, you passed out after about the fifth shot. Now tell me, Tim, why did you come here? Not that I don’t want your business, but I know you promised Judy you’d stop drinking.” Tim used to be one of John’s best customers, but when he got drunk, he got angry. He used to storm out of the bar and head straight to his house, and though John would never confront Tim directly, word spread like a virus through the small town, and the purple marks hidden beneath Judy’s sunglasses were evidence enough. Finally, a dark Tuesday night, he came to John’s bar for one last drink, and as he stumbled out the door he told him that he had promised Judy he would stop drinking, so he wouldn’t be coming back to the decrepit old bar ever again. Though sad to lose one of his best customers, John was relieved, and things got quiet again around town, until Tim arrived that stormy Thursday night.
“Judy...” Tim started, but his eyes welled up with tears and the creases between John’s brows grew deeper. “She....she drowned on Tuesday night, in the lake near our house. I came home from your bar, and...I found her there, in that red dress she always wore, she must had been in the lake for hours. I called the police and ambulance and tried to bring her back, but she was gone. Police said it was an accident, that she fell in, but I really don’t know. The day before, I had been so drunk, so angry, I don’t even remember how badly I hurt her. I promised I’d never drink again, but I guess it was a promise made too late.”
“Tim, I’m so sorry.....I wish there was something I could do. But you should go home, getting drunk won’t do you any good now.” John looked down at the bar, scratching nervously at a peeling piece of paint.
“You’re right, Its to late now, and Judy wouldn’t want me to be here. Goodnight, John.” Tim trudged out of the bar, closing the creaking door behind him and opening his old umbrella to block the pounding rain, and starting down the path he took home everyday. The looming oaks along the path seemed to stretch their moss covered arms towards him, blocking the moonlight that strained to shine through the clouds and making the stormy night even darker. He shuffled along it, hoping to reach the lake soon that signaled he was nearing his home, yet hoping to never arrive their, as it would only be a reminder of his wife’s tragic death.
“Clank!” Confused, Tim looked down at his muddy shoes to see what they hit and made the noise. He noticed a small mug, turned upside down in the middle of the dark path. Puzzled, Tim picked it up and saw a small slip of paper underneath it, until then blocked from the pouring rain by the mug. Quickly, he picked both up and hurried down the rest of the path till he reached the old boat rental shop, where he could get a much quicker trip across the lake to his house than walking. Hurrying inside, he immediately recognized the mug in the flickering light, it was one with a red pattern on it, his wife’s favorite color. He gave it to her on their first anniversary, and she loved it ever since. A chill ran up his spine, “Why would Judy’s mug be in the middle of that path?” he thought. Next, he dropped his umbrella and opened the damp piece of paper and saw it was a note, written in the distinctly beautiful handwriting of his wife. It read:
Dear Tim, Wednesday April 7, 2011
I’m so sorry I am hurting you like this. I know you would never let me leave, this was the only way I ever could. I love you so much, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I know you promised you would stop drinking, and I wanted to believe you, but I couldn’t. I had to leave while I still had my life, and this was the only way. I’m so sorry.
Tim stumbled backwards, tripping over the stool behind him as his legs gave out and he sunk to the rotten floorboards, bracing himself against the peeling wall behind him. He reread the letter again and again, not able to believe the words on the page in front of him. She had faked her death, she was alive! Yet he held her dead body, felt her cold skin, how could it be? But the words were there, dated the day after his wife had died, yesterday. He was filled with ecstatic joy at the knowledge that she was alive, yet he a sinking feeling inside of him made him not fully able to believe it.
“Sir....Sir....SIR!” Tim jumped as he noticed the young man standing behind the counter in the shop was calling him. “Are you renting a boat tonight or not? We’re about to close.” The man stated.
“Sorry, yeah I’ll rent one motor boat, just for tonight. I’ll return it tomorrow.” Tim replied, still frazzled from the words of his wife’s letter. The rain had slowed enough that he wouldn’t need his umbrella anymore as man led him out to the dock, to give him the rental boat.
“Here you are.” The man said as he handed Tim the keys to the boat. He started to turn to walk back into the shop.
“Wait!” Tim shouted after him after seeing the boat. “This boat’s brand new, doesn’t it cost more to rent?”
Puzzled, the man turned back, “Sir, we’ve had those boats for years, its the same price.”
“Most confusing day of my life.” Tim mumbled as he got in the boat and started heading back to his house across the lake. The hazy glow of the moon seeped through the clouds across the choppy black water as Tim sped through, trying to get off the ominous lake as quickly as possible. As his house came into view through the foggy night, he saw a flash of red go through the back door of his house that faced the lake. “Judy” He instantly thought, remembering her red dress. But the figure was gone as fast as he saw it and he couldn’t be sure. Shutting off the motor as he pulled into the dock outside his house, Tim stumbled through the muddy grass, trying to reach his door and be reunited with Judy. He threw the door open and ran inside, slipping on the cold tile in the dark house, fumbling across the living room trying to find the light switch. When he flicked it on, he glanced around him, seeing his wife was no where to be found in the cold, quiet house. As he glanced at the table, he saw something red and wheeled around to face it. It was a red shirt, the same color red of his wife’s dress.
“Tim, you’re here. I’m glad you made it home okay.” John said, walking out of the kitchen toward Tim.
Tim jumped back and shouted, “What are you doing here? How did you get in? What’s going on?”
“I hate doing this Tim, I really do.” John muttered, his brows furrowed with worry and sadness. “But every year the same thing happens, and I’m the only one that knows what to do.”
“What are you talking about? Every year what happens? Where is Judy?” Tim asked, getting annoyed at Johns vagueness. He clutched the letter and mug tightly in his hands. John looked down at the items and sighed.
“I’m sorry, I don’t realize how much you make yourself forget. Judy is dead Tim, she didn’t fake her death.”
“But this note! It’s dated yesterday and she died on Tuesday! This is her handwriting, only hers!” Tim shouted, desperate for her to be alive.
“Yes, it is her note Tim, she wrote it and dated it the day of her death. She meant that the only way she could ever leave was by not telling you until she was already gone, not by faking her own death. She tried to leave in the rental boat you had parked on the dock, but she fell in and drowned before she could.” John wearily replied.
“But then how is it dated yesterday?!” Tim screamed.
“You changed the date on the note the day after her death, you wanted to make yourself believe she was still alive. Every year since then on the day of her death, you get so drunk you don’t remember a thing you do, so you drop the mug and note on the path on the way to the bar so that the next day you find it and think she is still alive. Every year I have to pick up the pieces and explain everything because you can never accept that she’s gone. Well she is gone Tim, she is gone! And there’s no amount of alcohol or letters from her in the world that can make her come back!” John shouted, all his emotions pouring out with his words. “And it’s not dated yesterday, it’s dated yesterday, 5 years ago. Today is Thursday, April 8, 2016.”
© Copyright 2016 Eliza Herin. All rights reserved.