Unlikely Invitation

Time unfolds like a succession of closed doors opening. I find myself in another of my rooms. My left arm has gone numb. In it I carry a suitcase, heavy with the weight of a lifetime, my decisions.

I am alone. Like you. Our fates individual, unique.

Decisions happen whether made or made for. I set my burden down. Sit on the suitcase, shabby and worn. The handle is hard and sends a twinge up my cramped spine. Ignoring it, I look at the doors. Maybe one will open if I wait long enough. Sometimes, they do.

Before we met, I’d worked in an auto shop. You wouldn’t know it. It’s long gone now. Mr. Daniels hired me out of high school back then. He was an honest man and hard-working. I never knew what happened to him. I suppose he retired and moved to Florida like everyone else.

But I was recollecting that day I’d been at his shop. It was in early autumn. We had the bay doors up, letting out the heat of an Indian summer. I remember the sweat. Red and yellow leaves rustled in the tall trees across the road. The pneumatic wrench roared loudly as a mechanic worked. It was near about closing. The sun cast long shadows.

Which door should I choose now? Each choice leads to another, I see. On my perch, I wipe my brow with a handkerchief. My hand has grown unrecognizable, withered and blotched.

The tool bench had to be picked up before I could leave. I remember being in a hurry. But for what? Memory is imperfect. It made sense at the time, I’m sure. Though it doesn’t now. Forgotten. Insignificant.

I will choose the far door on the left. An extreme choice. Out of character? Yes, perhaps. I think I would agree. It is hard to explain in truth. But all things come to an end. Even you realize this now. Though I confess, I am never certain what it is you think. Perhaps that is the allure of the door I have chosen.

What I do recall from those long years past was putting the tools away, each in its spot and wiping down the counter with a rough red rag. Mr. Daniels liked his things neat. Tidy.

The wrench stopped and I heard quite a different sound. Little hammers approaching from behind. I thought this odd, of course. The noises of the auto shop were loud and obtrusive, but there were noises that fit and those that did not. This did not. I considered for a moment: there was no car behind me. No one working there. What could it be?

Confused then, I turned and faced her. The hammering of her heels stopped before me. Suzanne wore a yellow suit. Neat. Tidy. Beautifully out of place, like a flower garden from a postcard in the middle of an oil slick.

“Martin! I thought that was you,” she said. Her smile was warm and broad.

I don’t recall saying anything at all. Like a fence post, I imagine myself standing and staring. Caught in the headlights of something approaching out of the black night. An idiot to the core.

She took a paper from the stack she carried and held it out to me. Her hands covered in white lace gloves. I looked at my own, covered in oil and holding a rag. My face burned. I took the paper, careful so as not to blemish her fine clothes.

“We’re having a dance at the church next Saturday night. I really hope you will come.”

“A dance?” My brain worked in slow motion.

“Yes. It will be lots of fun.” She laughed then.

I remember her laugh. Even now, as I ponder it, I feel the faint tug at the corners of my mouth. Perhaps I replied then, but I can’t imagine what I said. Not now.

“I’ll save a dance for you.” There was something about her eyes when she said it. Maybe the way they narrowed ever so slightly, as if smiling. Or a sparkle, a wisp of the setting sun through the high windows.

I stand and hoist this cursed suitcase again. Sisyphus rolled his stone; I carry mine. The handle of the door I have chosen is cold to the touch. I think it suits you. Where paths lead, each a course uncharted.

I never went to the dance. There is only now and no going back. Still, I wonder if Suzanne might have helped lighten my case.

 

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