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Unremembered (Part 9)

 

I was drunk, one of the times – maybe all of the times – Lily arrived home. Mostly she’d mumble a hello, flash me a smile, and head right for the bathroom as I stay sprawled out on the living room couch, staring at the muted television. At some point we’d fall into bed together, and the next morning she’d clean up the empty bottles on the coffee table without a word.

It was over a quiet breakfast one morning that I finally asked her. I was stirring sugar into my coffee and she was reading a magazine, her long hair tied back so I could see one delicate side of her face. She looked as she always did: relaxed, thinking only of a Sunday morning in our kitchen and nothing else. I cleared my throat first but she didn’t look up.

“You know, I’ve always respected your need for privacy,” I started. She looked up now, her face unmoving. She took a sip of her coffee and closed the magazine. “Mmm,” she said. She placed her chin on her fists, ready to listen.

“Well,” I took a napkin from the table and crumpled it in my fist. “I don’t ask. I’ve never asked where you go when you leave. But I really think it’s time you told me.” I tried for soft, yet forceful. I needed to know this time.

She sighed, leaned back in her chair and stretched, preparing for something. She gave me a half smile and folded her hands on the table. “You know I love you, Matt.”

I nodded. I knew this, but did it matter now?

“It depends, really. On how I’m feeling, what’s happening here. I just sort of get in the car and drive.”

I felt a pang of jealousy, maybe anger, pass behind my ribcage. While I was left with nothing but my own guessed scenarios, Lily was flipping a coin to see where she’d most like to gain some new perspective. Suddenly it dawned on me, how damaging her disappearances had become. At first I thought allowing her some distance would bring us closer together, but now, when she came back home she never really came back – some part of her was left out there, wherever she went to reflect, without me.

“Why?” That single, heavy word was all I could muster now. Even at my worst I never imagined a day without Lily in it. So why then was it so easy for her to leave me?

She stared at her hands for a while, then stood up and moved behind me, draping her thin arms around my shoulders, laying her hands on my chest. I felt her lips on my cheek and closed my eyes.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” she whispered. “Can’t that be enough?”

I went limp at the warm touch of her breath, and once again fell into the pit of her vagueness. With her, at best I have always been a pathetic, gullible child.

**

I ticked off five more days of no Lily that week, and every afternoon I found myself at the bar where I kissed Jamie waiting for her to turn up. I wanted to ask her what she knew, why Lily hadn’t come back this time, if Jamie had told her about our kiss; I wanted to shake her, too, for telling the police that Lily had chosen to disappear before. How would anyone believe that this time was different? This time, the darkness in my chest knew she didn’t choose it.

 

******

If you’re just now joining in on this series, start here and click through to get caught up!

I hope you enjoy this (slow moving) series. 🙂

– Nicole Marie

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Unremembered (Part 8)

 

Just now joining the Unremembered party (or need a refresher)? Click here to start from the beginning, then follow the link at the bottom to part 2, etc. And don’t forget to watch out for more installments!

***

 

I didn’t hear the ringing at first, my head was buried so far beneath a tower of pillows in an attempt to stop the spinning in my brain. My skull ached with regret as I replayed the kiss I’d planted on Jamie the night before.

The caller didn’t let up. I fought my way out of the tangled sheets and somehow made it onto my feet and to the phone on the dresser. He was clearing his throat as I picked up.

“Hey, Detective Mills,” I started.

“Mr. Hamilton. How are you?”

His usual, pointless greeting. I stood up a little straighter, waiting to hear what “incriminating” evidence he’d found while tearing apart our home. A lock of hair? A mysterious foot print? A kitchen knife that looked a little too dull?

Then my mind flickered to the person who claimed to know what happened to my wife, and suddenly my knees were made of jelly because I couldn’t believe that in all my scrambled thinking and the hurricane that had recently become my life that I had somehow tucked away the single most important piece of I don’t know what, and right then I was angry, so very angry that Detective Mills had failed to mention more past a single obscure phone call just before he accused me of murdering Lily. And now that it had all flooded back in my heart was sinking and so was I, right back to the floor like the first time.

I think he sensed it, knew all the questions that had just now started seething from my chest. We were both silent, for minutes, I think.

“That other person,” I started, choking on the rest of the words.

“I was beginning to wonder why you weren’t more curious about that,” he said. The calm in his voice sent a warning jolt through my stomach.

“I guess it fell to the bottom of my priority list once you asked me if I killed my wife.” My mouth was a desert.

“She claimed to be a friend of Lily’s, went to college with her. Really pretty girl, a blonde. She said this isn’t the first time Lily’s gone missing, and probably won’t be the last. I thought it was a little strange but her story didn’t really lead anywhere, so we tossed it.”

Jamie. I muttered a thanks, a goodbye, placed the phone on the receiver and threw up in our clothes hamper.

***

Continue reading here with Part 9.

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Unremembered (Part 7)

 

(If you haven’t started reading this series yet, please click here for Part One.)

 

“So what makes you think that?” He picked up a clean towel and dried his hands.

“She leaves,” I said. “Days at a time. Never any explanation, only some mumbled words about finding herself, taking a breather. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never asked where she goes.”

Just then I realized how pathetic I must sound, the confused boyfriend alone in a bar while his girlfriend wanders constantly into some adventure unknown to him. No questions, no accusations, he allows her to bounce from their bedroom to her own secret destinations; she could be writing a novel by the ocean, or she could be telling her worries to someone else’s bare chest. I watched as he took the towel to a spot on the bar and moved it for a while in the same circular motion, searching for a bit of bartender wisdom.

“An ultimatum,” he said. “Either she fesses up, tells you what she’s been doing all this time, or you leave.”

She leaves,” I laughed, taking another sip of my drink. “It’s my house, after all.”

“Right,” he said, walking away to help a customer waving an empty shot glass at the other end of the bar. I watched her, a woman with long blond hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. She leaned across the bar and put her lips to his ear. She spoke for a while; I was finished my beer by the time she flopped back down onto her barstool and they were both staring in my direction, avoiding any attempt to not look obvious.

I dug in my pockets for a ten dollar bill and threw it in a water ring, careful to avoid the gazes that were now digging into the left side of my face. I’d made it halfway outside when the shouting started.

“Wait!” Her face was as tight as the ponytail, so close to me now. “Matt,” she smiled. Her lips were cracked and smothered in layers of sparkling gloss. My chest tightened at the sound of my name.

I stepped back inside. “How do you know who I am?”

Two hours later and Jamie and I were downing shots and bumping shoulders.

“Yeah, Lily was a riot in college,” she laughed.

Slowly we eased off our barstools and headed for the door. Outside it was dark now and the edges in my mind had begun to blur, but it felt good. My worries were hazily bouncing off one another and I let my hands move freely to Jamie’s waist. She stopped laughing and caught her breath in her throat.

“I don’t want to talk about Lily anymore,” I said.

She started to speak but I caught her words with my mouth.

I spent the rest of the night in bed, swaying from sleep to guilt to anger at Lily’s absentness. My lips were still tacky with Jamie’s gloss and her words before we parted were still turning over in my head.

“She’ll turn up,” she’d said as she got into her car, too drunk to drive. “She always does.”

Stay tuned for more installments!

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Continue to Part Eight here.

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Unremembered (Part 6)

 

(If you haven’t started reading this series yet, please click here for Part One.)

 

I sat on the front porch while five officers in blue latex gloves picked apart our home like they were combing over a murder scene; slow, meticulously, opening every cabinet and lifting every bed sheet like delicate tissue paper. I avoided conversation and every room someone was occupying. I’d seen enough crime shows to know the hovering spouse was more suspicious than helpful, although I knew my distance was likely being just as carefully documented.

When they were done they filed out silently, no goodbyes. The last one nodded in my direction and closed the door behind him. Once the cars were gone and the gawking neighbors had gone back inside, I got up and stepped into the living room.

Things looked the same, but my world felt tilted; pictures, chairs, books, all off-kilter. Our memories had been groped by foreign hands. Suddenly I felt emptier than I ever had. I navigated the stairs on heavy legs, went to the bathroom, turned the shower on hot, stood under the water until my skin turned pink and I was forced out. I didn’t bother with a towel. I curled up in the middle of the cold tile floor and slept.

When I woke it was dark, and as I peeled myself from the floor I opened my mouth to form Lily’s name, to call to her, to whatever nook of our home she was in, likely reading a book, drinking a glass of wine. Only my eyes quickly adjusted to form the shapes in the room, and I remembered. Every waking was destined to be like that one; raw, aching hurt, sudden and new.

***

I went to a local bar on my lunch break, one of the countless afternoons Lily was gone. I’d spotted her bag by the door before she told me she was leaving; I’d only just gotten out of bed, my eyes still heavy and blurred.

“Be back in a day or so,” she said, and kissed my forehead. She was out the door before I had a chance to part my lips.

Within months, day drinking had become a routine while Lily disappeared, as normal as the spouse that orders takeout while the wife is away on business. The bartender came to recognize me – whether it was the suit or the lost expression that helped him remember, I’m not sure – but even if a month had gone by (a rare occurrence) he’d have the same beer at the same barstool, waiting patiently on a cardboard coaster. He never asked any questions but his smile was always an open invitation to spew my problems out into the darkness of the pub.

I never talked, only drank, but this time she’d been gone for four days, the longest yet, and I was worried something had happened.

It never occurred to me that she had simply decided not to come back.

“My girlfriend,” I said, taking in a sip of my beer. He looked up from the glasses he’d been washing, surprised. He was young, maybe twenty-eight, small and soft in his features.

I stared at a nearby salt shaker, contemplating my next sentence like a game of chess. I took a few deep breaths.

“I think she’s seeing someone else.”

The words slopped off of my tongue like soot. They hadn’t sounded as permanent in the confines of my head. Yet out here, where even a whisper can hold the ugliest weight, they made my chest hollow.

 

Stay tuned for more installments!

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Continue to Part Seven here.

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Unremembered (Part 5)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Like the day Lily disappeared, I lost all the in between moments of my consciousness – putting on my shoes, getting in the car, driving to the police station. In my mind I’d gone from phone call to bland interrogation room, the fluorescent lighting overhead making my eyes squint. The only two chairs reminded me of the scratchy waiting room kind one would find in a doctor’s office; I sat in one, Detective Mills sat in the other. He folded his hands on the table and stared at a spot on the wall behind my shoulder for a while.

I shifted uncomfortably, like a criminal. Was I about to be accused of something, or told my wife was dead? I bit my lip to avoid asking where other person was, the one who said they knew what happened to her. Finally, Mills opened his mouth and darkness came out.

“Mr. Hamilton, did you kill your wife?”

I blinked several times, trying to remove the spots that had formed in front of my eyes. The small interrogation room had suddenly become a runaway carousel and I gripped the arms of my chair to keep from falling off. I said nothing although my jaw hung loose with shock. If I cried, banged my fists on the table, fell to my knees in despair, would it matter? Like an innocent man accused of rape or abuse, once the accusations take flight he is doomed, forever – guilty or not. The scowls and whispers become infinite. Unless Lily walked into the room right then, Detective Mills had already dubbed me guilty of murder; but I had to defend myself, with whatever piece of soul I had left.

I cleared my throat, raised my eyes to his. “No,” I said, calm, direct. No fireworks, just truth.

“Would you mind if we took a look around your home?”

The invasion had begun.

***

Click here for Part 6.

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Unremembered (Part 4)

Only joining now? Click here to start from the beginning.

 

It felt like hours had passed before I peeled myself out of the chair in our living room. My body ached and I felt hollow and strangely hungry, though the hunger pains were quickly replaced by nausea brought on by the idea of actual food. The room was empty now except for me. Our parents had skittered off to various parts of the house to run their fingers over objects and dab at their eyes with wrinkled tissues; nothing productive, nothing helpful.

Yet I couldn’t bring myself to feel anger at their blaming of me, or even at their unwillingness to make frantic phone calls or attach eight-by-tens of Lily’s face to utility poles. The police had promised to explore every possible lead, comb through every area of town. They felt small and helpless, so instead they shrunk into corners and pointed fingers until someone else could make it all better; and slowly, reluctantly, I accepted that it was all I could do, too.

I spent the next few days like a child feeling for a new, comfortable routine: wake, shower, dress, eat (maybe), make a phone call grasping for updates. The other end of the line was always the same officer, sighing in the same way, feeding me the same empty words he likely presented to all families of cases that seemed to be going nowhere.

I’d already scanned Lily’s side of the sheets at least fifty times, sifted through her end of the closet, checked under the bed; I had no idea what I was hoping to find, maybe a clue, maybe my sanity. I retraced her usual jogging route, sat again where I’d curled into myself and released a siren in the underbrush. When the sun had fallen and risen so many times I’d lost count I found myself scooping toast crumbs into a zip lock bag, the ones beneath the toaster left from her breakfast the morning she disappeared; crazy, grieving things.

It was a Wednesday when the phone rang with forcefulness, a tone of urgency I hadn’t heard before. I was in the bedroom closet dusting Lily’s endless collection of shoes when it began, and something told me to drop everything and rush downstairs before the answering machine – that still chirped her voice – chimed in.

“Hello?”

I was slightly breathless after a mix of inhaling cleaner and rushing down the staircase. I knew who it was before the voice on the other line even started.

“Mr. Hamilton, how are you?” Standard, even though we both knew the answer.

“Fine, Detective, thank you.”

A pause pulled taught, longer than usual. My knuckles whitened around the phone. Deep breaths from his end.

“We have someone here who claims he knows what happened to Lily.”

I stumbled backwards, slid helplessly down the wall, pulled my knees to my chest.

***

Click here to begin reading this series from the very beginning.

Go here for Part 5.

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Unremembered (Part 3)

If you haven’t read the other installments, click here for part one and here for part two. (This story comes in small increments!)

 

Days, weeks, months later we were still intertwined; her toothbrush stood stoically in the holder on my bathroom sink, remnants of her hairspray textured the mirror, soft threads of her hair stuck quietly to my pillowcase. No cigarettes. That afternoon on the corner by the bar, when she’d searched my face and struggled to remember, had faded to the black smoke of a dying fire, dreamlike.
When Lily moved in the cardboard boxes that held her belongings sat like an Egyptian pyramid for days in the front hall. She’d move from one to another when she needed something, like a hair brush or a t-shirt.
“Why don’t you get to unpacking those?” I mentioned one morning, pouring coffee into my favorite chipped mug while she sat cross-legged in one of my work shirts. “I’ll help, you know that.”
She flipped her hair to one side of her perfect moon face and peeked at me from behind a curtain of brunette. She said nothing, only smirked in some wicked, confident way, and went on leaving coffee rings on the kitchen counter. Ever smitten with her abruptness I peeled opened the refrigerator, grabbed the carton of eggs, and cracked open my uneasiness in a mixing bowl.
Lily loved me, I could feel it. I felt it in the warmth she left behind in every room of our home, in the steadiness of her breath at night, when there was nothing left but us, darkness; I inhaled it in fresh pots of coffee and the sweet, familiar perfume she seemed to wear permanently. So when she came to me, months after she’d moved in, and told me she needed to leave for a few days – she mentioned the ocean, vastness, something about meditation – I focused on the way she cupped my hand in hers instead of the idea that she was leaving me. My smile and nod had proven as heavy as the signing of my own signature, and from there our life continued in that perfectly stitched, undulating way that unspoken secrets between lovers allowed it to do.
Lily with her weekly leaving, me with my faulty, stubborn unknowingness.

***

Click here to start reading this series from the beginning.

Click here to jump to Part 4!

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Unremembered (Part 2)

 

The sun was just beginning to dust the sky in pinks and greys and we were still on her doorstep, a modest collection of empty beer bottles at our ankles. It was early October, the air clean and brittle, and our voices floated unnoticed into the still sleeping morning. She tucked her chin into my shoulder and I inhaled her – sweet, floral, like home.

“My parents will be up soon,” she said. I knew it was time to tear myself away from her, at least for now.

“Will I see you again?”

She smiled, effortlessly mysterious. I hung on her gestures, the constant, brilliant glow of her.

A month passed before I saw her again. I’d deflated weeks before; intoxicated after one long, hazy night, I’d drifted through the week with nothing more than silence on her end. One phone call attempt went ignored, and so I quickly gave up. Obsessiveness never looked good on me.

I was trekking back home with a sandwich and a carton of milk when I saw her, smoking a cigarette and chatting with a friend outside of a brick-walled corner bar one block from my place. She wore a wool scarf that swallowed her neck and chin, black leather boots that hugged her legs just below the knee. I didn’t remember her smoking when we met.

After a second of debate I tucked the milk and sandwich under one arm and approached her.

“Lily?” I forced a smile. There was something different about her now – instead of comfort I felt purely uncomfortable. She turned to me and for a moment there was a look of concern on her face as she scanned over me, as if she was trying to remember how we knew each other. Internally, I was collapsing. Quickly I began to feel small, pathetic, and childlike. How could she forget?

Then something changed, like the imaginary light bulb had clicked on and her lips parted in a sunburst of a smile.

“Matt!” She yelled, and threw her arms around me like an old friend. My own arms hung limply at my sides for a moment, then slowly I wrapped them around her waist. I couldn’t stop myself, even in all the confusion. Her friend, a pale girl with long brown hair, looked bored as she pulled out another cigarette.

“How have you been?” she said, stomping out her own cigarette with one leather boot.

“Um,” I opened and closed my mouth awkwardly, ransacking my brain for words, for anything. “I was surprised I never heard from you.” I couldn’t help but get to the point.

“Sorry,” she said, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “I’ve just been busy, I guess.”

She didn’t look busy now, standing on the corner, beer on her breath. Still, that warm, familiar rush began to return until I’d forgotten the strangeness of it all and we were melting into each other on two bar stools in the middle of the day, my milk souring on the floor beneath us.

***

Click here to start from the beginning; follow along for more installments!

Click here for Part 3.

 

 

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Unremembered (Part 1)

 

Lily went missing on a Sunday, the day of rest. On Sundays we’d drape ourselves on tables and chairs around the house, drinking coffee from mugs adorned with our alma maters, cooking luxurious pasta dishes even though we rarely dined in (she could burn boiling water, I could barely make condensed soup), if only to match the hushed euphoria of the neighborhood that came with the sinking of the sun; stress was set out with Monday morning’s clothes, and on those evenings our cul-de-sac glowed with golden lamplight and blue-hued television screens. By dawn we were always heavy in sleep, a tangle of limbs and breath, a lasagna still cooling on the kitchen counter.

We were always together those days, except the day she disappeared. The weather was a Summer tease in early Spring – the first week of April and seventy degrees, a baking sun – and Lily wanted to take advantage with a jog.

“It’ll bring out those awful freckles on my shoulders, the ones you love so much,” she’d said with a laugh.

Her laughter was always so strangely appealing, like the blocky music that churned out of a Jack-in-the-box; it excited you, even if you already knew what to expect. She was a constant of beautiful predictability. So when she hadn’t come home by three I felt the knot in my stomach pick itself up, twisting slowly at first with caution, worry.

By four I was worrying a trail in our galley kitchen’s floor.

At six I was roaming the trails near our house like a tourist, arms stretched out in front of me as if it might get me to her sooner. I called her name until my throat felt like sandpaper and the trees began to taunt me. By eight I was somewhere deep in dirt and foliage, my head between my knees. I wailed and darkness swallowed me.

When I woke the curtains were tightly drawn. Days could have passed. I stretched my arms out over my head and sighed, my eyes barely open before the remembering began. Lily, the woods, the faceless jogger who’d found me flailing helplessly in a clearing, alone. Somehow I’d gotten home, and the procession of worried family and friends had begun; then there was an officer on our couch, drinking coffee from Lily’s mug. Somehow I’d ended up in bed.

This was the start of day two without her.

My legs felt like lead as they hit the floor, and suddenly the guilt that I’d fallen asleep while my wife was missing washed over me. It was pure exhaustion, at least. My insides remained frantic. Downstairs my parents and hers were perched around the living room. Each head turned my way as I walked in; every eye was ringed in bright red. They said nothing, and looked away. It was all I needed to feel the blame that floated towards me past the coffee table. Not even my own mother got up. Mechanically I took to a chair in a corner and fell into it, fading into the wedding photos that hung slightly crooked, slightly dusty, behind me.

We’d met three years prior, in a place most don’t head to looking for anything bathed in solidity; the bar was poorly lit, as most are, making everyone beautiful even before the blurred lines that come with drinking whiskey. I’d noticed Lily first, the way her face maintained a sort of ethereal glow even in the darkness of the room, as if a candle were being held below her chin. I saw a flicker in her eyes as she laughed in that way that made me joyously anxious. When she noticed me watching her she paused for a moment, then smiled and lifted her martini glass in an airy cheers. I raised mine in unison and began to weave through heavy waves of shoulders and conversation to the other side of the bar. When I’d made my way to her we clinked glasses and drank.

“Matt,” I said, smoothing my tie with one hand.

“Lily.” Her name fell from her lips like snow.

 

***

This is Part 1 of a I-don’t-know-how-many-parts-there-will-be short (maybe) story. It came to me in my second glass of vino last night, and demanded I give it life. I hope you’ll follow along as I make more installments here and there!

Click here for Part 2!

 

 

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