This story first appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Pulse Literary Journal.

 

Harry descended the steep hill in the darkness of the moonless night, stepping cautiously to the dirt road that hugged the bottom of the slope. For a moment he paused and looked across the road for any signs of her, but saw only a wide black expanse that in daylight would reveal miles of flatland. He was mesmerized by thousands of flashing fireflies as far as he could see. It was as though the stars, frustrated by the cloud cover, decided to descend to earth. The yellow flashings were everywhere as the insects carried out their mating ritual. The show was overwhelming to Harry, almost hypnotizing in its beauty. He felt like an insignificant observer of the majesty of nature.

That is until a few of the glowing bugs flew close to his face causing him to swat at them wildly. In that moment the scene before him lost its wonder, and instead he saw thousands of eyes looking at him, threatening him, following him. Harry turned his back to the valley and its display and walked as quickly as he could down the dirt road. The distraction behind him, he resumed his mission, he needed to find his wife, he needed to find Connie.

At the end of the dirt lane was a paved road, but no houses were in sight. Which way to turn, left or right? Which way would she go? He decided to go left for no specific reason, just a feeling that was the way to go. After about a half mile or so he saw a yellow glow in the distance. This was different from the flashing display of the lightening bugs he saw earlier; this was a steady, warm glow, the lights from a home. As he approached the house he could see a woman at a kitchen sink washing dishes. The closer Harry got he could hear her humming a tune he couldn’t identify. Maybe it wasn’t a specific song, just a contented humming while doing a chore. Connie was content too most of the time, but sometimes she would wander off, like tonight.

He climbed the three steps to the front porch and knocked on the door, hoping his knocking could be heard over the droning of the TV. When no one answered, he banged harder. “Coming,” said a male voice just before the door flew open.

“What do you want?” said the burly resident wearing an undershirt and jeans.

“Is my wife here?”

“Who the hell’s your wife?”

“I’m sorry, my wife Connie, she wandered off again, and I’ve been looking for her, have you seen her?”

“We ain’t seen nobody old man.”

The door slammed in his face before he could ask anything else. Harry turned and walked down the steps glancing back to see the woman in the kitchen watching him as though to make sure he left. He continued down the road the way he was headed wondering if Connie passed this house. Obviously she didn’t stop there or they would have said so. Should he turn back and go the other way? No, he would continue on, he had to find her, he would find her, he always did.

Harry didn’t know why Connie wandered off. He lost count of the number of times he told her to stay put, or stay close by, but she just didn’t listen. Lately it’s gotten worse, and he’s had to look for her time and time again. Usually he would find her after a short time or sometimes he would return to their house and there she was, but not tonight. Tonight he was spending a long time looking without success. Now he was far from their house and he was worried about her, worried she was lost, or worse.

Harry saw more lights up the road, brighter lights, not a home this time, a gas station. It was late, he’d lost track of the time, but still the place was open. He entered the door to the small convenience store where people paid for their gas and could buy all sorts of things.

“Hi,” Harry said to the young lady behind the counter.

“Hello,” she said, glancing outside and not seeing a car. “Can I help you?”

“I sure hope so…um Lisa” he said squinting at her name tag. “I’m looking for my wife, older woman, a little shorter than me, gray hair, glasses, did you happen to see anyone like that come in here or pass this way?”

“Gosh no,” Lisa said. “It’s been pretty quiet tonight, not many customers, and people don’t usually walk by here, you know. Mostly cars.”

“Mostly cars,” Harry repeated dejectedly.

“Well, this is a gas station you know. And foot traffic isn’t heavy out here on a country road. Why do you think she came this way?”

“Don’t know that she did,” Harry said. “Just hoping I guess.”

“Sorry sir. Want me to call someone, police or something?”

Harry just waved his hand dismissively and walked out the door into the warm late spring night. That’s all he needed was the police involved. Connie would be so embarrassed she’d never forgive him. Besides, the cops wouldn’t do anything now, she wasn’t gone that long. Still, he was beginning to think he wouldn’t find her, but he wouldn’t panic, he couldn’t, he had to keep calm, for her sake. Keep looking, keep going, he would find her, he had to. They had been together so long now, nearly fifty years, she was part of him. He couldn’t imagine life without her, wouldn’t let himself think about that. The years went by so fast they were a blur to him now. He recalled when they first met, introduced by her cousin, who was a friend of his. It was love at first sight as he was drawn in by her chestnut hair, dark brown eyes and infectious smile. The more they saw each other the more they wanted to see each other. They laughed at the same things, had similar interests, two people meant to be together. Just the two of them all these years, but that was enough. Their life was complete and fulfilling.

The emptiness he felt when he was not with her for any length of time, like tonight, was nearly unbearable for him. Harry tried to put aside his concern and concentrate on finding her. He continued along the road but there was nothing but woods on either side. He heard a rustling to his right and stopped to see the source of the noise, but saw nothing. He continued on but the noise returned. This time when he looked he saw movement, and thought he saw green eyes looking at him. He turned away from the eyes and walked as fast as his old legs would go.

He suppressed his fear as best he could for her sake. He had to keep his wits about him so he could find her. Connie needed him now; she needed to be back to the safety of their house. He would find her, he would rescue her, and he was determined not to fail. He trudged on keeping his eyes ahead of him to avoid seeing things on the side of the road he didn’t want to. He tried to keep his thoughts on Connie and think about a plan to find her.

She wouldn’t have gone into these woods, he knew that. Connie’s idea of “roughing it” was a hotel room with no television. No way would she wander off into the trees that hid all kinds of creatures large and small. She couldn’t abide bugs either; his prowess in killing spiders or wasps was legendary in her eyes. No, she’d stick to the roads, to familiar places where she could locate shelter or comfort somewhere until he could find her. He didn’t want to think about the thoughts that must be going through her head, was she frightened, panicking, giving up hope?

For the first time doubt crept into his mind. He wouldn’t allow it to take root; but still, he began to question whether he was going the right way. Should he turn back? He hesitated a moment and stood by the side of the road despite the rustling noises still coming from the trees. Harry glanced behind considering whether to retreat, still seeing the glow from the gas station in the distance. When he turned forward to consider that direction the moon broke through some clouds to reveal its face its reflection seeming to light the way ahead. That was enough to make the decision for him, and he continued in the direction he initially chose.

Connie was a real spitfire when they were younger, she was the one who got them going, moved them forward. Buy a house? Sure they could do it, she would make it work. New car? Why not, they’d find a way, and she was right most of the time. Go on a cruise, rent a vacation house, all her ideas, and they made it all work. But the price of aging caught up with them and their bodies, and they couldn’t do the things they once did. How resistant we are to change, Harry thought, yet how easily we adapt when there’s no choice. Theirs was a quiet life now, content to watch television, read, or just enjoy an evening listening to music while sipping wine. Yet once in awhile that spark in her would surface, and she’d get the urge to wander off without saying a word.

Impossible, but yellow eyes were in front of him now, straight ahead. No, it wasn’t eyes he saw but headlights coming toward him. He waved his arms to flag down the driver. If Connie was on this road headed this way, perhaps this driver saw her and could help him find her. The car slowed down as it neared him and he approached the driver’s window.

“Harry,” the driver said.

“Connie?” he said. “Connie, is that you?”

“Yes dear, where have you been?”

“I’ve been looking for you for so long, I’m so glad I’ve found you. Who’s that with you?”

“Dad,” said the woman in the passenger seat, “it’s me Paula, you had us worried sick.”

“Paula? Dad?”

“C’mon dear, get in the car,” said Connie. “We’ve been so concerned. This is the third time this month. I don’t know, I just don’t know.”

He got in the back seat and shut the door. “Connie, how many times have I told you, stay close, you mustn’t wander off like that, you mustn’t.”

 

The End

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