John Sheirer lives in Western Massachusetts and is in his 30th year of teaching at Asuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut, USA. His latest book, Stumbling Through Adulthood: Linked Stories, won a Firebird Book Award, a Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, and a New England Book Festival Award. Find him at JohnSheirer.com.
The call had pulled them from deep sleep. An untimely death, their presence needed three states away. They’d left before dawn, driven quietly for hours, occasionally complimenting the dry pavement after weeks of off-and-on rain. Thirty years of marriage, and they still noticed their silence. Companionable or awkward? Solace or unease? What’s he thinking, she wondered. I wish she’d say something, he thought. For the last fifty miles, she’d clung to the wheel and hovered near the speed limit. Then, ten minutes out, she relaxed her grip, drove left-handed, her right hand finger-laced in his left, their thumbs absently caressing.
“Why?” the man asked.
“Excuse me?” Nathan replied.
“That thing.” The man’s glance vaguely indicated Nathan’s facemask.
Nathan had been semi-sleepwalking at his favorite convenience store, pre-dawn coffee in this hand.
“Mandate ended last week,” the man said. “So. Why?”
Nathan was the only masked customer. A month ago, everyone wore one.
The man didn’t threaten or insult. This was Connecticut, not Texas. Still, Nathan saw something in his eyes.
“Because I love you,” Nathan said. He waved his styrofoam cup to encompass the whole store. “Because I love all of you.”
“Okay, then,” the man said. “Sorry I asked.”
Bob saw her across the bar before she saw him. She vaguely resembled the profile photo in her personal ad. Only one photo, Bob thought. That should have been a red flag. In that photo, she looked younger, thinner, happier. In person, she looked more like the hard-times mother of the woman in the photo. Oh, well, Bob thought, I’m here. What’s the harm? Then she saw him, and Bob understood the harm in the look in her eyes. His personal ad photo, his one photo, really was his grown son. People always told him how much they looked alike.