This continues the story of Agnes and Matilda. It remains untitled. The evens below start directly after The Woman in the Photograph. The other parts of the story included Agnes and Where is Mama? Constructive criticism is always appreciated. Especially since I’m not going back to previous sections and I’m sure there will be continuity errors. What can I say? It’s a first draft.
Henry stumbled into the house and cast a bleary eye at the clock. It was three in the morning. He kicked his shoes off and slid his feet into the ratty brown slippers that Agnes had always nagged him about.
I know you don’t want to live a flashy life, but spend ten bucks to get new slippers. Those look so gross.
“But they’re so comfortable. These are already worn in just how I like them.”
The sound of his own deep voice echoing in the dark hallway startled him. He’d responded to the ghost of a voice.
It was happening more often these days. He would hear something in his head that Agnes had said, and he would find himself responding.
He shook her voice out of his head and lumbered into the living room. Collapsing into the black leather recliner Agnes had bought him after the wedding, he turned the TV on to the weather channel. Soon, he was asleep.
Knock Knock Knock
Henry opened his eyes enough to look at the TV. The sidebar on the weather channel said it was almost 8:30. He could see sun struggling to shine through the blinds. He closed his eyes.
Knock Knock Knock
His eyes flew open, realizing why he’d awoken in the first place.
Somebody was at the door.
Nobody came to the house anymore. Not since the police no longer felt they had reason to harass him. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t visit anymore.
Knock Knock Knock
It was sounding more urgent. He pushed himself out of the recliner with a forceful grunt.
“I’m coming; I’m coming.” He muttered as he walked to the front door.
He opened it to find Matilda standing there, poised to knock again.
“Henry! Good morning!” Her voice was too chipper, her smile too bright for this early in the morning. Henry was never up before noon these days.
She was wearing running clothes and a thin gloss of sweat lined her brow. She was holding two thermoses.
“Good morning, would you like to come in?”
She glided past him, handing off one of the mugs to him and taking a sip from the other as she glanced around the front entryway.
He closed the door, “What – what are you doing here?”
“I’m really sorry if this is too early for you. I’m an early riser. I went for a run this morning to pass some time, but I just had to talk to you some more. I mean, there are still so many questions.”
“Matilda. I don’t have all the answers you are looking for.” He took a small sip from the thermos in his hand. Regular coffee. Black. Too strong for his taste, but he drank it anyway. Maybe it would wake him up.
“Maybe not. But the answers you gave me last night brought up even more questions. And I think you can help answer them. Plus, maybe I can help you. We can find Agnes.”
“We wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“Look, you’ve been missing her for 6 months. I’ve had more than 20 years. I’ve been actively searching for her for 5 of them. I know some of what happened between the time she left me and the time she found you. Maybe we can fill in some blanks of her life, together, and figure out some answers. We can help each other, Henry.” Her eyes pleaded with him. She looked like a lost child.
Plus, Henry couldn’t get over the fact that this young woman had his wife’s eyes.
“Okay. I’m not making any promises, but let’s talk.”
He led her into the dark living room. She took a seat on the couch as he opened the blinds to let the light in. Then he returned to his seat on the recliner.
“Did Agnes talk at all about her life before she met you?”
Henry noticed that she was leaned slightly forward. She looked like one of the ladies on TV, always interviewing this or that celebrity.
“Not a lot. When we met she told me she’d just moved from Kansas. At the time, I assumed she’d grown up there. But then she talked about California a lot. And beaches. Every time we went to the beach she compared it to the Pacific.”
“Did you ask her about it?”
“One time. She didn’t really want to talk about it. One year I mentioned going to San Diego on vacation and she got like this little glimmer in her eye, like she was remembering the city. I don’t really know.”
“You were together for ten years.”
“Yes, but the past is the past. I could tell she’d run away from something, but she didn’t never want to talk about it. I let her have her secrets. Hell, we all done things in life we want to get away from. We decided to move into the future and away from our pasts.”
“But weren’t you curious? Didn’t you ever wonder why she’d run away?”
“The way she acted, I figured it was an abusive husband or something. She was a jumpy one those first few years of marriage. Then it seemed like suddenly she just started to calm down, as if she finally felt safe. Or maybe home.”
He wouldn’t look at the girl as he talked. She had some of the same facial expressions as Agnes. The way her eyebrows furrowed, Agnes had the same look when she’d get frustrated with him.
“Do you think she really came here from Kansas?”
“No reason not to. She had this sketchbook. Well, lots of them really. Filled a luggage bag with them. But she always had one on her. Around the time we started dating, I saw her looking through the book. A postcard fell out and I handed it to her. It was one of them ‘Greetings from Kansas City’ ones, except it wasn’t written on. And other things.” Henry shrugged.
“Where is her stuff?”
Henry waved his arm, “It’s all here. In place. Clothes still in the closet. Her writing desk is still set up in the study. I haven’t packed up anything. I can’t.”
“Her sketchbooks. Where are they?” He saw her lean further forward, suddenly excited.
“The only thing I really noticed was missing when she left were a pair of running shoes and her sketchbook. But all the old ones are still in the luggage bag. Under the bed. Want me to get them?”
She nodded intensely and so he heaved himself out of the recliner and headed into the bedroom.
He felt mildly ill. He’d never, never, looked at Agnes’ sketchbooks. She’d asked him not to. He’d never even told the police that he still had the old ones. But they’d never asked, so he hadn’t had to lie.
In the bedroom, he stood in the doorway and stared at the bed. It was still perfectly made. He hadn’t slept in it since she’d been gone. At first he had trouble sleeping, so he would just watch late night television in the recliner until he dozed off. Then, he started getting used to it. The television provided him company.
Plus, he couldn’t imagine sleeping in the bed she’d picked out, without her. She’d bought it less than a year before she’d disappeared. He’d been having back problems and she saw a commercial on TV for this special bed. It was several thousand dollars, but she bought it as a surprise for him.
Sleeping in it had been great for his back.
And after six months sleeping in a recliner, the pain was back.
It took him a minute to get himself to the floor, but once he got down he reached under the bed-skirt and pulled out the worn out luggage bag the books were in.
He sat with the bag in front of him and ran his hand over the leather. It was one of the only things he had from her previous life.
He traced her name on the luggage tag with his stubby fingers. It was her handwriting. And their address. As soon as they’d gotten married, she’d torn off the old one and replaced it with one that showed her new home. And his last name.
He wondered why he’d never thought, back then, to look at the old luggage tag. Why hadn’t he shown more interest in her past?
But he knew it was because he cherished the importance of pasts staying in the past. He had his own demons he kept from Agnes. From everyone.
He wondered where the old luggage tag had ended up. He couldn’t recall seeing her throw it away all those years ago.