” I didn’t hear you come in,” John said as he entered the kitchen ” When did you get here?”
It had been over a week since he had seen Allison and to find her standing in his kitchen was a pleasant shock. The late afternoon sunlight shone through the small window over the sink and highlighted the slight reddish tint in her hair as she turned to him with a slight smile on her face. It was all he could do to hold himself back from rushing over to her but he held back. His need to be constantly touching her was one of the reasons she disappeared the first few times she had shown up and if their encounters since then were any indication it was the quickest way to get her to leave.
” You should see your gardens,” John beamed as he stripped off the too small gloves he was wearing. He tossed them on the floor beside the rear door ha had just entered and watched with amusement as the beginnings of a thunderstorm passed over the furrowed brows of the tall girl standing at his sink. His thick fingers barely squeezed into them but he stuffed them in any way. Allison always wore them when she had pruned the rose bushes that lined the small back yard and he saw no reason to change that. Catching himself, he reached down and picked up the dirty gloves and stuffed them into the pocket of the grilling apron hung off the back of the door.
The corners of Allison’s mouth turned up into a bemused smile as she turned back to the mountain of dishes John had left in the sink. She tossed her hands in the air and sighed deeply. He had become a bit of a slob in her absence and the look on her face voicelessly showed her displeasure.
” I can get those,” John sighed resignedly as he headed toward the fridge. With a flicking of her hand over her shoulder, Allison shooed him off down the short hallway to the bathroom to clean up. He smiled hard enough at that point that it crinkled the corners of his eyes and he laughed as he opened the fridge. Not much in it other than cans of beer and some left over take out Chinese that he couldn’t even remember buying. Grabbing a cold can from the top shelf, he popped the top and drank deeply. Two hard swallows downed the better part of the can and he stood letting it chill his core. Indian summer had showed up for one last glorious reminder that soon the first snows of winter would arrive and John had made the most of it by pruning back all the flowers and cutting the grass one last time.
” Guess I will be heading back out to get us some food,” John yelled back down the hall as he entered the bathroom and stripped off the grey t-shirt that clung to his sweaty frame. His hands had pruned under the gloves and looked like he had spent too long in the bath tub. He rubbed them quickly over the stubble growing out over his scalp. He snorted as he realized he hadn’t shaved his normally bald scalp or face in long enough that he was starting to look like a high school science teacher.
Washing his hands and his face briskly with the last of the lavender smelling soap Allison had bought months ago, he grabbed a towel from the rack and dried himself before catching his reflection in the large mirror. Dark hollows surrounded his eyes and gave him a pallor he hadn’t noticed. He had lost enough weight that his normally snug fitting jeans hung loose on his hips and were constantly needing to be hitched up. He looked away quickly. He had no desire to see what her absence had done to his appearance anymore than she likely did.
He grabbed a shirt from the top of the pile of clothes he had let accumulate on the floor in front of the vanity and held it to his face. He took in the sunny sweat smell and reached for a spray bottle of cologne to mist it with. He was careful not to disturb the neat arrangement of lotions and perfumes Allison had left on her corner of the sink. Her favorite was a mango scented cream that he swore she coated her entire body in. He couldn’t remember the last time it had even been opened. She only seemed to hang around the kitchen when she visited.
” Al , I was thinking I could cook for dinner,” John called ahead of himself as he pulled the cologne dusted shirt over his head ” Maybe some chicken and that seven grain salad you likes so much. I know you said it gave you gas…..”
He rounded the corner and saw her standing with her hand on the door handle and it stopped him in his tracks. Her eyes were down turned but her posture told him every thing. She wanted to leave. His heart pounded in his chest so powerfully he could feel it catch in the lump developing in his throat. Tears welled up in his eyes but he forced himself to blink them away. If he was going to keep her around it was going to take all his resolve.
” Okay,” John continued with a lift in his tone he did not feel ” We can get a pizza.”
Allison lifted her eyes to him then and he could see a rage there he hadn’t seen since the night she moved out. Her chest rose and fell in rapid succession. She brushed a dangling lock of hair that had slipped over her eyes away and he could see the mix of pain, frustration and anger washing over her in rippling waves. She turned her long, lithe frame towards the door and tried to open the door only to have John smash his hand against the door. It rattled in its frame hard enough to echo through the small kitchen.
” Stay,” John growled out his pain. It was exactly like the night she had told him she was leaving him. That she couldn’t do this anymore. The two of them screaming at each other as she did dishes and he paced around the small space. His feet following the same pattern they did when he was telling her stories of his day or worrying about how they were going to pay the water and electricity bill on the same day. The final straw coming when she told him she just needed some space to sort her feelings for him out. They had been together for what felt like forever but a distance had been growing between them. She had stormed off that night into a burgeoning thunderstorm that matched the darkness he now saw on her normally soft features.
When pushed to its limits, the body reverts to old comforts to prevent further harm to the soul and John found himself reaching to run his hands over Allison’s hip bones only to watch his hands touch the door behind her. It was his favorite spot to touch her and now even that was beyond him. The same as every other time he had reached for her over the last few weeks when she appeared in his kitchen. His fingers splayed out on the door and he stared her in the eyes. What he saw was a mix of sympathy and anger.
He never knew when to expect her. She was almost always there. Just out the edge of his vision. Seen in the corner of his eye. Wearing the same thing she was that night. Her cream-colored sweater. Low slung jeans that left that spot he couldn’t leave alone exposed. Knee high socks she knew drove him crazy. Even now he had no idea what provoked the conversation. She simply told him things needed to be over. She tidied the kitchen as he raged and begged. She washed the dinner dishes as he cried and rationalized. Her own tears doing nothing to change her stance on the fact she needed a change in her life. One he couldn’t be a part of. She stood with her hand on the door handle for ten minutes watching him cry and then cried even harder herself when she walked out the door and drove off as the first clap of thunder shook the house behind him that would never be home again.
He sat on the small concrete step for over an hour as cold rain he scarcely felt soaked through his clothes. The phone began to ring behind him and he bolted toward the door and flung it open praying it was Allison. Wishing with all his hopes that she was calling to tell him that it was a mistake. That everything would be good again. His heart was in his throat as he reached for the phone.
” John Chambers ?”, a dry male voice inquired.
” Yes,” John replied. His mouth had gone so dry his tongue stuck to the top of his mouth and prevented any further words from escaping. Darkness began to creep into the fringes of his vision and began blocking out the details of his surroundings. His gaze became tunnel like and focused on the number shown on his call display. The County Sheriff’s department. He slumped to the floor then before another word was uttered from the other end. His legs involuntarily began to curl up around him in a seated fetal position. A buzzing droned in the back of his head and behind his eyes. It took him almost five minutes to realize it was the echo of him screaming.
The deputy on the other end remained as calm as he could until John’s hitching sobs slowed enough for him to listen again. The storm had come in very quickly and torrential rains had flooded some of the side streets. Allison had been driving way too fast for the conditions and was half blind from crying to begin with as she missed a stop sign she almost never stopped at. The truck that hit her completely broad side was sliding through the intersection at an angle that put the front corner of it directly in line with her driver’s door. The firemen that had been the first to arrive had done everything they could to extricate her from the mangled hell of twisted steel and razor glass but she had died before they even had her seat belt off.
It was three days after her funeral that she showed up in the kitchen. John had just finished taking the last of the roses he had clipped from her favorite bush to her grave when he walked in the back door and saw her standing looking at the sink full of dirty dishes with mild disgust on her flawless face. With a half shake of her lustrous auburn locks she turned to look at him with a half-smile he knew from experience she was only feigning anger. In a haze of unreality and shock, John ran to her only to crash into the counter top and watch her disappear in a Cheshire cat-like fashion leaving only her pursed lips and flashing eyes behind.
Since that first time, Allison had shown up every few days to make her presence known. Always in a fading afternoon beam of sunlight streaming in through the small kitchen window before walking over to the door and trying in vain to open the door. John had learned quickly that while she never said anything, if he tried to touch her she almost immediately disappeared but this time as he stood there with his hands thrust through her midsection she stood her ground. Her jaw was set in a firm line and her gaze was fierce.
” I don’t want you to go,” John cried as his chin dropped to his chest and he backed up until his back hit the opposite wall. Her anger softened then in the face of his misery but her position did not move from the doorway. He knew with every certainty that if he opened that door for her , she would be gone forever. He knew there would never be another day spent hiking in the ravine and taking pictures of her hanging precariously off a rock ledge. No more lazy summer drives to the vineyard to dazzle her with his vast knowledge of wine while he had been secretly reading the descriptions off the menu card. No more making love on the couch and feeling the world just stop for a few moments. He knew those days were never to return but if he kept that door closed he was almost certain to see her at least once more.
Allison looked at him then and he saw his own agony reflected in the vestiges of tears that clouded her eyes. He was trapping both of them in this kitchen. She would keep appearing and he would keep pretending. He would fade as she would. She had loved the sun so much and had died likely listening to echoing booms of thunder. He had watched her run off into the rain without telling her the last thing he had to say.
” I will love you the rest of my life, ya know,” John said as he sniffed back the tears that had run down the slope of his nose. Allison took her hand off the door handle then and reached her both her hands to him. He laughed at the instinctiveness of the gesture knowing full well that she would pass through him just as easily as he had her. Her heart froze in his chest as the whisper of a fingertip grazed over his lips. Allison’s smile was just as wide as the gape of his mouth.
” Love you, baby,” Allison mouthed wordlessly as John smiled and reached for the door handle. He slowly pulled it open and watched her walk past him into the light. She turned and looked back over her shoulder at him as she faded from sight and wiggled her fingers at him for the last time. He turned and looked at the sink full of dishes and sighed deeply.
” You could have at least finished the silverware,” John called out into the ether.