Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Vignette: Late

She woke up at 6:30 in the morning like she always did. The warm shafts of light that fell on her face had long ceased to make her squint. Exactly one minute later, she was out of bed, waking her husband with a touch on his cheek, and by seven she was in the kitchen with the same thought she’d have on Tuesday mornings. Bacon. Orange juice. Scrambled eggs.

Francis pulled his SUV out of the driveway by 8:40, ten minutes later than she was accustomed to and, out of habit, she shook her head. That’s ten minutes out of her newspaper time. At the dining table, she went over the crosswords, hurriedly going through every clue and no longer pausing on the difficult ones, and reading every other paragraph of a gardening article that interested her. She was back on track by 9:30, with cleaned dishes neatly arranged on the rack and leftovers stacked systematically in the refrigerator.

A few days back, her friend Therese had invited her out for shopping. That would be today at 10:30, the time she’d use to answer email and peruse new messages on the mailing list she’d subscribed to. She had allotted thirty minutes for this, for 11:00 was to be for television and lunch. She had wanted to decline Therese’s invitation, but her friend was suffering through an aimless relationship with an alcoholic forklift operator, and she had prepared herself to deal with Therese’s latest episode armed with the customary advice while waltzing the shelves of Macy’s. The keyboard and remote would have to wait.

She knew Therese would be late. That was her friend’s trademark, and yet she couldn’t get herself to spend a few minutes on the computer to wile the time away. Better not to start then break the momentum, she thought, in case a sympathetic act of God would haul Therese to her doorstep on schedule. Miracles have happened to her friend’s credit, though not as often as she had wished. And the concept of punctuality had never seemed to seep through Therese’s skull despite numerous reminders over coffee and tears.

A warm shower at ten. Prepared to go by 10:20. She stepped out of the bedroom to avoid the tempting call of the modem, and instead spent the next moments mentally reorganizing her day while checking each corner and space of the living room. In those silent uninterrupted seconds, between the odd dog-ear on the wallpaper and a slightly angled picture frame, she felt time freeze, encouraging and taunting her at the same time. I will maybe lose two hours, she calculated. Two and a half. Three at most.

The phone rang at eleven, and she knew who’d be on the other end. Listening to the eighteen seconds-worth of Therese’s apology-strewn request for a rain check, she felt her innards cave in and her life crumble. She took four seconds to compose herself, and two to say it was alright. Maybe next time. The next properly scheduled time.

She lightly put the phone down, noting the eons it took for the click to sound, and wasted the next three hours hating herself.

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