Pictures of hell

Posted: 2011 in Post 1.9
Tags: , , , , ,

Thursday, March 22, 7:53 p.m.

In the brown, dim lounge, alone in our womb-like corner, Jack takes out his wallet. He holds it a moment, then sets it on the table beside the four empty highball glasses.

He inhales deeply. He stares at the flat, coffee colored lump on the table. He sighs shakily.

“You know what today is, right?” he says. His voice is soft and prone to cracking. “You must. Why else…why would you hound me like this all day?”

I’m at a loss, so I say nothing. I surreptitiously signal the bartender for another round for both of us. I will be insomniac tonight from the caffeine, Jack will be chatty from the booze. I hope.

He reaches for his wallet.

“They’re in a secret pocket,” he says, opening it. “Inside the money fold. There aren’t many. It’s easy to forget they’re in there any other day of the year. I never show them to anyone. Never look at them myself … except today.”

Jack slowly fingers photo paper hidden in the wallet and I feel apprehensive. Is he going to show me some kind of sex thing? Some horrifying pornography? He pulls the pictures out and lays them in a small pile on the table.

There are five pictures. They’re creased and split in places from being sat on for years.

“All the other pictures were thrown away or lost after…” he hesitates. He doesn’t speak for more seconds than I can count. “I do this every year. They’re more faded every time. Is that bad?”

All of a sudden, Wikipedia hits me between the eyes. Oh holy crap!

I forgot.

I forgot!

I get why the coroner was so upset to see him at the murder scene.

I get why he shoved that blogger.
I get why he was hostile to his boss.

I get why he kept telling me “Not today.”

His wife was killed twelve years ago today.

How, how, how could I have forgotten?

How tactless am I? How stupid? How unprofessional?

What must he think of my motives in following him here tonight?

“Oh Jack,” I say. I reach my hand across the table toward his, then withdraw it hastily. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. I really didn’t, I swear…”

“We were so stupid,” he says. “I was, what? Thirty-three? She wasn’t even thirty yet. I was gonna do something when she turned thirty. She invited my whole newsroom to an over-the-hill party when I hit the big three-oh. I was going to get her back.”

The waitress sets my Diet Coke and his Scotch on the rocks on the table. Jack grabs his drink. I ignore mine. He drains half of his. He hasn’t looked me in the eye since he took out his wallet. He stacks and smoothes the fragile photos once, twice, a third time.

“Lucy was in preschool. Three. Not four, not quite. We were talking about having another. My wife wanted a boy. A matched set. I didn’t care. I wanted another, boy or girl, healthy and who cares? You know?”

I don’t. I only ever wanted a daughter. And I got exactly what I wanted. I nod anyway.

“The thing was, we couldn’t afford another kid. That was the huge issue—the worst thing in our lives. How to pay for another crib. Jesus Christ.”

Jack suddenly twitches his gaze from his glass to mine. I flinch.

“Do you have any idea?” he says.

“No,” I say. And I don’t.

“I can’t really remember what she looked like anymore. Not what she really looked like. She laughed like Lucy, but Lucy doesn’t laugh much now. I have this picture of her in my head, but it’s not real. But…” he fingers the stack of photos. “There are these…”

He looks at me.

“Do you want to see?”

 

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