WARNING - this story may contain adult content including coarse language and/or sexual content which may be offensive to some
LOVE WOVEN COTTON
a short story by Mark Kolke
April 11, 2011
I’d just got in from London – exhausted, I caught a cab from JFK to my brownstone on 1st Avenue and 50th Street opposite the UN, or, better said, two doors west from Wylies Ribs - best ribs in New York.
I was so tired. Sleep, needed sleep. I couldn’t get to sleep on the plane – Alice’s words, her favorite words, dancing in my brain.
“Can't complain . . . no need to explain.”, she often sang
Alice wrote this note to me, soon after our first encounter - in longhand, scrawled pencil on creamy soft expensive stock with frayed edges at the bottom:“Yes, I know time has a way of quieting the early rush of excitement which is present in discovering someone as special as you. But, the quiet appreciation that follows is wonderful as well. There is a warm thrill in the comfort and understanding which time can bring to relationships of love. The lulls are when it is time to listen to the soft voices of reciprocity and commitment. Then it is time to let the work and creation feed us the thrill and rush we all love. Whatever the future brings us, right now, this second, I too, am so very glad I found you and that you reached out back to me.”
She’d put it in my hands, over dinner the night she gave me that goofy card Happy 4th Anniversary. She’d re-made a 4th Wedding Anniversary card into a happy 4th date card. I treasured those words, still do.I treasure the card. Always will.
Where had it gone?Just a few short weeks ago we were, bliss-smacked, for life - so it seemed; and then it was gone, it went away, like a song cue on a summer’s day.
It arrived, in the mail a week ago last Wednesday (who mails things any more?) with a force I could not have imagined.e-mail would probably have hurt just as much, but I would have known sooner. Instead, it was floating around in the postal system for three days . . . by the time it arrived, she was long gone.
Her flight, according to her note, would have left the day she mailed it, - first to San Francisco, then on to India the next morning.It was clearly a dear John letter, except I wasn’t John.
“I’m sorry Dan, I thought you were THE ONE for me. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't . .. maybe you never were, but I'll hang on to the notion - for a while at least - that you were, that you were in love with me for your own reasons on your own terms and not because I was somehow trying to 'make it happen' ... and that I'll keep hold of, I'll keep that in my mind. That might be foolish, it might be wasted emotion, but I can't seem to shake it - so I've stopped trying to shake it. I simply need to acknowledge that it is over and will never be the same again, no matter how hard we mighttry. I’m going away, to India, for a re-charge and a transplant. I won’t be coming back to re-connect with you. I have other things to take care of, things I can’t tell you about.I know you won’t find this easy to understand, but please trust me, it is for the best. Good-bye and love, always, Alice”
Summer breeze wafted in, little gusts, like pace of beach waves, mussing curtains on side of the townhouse and rattling blinds ever so slightly on the other side as that breeze made its way through the house – pulsating,but in a soft way.
I suppose, if I was sleeping soundly I would not have heard it, but I haven’t been sleeping well lately.I kept mulling Alice’s final words.I've spent so much time re-reading that letter.What she wrote, so poignant. I hated the message, but you had to admire her prose.A writer. A bon-vivant. My perfect date – petite, rusty blonde hair, buoyant, beautiful, gracious, funny, and hot between the sheets too.I cracked-wise that she wasn’t really that hot, that it was just a menopausal hot-flash.She’d elbow me in the ribs, we’d laugh, wrestle, squeeze, ease into the most delicious love-making, to please . . . and fall asleep with the lights still on.Remembering it now, she would seem distant at moments – like she was somewhere else altogether, with someone else altogether – and then, just as quickly, she’d be back, tickling me, fondling me and making the moments disappear.
whump , it wakes me. The paper boy just tossed the paper against the door; time was, paper boys had porridge and tromped through snow like I did at twelve.Now they drive vans, stop in the middle of the street, and toss it up against the door at 3:30AM.
The last two weeks went by, no calls, no e-mails, no scrawled pencil notes on stationery post marked India, or from anywhere.
I hadn’t met many of her friends, but a few of her co-workers.
That was it.I’d go to see Alice’s colleagues - Toni, Ralph, Marion and Steve . . . maybe they could help.
I met them – Alice’s gang - a few weeks ago, on a Friday night – we met for drinks atthe Oak Bar after work.After it was clear it was not just a quick drink after work - after three drinks, or was it four?Anyway, I’d brilliantly suggested we move on to Wylies for those fabulous ribs, leaving Alice and I just a short two house stagger to get home afterward.
I went to her office on the 45th Floor of the GM Building.Egypt Cotton Import/Export.They were, they told me, as shocked at Alice’s departure as I was.
Ralph, the office manager, said, “Marion and I went over to Alice’s apartment that afternoon. We each found a note from her on our desks, and got the same recording indicating her phone was out of service when we called. We talked to the super over there.He said she’d moved out two weeks before; told him she was transferred to Memphis”.
They were clearly as mystified as I was.They showed me her desk, awash in papers, files and personal affects – as if she was just out for coffee, not gone half-way ‘round the world and gone for good.They showed me their notes.Familiar stationery.Same story, gone to India. Damn.
Why would someone as stable, healthy and apparently happy as Alice appeared to all of us, just pull up stakes and disappear from our lives? Why would she tell her super she was moving to Memphis, and tell the rest of us she had gone to India. It didn’t make sense.
Toni said, “Dan, why don’t you look through her desk drawers. Maybe something in them will give you a clue to something. We’ve each been through every drawer and haven’t found a file or a paper clip out of place.”
“Sure”, I muttered tentatively.“OK, sure, OK, I’ll do that.”
It felt weird, you know, like going through someone’s purse. I felt like a nosy intruder. I must have spent an hour.I found something significant right away, kept looking and found nothing else.I didn’t let on to Toni, or the others, that I’d found this.I needed something, some closure, to find some explanation – on my own.
It was in a file labeled Medical Receipts in her right desk drawer; there, among the hanging folders of Travel, Employee Benefits and Pension, 401K.It was a receipt for an office visit to Dr. Vincent Eglington, Oncologist, and paper clipped to it was a pamphlet titled Understanding Acute Myeloid Leukemia.His address was 1510 Wolf River Circle, Germantown, TN.
I bid Toni et al good-bye, thanked them for their time and told them I would let them know if I heard anything at all from Alice. They chimed in with the same undertaking.
I walked home. It was late afternoon – by the time I could hail a cab, I’d be home.I packed an overnight bag, went on-line, booked a ticket to Memphis for the morning – set the alarm and crashed.
Early . . . came early. I grabbed an apple Danish and a coffee from a cart when I got to La Guardia, then found my way to check-in, got on the plane, slept some more and before I knew it the captain was wheezing into this microphone, “This is Captain Sturgis speaking. We’ll be landing in Memphis in 10 minutes. The temperature is 85 already – it’s going to be hot one. Have a pleasant day in Memphis”.
I collected my rental car, and made my way to the office of Egypt Cotton Import/Export over in Cordova, a Memphis suburb rife with textile mills and trading companies – I went there to see Sadie Thurmond, CFO and Alice’s boss.
“Well, I’m sorry you had to come all the way down here Mr.Pierce”, she drawled, “I could have told you what little I know about Alice’s departure on the phone.”
“Call me Dan,” I responded.
“Sadie, I know you worked closely with Alice, she told you me took business trips together and some girl-getaways too; surely she must have confided something that would give you a clue as to what is going on and why she disappeared so quickly.”
“I’m sorry, Dan, but when we went on our trips, Alice and I were together by day, but once we got back our hotel . . . that was all I knew of her activities until I would see her at breakfast the next mornin’ . . that’s all.”, Sadie said, shakily.
She was opening up, and I could tell by her posture, she wanted to tell me more – she seemed sympathetic, but sad too, teary, obviously shaken by Alice’s vanishing act as much as I was.
“Dan, I’m sorry things didn’t work out the way you wanted with Alice.She has been a colleague and good friend for many years – I’ll miss her too. I know she had strong feelings for you.She told me she was writing you that letter – and how hard it was for her; but you are just going to have to let her go . . .”
I went on with small talk with her for a while longer - then made my way back to my rental car, punched my next destination into the dash-mounted GPS and headed out to Whiteville.
When I was going through Alice’s side of my closet the other day I found a crumpled receipt from Whiteville Auto Parts & Hardware in Whiteville.It was for a new starter installation and labor, which seemed innocent enough – a repair bill for car parts. But there were two things about it that caught my attention - it was for a 1993 Toyota Camry (Alice drove a Taurus), and it was made out to S. Dawson, 1440 Union Spring Road, Whiteville.
Who was Dawson, and what did they know about Alice?What was his or her connection to Alice?Did this Dawson person have any idea where Alice had gone, or why?
My car crawled along I-40, and then off at the Somerville-Bolivar exit, it was then dead straight for 36 miles.As I was approaching 1440, expecting a residential area, either my GPS was wrong, or this was a work address for S. Dawson.It was clearly a large fenced property – a sign boasting ‘Tennessee Department of Correction, Whiteville Correctional Facility and Quarry’.
I pulled into the parking lot next to the building with the big ADMINISTRATION sign over the door, chose a stall marked VISITOR, and went to visit the department of corrections for the great state of Tennessee.
Once inside I felt in the grip of a different place and time; maybe because I’d seen the movie Cool Hand Luke so many times, I felt clammy and nervous here, in the halls of the southern justice system.
I approached the main desk; sitting there in a uniform, the creases of which were already wilted in today’s heat, was a scrawny sick looking creature of a man. He looked gray, like death standing up and his hair was wretched looking. I’d seen that look before.People taking chemotherapy, when they are losing their hair, look like that.His name tag, in shiny brass, said ‘Correction Officer S. Dawson.’
I’d found my source and, I hoped, my next clue.
‘Officer, my name is Dan Pierce.I am looking for information on a friend of mine who has gone away . . . left, actually, unexpectedly and I am trying to figure out where she’s gone and how I might find her.”
He looked at me like he’d never been asked a difficult question before, and then said, “Sure, I understand Mr. Pierce, but who is it you are trying to find and why are you asking me?”
‘Well, Mr. Dawson, I found this bill in the closet.”I showed him the repair bill for the Camry.I held back the pamphlet on
His jaw dropped.“Where did you get this?”
The exchange didn’t take long – I explained how I’d met Alice Turlington at a fundraiser for a children’s charity, that she’d sparked my interest, that we had been dating for several months and I told him the pieces of her disappearance I knew.I asked if he could tell me how Alice would have a car repair bill for his car and what it might mean?
‘Mr. Dawson, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but that little flower you’ve known as Alice, was my wife Alice.She took that transfer and promotion to New York, with the cotton company, last year because it provided higher wages that we needed because my medical plan with the state doesn’t cover all the costs of my treatment for Leukemia.”
He broke down, then collected himself, “You see, Mr. Pierce, I know who you are.Alice told me everything.”
He was shaking.
I was shaking.
He went on . . . “She went to New York with good intentions, you know, to make extra money, to help pay for a bone marrow transplant for my brother James to give me some of his – we were a good match, but we just didn’t have enough money. Alice’s job was helping, we were getting close to $30,000.We couldn’t get it done here – it costs $250,000 here - but in India they will do it for $30,000.It was all arranged . . . ”
He started sobbing, and muttered . . she always said: “Can't complain . . . no need to explain.”
“Mr. Dawson, what happened?Where is Alice?”
“Mr. Pierce – or maybe I should call you Dan, if that’s alright with you?I was expecting you might show up.Sadie called, after you visited her this morning. She said ‘mum’s the word’, that she didn’t tell you anything about Alice.”
“Right, she didn’t”, I snapped.
“You see, last week, Alice told me everything. She confessed she’d been living a lie – with you, and with me; she told me about meeting you, about falling for you – and how badly she felt about being unfaithful to me. She told me she’d left you, that she wanted to return to me, if I’d have her, and that we could finally afford to fly to India for my operation.”
Shit, what a story.
It was pathetic.
But I couldn’t help feeling sorry for this guy. Hell, he’s dying of leukemia and his wife is doing everything she can to help him.
If she’d only asked me.I’m not rich, but I could sell some stock, pull some cash out of my 401K, or put a mortgage on the brownstone.Damn it, why didn’t she ask me?
“Mr. Dawson, where is Alice now? I’d like see her, to talk to her, to say good-bye to her, properly.”
“You know, Dan, I really wish you could.She was a good woman.With my health bein’ the way it has been now for two years, I couldn’t blame her for liking the fast life in New York city, I couldn’t blame her for falling for someone like you.You know how gorgeous she was, how full of life.”
“Was?” …….”What do you mean, WAS!, what’s happened?”
“Two weeks ago, Alice went up to Covington to get my brother – so we could get him down here a day before our flight to India.There was a horrible accident on the road back from Covington.State troopers figure my brother musta had a heart-attack, or something like that – and that Alice must have reached over to help him. Anyway, she lost control of the Camry, it crashed in a ravine and caught fire.They were both killed.”