By Dennis Robleski
Sid’s Jeep Gladiator slowly crept into the parking lot and he scanned nervously left and right, looking for her Toyota Prius. Satisfied that it wasn’t there, he parked and exited his car, crouched low and moved along its side until he reached the outside wall of the apartment building. Moving quickly up the flight of stairs and then past apartments 2A and 2B, he came to the door of 2C and stopped. Ear to the door, he held his breath and listened. No sound. Key already out, his shaking right hand moved the key towards the lock, missing the keyhole on the first attempt. He gripped his right hand with his left to steady it, and then slid the key into the lock and turned it to the right, hopeful in that moment that Kwikset made the world’s quietest product.
He opened the door just a crack and leaned away from it in a near sprinter’s stance, ready to run in case of emergency. He stopped again – still no sound.
Sid decided the coast must be clear, so he opened the door the rest of the way and stepped inside. The lights were off, there was no TV or music playing, and there were no other signs of humanity. His hand went to the switch on the wall and he turned on the overhead light and saw them, all of them, scattered across the couch, coffee table and floor. Mr. and Mrs. etched stemless wine glasses, a marble rolling pin, nonstick bakeware, a waffle maker, an Instapot, a cheese board and cutlery set and more. Wedding gifts now waiting to learn their fate.
It was a lot of cool stuff and to see it made Sid sorry for what he had done on Saturday, but there was no going back now. Once he didn’t show up at the church, choosing instead to hide out at a Dave & Buster’s in Addison and ignore his constantly vibrating cell phone, he had given up the bounty that came with getting married. He figured no one would notice one little gift missing from all this, though, so he picked up an Amazon Echo and put it under his arm.
He thought he had grabbed all his stuff on Saturday while Amelia was waiting at the church for him, but of course he forgot something in his haste, and a man doesn’t leave his Sports Illustrated Swimsuit collection – 2001 to present – behind. They were in the cabinet in the coffee table, so he cleared some of the wedding gifts on the floor away to get to them.
Luckily, they were still there; she hadn’t remembered them yet because Sid was sure they would have been torched if she had. Amelia was great unless she got into one of her moods, like she did when he stayed at a friend’s place one night and forgot to call to let her know. She said she was up all night worrying which made no sense to him. He wouldn’t have worried about her if the situation was reversed, and when he told her so, she cried and called her mother. She was clearly emotional, and an emotional woman might do anything.
He grabbed the nineteen SI issues and walked confidently to the door, relieved. Lights out, door locked, all back to the way it was before. Sid passed 2B and 2A and took the stairs, still on the lookout, just in case.
As he passed a tree in the grassy area that outlined the parking lot, he heard a faint sound. He stopped and looked around sharply; nope, it wasn’t her. He chalked it up to nerves and started walking towards his car when he heard it again. This time he saw the source, hanging in a tree a foot above eye level and off to his right.
He moved closer to it and knew immediately it was the little wooden groom ornament that they had bought in a set with a wooden bride. They were meant to be hung on a Christmas tree, but the groom had found a new home.
The wooden groom spoke: “Where were you?”
A typical person who had lived a typical life would have questioned his hearing or his sanity. Sid looked at the suspended figurine and asked, “Did you say something?”
“Where were you?” he asked again.
Sid knew he was reliving a part of his past that still gave him nightmares. “What happened to you?”
He groaned and said, “She did this, all of it. She ripped off my arm and leg, and my right foot came off when she threw me against a wall. Then she drew over my eyes and nose and mouth, leaving me looking like this.” His face, with round bulging eyes and a gaping mouth in a perpetual scream, matched the terror in his voice.
Sid dropped the Echo. “She’s that mad?”
“At first she thought you were just late. But later, I think she knew you weren’t coming, and she started crying. Her dad eventually told everyone to leave, that there wasn’t going to be a wedding, and after they did, that’s when she got mad.”
Sid cast his eyes to the ground and shuffled his feet.
“Since you weren’t there, it’s a good thing you weren’t there,” the dangling man said.
“So she took it out on you even though I’m the one she’s mad at? Not very mature.”
“She threw me out a window and I landed here in this tree. She saw me here this morning when she left and I thought she was going to hurt me again, but she just got in her car and drove away.”
In a stammering voice, Sid asked, “Do you know where she was going?”
“She was talking on her cellphone and I heard her say something about making you pay. I think she was practicing on me and now she’s looking for you!”
Sid dropped his Sports Illustrated collection and ran to his car. As he ran, he thought of the haunting words of a toy cowboy named Woody 24 years earlier, spoken after he had tried to rocket launch a Buzz Lightyear into space: “Play nice.”