The door swung open. “I do not hesitate,” he said, eyes glazed over, forehead cut and bleeding.
“Good,” said Mary, holding the shovel tightly, lips pursed. She was ready. Her eyes said it and more. Swing.
I gave up on any rational way of storytelling a long time ago. That’s not to say I can’t tell a story simply. It just takes on different beats than most stories out there. The above is from my latest story. She Walks Alone. It’s a terrible title. Sounds like a rape-victim western. It’s about a waitress in the Midwest who kills a psychopathic trucker. Typical thriller variety. My publisher wanted something sexy but suspenseful. The strong heroine angle is popular now. She kills him with a shovel and walks out of the café alone into a snowstorm. Yeah, I know. Cliché stuff.
Yet there was something in this story that hit a nerve with a woman actually living in the Midwest. Like I said, my stories may be typical, but my storytelling is definitely off the beaten path. The only reason, at least I assume anyway, for it getting published. This woman got ahold of my contact information somehow and wrote me the following email:
Dear Mr. Kyle,
I have just finished reading She Walks Alone after a friend recommended it to me. I don’t know how you know what you know. We must meet. I will be in Seattle on Sunday. Please meet me at my hotel lobby at noon. The address is below.
He’s still alive, Mr. Kyle. I didn’t kill him.
Of course I blew it off at first as some deranged fan’s idea of a joke. Or she just wanted to jump my bones. Either way it turned me off completely. A nice “liked your story email” is much preferable. But of course more often than not these days, people sound off on social media. They love you or hate you. I couldn’t quite make out what this was, but it seemed more in the like you column. But under crazy and possibly dangerous. The fact that she was going to travel halfway across the country to meet me is scary enough. But then to believe that she was the character in my story? Or at least it seemed that was what she was alluding to. My character’s name was Mary not Martha, but I suppose delusion is delusion regardless of accuracy.
That Sunday I wasn’t even thinking about the email or Martha Anderson. I was at home working on my next manuscript. My cell phone buzzed. It was my friend Connie. She wanted to do lunch as she had something exciting to tell me. I said sure, showered, dressed, and went out. I didn’t even think about the fact that the lunch spot was in a hotel. I just knew it was a place Connie frequented. I walked through its lobby to get there.
I knew her at once. She was standing near a table, the light softly focused on her face. She was clutching her beat up bag looking desperate and completely out of place. Her eyes darted around the room fervently. She wore tight jeans and a dark leather jacket. Her makeup was loud and her hair too poofy. She looked like a groupie of an 80’s hair band.
She leapt forward at the sight of me like a bumbling child. I suppose I was scared when I realized what was happening. But mostly I was just annoyed. I had forgotten about Martha Anderson until that moment. Seeing her brought the whole ugly thing into focus and my face tightened. She immediately apologized.
“Mr. Kyle… Mr. Kyle, I’m sorry. But I had to see you. Thanks for coming. Please, could we sit down and talk?”
The desperation ebbed and flowed as she tried to control it. She wanted to assure me of her urgency, yet tried to keep it down enough not to annoy me further. I hesitated. I was just going to tell her that there was a mistake. I was going to meet a friend. But then I thought, Connie can wait a few minutes. I was early anyway. What harm could it do? Then I looked at her bag again. There could have been any number of weapons inside it. I was acting stupid. I needed to get away.
She pulled on my arm and I looked into her eyes. Tears were beginning to swell. Regardless of whatever insanity lay inside the woman, I’m a sucker for displays of human emotion. I sighed and relented, letting my body drop from its tension. I let her lead me to a seating area of the lobby by a big window. I figured, well, we are in a public area. People on all sides. I decided to speak for the first time.
“Miss Anderson. I really don’t understand what this about. What did you mean when you said ‘He isn’t dead’?”
“Bill. Bill isn’t dead. Oh, I know you called him…Brian or something in your story and me, Mary…but that’s not what matters. What matters is you got everything else right. The snowstorm, the shovel, down to the details of the truck. The feathers he had hanging from his rearview. The crack in the middle with the stuffing coming out. The way he…his hair. It was so unsettling I cried for an hour after I read it. I don’t know how you did it. Did you talk to someone? Do you know him? I just have to know. Please.”
She waved her hands around a lot. Every time her purse strap would fall from her shoulder, she’d swing it back up again. She’d look me in the eye for a moment, but realizing it was too much and that she may start crying, she’d turn away. But her eyes would always search for me again. I could smell donuts and coffee from the coffee stand across the lobby and became distracted by it. I mean, what was I supposed to say to this woman? Yes, I met Bill in Fargo and we hatched a plan to find you and put you through a wood chipper? He’s at the coffee stand now getting donuts with Bob from Twin Peaks.
I turned my hands over and shook my head. “I just made it all up, Miss Anderson. I swear. Look, you seem in earnest. But either this is some sort of sick joke or you’re off your meds…I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t care. Good luck to you. I’m going to meet my friend now. Please don’t follow me. Have a nice time in Seattle.”
I stood slowly watching for a big reaction. But her head was bowed and I realized that she was crying. Again, I’m a stupid sucker. “Are you going to be all right? Can I get something or someone for you?”
“No. No, thank you. I don’t know why I thought… It doesn’t matter. Thank you for your time. I’m sorry I wasted it.”
She stood, brushed by me, and quickly made her way to the elevators, wiping her face and pulling up on her bag. That was not what I expected at all. I expected a big scene or more babbling or something. But not a quick, apologetic exit. I felt as if I was being pulled into a mystery, yet I knew all the while the whole idea was ludicrous. The woman was just some goofy fan and if I wasn’t careful, she could have a shovel waiting for me too. But I was just so taken aback by her fear and her commitment to her story and her reaction to my rejection of her claims.
I tapped her softly on the shoulder as she waited for the elevator and she spun around, shocked to see me standing there. She wiped her face again, her eyes big and anticipating. “Mr. Kyle?”
“Listen. Um. I’m probably going to regret this, but… Have you had lunch yet?” She shook her head tearfully, thankfully. “Why don’t you have lunch with me and my friend? On me. You can tell us your story—”
“I couldn’t tell anyone else, Mr. Kyle. Telling you was hard enough…”
“It’s all right. You can trust Connie. She isn’t like most of my friends, who are bunch of gossips. She’s discreet, trustworthy. I promise. And if you don’t feel right about anything, you can go at any time.”
Why was I trying to convince this woman to have lunch with me? Moments ago I wanted nothing more than to get as far away as possible, but now… I suppose she intrigued me. She was a project. A puzzle to solve, a gift to unwrap. There was something more to this whole ordeal and I wanted to see what was inside, behind all the tears of desperation. Research, it was research. At least, that was what I was convincing myself of at the time. After lunch, it would be much, much more.