Come If You Must, My Dear
By Andrew Roe, Aug 13, 2009

He shows her some of the things he’s kept. It’s not much: an old pair of shoes, a few books, a broken cigarette lighter. But she’d asked to see them, objects touched, handled by her husband, insisting on this unsettling favor soon after she stepped into his apartment, heavily perfumed and not shaking his hand or looking him in the eye or anything.

Two days ago she’d called. Out of the blue. Said she wanted to meet. Just like that. The nerve, he kept thinking—the nerve and the balls and the blindness. He said he wasn’t sure that meeting was such a good idea. She, however, persisted—a quality he had frequently heard about and was now getting a taste of firsthand.

“Come if you must, my dear,” he told her, more to end the conversation and not fully considering the implications of an actual visit. “I don’t know what it is you think you’ll find. But come anyway.”

Now she’s here, a widow too, inspecting the shadow-life belongings (arrayed side-by-side on his coffee table) like an appraiser of antiques, professionally cautious about value and hidden meaning. And all these years he’s always thought of her as The Wife. Of course he knew her name—Margaret, Margaret, Margaret—but The Wife was better, The Wife made it easier to accept the fact of her existence.

She’s still standing. Late afternoon, little natural light at this time of day, a sense of general winding down and of things quietly, pleasantly, being put off until tomorrow. It’s like she doesn’t want to sit on the furniture, like she wishes the sofa and chairs were covered in plastic, a blatant layer of protection, something. She’s still standing. He’s not even going to offer. A long, significant silence.

She’s smaller than expected. Not a Meg. Margaret always. Those eyebrows: two dark, narrowing trails of scrutiny.

“I don’t think we knew the same man,” she says at last.

Her voice shakes him, wakes him up like a slap.

“No,” he says back. He can’t—he won’t—let that one go. The moment is too important, will be relived too many times in the days and years ahead. Bold, strong, grieving, he repeats, “No. That’s not true.”

Then she looks at him, official eye contact, as if acknowledging his presence—in this apartment and beyond—for the first time. What had she imagined? Not imagined? She smiles. Margaret. The Wife. She knows. She realizes, finally, maybe, after all this time. All it had taken was a simple declaration, spoken aloud.

“You’re right,” she says, turning away from him, toward the window and the emptying day. “Of course you’re right.”

There will be another long silence. What can be said, really? She’s still standing and he wants her to leave, wants her to be gone, a ghost once again, but not quite yet.

Andrew Roe’s fiction has appeared in Tin House, One Story, Glimmer Train, The Cincinnati Review and other publications. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he lives in Oceanside, California.