I couldn’t quite comprehend what Carol – Carol? Sheryl? – was saying to me. All I could do was stand in front of the reception desk with two boxes of cooling personal pizzas looking like a dope, someone to be pitied. My every instinct said to run and run and hide and never show my face here again but I couldn’t…what was she really saying? That Karen hadn’t been here in six months? How could that be?
“OK…well does anyone want this pizza?” was all I could say and they were taken by Carol/Sheryl more because she didn’t know what to do either than any other reason. There was pity in her eyes and as I handed them to her and looked around I could see others in the office look at me as if I was in infectious quarantine. They stood there in their finely-cut dresses and suits and observed the patient as he refused to accept the terminal prognosis. It burned.
Somehow my legs carried me back to the elevator and I managed an embarrassed half-smile at Carol/Sheryl as the doors closed in front of me. The urge to scream clawed at my brain and I could feel it rising in my throat like bile, only to be held back by the presence of someone in the car with me who would not have appreciated that. I was not going to humiliate myself further, though the bar was already perilously low.
As the car descended its 50-some floors I traced back this morning in my mind. Karen had left early just like she did every morning, taking her iPad and coffee mug out the door to the garage. I’d told her I had some errands in the city today, including a job interview, so would stop by her office with lunch. She knew I was coming. As she pulled away I remembered her car needed gas and I hoped she would have enough for the day. I proceeded to go on with my morning, left around 11am for the city, picked up pizza about a block from her office and then had my world turned upside down.
I checked my phone. No bars here in the elevator, but we were getting close to the ground floor, having made a handful of stops along the way. As soon as the doors opened and I walked out it chirped and I saw it was from her. “this wasn’t supposed to happen” was all it said. I replied “How what was supposed to happen?” and “Where are you?” Both messages went undelivered.
For six months? What had she been doing for six months while pretending to go to work? An affair? Possible, but then how were we continuing to pay our mortgage and other bills? We didn’t have enough savings to cover six months of both of us being out of work, that was for sure. I started to open our bank’s app and sign in as more thoughts occurred to me about her whereabouts for all this time, none of them positive and uplifting.
How was this possible? There was more money than had been there just two days ago. Much more, by a significant margin. Almost two year’s salary, by my quick reckoning, where just a few days prior there’d been about a month’s, just enough to cover things for a while if the worst should happen. I tried calling her but was told by an automated voice that the number was no longer in service.
I’d made it almost to the doors of the building. As I looked up to get my bearings I saw the first of the five black cars, all hung with federal plates, pull up along the street. Two men wearing black suits and earpieces stepped out and strode purposefully toward me.
“Mr. Rycliff, we’d like to talk with you about your wife.”
Yes. I would too.