Creative Nonfiction Drama

“Julie?” the driver asked.

I nodded, only looking up long enough to make sure the license plate matched the one on my ride share app. 

I opened the back door of the 1998 Nissan Sentra and plopped down onto the crusty tan-colored back seat. It was the smell that made me look up from my phone once again, and it took me less than a second to notice the paper pine-scented tree hanging from the rear view mirror. I smiled to myself, thinking of him.

I was kind of shocked that a car this old and this crusty qualified as acceptable for a ride share, but I was also in the middle of nowhere and grateful to have a ride, so I held my tongue.

The driver hopped in the front seat and noticed me looking at the paper tree. 

“Sorry if the smell is a bit much,” he said. “It was a long day on the water yesterday and I accidentally left my muck boots in the front of the car. I didn’t figure you would want a car that smelled like clam flats.”

I pursed my lips and nodded. No, no I would not like a car that smelled like clam flats. And besides, the pine made me nostalgic. Not that I would share that with this guy.

“It’s fine,” I muttered. I looked back down at my phone, pretending to be busy and important, really just scrolling Instagram reels wondering what I was going to do with my life.

Looking at me, you’d never know how lost I was.

My husband of exactly 5 years, 30 days, 20 hours, and 10 minutes died two days ago of a sudden and massive heart attack, leaving me with a fortune of about forty million, a condo in a New York City high rise, and a house at the tip of a peninsula in Harpswell, Maine. I’d never been to Maine, but certainly could not stand another minute surrounded by the sympathetic looks, photos, smells, and reminders of what should have been, so this morning I packed a bag and decided I would go to the airport, pick the first place on the departures board, and head there.

I never go back on my promises, even to myself, so when it said “Portland, Maine” I sighed and bought a ticket. 

Mark had talked about his Maine home often, but our crazy schedules had kept us from making the seven hour drive, or even flying in for the weekend. I knew Maine was a big state, but while sitting at the gate waiting to board, I decided to see how far Harpswell was from Portland. As it turned out, it was just an hour north…quiet, and away from all the noise of the “city.”

And so, as much as it felt wrong to head there without him, I called a ride share as soon as I landed and gave my driver the address. 

The driver dropped me at the door and headed off, presumably back to his stinky clam flats and I took in what was in front of me. It was a small cottage, not a house, maybe a total of 950 square feet in size. It had a driveway made of crushed shells, and blue wood siding that had clearly been painted recently. I made my way to the back and gasped as the backyard opened up to a sprawling view of the Atlantic Ocean and the islands in it, complete with a rocky path making its way to a second point a few thousand feet away. The house was modest, so unlike Mark, but the view was spectacular, and I instantly knew why he loved it here.

I walked back around to the front, and looked for the pink rock. Mark invited friends to use the Maine house as often as they would like, and always told them to look for the pink rock with the key underneath. What kind of security system that was, I had no idea, but it never seemed to bother him or any of our friends.

The rock was next to the steps, clear as day, and painted about the brightest color pink you ever did see. I mean, if you didn’t know there was a key under that rock, then you probably had been actually living under a rock, because that was a new level of obvious. But I guess that’s just the way they did it up in these parts.

I picked up the key and walked up the steps. The lock was finicky, but eventually it turned. I opened the door - and there was Mark.

“Ahh, you’re back!” he exclaimed!

I felt the blood drain from my face. 

He wrapped his arms around me and I felt my whole body go cold and equally warm at the same time. What the hell was he doing here? I was literally at his bedside when they called his time of death just a few days ago. 

And then I remembered the Ambien. I thought it had all worn off after the flight, but I realized I was probably more exhausted than I thought - adrenaline, even “husband dying suddenly” adrenaline - mixed with Ambien could do some really weird things to your sleep patterns.

I noticed a screen porch on the other side of the living room - it overlooked the view and had a daybed with some pillows. Without even taking a moment to explore these new surroundings, I walked past “Mark,” opened the screen door porch, laid on the bed, and fell asleep.

When I awoke, the sun was setting, and the house was quiet. I sat up, stretched, and immediately noticed the clarity in my brain as compared to earlier in the day. Man, brains are weird contraptions.

I stood up and walked towards the porch door, when I stopped in my tracks. Below the window, on the rocky path was Mark, this time with two young children. He looked up and smiled and waved at me. My body went cold once again.

He looked like Mark, but not city Mark. This was Maine Mark, with hair that was a little less stiff, a bit of a tan on his skin, Birks on his feet, and a relaxed smile on his face. The two children next to him looked eerily similar - a boy and a girl, twins it seemed, both with brown hair, brown eyes, and lanky bodies. They must have been around five or six years old. They looked just like him. 

I was so lost in the moment, in shock, and confused that I didn’t notice the woman who joined me on the porch. I jumped as she cleared her throat, and gave her a confused look as she waved down to Mark and the children.

“Hi - “ I said. “May I ask who you are?”

The woman didn’t acknowledge me at all, but turned towards the daybed and began to fluff the pillows. My pillows. 

“Excuse me?” I said. “I’m Julie - Mark’s wife. Is there something I can help you with?”

She continued to ignore me and make the bed. And then she stood. And then I froze. I was looking at a carbon copy of myself.

Holy shit that’s some good Ambien.

I backed away quickly, confused and upset. I was about to make a run for the front door when it opened and Mark and the children burst inside. Whereas he saw me earlier, this time he looked right past me, walking straight into the arms of other me, nuzzling her neck and making her giggle out loud.

“Mark!” she exclaimed. “The kids!!” 

He groaned - that familiar groan that I had learned to love so much over the years and grown to miss so much over the past few days. “Tonight,” he said, raising his eyebrows, a goofy grin on his face. He winked at her and headed into the kitchen to make a snack for the twins.

Other me looked so….happy. Relaxed. Content. I couldn’t quite understand it - my life was stressful, busy, city focused. Even on vacation I could never quite settle in - there was too much to do, too much work. Always too much work. 

And kids?! We never wanted kids! Well, I never wanted kids after I moved to the city. I guess Mark had mentioned it a time or two. But everyone knew what kids did to a woman’s body. Especially twins! God no - no kids. None of this made any sense.

I thought back to the early days before life got crazy. Mark and I were laying on the couch in the condo - his parents’ place at that time. We were talking about hopes and dreams, life and goals. I loved how much he listened to me. He really heard me. My hopes. My dreams. My lofty goals. He had the resources to make it all happen. Of course it wasn’t why I fell in love with him, but it was a definite perk.

Now that I was thinking about it, did I ever really listen to what he wanted? I mean, he had his parent’s business to work at and inherit, and he never seemed to be unhappy. But did he want more? Or less, even? 

He did talk about Maine an awful lot.

Oh my God, this was the life Mark wanted.

Of course it was. The pine scented candle that he burned every day. The Maine ocean prints he  hung all over the condo as soon as his parents moved out and we moved in. The volunteer hours at the adoption clinic. 

This was all he ever wanted.

I looked up from my trance and watched as my family-that-could-have-been danced around the kitchen together to an invisible soundtrack; Mark swinging “me” around, dipping me over the heads of the kids who giggled and tried to climb on him. He was so happy. So joyous. So very different. It was like I was seeing him, really seeing him, for the first time in our almost eight years together. 

How could I have been such a fool?

There was a time in my life that I cared for others in this way. In middle school and high school my friends always called me their life coach and therapist. It’s crazy the blinders that money and status can put on you, especially when you don’t come from any of it. 

I couldn’t believe I gave up a life that could have been like this.

I watched the scene again, as other me sat on the couch and motioned for the kids to join her in her lap. They curled up on her, and Mark joined on the side, pointing the remote at the television.

Our favorite movie came on the screen. It was Tom Hanks’ “Big.” Yes, I know this movie is absolutely a ridiculous choice for favorite movie for two career-driven, city-dwelling, early 30-somethings, but it was Mark’s favorite when he was a boy, and I laughed so hard the first time we watched it together that it became our go-to when things got too stressful or we had nothing to watch.

I never knew how much I wished we had kids to share this movie with. How much I wished we had a life that would allow us to spend time with our children and this movie and this place. I never realized how much I had forgotten who I was before the city.

Suddenly it all became too much. Too overwhelming. I felt my body begin to tremble, and the room begin to spin. The reality that this would never be, could never be my life with Mark hit me like a freight train, and I needed to get off this track.

I ran to the front door, threw it open, and called a ride share. While waiting, I curled up in the blue Adirondack out front, and fell asleep.

When I woke, I was back in New York, in my king sized bed, in the condo. I blinked my eyes open and rolled over - and jumped when I saw Mark laying peacefully next to me. He was breathing softly, his hair gently falling over his forehead and almost onto his closed eyelids. A single tear fell down my cheek as the entire dream of his death and my trip to Maine came rushing back. 

I moved his hair to the side and smiled as he slowly opened his eyes. 

“Good morning, beautiful,” he said.

“Good morning beautiful you,” I replied. “Hey, I was thinking…let’s cancel our reservations this weekend and drive to Maine. I could use some fresh air.”

A grateful and relieved smile came over his face. “That sounds absolutely perfect,” he said. He kissed me and headed to the shower.

As I said, that was some damn good Ambien. 

May 04, 2023 21:36

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Michał Przywara
20:33 May 10, 2023

Damn good Ambien Indeed :) Nothing quite like a near death experience, even if just a dream, to help us gain perspective. When she initially ran into Mark, it was actually a very surprising moment, and I wondered if the story might have taken a dip into horror. Turned out to be more wholesome than that though. An enjoyable story :)


Mazie Maris
02:07 May 12, 2023

Thank you Michal! And now I’m pondering how that alternate horror story may have gone! 🤔


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Mary Bendickson
01:11 May 05, 2023

🌞🏖️life at the beach.Sounds right.


Mazie Maris
16:42 May 05, 2023

Yes! Thanks for reading, Mary! 😄


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