Mary walked from one gloomy room to another, feeling she had awakened from a deep sleep. ‘Is this how Sleeping Beauty felt after years of slumber?’ Still groggy, she struggled to understand. It felt like ages since she felt at peace with herself. Days and weeks passed without definition. ‘What season is this?’
What kept her imprisoned? Certainly not Edward. Despite his faults, he proved himself a caring and loyal husband. He wanted the best for her. He encouraged outings. ‘What, then?’
An unnamed fear haunted her.
Sunshine seeped from behind closed blinds. ‘Why keep it so dark?’ Peering out on the suburban neighborhood, she wondered, ‘What is so damned frightening?’
She opened the drapes, flooding the room with light. Under the trees, a pair of butterflies danced. She squinted until her eyes adjusted. ‘How long had it been? Do I still have friends I could call?’
Barely used, like a roped off museum exhibit, the living room was attractive. ‘Who lives here?’ she wondered? She didn’t know. Light from that single window brought it to life. The upholstery had color. The pictures were more alive than these black and white rooms. The fireplace begged to be lit.
Moving about, Mary pulled drapes, raised blinds and gloried in a bright house.
The final curtain revealed a box resting on the front porch. Had she not looked, it would have sat until Edward returned.
‘What has Edward ordered, now?’ She pulled her robe close and opened the door. ‘A man needs his hobbies, but enough…’
Next door, Christine heard her I-phone chime, indicating a delivery. She couldn’t see it from the kitchen window. From the front door, she saw only the wicker love seat, laden with potted plants.
‘Why do they do this?’
Thinking, maybe it fell under a shrub, she stepped into the yard. But no. She only saw the gardeners were not collecting the dead leaves. But merely redistributing them with their infernal leaf blowers. ‘Damned things…’
A delivery truck idled down the street. ‘Hello? You drove right by… Hey you!’
Back inside, she pondered her options. ‘I want that dress. It should arrive today.’
The flowered print looked so good online. She couldn’t resist. ‘Where is it?’
She prepared for her day out, lunch and shopping with friends. Locking up, she went to her car.
Her phone chimed again. The text bore a photo of her delivery sitting on the porch. ‘But wait…’ It wasn’t her porch. ‘Now what?’
Emerging from her car, Christine strolled casually by her immediate neighbors. She looked at the phone pic. What appeared to be the toe of a boot entered the lower corner of the frame.
Hot on the trail, she walked to Mary, her neighbor’s front porch. The gnome with the tell-tale boot stood by the empty space where the package sat in the photo.
‘Well, here goes nothing…’ Christine rang the doorbell.
Famously reclusive, Mary rarely answered the door. They’d met few times, over the years. Their husbands, Edward, and Tim, shared birthday month and year. But Mary and Edward didn’t socialize. The official story held that Mary was painfully shy.
Everyone got acquainted through their kids, who roamed the neighborhood like feral dogs.
School functions and swimming at the local pool humanized the tykes.
Mary and Edward, being childless, stuck to themselves.
Edward came for the Super Bowl party one year, and left early. Mary had never invited Christine over. She’d only seen Mary outside to retrieve the mail. She doubted Mary had a driver’s license.
The door opened, revealing Mary wearing a broad smile and Christine’s missing dress. She looked years younger than Christine remembered.
“Christine! What a pleasure! Won’t you come in?”
Completely surprised, Christine stopped herself from asking Mary if her mother was home.
“Oh, hi… Sorry to bother you.”
Everything about her made Christine feel they’d never met. She had so much energy and life. ‘Is this Mary?’
She twirled a little, and stepped onto the porch. “No bother. I’ve been meaning to call.”
‘Could it be the dress?’ Christine couldn’t stop staring at it. Her dress. With each movement, the fabric appeared as a field of flowers caressed by a breeze. Christine loved it more than when she ordered it.
And it fit Mary perfectly.
Christine felt dizzy. ‘How…?’
She said, “Wow, Mary, what a beautiful dress! Did you happen to…?”
Mary twirled, making the skirt flare. “I know! Can you believe Eddie ordered it for me? It just arrived. A complete…!”
“Eddie? Who’s Eddie…?”
“My hubby! You know Edward…”
“Of course. I know Edward… Wonderful taste… who knew? Anniversary?”
“No… he must have wanted to surprise me.”
“I’m sure he did. I know I am.”
“Come in. Don’t stand there…”
“I’m sorry, I can’t. Luncheon date. Want to come along?”
“No… You go, but… Next week?”
“It’s a date. I’ll call.”
Mary grinned, made a little wave, and shut the door. Stunned, Christine stood, mentally kicking herself. ‘Idjit! Why didn’t you say something?’
Now late, she had to order the dress, in a different color, today. ‘I’ll tell them it got lost in transit. Never received…’ Christine slammed her door and growled.
Edward finished his sandwich, at his desk, and crumpled the napkin. His phone rang.
“I miss you Eddie! I can’t tell you how much I love all you do for me.”
Edward scowled at the phone which displayed his home number. He shook his head.
“Who is this? Hello? You must have dialed a…”
“Eddie! Eddie! It’s me, Mary. Don’t hang up…”
“Mary? Are you okay?”
“I’m wonderful. And I want to tell you how much I love you.”
This was unprecedented. Edward had despaired from ever hearing those words again.
“I love you too…” He stammered, “Thanks for calling.” He realized that sounded like completing a business call.
“Eddie? Are you there?”
“Yes. Sorry. I had a brain freeze.” He did a face palm, trying to recover. “You sound wonderful, Mary.” ‘Think fast…’ “Are you up for dinner? Out? Tonight?”
“Yes! That’s perfect.”
“Wow! Yes it is… I have an errand, but shouldn’t be late. I’ll get reservations. Be ready. Okay?”
“Don’t you worry. I’ll be ready for you. I already am!”
Edward signed off and wiped his brow. ‘That was the biggest surprise ever…’
He looked at the ceiling and crossed his fingers. His marriage had become a daily practice of releasing frustrations, while clinging to sanity.
Though his afternoon was unproductive, the anticipatory tension was strangely, refreshing.
Edward arrived home with a bouquet of roses and a box of candy. Mary ran to his arms with squeals of delight. She kissed him voraciously.
Emotionally torn, he sighed, “I’m sorry, Mary. We’re due at the restaurant. We can eat and return to this… Or would you rather skip dinner?”
She gave him a sly look.
He smiled, “I’m good either way.” They fell, laughing, into each other’s arms. Years of tension flowed away.
She took his hand. “You’re right. You already made this special. Let’s do this right!”
She rushed to put the flowers in water and ran out the door.
By the time they reached the restaurant, Edward detected a shift in Mary’s mood. He touched her hand.
“Everything still good?”
She sighed, “I’m sorry, Eddie. I don’t want to be this way.”
He parked. “Don’t sweat it, love. It’s okay. We can turn around. Make it another time.” Doubtful, she looked at him. “Did I tell you how great you look?”
Mary relaxed. “I owe it all to you, Eddie love. Let’s go…”
The hostess cooed to Mary about her cute dress. Mary took Edward’s hand. He nodded.
They shared a wonderful dinner. But the best part was how they looked at each other. Having not spent an evening out in years, this felt like a first date. Yet they knew each other and had plenty of history.
The jazz combo played a familiar song. They sang along, badly. And laughed. The scrambled lyrics were fun.
Mary leaned in. “Eddie, thank you for this. The night, the dress… flowers, everything. I’m sorry, but I’m about spent.”
Edward signaled for the bill. “Let’s go then. Nothing to be sorry for.”
He paid and they stood to go. The band began a song. She smiled wanly and rested against his shoulder.
“Dance to our song?”
“Pretty tired, Eddie. Way out of practice... This shouldn’t wear me out… but all the people… the noise…”
“We’ll dance our way out. Hang on.”
Gracefully as possible, Edward led her in a meandering dance across the floor and out.
Mary apologized again. “Eddie, I don’t know what’s wrong. I only wanted to show off the wonderful dress you…”
Edward put his finger to her lips and held her door.
He got in. “This was wonderful, Mary. What a treat. You know it’s a beautiful dress. But it isn’t about the dress.” She looked startled. “It’s about you, the woman I fell in love with. I still love you, Mary...” He paused. “…Dressed, or not.”
She wanted to hear that, but struggled to believe. After all, the dress was perfect. But not her. She felt so unable to maintain the façade.
“Can we try this again?”
Edward looked at her. “Go out? Sing and dance? Laugh?” She nodded. “Any time, baby!”
She smiled. “The dress needs some matching shoes.”
“Or the shoes, another dress…”
Mary smiled and nodded.
Edward got them home. They slept holding each other close.
The next morning, Edward took out the trash for pick up. He noticed the address on the discarded shipping box.
Pulling the barrel to the curb, he saw Christine’s husband, Tim, at the same chore.
Edward offered him the empty box. “Hey, Tim. I believe this is yours.”
Tim examined it and smiled. “Have to talk to the delivery guy. Christine said the dress was a hit.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry... She said Mary was so thrilled, she couldn’t say a thing.”
“They share similar taste.”
“Yeah, but, what’s your secret? How did you get the credit?”
“Right. I’d never expect that, in a million years.”
“Buying them is one thing. But picking them out? Not on my life.” They laughed. “You are one lucky bastard.”
They laughed again. Edward paused and nodded.
He said, “Anyway, I owe you one.”
“Forget it. It’s a gift.”
“Thanks. I have to go.” Tim gestured toward his car.
They each said, “Let’s get together…” and laughed.
They waved each other off and went to their cars.