A continuation of Chapter 1

 

 

When he returned home from work today, Jack noticed his mom’s shattered cup in the bottom of the wastebasket. He had seen the pieces swept into a corner of the kitchen for two days and waited to see if Claire would explain what happened. She hadn’t. Now the keepsake lay there discarded.

  The cup was a small memento, but its loss triggered a fear in him that other precious things of hers he’d kept through the years might be ruined, too. He tried in vain to shake the feeling, but it was like an omen—the thief would return to destroy more.

  Each item he gathered for the suitcase reminded him of his painful teen years. He set the photo on top of letters written by his mom, letters of hope and dreams for him. The remains of her cup lay in a bag next to a teddy bear she had played with as a child. He grimaced as he covered the collection with the wrinkled hat she had worn after chemo stole her hair. The box of dominoes that always lay on her bedside table would fit in last.

  But what about my marriage to Claire? How could events almost thirty years ago rival those of his and Claire’s today? They couldn’t.

  Searching the apartment, he piled the precious items that traced the course of their marriage next to the suitcase: their wedding invitation, simply framed with a white dove at the top; the miniature tea service she loved from Brazil; figurines—three small Lladros and a Hŭmmel Plate—purchased in Heidelberg. He folded the Cowboy shirts they sported at A&M football games and covered them with the silk shawl Claire had worn to the consul general’s holiday ball in Panama.

  Lying back on the comforter that Claire had bought after they moved to Germany, his eyes focused on his favorite picture, taken three years after they married. Against the dark outline of Rio’s Sugar Mountain, their happy faces gleamed, his arm around her shoulders; her expression was vibrant, his, spirited. That same glow could have been captured in a photo when they moved to Germany eighteen months ago. But no longer.

  Recalling happier days, he grinned. Claire had been so playful through the years. He reflected on the time when she wore only her favorite necklace and a silk ribbon with a large bow dangling at her waist as she led him into their bedroom. They shared passionate love frequently in those days.

  But intimacy was rare now. She slept on her side, away from him. Whenever he asked about it, she’d change the subject. He read her indifference as rejection. How long could he remain in Germany with these uncertainties? He had always been faithful to Claire. He shook his head. What was the real meaning of packing these things?

  He placed the shawl over the treasures and started to close the suitcase when he heard a noise from below.

  “Jack?” Claire called.

  Startled, he hurried to hide the case.

  “Jack, are you there?”

  Looking down from the bedroom, he saw her at the bottom of the stairs. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

  “What are you doing?”

  “Nothing.” He rushed to finish, but the items were too fragile.

  Claire scampered up the stairs and into the bedroom as he began zipping the suitcase closed. “Jack?” Her voice faltered. “Where are you going?”

  Nowhere. I thought you were visiting Frau Baum.”

  Yes, I was.”

  Jack wondered what Frau Baum might have thought when she saw Claire this afternoon. Her hair looked like she’d just gotten out of bed, and she was wearing one of his tee shirts which she’d said she needed because of the extra weight she’d gained.

  “What’s in there?” she demanded. She pushed him aside, zipped open the bag, and began tossing the contents on the bed. “What’s all this?”

  Jack jumped to catch his mom’s picture before it hit the floor.

  Claire grabbed the sack of glass fragments. “Ouch,” she said, and jerked her hand away, trailing blood across the bag.

  Jack reached out to console her. “I’m sorry, honey. It’s Mom’s cup.”

  Claire touched her finger to her tongue. “I thought I threw—”

  “I picked the pieces out of the trash.”

  “I’m sorry. I don’t know how it happened.” She looked into his eyes. “Where have you been?”

  “You know where I’ve been. I got in from work a little early.” He didn’t ask what she’d done all day. Breakfast dishes filled the sink, and dinner preparations had not begun.

  “You’re packing?”

  “I’m just putting a few things away.”

  “Don’t go, Jack. Please don’t leave me.”

  “I’m not leaving you. I’m packing some of our things so they won’t get broken.” He gathered the items and replaced them in the suitcase. “You take a shower, and I’ll take Trixie for a walk. When I get back, we’ll go out to eat. How ’bout that?”

  “I know your mom’s cup meant a lot to you. I think I hit it with my elbow.”

  “It’s okay.” 

  “I meant to cook tonight. I defrosted something, but…” Claire shrugged.

  “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “We’ll eat at the Schnitzel Haus.”

Claire brightened. “Okay.” She took a towel from the closet and headed for the shower humming.

  Jack opened the bedside table drawer to find the last of his mom’s keepsakes, the dominoes.

  The cardboard box brought back memories of biting hospital odors. When his mom could no longer play dominoes, he and Aunt Trudy played next to the bed so his mom could see. Aunt Trudy, his lifeline in those days, had left her home in Dallas to be with her sister. What a marvelous woman!

  He lifted the worn cover: the 2:3 piece. Seeing it again sent shivers through him. As he was prying the domino from the first row, it fell from the carton and rattled across the floor. Jack froze. That very sound had horrified him when his mom’s hand swept across the bedrail, slapping the domino, this domino, onto the hospital floor. He had pushed his chair back to the wall while Aunt Trudy rushed for help. Hospital personnel clustered around her, but he knew the empty gaze meant she was already gone.

  His hand trembled as he picked up the domino and replaced it in the box. The collection complete, Jack slipped the case onto the closet shelf.

 

 

When Jack returned from walking Trixie, their miniature Alaskan Eskimo, he tiptoed up the stairs to see if Claire was ready to go for dinner. She lay in bed smiling with the comforter pulled to her chin. When he leaned over to kiss her, she flipped the covers aside. A flash of the spontaneous, sexy Claire of the past flew into the present.

  “I want—”

  “I know.” Jack leaned over the bed to kiss her.

  Claire bolted from the bed, dragging the sheet over her body. “What are you doing?”

  “I love you, honey.”

  “I want to buy some shoes.”

  Jack eased off the bed. “Oh.”

  “Traci said the sale is tomorrow at the PX. Will you go with me?”

  “The ski trip’s tomorrow, Claire. I promised the guys at the office I’d go with them to Garmisch. How about next week?”

  “No.”

  “What about Sunday afternoon?”

  “I’ll go by myself.”

  Jack moved from the bed. She might really go. It was okay for her to go alone in the past, but now things were too uncertain, and she hadn’t driven in months. “Why can’t we wait?”

  “I want to be with my husband.” She took a step toward him and placed her arms about his neck. “Besides, you haven’t shopped with me in a long time.”

  “But honey…” He pulled away. “I planned to go skiing.”

  “Please.”

  “Claire, you agreed that going with the guys would be a good break for me.”

  “I’m sorry. I forgot.”

  “Forgot!” His eyes brightened when he thought of an option. “Maybe Traci’s going. You could go with her.”

 “I want you to go, Jack.”

 Looking down, he shook his head.

 “Please.”

   “All right, tomorrow.”