A novel by Peg Cheng, Draft 1
Chapter 2: Robbie
The man crouched behind the row of old beater cars wore nut-brown wing-tip oxfords shined to within an inch of their lives. His thighs ached. The grit of the blacktop etched into his fingertips like tiny shards of glass. But he did not move. He did not breathe. Minute after minute, he watched a woman sweep the front porch of a yellow house with weathered, peeling paint.
Though sunrise was just an hour before, the Fresno air was already rising in temperature and the man could tell it was going to be another scorcher, even in October. He was grateful that his car had air conditioning. He could stay cool wherever his wife decided to go.
He could see how even after nearly ten years, she was still his blushing bride. In today’s morning light, even just doing something as mundane as sweeping, she was absolutely striking. Still able to still his heart or make it beat faster with a shy smile or a brush of her hand.
When she finished sweeping, the woman went inside the house and closed the front door. Only then did he sit back on his haunches. His fingertips were dappled with little indentions. He brushed his hands together then wiped them against his pants, removing the grit, but not all the dirt. That would take soap. For a second he was mad about this–he hated being dirty–but let it pass. He needed to stay focused. He needed to stay invisible.
While he waited, the man twisted the wedding band around his left ring finger round and round. He had been a post-doc from Michigan. She was just a sophomore at UCLA. He spied her across the student union lobby balancing a teetering stack of books, her purse, and a commuter mug. Dewy skin, long, black hair, and big eyes the color of liquid pools of espresso. It was only a matter of time before some fool wouldn’t see where he was going and would crash into her. When her books tumbled, he rushed over to help her pick them up. He insisted on carrying them for her to the library. By the time they got there, he’d insisted again on taking her out for pizza that night. She agreed but only if she was allowed to bring her roommate. He told her to bring all her girlfriends if she wanted. She blushed and looked away, but she did meet him that night. Seven months later, they were married.
The man started when the front door of the house opened and his wife walked out. She carried a purse and a duffel bag. He watched her lock the front door, walk down the front drive, and onto the sidewalk. He waited until he could barely see her and then crept out from behind the row of cars. She was headed to the bus stop a few blocks away. He’d follow the bus in his car. Wherever she went, he’d go too.
He wasn’t going to lose track of her this time. This time, he was going to talk to her–calmly and collectedly–and he’d show her how he’d changed. He’d show her the man she married. The one who made her laugh. The one who brought her pistachio baklava on her birthdays. The one who knew her better than anyone else.
He’d show her and she wouldn’t be able to say no this time. He was her husband after all. And she was his wife. This time she’d say yes and go back home with him. He was sure of it.
Their vows said, ’til death do you part. If she said no this time, well, then, that would be it. She’d still be his wife.
He would just have to be a widower.
Photo of Hamish Linklater from IMDb