There she stood, with her golden hair whipping over her face from the furious winds. I had known her half my life, but in this very moment I didn’t understand her. She smiled. Her eyes left me and she stepped back.
My voice scraped past my throat as if my words could grab her. “Corinne!”
The things in life that make sense are common: the sun and the moon, the earth beneath your feet, fresh hot coffee in the frigid, autumn morning. Coffee makes sense to me. Two months ago, I didn’t bother much with what made sense. I lived my life the way you’re supposed to: according to the book. And you know what? The book worked. I graduated a valedictorian from Harvard and had a nice desk job where I wore a nice suit and made decisions that impacted the lives of nice people. I had a catalogue life. Martha Stewart was my god.
Something else happened with the help of the book. I met a girl. My highschool sweetheart, Corinne – and I married her after college. If I followed a book for instructions with my life, Corinne followed a complicated map of multilingual inscriptions and arbitrary code created by moonpeople. She was brash and artistic, and she never fit the mold. That was okay, with me – I’d be breadwinner anyway. Who truly knows what women do by themselves, right? Weirdos.
Life was spectacular! I was the most successful student to graduate in 2010, and my dad was proud. Work was… boring, but I mean, that’s work, right? I was happy. My wife was happy. Soon we would bring some babies into the world (one boy, one girl, hopefully) and at age sixty, the book would tell me to retire. Then we’d buy a quaint little shack on the beach and pretend we cared about the culture of whatever South American town we ended up in. The book worked.
But the book has secrets.
In the summer of 2015, Corinne committed suicide by stepping off a bridge. I… don’t know why. I never realized how much I loved her until she tore herself away from me. I never realized how much I could hate her until she tore herself away from me. These last few weeks, I’ve been staring at her picture on my desk at work. Employees of the company come drop off flowers and offer their hallmark condolences, and I just sit there and thank them and tell them I’ll be alright. Then they leave my office and start rumors about how I abused her or that she was miserable with me. I didn’t believe them, at first, but without answers – without so much as a damn suicide note! – I was left to similar conclusions. Maybe she was miserable. Maybe I should’ve spent more time with her. But the book never told me that. Spending time with my wife would never offer tangible rewards the way extra hours at work would.
One autumn morning I’m sitting outside on the porch where Corinne used to play guitar to the neighbor children. Another act of hers I never understood. They weren’t our children – in fact, I have no idea whose children they were – and her time wouldn’t be rewarded with a successful son or daughter. I sit outside with a cup of hot, fresh coffee. Our street is nice and neat. HOA must take good care of it – they should, I pay up the ass for it.
“You’re Mr. Kilder?” A voice startles me, and I look for the cause of it.
A chubby, white blonde girl with pigtails and an expression of utter fear on her face stands at the steps leading up to my porch.
“Why?” I ask. Like she could be handing me a damn subpoena.
“I have something for you.”
She makes some serious effort to climb the steps up the porch and hands me a folded piece of paper with dried, cracking red substance on it.
“I spilled spaghettios.” She explains as she turns and walks away.
I watch her leave before slowly unwrapping the piece of paper. I’m expecting another “sorry for your loss” or the new favorite, “life must go on”. Instead, I find Corinne’s handwriting in the shape of a single word.
Play. In my mind I hear her strong voice.
I stand up quickly and step down from my porch and into the street.
“Hey!” I scream at the little girl as she walks away on her short, stubby legs.
She turns, her eyes wide, and she begins running.
“Hey!” I yell again. “What is this!?”
But she ducks behind a lawn hedge and disappears from my view.
“Bitch…” I mutter. “What is this…?”
I stare at the word like I might decipher a meaning behind it. Play. Why would this girl forge Corinne’s handwriting? What if she didn’t? The alarm on my watch goes off, telling me it’s time to head to work so I fold the note into my pocket and walk back home. As I open the door, I see Corinne’s guitar next to the umbrella rack. Is this where it had always been? Something about it keeps my attention… play?
Ten minutes later, my suit jacket hangs on the coatrack and I’m outside on the porch with my sleeves rolled up and a guitar over my knee. Holding her guitar reminds me of high school, when we first met. She had taught me one song, “Je Ne Veux Plus Etre Seul”, and my fingers slip neatly into position as if it was yesterday. The day I met her I had fallen out of routine. I had overslept and hadn’t been able to fix my hair. I missed the school bus so I had to run to school. I missed my first class and failed my exam without even trying it. Utterly bummed, I had made my way to the bleachers where a beautiful blonde girl was playing guitar. She used to tell me how much she liked me that day. She liked my disheveled hair and my sighs of contempt. I never listened. She never saw me without a neat haircut since that day. The book told me it had to be that way. Now, on the porch with her guitar and her note on my lap, I look up and see the neat street and harbor a sudden sense of resentment for its perfection. Play. I close my eyes and my fingers take charge. Alongside the melody, a rush of emotions and memories flood through me, and for minutes I am blinded from reality. Through the music I almost feel like she is beside me. I play until I mess up a single chord, and it jars me aware. I need to get to work. I open my eyes and am exposed to a group of children (including the fat one that ran from me) all sitting on my lawn like little gnomes lost from their perspective homes. The sight alarms me, and I’m not sure how the neighbors will judge me for tricking them to my house. Is this adequate proof the police would need to label me as a sex offender? I’m about to stand up and shoo them from my property when one of the kids, a black boy with a Mohawk, walks up to me and hands me another note. Apprehensive, I look at the folded piece of paper and begin to realize what’s going on here. I inhale sharply before unfolding it. It says,