Alan Zendell - Writer
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Wednesday's Child -
Enjoy a great pizza while you read at Isa.Bella's
I didn’t realize Wednesday was missing right away.
A half-opened eye told me I should have been in the shower twenty minutes ago, which I attributed to having stayed up Tuesday night watching a ballgame from Seattle. Ilene always grabbed the shower first. I jumped in as soon as she got out, except for mornings like this one, when she had to shake me out of a baseball-induced stupor before she went down to the kitchen.
Speaking of which, why hadn’t she? She rarely missed an opportunity to sweetly tell me I’d stayed up too late, eaten too much, or forgotten to put out the trash, like she did with Marc and Gregg when they were teenagers.
Maybe she’d overslept, too. I rolled over hoping to see her face on her pillow, but she wasn’t there. Her side of the bed looked like it hadn’t been slept in, though I distinctly remembered her drifting off to sleep after asking me to lower the TV. Maybe I fell asleep with it on and she awoke later, annoyed enough by my late-night addiction to stalk off to sleep in another bedroom.
After carefully straightening her side of the bed?
Oddly unnerved, I wondered if I was ensnared in one of those dreams from which I wake up needing a minute to decide what’s real. I tramped to the other side of the house, not expecting to find her, and I didn’t. She hadn’t been in our bathroom, either. The shower was dry, the towels neatly folded in place. I called downstairs. No answer, but I could have guessed that. No coffee aroma at 6:00 a.m. meant no Ilene.
Unease became anxiety coalescing into a knot in my stomach. If she’d left a note, it wasn’t in any place I looked, but the message light on the kitchen phone blinked at me. Absent, at least she couldn’t chastise me for not checking my voicemail before going to sleep. My rambling thoughts weren’t helping, so I pressed the blue message button and was relieved to hear Ilene’s voice, at least until her words sunk in.
“Hi, Hon. I know you were planning to drop me at the airport tonight, but something came up and we had to change to an earlier flight. Big dinner meeting in Chicago, so I’m running home to grab my carry-on” (she always had it packed just in case) “and calling a cab. I tried your office and your cell phone. Where are you?” I heard an exasperated sigh, and then, “Love you,” and the message ended.
A friend of mine who received a “Dear John” message on his answering machine told me his first hint of trouble was hearing his wife’s recorded voice say, “I’m not coming back.” The affectionate tone of Ilene’s message was reassuring, but something still felt terribly wrong.
The pounding headache I had just become aware of would have been mind-numbing even if my sleep-fogged brain had been functioning normally. Oblivious to having come downstairs naked, I pressed my hands to my temples and dropped onto a kitchen chair, recoiling a second later from the shock of A/C-chilled leather against my bare skin.
I forced myself to think: it was Wednesday morning, and Ilene wasn’t supposed to leave for Chicago till this evening. It was right there on the kitchen calendar in her measured, precise script under Wednesday, July 16th: USAirways 1628, dep Newark 7:40 pm, EDT arr Chicago 8:22 pm, CDT. The only way her message could have made sense was if we’d both left for work this morning and I heard it tonight when I returned home, ready to take her to the airport.
I glanced at my wrist to verify the date, but my watch was up in the bedroom. Five frantic steps and I had the family room TV remote in my hand. The crawl line on the bottom of the morning news screen said Thursday, July 17 6:06 a.m.
Powerful fingers constricted my diaphragm. Heart racing, I dropped onto the couch before my knees had a chance to buckle.
My cell phone was on the table where I’d left it Tuesday night. I had no idea where I might have left it Wednesday night, but as Ilene would have reminded me – if you had a place for everything, you wouldn’t be losing them all the time – it was unlikely I’d have left it exactly where I had on Tuesday. Maybe I forgot it on Wednesday. Maybe I forgot Wednesday.
I reached for the phone and pressed the speed dial key for Ilene, remembering that it was five a.m. in Chicago only after her cell rang. I didn’t care. I needed to hear her voice.
The phone clicked. “Hi, Dear. Why so early?”
“I just wanted to be sure you made it okay before I left for work,” I said, hoping that didn’t sound lame. What if she’d called last night from her hotel and I’d forgotten that, too? “Did I wake you?”
“You know me, still on Eastern time. I’m glad you called. We never got to say good-bye yesterday.” That made a strange kind of sense, and the sweetness in her voice dissipated the last of my growing apprehension.
“What’s wrong?” We each always sensed when something upset the other.
I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone I’d lost a day.
“I woke up feeling weird, missing you,” was the best I could come up with. I could almost hear her smile.
“I’ll see you tonight. We got so much done at dinner last night, I won’t need to stay till tomorrow, so I’m catching a flight home later. I’ll call and let you know when, okay?”
“Yeah, great.” Unless I lose Thursday afternoon, too.
“See you tonight. Love you.” Then she was gone, and with her the calm her voice had brought.
I’m generally optimistic and confident, but there’s a down side in me, maybe in most of us. Have you ever had a panic attack or worried that you might succumb to one? That fear lies dormant in me, awakening rarely, but predictably. Like when I drive on a particularly high bridge in a strong wind or I’m on a long flight a day after someone was caught trying to smuggle explosives onto a plane. At times like those, for no sensible reason, having Ilene beside me makes all the difference. Her presence changes nothing, except that it does.
I sat contemplating the now-silent phone, consoling myself. I only have to get through the rest of the day and she’ll be home.
If you’ve ever looked into the eyes of an Alzheimer’s patient and seen the horror of realizing everything that makes him who he is is slipping away, you’ll have some idea how I felt when I was once again alone with my thoughts. Fighting to keep fear at bay, I made my way back upstairs, dropped onto my bed and lay there, trying to make sense of what was happening. I’d heard of people losing time after a long binge, but I rarely drank, never excessively. I sat up, shaking, worrying that an eruption in my brain might have erased a few billion memory cells.
I considered driving myself to an ER, but the thought of a waiting room full of sick people, accident victims, and drug addicts deterred me. I’d wait for hours, trapped in my head and unable to help myself while doctors treated patients with more urgent symptoms. When I told them I’d skipped a day, they’d think I was crazy. They’d admit me for observation and I’d never get out. I realized I was trembling.
Except for feeling like I’d awakened into a Kafka-esque nightmare, I felt fine, physically. My head wasn’t exploding, and if I could stop shivering, I was sure my body would function normally. I turned on the shower and let it run hot.
Calmed by the rhythm of pounding water, I retreated into the realm of logic and intellect where nothing could hurt me, where no problem was too difficult or complex. I’d figure this out for myself. I had to. I’m not one of those clichéd males who never asks for help, but until I had a clearer idea of what was going on I wouldn’t involve anyone else, not even Ilene.
Dry again, I pulled my blood pressure monitor from its case and wrapped the cuff around my arm: one-eighteen over seventy-nine, pulse sixty-eight. Nothing too terrible could be happening, right? It was time to dress for work.
The all-news station I listened to on my way to the station confirmed that it was Thursday and informed me that nothing earthshaking had occurred on Wednesday. Aliens hadn’t landed, Armageddon hadn’t been announced, and the Mariners had proved they could lose whether I was watching or not. I arrived at the office alert for anything unusual, but encountered only reassuring normalcy. Maybe Wednesday had been one of those days when nothing much happened, when I could have disappeared and not missed a thing.
The relative calm gave me time to think about how to deal with my lost day. I decided to defer worrying about how it happened and concentrate on what “it” actually was. Had I somehow actually skipped Wednesday? For that matter, what did “skipping Wednesday” mean? Had I been somewhere else? Had time hiccupped?
Maybe I simply hadn’t existed for twenty-four hours. If so, how had my one-day non-existence affected everyone who knew me? Ilene hadn’t forgotten me, but maybe that was just circumstantial necessity. What if she hadn’t been counting on me to get her to the airport?
I greeted co-workers, trying to gauge their reactions. No one seemed surprised to see me. No one said, “Where were you yesterday?” or “Good to see you back,” and I avoided initiating conversations more significant than, “Hi, how are you today?” I reached my office without mishap. Agitated as hell, I fell into my chair to catch my breath, wondering how long my metabolism could burn at this rate.
There was a sticky note clinging to my monitor: “Dylan – come see me when you get in – Jim.” A minor thing, except that I couldn’t remember the last time Jim had written me a note, and the fact that he’d gotten in early enough to leave it before I arrived was unusual in itself. Something important must have happened yesterday, after all, and I’d missed it.
Jim was a decent boss who eschewed formality, but he’d have expected a call or an email if I planned to be among the missing. If he was pissed about Wednesday, he probably had good reason, but he seemed relieved when I dropped onto an empty chair facing him. An express package had arrived late Wednesday from Tom Romanelli, a client who generated a fifth of our division’s revenue. Two weeks before deadline, Romanelli wanted to amend his contract. We’d have been within our rights to refuse, but being right didn’t always yield the best result.
“You’ve been going through all this yourself?” I asked. “Why didn’t you call me when it came in?”
Jim looked perplexed. “I don’t know. It didn’t occur to me.” He didn’t seem curious about where I was Wednesday afternoon, either.
I read Romanelli’s cover letter but couldn’t absorb much with my heart racing again. When an unexpected crisis arose on Wednesday, Jim hadn’t thought to call me, though on any other day that was exactly what he’d have done. Maybe, as he’d said, it just hadn’t occurred to him in the heat of the moment. Maybe there was another reason. Jim had droned on while my attention wandered. When I finally shook my head clear, he was staring unhappily at the imposing package from Romanelli – he hadn’t noticed.
“Is this the only copy?” I asked. “Why didn’t Gayle get one of her people to make more so I could work on this in my office?”
Jim favored me with a pained expression. “That’s not like you, Dylan.”
It wasn’t? What had I said?
Understanding dawned on Jim’s face. “You don’t know?”
My gut tightened. Something must have happened to Gayle on Wednesday.
“Sorry,” he said, “I shouldn’t have assumed. It’s just that you two are so close.”
Gayle Burdak managed the Romanelli project, and my job was to put out fires when things went awry. Ergo, Gayle and I spent a lot of time together.
“It was all that rain yesterday. She slipped on the stairs in the lobby and broke her ankle. Three hours in surgery. Didn’t she call you?”
Feeling like a sleepwalker, I shook my head numbly and went off to make the copies myself. Gayle and Jim, the two people I was closest to at work seemed to have reacted to my not being there on Wednesday by forgetting I existed.
I phoned Gayle as soon as I was alone in my office. “Some friend you are,” she said, sleepily, when she heard my voice. “I’m helpless and out of touch here. I thought you’d abandoned me.”
“I just found out,” I said, trying not to sound defensive. Her words had triggered a twinge of guilt. For a moment I felt like I really had abandoned her.
“I could come over and keep you company, but it might be better if I got to work saving your butt.” She had no idea what I was talking about – Jim hadn’t called her. No wonder she felt abandoned. I filled her in about Romanelli’s bombshell.
“Jesus, Dylan, what am I going to do?” It wasn’t that she didn’t have good reason to sound distraught, but Gayle usually took things more in stride. It must be the painkillers. People like Gayle and me depend on our ability to think on our feet. She must feel like her brain is slogging through mud.
“Hey, you know I’ve got your back. I’ll draft a revised work plan and bring it by for you to go over later. Just rest and I’ll see you in a few hours.”
She murmured something, and the connection broke. She’d fallen asleep. The doctors must have given her more than painkillers to make sure she’d lie still for a while. That explained why she’d seemed so vulnerable in her half-dreamy state, but not why I’d been so ready to accuse myself of not being there when she needed me. I must not be in my right mind, either.
I had another, less charitable thought. Where the hell was Rod, her jerk of a husband?
The knowledge that I’d lost Wednesday hung over me like an approaching tidal wave, but the brief connection with Gayle, like the earlier one with Ilene had settled me. Engaging with a challenging task and reminding myself that I was damn good at what I did enabled me to push my dread into the background.
Gayle had a talented staff; they’d have no trouble getting everything done. When Jim stuck his head in a while later, I was printing my plan for meeting Romanelli’s requirements.
“What are you grinning about?” he said, when he caught my eye. I was on the manic side of the rollercoaster I’d been riding. Better stop wearing my emotions on my sleeve.
“Gayle was upset on the phone this morning, but this ought to make her feel better.” I indicated the sheets spewing from my printer. “Have a look.”
Jim was leafing through my proposal, when we both jumped at the sound of screeching brakes followed by a crash, though we were on the fifth floor in a building with sealed windows.
“Shit.” Jim dropped the pages he was holding and turned to the window. A red sports car, one of the new “Z” models Gregg had his eye on, was speeding away, the cloud of asphalt particles and exhaust smoke drifting in the car’s wake confirming my disdain for the indolence and waste it signified. A mangled bicycle was pinned between a parked pickup and the van that had just crushed it, and the courier who had seconds earlier been pedaling down the street lay writhing on the pavement. People were rushing to his aid.
“Jesus, that’s Roger,” Jim muttered.
I recognized the red and yellow helmet, the dark beard and long hair, too. Roger was always up here delivering and picking up packages. Nice young man, serious and hardworking, a graduate student at NYU. It was pretty obvious how the accident had occurred, and I felt a hot surge of anger.
“I’d like to nail the bastard in that sports car.”