August 22, 2010

Close to Home

Prompt from Promptly: During your weekly housecleaning you find an unfamiliar cell phone in the cushions of your couch—but can’t recall having had any recent visitors. It rings.

My husband and I never lose anything to the sofa cushions: our pocket change is deposited as soon as we get home, our children are nonexistent, and our puppy isn’t allowed up on any of the furniture. So when I entered the living room that morning and noticed the cushions sitting crooked, I gave them a puzzled look and walked over to straighten them. As I reached down to lay them flat, my fingers felt a cell phone begin to vibrate, and the muted chords of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony announced a caller.

I paused for a second before I pulled the phone out from beneath the seat cushion. It certainly wasn’t my own cell phone, but no one else had been over in the last five or six days. My husband was away overseas, the neighborhood kids hadn’t stopped by, and I had met up with my friends elsewhere. But while I stood there uncertainly, the music halted abruptly. No voice mail message was left. And then the word unavailable flashed on the screen and the Fifth Symphony started all over again. I answered before they could hang up again, and an automated voice responded:

“Hello, Elizabeth. Something very important is going to happen today, and you must be a part of it. Be at 438 East Church Street exactly at 11 AM. Someone will give you further instructions at that time.”

My back stiffened and my forehead creased with suspicion as I listened. My first thought was a kidnapping or a robbery; that’s what would be in a novel or a movie. I racked my brain for anything important that could be happening, and came up empty. I decided it couldn’t hurt to at least drive by the address and check it out.

When eleven o’clock came, I was parking my car in front of Pete’s Grill. The sight of it brought a smile to my lips as I mentally replayed the first time I’d been there with my future husband. Drawing confidence from the memory, I got out of the car and walked purposefully toward the front entrance.

A man met me there, just as I put my hand out to open the door. He was a respectable looking gentleman with silvery hair and smooth skin and a smartly tailored suit. I looked at him expectantly and he silently handed me an envelope with my name on the front. I stood there and opened it, aware of the old man’s observation and of the sudden tremor in my right hand. A business card for a local day spa had been tucked in the envelope, with a piece of paper that instructed me to be there within the hour.

I drove slowly over to the spa, still completely puzzled by the whole game, unsure why I was going along with it. But I shrugged the hesitation off and boldly walked through the front door, looking around for another mysterious person with an envelope. Instead, a young woman’s voice called out a greeting and asked me for my name. I gave it to her, and she told me they would take me back immediately.

A few hours later, I headed out to my car practically glowing from the soothing facial I’d received. My scalp still tingled from the conditioning treatment they had given it, and my long brown hair had been expertly pinned into a twist on the back of my head. Even my hands and feet had benefited, for they had received a stimulating massage along with a full manicure and pedicure. It took me until I was inside the car and pulling the door shut to notice the yellow slip of paper tucked under the windshield wipers. This time, the note directed me to a little boutique that I’d passed by a hundred times during my walks downtown, but had never actually entered. I just barely stayed under the speed limit as I drove over, wondering at the progression of the day’s events, and enticed by the final instructions in the note: to pick out any outfit I wanted, accessories included.

An hour later, after trying on outfit after outfit, basking in the luxuries of rich silk and pure cashmere, I walked out with my prize. The owner of the boutique had guided my selections, and had suggested a delicate jeweled necklace and some diamond earrings to go with the fashionable dress. I didn’t find any more notes directing me anywhere, so I headed back toward the house. I was driving carefully, trying to focus on the traffic rather than the happenings of the day, when I noticed blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror. I signaled and pulled the car over, wondering what I had done to attract the officer’s attention.

The blue uniform approached my window. He bent down to speak through the window, and then he smiled at me as he verified my name, adding that I was to follow him to my “next location.” I rolled up the window and turned the key in the ignition, waiting for him to pull ahead of me. He drove us a few towns over – thankfully without flashing lights or siren – and pulled into the parking lot of a fancy looking hotel. The officer came over to open my door for me, then walked me into the hotel lobby, where I was greeted by a female attendant. She told me that a room had been reserved in my name for the evening, and that I was to array myself in my new attire before heading there. A whole powder room had been roped off and was mine for however long I needed.

After I’d changed and had my features enhanced by a makeup attendant, I glided back into the lobby, feeling like royalty. The attendant was waiting for me by the desk. She handed me a room key and pointed me toward the elevators. Then I was on my own again.

I rode up to the fourth floor and found my way to room 424. Our anniversary date, I realized with amusement. My fingers fumbled with the key as I entered it in the lock; the green light flickered and I turned the door handle, just as someone began twisting it from the inside.

The door was pulled open and my jaw immediately dropped, my eyes hardly believing what they were seeing. This handsome man in uniform, standing erect and smiling, with his hand stretched out to greet me – could it actually be my own dear husband, standing right there in front of me? As if in a dream, I felt myself falling forward into his arms and melding as one with his body. I pulled my head back to look into his eyes, to assure myself that it really was him, and started to ask him – but he put his hand over my lips to silence me and then closed the door to leave us in privacy.

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