“Just a headache.”
The headache didn’t go away and by the time lunch came at 11:30 Mike thought his head was going to split open. He followed the other faculty members out the school’s front door, squinting in the bright sunlight.
“We’re going to Hot Dog Paradise,” said Mr. Franklin, slapping him on the right shoulder. “Do you want to come along?”
“Maybe…” Before Mike could get anything more out of his mouth, his own car pulled to a stop in front of him. Patience rolled down the passenger-side window.
“I have your lunch ready at home,” said Patience, poking her head out. Mike climbed in, not paying any attention to those watching him from the school parking lot.
Patience drove around the block and pulled into their driveway. Opening the garage door with the remote, she drove right inside and parked in the shady interior next to the Tesla. Mike climbed out of the car and stepped through the door into the family room.
“What’s the matter Mike?” Patience asked.
“I think I’m having an aneurism.”
“No. But I’ve got a bitch of a headache.”
“Sit down here,” she said, pushing him into his recliner. “I’ll make you feel better.”
In less than a minute she had unfastened Mike’s pants, completely disrobed herself, and straddled his lap. And though she did work valiantly to make him feel better, and if he were truly honest about it he would have to admit that he did feel better, he still had that bitch of a headache. It hadn’t diminished at all. Mike didn’t tell Patience this. He just thanked her with a kiss, sat down and ate the lentil soup and strange little salad (with cous cous, bell peppers, dried fruit, and mint leaves) that she had made for him. Then he had Patience stay home and drove himself back to school. He arrived back just as his fellow teachers did.
“So, who was that,” asked Miss Treewise.
“That was my girlfriend.”
“Nice,” said Mr. Franklin. “Did you tell her you were rich?”
“She’s a Daffodil,” said Miss Treewise.
“Really? She didn’t look like a robot. You didn’t have any of that trouble we heard about over the summer?”
“Nothing to speak of,” replied Mike, making his way past them and into the school.
Holding on to the side of his head, as if to keep his brains from spilling out his ears, he unlocked his classroom door, opened it, and then relocked it and sat down at his desk. The rest of the afternoon was devoted, for most teachers, to decorating their classrooms and getting their materials together. Mike had been in the same classroom for ten years now and had very few changes to make in any case, and he certainly didn’t feel like hanging up posters.
He sat with his head in his hands for about an hour. Nobody bothered him, but his headache didn’t improve. Finally he got up and sorted through some of the files he would be using for the first unit he was teaching—Latin America. He walked copies to the reprographics department to have them scanned for the students’ texTees, rather than sending them directly. After he had filled out the necessary requisition forms, he looked up at the clock on the wall. It was nearly a quarter past two. He was legally required to stay until 2:46 PM, but screw it. It wasn’t like they were going to fire him two days before the start of school. He headed out the front door, climbed into the car and drove home.
Patience wasn’t waiting at the door when he came in. Of course he was earlier than expected. Climbing the stairs, Mike made his way through his bedroom and into the bathroom, where his opened the medicine cabinet and retrieved the bottle of aspirin there. As he tossed five or six into his mouth and started chewing, he glanced out the window into the back yard. Patience was there, wearing her large hat, digging some kind of pit or trench.
Mike sighed and walked back through the bedroom, down the short hall and into his study. As he stepped through the door, it suddenly hit him. For a moment he thought he really was having a stroke. He was seeing things that weren’t there. Where his desk now sat was a baby crib and across the room where Patience had her own little desk, was a baby changing table. The walls were covered with 8×10 and 11×14 pictures of a happy little blond girl with chubby little pink cheeks and huge eyes.
“Agnes,” Mike whispered, feeling the blood drain from his face. “Aggie.”
He stepped quickly across the hall to Harriet’s room, but it wasn’t Harriet’s room anymore. It was the guest bedroom. Mike moved through it in two steps and threw open the closet, but it was completely empty. He went back to the study and opened the closet door. The interior had been covered with shelves, now filled with the things that Patience had been buying and selling on eBay—Depression glass dishes, Hummel figurines, Disney memorabilia. On the floor in the back of the closet were six brown storage boxes. Mike pulled the first one out and opened it. It was filled with brochures from family trips, old maps, movie ticket stubs, and pressed flowers. He pushed it aside and opened the second box. This box was full of framed pictures.
Lifting the topmost picture frame and examining it, Mike looked into his own eyes. No, not his own eyes; the eyes of a Mike Smith that existed fifteen years ago. This Mike Smith was looking directly into the camera and smiling the type of smile that said he had everything he ever wanted. To his right was his wife Tiffany, with her happy grey eyes and that twisted smile that was just a bit too playful to be called a smirk. His almost grown daughter Harriet, with a her hair pulled back and thick glasses hanging from chains like an old time librarian, held onto his left arm, and his teenage son Lucas in his boy scout uniform, stood to his far right. And in Mike’s arms was a perfect little baby, with chubby cheeks and a smile like Christmas, and just a bit of that soon-to-be awesome blond hair. Aggie.
“Aggie. How could I forget you?”
He saw it all again, only this time it was a memory and not a dream. Tiffany was lying on the hospital bed, her body broken and bloody. Her mangled arm and crushed hips were far more alarming than the tiny bump on her head that had actually killed her. And just beyond her, on another hospital bed, lay little Aggie. She was several years older than she appeared in the framed picture—a precious four year-old that would grow no older.
“Traumatic amnesia,” said Patience’s voice from the door. “The memory of her death was so painful that you took down all the pictures of her and boxed them away. Then your mind did the same thing to your memories.”
“I remember everything now,” said Mike. And he did. He couldn’t stop the flood of memories suddenly rushing around his insides.
“We didn’t even really want another kid. Harriet and Lucas were almost grown up. But… nobody in the world knows this but me. Tiffany had this kink about getting pregnant. She really got a thrill from the possibility. Her favorite sex talk was about “getting knocked up”. Even when she was young, before we met, she hadn’t used birth control. She was just lucky she hadn’t gotten pregnant before. She never took pills, so after we decided that two kids was enough, I used condoms. Then after a couple of years, Tiffany wanted to spice things up. She started opening the boxes of condoms as soon as we bought them, and she would poke holes in half of them. I suppose it was only a matter of time, but it was almost ten years…”
“Before Agnes was born…” offered Patience.
“God, she was perfect. The cutest baby. She didn’t even cry. She used to fall asleep in my arms every night. As soon as she was able to sit up, I started reading to her every day. Well. When Harriet was little, I was finishing my masters, and then Lucas came along and I was working two jobs. I suppose I was so happy to be able to spend time with Aggie. I guess I gave her all the attention that I had wanted to give the others. And then she was dead…. Um, the police said that Tiffany was probably bending over to get something, God only knows what, and she veered into the other lane. Aggie was in her little seat. Tiffany always buckled her in. But… well, it was a head on.”
Patience put her hand on Mike’s shoulder, but he pulled away and stood up.
“I want to put these pictures back up,” he said.
“I know where they all go,” said Patience. Mike looked at her. “I saw pictures in the scrapbooks that show them hanging.”
Mike nodded and walked out of the room. He went downstairs and climbed into the car. Pulling out of the driveway and steering his way to the end of the block, he wasn’t conscious of his destination, but something down inside him knew where to go. He turned into the cemetery and drove very slowly to the southeast corner, parking a short distance from Tiffany’s grave. He got out, leaving the car door hanging open, and walked across the newly mowed grass. He briefly brushed off Tiffany’s marker and then moved on to that other grave. He dropped down to sit next to the tiny little angel statue which wore a nightgown and held a flower in her left hand, her right hand raising a handkerchief to her eye. Agnes Winnie Smith. 2016-2021.
Mike lay back on the grass next to the little grave. And he cried.