No Time To Read? LISTEN In English On-The-Go!
eb stepped out of the taxi and paused taking in her home. It sat peacefully, full of memories of the years gone by. The swings on the porch hung still now although there was a slight breeze blowing every now and again this early June morning.
The neighbor’s dog was leashed out in their yard. He barked a friendly hello to her, his tail just a-wagging. “Hi there, sweet fellow. It’s good to see you too!” Deb called out to him.
She unlocked her front door and stepped inside. A strange feeling enveloped her. It was like some weird sci-fi time anomaly as she looked around. Everything was like she had left it, neat and in order. The lights were off. Of course. It’s how she left them. Everything quiet. No sign of Mark.
She went back into the kitchen, aware now of the clock on the wall ticking loudly. ‘Moments ticking away‘, she thought.
In the sink were some dishes that had been left with water over them; a habit Mark had. He’d been here, but when? This morning? Or — ? Her phone rang and she jumped. She gasped and then felt silly. Retrieving her phone she saw that it was Mark.
“Honey, where are you?”
Mark sounded anxious. Deb responded calmly, “I’m back home. Where did you go?”
“I’m at the station. I didn’t see you anywhere and I had to get on to work”, he replied.
“You might have called me sooner to let me know today was your day on at the station, Mark. I walked all over the hospital looking for you!”
He interrupted her: “I did call you”, he shouted. “You didn’t answer! I had to get on to work… we’ve got bills, you know?” He paused. Deb could hear his intake of breath as he reined in his emotion. “Look, –I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight with you. I know you’ve had a shock about Susan, her being your best friend and all. Let’s try to keep calm, ok?”
Deb relented. “Yes. Okay. Look, you go ahead with your day and what you have to do. Mark? I’m worried about you. You didn’t look too well this morning. Are you? Have you been sick? What’s wrong?”
Mark made a sound almost like a hiss. “ssssh-Shoot! Here comes — Deb? The Chief’s pulling in. I’ve gotta go!” And he abruptly hung up.
Deb laid the phone on the kitchen table, running the brief conversation back through her mind. He didn’t answer me, she realized. How many times have our conversations gone just like that? We talk at, not to each other.
She walked over to the fridge, deep in thought, to pull out a diet Pepsi. She noted the fridge was in need. The milk was low, the juice was down and only a couple of eggs were left in the carton. The freezer was almost empty too. Was Mark coming home tomorrow? She should ask him to stop and get some supplies.
She picked up the phone and dialed Mark’s work number. The phone was ringing. It’s funny, she thought, I haven’t called him like this in –– forever. A male voice answered. Of course, it wasn’t Mark. This was not his cell.
“May I speak with Mark, please?”
A pause. “Mark? I’m sorry, Mark who?”
Deborah was taken aback. “Mark Johnson? This is Deborah, Mark’s wife.”
“Mark Johnson…”, he repeated almost absently. “Oh! Oh, yeah, Mark. Right. Uh, this is Ben Jacobs, Mrs. Johnson. It’s been a long time since we’ve talked, hasn’t it?” He continued on, but Deb thought he sounded almost confused. Why would he be confused? “How’s Mark doing?”
(‘How’s Mark doing?’) she thought incredulously. Deb was now the one confused.
“Yes, Ben, it has been a long time. I–, excuse me but what do you mean, ‘how’s he doing’? Isn’t he there?”
Ben cleared his throat. He spoke factually with no sugar-coating, but also with … sympathy? “No, Deborah, he’s not. Mark hasn’t worked here since about a year or so ago.”
A chill ran through her and she winced. His sympathy hurt worse than a slap. She was flustered and it was obvious when she spoke. “Oh, I- I’m sorry.” Taking a deep breath she fought to recover. What did this mean? “I didn’t realize they had switched his station. I usually just dial his cell, not the work number.”
Ben was all sympathy now. “I understand… But!” He drew in a breath and finished like a nail in a coffin, “Deborah he didn’t just switch stations. He quit the Fire Department altogether. We knew y’all were going through some things. I – I don’t know where he is now, but it’s not with the department—”
He continued speaking but his words were drowned out by the scream of words in her own mind: ‘HE’S QUIT?! He’s not there??? He’s lied all this time??? Again. Still.‘
Suddenly an alarm was blaring and Ben was saying, “Gotta go”. The line went dead.
Deb sank down at the kitchen table. Laying her phone down she noticed that her hands were trembling slightly. Then, like a flash of lightning, an image seared her mind’s eye. She saw it. The red truck speeding out of nowhere. Then the ticking of the clock riveted her attention. She looked up at it: 1:15. She felt breathlessly blown away.
Now what? What else is going to happen? An otherworldly fear gripped her.
And what am I doing just sitting here? Ugh! She glanced back: 1:20. Yeah, those minutes are ticking by.
Okay. Okay… Calm down. I’ve got to think. Why am I focusing on fridges, and Mark coming home? She laughed sarcastically. Mark is so far from “home”… and I’ve got to get back to Florida. My things are there in that room!
The trembling increased. That devil and his red truck! No. Before I think, I need to pray, and she bowed her head not knowing where to begin. But the Holy Spirit was faithful. She began to pray. ‘Help me, Lord. What do I do? I feel pulled in so many directions. Susan. She’s going to need me. Then what is Your Will about Dave? And now this mess with Mark. This is more trouble than our marriage, Lord. Mark is in trouble. I know it. On top of all the other, he quit. No more a fireman. I don’t understand. His uniforms!” At that her prayer ended.
She hurried upstairs. Yes, they were there hanging in the closet, just like normal. Think! What was he wearing this morning? It was, let’s see, his shirt… she thought, picturing him again. Jeans and a nice tropical print shirt. It had looked a little loose-fitting. She didn’t remember it. Wonder when and where he picked that up? Maybe Tessa had given it to him?
Her thoughts whirled circling back to … “he’s quit!” She said it out loud. ‘We’ve got bills‘, you said to me. Where are you getting money from?”
Then like the red pickup truck, the receipt for the $5,000.00 ring set she’d found was in her mind as a vivid image that became like a dart piercing her temple.
Anger smouldering now, she hurriedly booted up the desktop computer to go online to check their bank balance. The regular $1,500.00 was there. She scanned the transactions. All their monthly bills had been paid. And yes, things were needed from the store. Often she’d dip into the $1,500 to get what they had to have, but they always strove to keep that amount in checking for emergencies, since the kids had moved out. How’d you do it Mark? How did you get that $5,000 and keep her up? And me too? I don’t get it! But you’re going to. You just wait! Her anger was beginning to boil.
Deb had locked up the house and made her return to Florida. On her way there she began to form a plan.
‘Who can give me what I need?’ she thought. ‘What do I need? Answers. Answers about Mark. About me and her. And how to find this maniac that attacked Susan.
Back at the hotel, and in her suite, she lay down on the bed. The day had been long. She was tired and hungry. Tired won. She drifted off to sleep, resuming prayer. ‘Help me, Lord!’
She awoke throwing off her cover. Sitting bolt upright, she realized that she was wet. A night sweat? No, it was … Ohhhh. That dream! What a nightmare! In the dream, she had seen the red pickup truck speeding down a road. He had turned in at some kind of big building. It looked nice. Very nice. She saw a fountain and … palm trees. The next thing she remembered seeing was Tessa standing seductively posed at an exit sign. And a man’s voice, sadistically saying, “You’ll be mine. We’ll exit together, baby. Tessa’s Exit. We’ll never part. In death do I trust.” It echoed, reverberating vibrations even now, chilling her soul.
Deb put her hands over her face. She had a hard chill. It was so real!
Tessa’s Exit? What does it mean? Her death? ‘Dear God! Oh, Lord. Help me. Help her. This is bigger than marriage trouble between Mark and I. This is a much bigger battle, isn’t it?
To Be Continued
Thanks for reading. I’d appreciate your comment below! Betty Ann