Russell woke when it was still dark. His head throbbed as the drink he’d drunk hammered on the back of his brain and stabbed needles deep into his eyes. He cursed when he banged his shin on the edge of the coffee table, which had stood in the same place for at least ten years. Maggie had arranged the furniture this way, and Russell had never changed it, never moved it. Maggie had rearranged furniture all the time, the layout never satisfied. Russell could understand running into things if Maggie had still been here, but she had left a long time ago.
When she had gone, Russell quit changing things. He rarely cleaned or cooked anymore. No one came to visit, and he seldom went out. His refrigerator was a science experiment, like a Petri dish filled with mould and fungi. The “Crisper” drawer brimmed with what he assumed to be a moss of some type, but he couldn’t be sure. It was safer not to open it. Russell lived on breakfast cereals, crackers, and potato chips. If he needed to splurge, he could always buy a pack of Fritos or a Twinkie.
Since she had left, Russell had received three postcards from Maggie. The first one had talked about her travels through the rust belt with a peculiar friend named Gunnar. Russell had gone on a thirty-day bender. He remembered nothing after receiving the postcard until he was sprayed down with cold water, by Officer Willoughby, in the Tillamook County Jail.
He lost his car, his cash, his credit cards, and his ID. It took five days to hitchhike back to Colorado. Once back in Denver, he found he’d lost his job as well.
The second card had arrived a year and a half after his return home from Oregon. The photo on the front of the card was a sepia tone shot of La Tour Eiffel. On the back, written in a cramped hand, that he nevertheless recognized as Maggie’s, he read the following:
-Qui aimes-tu le mieux, homme énigmatique, dis? ton père,
ta mère, ta s«ur ou ton frère?
—Je n’ai ni père, ni mère, ni s«ur, ni frère.
—Vous vous servez là d’une parole dont le sens m’est resté
jusqu’à ce jour inconnu.
—J’ignore sous quelle latitude elle est située.
—Je l’aimerais volontiers, déesse et immortelle.
—Je le hais comme vous haïssez Dieu.
—Eh! qu’aimes-tu donc, extraordinaire étranger?
—J’aime les nuages… les nuages qui passent… là-bas… là-bas…
les merveilleux nuages!
He put it on the refrigerator door. It took almost a year, but eventually, he found it had been written in 1942 by Charles Baudelaire. A short piece of poetic prose titled “L’ Étranger,” he removed it from the chill box and tossed it into the trash.
The final card was the straw that broke the Camel’s back. Maggie explained, in that note that, her manservant, Gunnar, had finally lost his mind. She speculated that it must have been from the drugs he’d been taking for years. So Maggie had abandoned him in Tangier. She wrote that she could arrange a ticket for Russell if he wanted to meet her in Istanbul. She would be there in a month.
Written for The New Blog Propellant Prompt #9
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