Excerpt from “If You Ever Change Your Mind”
A Short Story
On her way home from the bus stop, Rachel accidentally smiles at a man walking by. She had only meant to be kind, but he nods curtly, then walks half a block further before suddenly turning back.
“Excuse me,” he says. “I don’t suppose you’re single?” He is tall, not-bad-looking, but she is not single, so she smiles, only vaguely aware of the way she’s scrunching her nose (a trait that other men have found endearing, charming, even) as she shakes her head.
“Are you sure?” he says. He is grinning now. His teeth are white, and they catch on the light of the street lamp. She might be nervous – it is almost ten-thirty at night – except that he is kind and keeps an appropriate distance, and there are two other people waiting at the street corner with her, and she took a self-defense workshop once. Still, she takes her keys, wedges the heaviest and sharpest one between two fisted fingers, just in case.
“Yeah,” she says again. “I’m sure.” She glances at the signal, waits for the hand, with its pixelated palm glowing red, to transform itself into the little white walking man so she can cross the street.
“But thank you,” she says then, turning back to him. “I’ll take it as a compliment.”
“You should,” he says. “You’re pretty.” Then he tucks his headphones into his ears and walks away. He steps in time to the beat of the music, and she wonders, without meaning to, what song is playing.
“Still,” he calls out. “If you ever change your mind.”
“Thank you,” she shouts back, because she does not know what else to say and she does not want to be rude.
She climbs the handful of stairs that lead up to her porch, then pushes open the front door. Her husband peeks out from behind the wall of the kitchen, balances a steaming skillet in one hand.
“You’re glowing,” he says. The lenses of his glasses are beginning to fog up, so he sets the skillet down momentarily, wipes his glasses with the hem of his t-shirt. “Yes,” he says, squinting at her. “You’re glowing.”
So she tells him the story about walking home, about the man’s words underneath the streetlight.
“And to think,” he says. His glasses are beginning to fog up again. “At the end of the day, you still manage to find your way home to me.” And he hums a little ditty in her ear, croons it slowly as he parades her around the tiny kitchen, their dinner burning happily on the stove.
He is a good man, her husband.
Rachel met Meg by accident.
Rachel used to drive a delivery truck for a steak company, one of those fancy, organic beef companies that delivers door-to-door. She would roll down her window, tap the ash of her cigarette discreetly (employees were not allowed to smoke on the job, much less in the delivery vehicles, which were supposed to smell clean and empty and white and not at all like blood or life stuff or cigarette smoke) against the side view mirror, play Tim McGraw so loudly the bass would make the dash of the truck vibrate. She would drive with her left leg pulled into her chest, her right foot bare and alone, working against the pedals below.
But here, Rachel drove a bus and not a truck. Here, with rows of wrinkled, white-haired elders seated behind her, eyeing her in the rearview, she was no longer alone when she drove. And here, as of nineteen days ago, she did not smoke.
Rachel had seen Meg in passing before. But she did not notice her – not exactly, anyway – until she discovered her mail was missing.
She found Meg sitting cross-legged on the green electrical box on Second Street, just outside their triplex, tucked away in a graffitied, concrete corner of the block. She was wearing black orthopedic hi-tops with tube socks pulled up taut over rounded calves, dual blue stripes ringing her legs just below the knee. Her mailbag slouched on the box beside her, cards and letters spilling out. In one hand she held a cigarette, in the other, a postcard from the Sunshine State.
Rachel watched her for a moment, tried not to notice the way her cigarette played on the ends of her fingers, dancing from her fingertips to her lips, then back again. She walked over to her, rifled through the mailbag until she found her bundle, safely rubberbanded. She plucked the postcard from Meg’s hand and tucked it in her own stack of mail without bothering to read it. Already she knew Meg would not last the month in her blue uniform.
“Michael,” Rachel said to her. “In 6B. His mother is sixty-three, and she’s honeymooning in Tampa with a man half her age. It’s a scandal, or so says Michael.”
“So he says,” Meg said, looking up at Rachel from her stoop. “Michael, in 6B.”
“And the mail,” Rachel said, turning on her heel, “is late.”
“Shit,” Meg said, and put out her cigarette.