Disappear

From their little apartment in the south of the city, May and Arthur watched the sunlight slant and gleam across the shambling buildings of brick and stone, like any other day. The shadows grew long over the crisscrossing streets and stretched over the heads of everyone hurrying to and fro and the close of the day. The two watched, sitting together at the window, leaning together as they always did so that their shoulders grazed when they breathed. Arthur reached for May’s hand and brought it to his mouth. He licked the sticky plum juice from her fingers, sending a familiar shiver across her skin. He kissed her fingertips, and twined their hands together, and after a moment their conversation resumed.

A man had come into the building where Arthur worked that afternoon and caused a stir. Because Arthur worked for the city, he often had strange tales of what had gone on that day. Often people would come in when they were lost, and sometimes they had been wandering for days. Once in a while people would come in to complain about the trains, which occasionally went the wrong way for several stops. May’s favorites were those who came in with misdelivered mail. Some of it was decades old, but the city always traced it back and put it where it was meant to go. Arthur had seen scores of people with mouths agape and teary eyes, fondling a creased bit of paper that should have found its way into their hands years before.

The man today had been so raucous that everyone on the floor had come to investigate. He had been shouting — “Raving,” Arthur said, and shook his head. “Totally mad. Raving about things missing. Poor man seems somehow to have misplaced his children. Yes, don’t laugh though,” as May stifled a giggle. “It sounds funny but he was really distraught. I think that was it, anyway, but it wasn’t too clear what he was on about.”

“So what happened?” she said, settling more comfortably against him.

“We all came to see what the noise was and he started to panic. Seemed really paranoid. We called an officer over and he took the man downstairs to a holding room so he could sleep it off. Whatever it was.” Arthur shrugged, shifting May away. “They’ll probably want to talk to him. See if he can get his story straight. I suppose they want to make certain he won’t be trouble.”

May leaned on him again. “Sounds scary.”

“Well, I suppose,” said Arthur. “Nobody could tell why he was practically violent, and nobody could understand him, but he was clearly upset about his children. Anybody would be a bit scary like that. But enough, it doesn’t matter anymore. Tell me about the bakery today. I’m sure it was somewhat less eventful.”

May laughed. “You’d think so, but wait till I tell you. We ran out of half of what we need for sticky buns, and the market only had half of what we were missing.” She told Arthur about the hunt for spices and fine sugar, and the sun shed gold over the city. When the view from their window had grown dim and musty in the evening, they gathered themselves to eat dinner.

When the morning light woke her, May nestled against Arthur for a moment before pulling out of bed. He usually left before she did, so it was a rare treat to find his warmth still beside her in the morning. It made getting out of bed a wrench, because she had to leave such comfort for the cold of early morning.

May leaned against the bricks while she waited for Arthur until they left a dent in her skin. Her feet were aching, so she conceded to sit on a step, arms draped over her knees and hands hanging down. She tried not to think about what was rubbed into the stone of the step beneath her, touching her clothes.

He reached for her hand, and she startled at the touch, looking up to see him. He smiled his familiar smile at her. Today at the fruit stand there were plums again, and peaches. They bought peaches this time and set out to walk the rest of the way home, where their window showed the sun hanging low over the city. Arthur took a bit just when May asked, “So any stories happen at work today?”

Arthur shrugged, his mouth full of peach, and said nothing. When he had swallowed and still did not answer, May said, “What, nothing? What about the fellow from yesterday, any news?”

Arthur looked at her, forehead furrowed. “What? Oh, I suppose not.”

“Did they let him go home? I hope he gets better.”

“I don’t know,” said Arthur, and frowned. “Tell me about you, I haven’t got anything good to tell today.”

So May told him about the burnt batch of cookies and the head baker’s increasing exasperation with the new boy. The sun slipped behind stone and the sky lost its light, as it did every day. She talked and joked, and it felt as good as ever to make Arthur burst into laughter. May fell asleep, contented and curled against him, and had no dreams.

May woke up the next morning feeling the air stroke cold fingers down her shoulder. Arthur had gone already and the covers were thrown off her. She dressed and went to work, shivering slightly.

She waited for him at their corner, but he never came. As the light began to fade, she left. On the way home, she stopped at the fruit stand, hoping that he would meet her before it was too late. The woman at the fruit stand was almost finished packing everything up for the day, and she called out when she saw May.

“Afternoon, dear! Thought I’d missed you and your husband today. I saved you some peaches in case, left from yesterday. Working late, is he?”

May nodded, and thanked her. As the day waned, she worried her way home. She waited until the window only showed glimmerings of light in the darkness of the city before she ate both peaches. She was full and sticky. She was alone, so she went to bed, aching and sick to her stomach.

At the bakery the next day, May misplaced a basket of pastries and left without saying goodbye. Nobody noticed her ducking out the door, or turned to look as the bell chimed to signal that someone had gone. She walked to the fruit stand and bought a pear. She ate it on the way home, walking the winding streets. When she reached the apartment, she tossed the core on the table and sat in front of the window to watch the city hum and writhe. People scurried and clambered like crawling insects, and she looked at them move with no particular interest. She went to sleep early.

For a week, May walked in a fog. She went to work and she went home, but there was a weight pressing on her mind. When she fell asleep, she felt cold. When she awoke, she scanned the room as if expecting to see someone else there. She scolded herself – there was no need to be paranoid, nobody had invaded her home. When she walked home, she had a wrinkle in her forehead telling her that she had forgotten something. Even when she doubled back, though, finally shook her head and walked all the way back to the bakery, there was nothing there. She had taken everything with her. The house was waiting for her as always, though she had missed the sunset. She shrugged away the shiver and told herself to breathe slow and deep.

The next day at the bakery, and the one after it, were without incident. The new boy did somewhat better, and calm settled into May’s life. She found a pear, all bitten to the core, rotting on her kitchen table, and threw it out, with some contempt for her bad habits. She bought berries on the way home one day, and watched the sunlight melt over the city with sweetness on her tongue and the comfort of a familiar habit wrapped around her like a shawl in the dimming warmth of the day.

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