Unsatisfying Encounters

Ned hadn’t talked to Sarah for a long time. When he saw her, pondering three brands of spaghetti, he stared for a long minute before he realized who she was. She looked up, with that crooked eyebrow he remembered, skeptical about the strange man eyeing her in the supermarket. When she saw him her face brightened and she smiled, until she seemed to remember and the gladness dampened a bit. He grinned, steeled himself, and lunged for a hug. She let him, though her arms were stiff and she pulled away too soon.

“Sarah, my God, I haven’t seen you for ages. How have you been?” His voice wavered with the question.

“Pretty good, all things considered. You know, working and things. I’m really busy lately, actually, which is nice. How are you?”

Ned nodded. “Pretty good too. I actually just moved back around here, I’m about half an hour away but I work near here. Never did go back to school.” Her wry grin crinkled at the corners just the way it used to.

“Well,’ she said, “you’re working, you’re doing okay, right? So I guess you never needed to.”

“Guess not. Sometimes I wish I had. What about you?”

“You mean, do I wish I had? I did. Or were you asking something else? I mean, that’s what I would have wished, if I hadn’t. Oh, that’s all confused. Do you know what I mean?”

“I think so,” he said. He didn’t, but he didn’t think it mattered.

Sarah snatched a box of pasta off the shelf and tucked it into her basket, starting off down the aisle. She said, “Listen, I actually have to run. Good talking to you.”

Ned wheeled. He called after her retreating back, “I’d love to catch up sometime, if you have a moment, you know.” He cursed his tongue-tied fumbling. That felt familiar. “I mean, we haven’t seen one another for a good while. It’s been too long.”

She looked at him. “Has it, though?”

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The Sleepless Widow

Jen sometimes took walks in the dark. It was oddly peaceful to slip out after the streetlights winked on and the shadows engulfed the streets, to walk through the glow of a light and then swim blind through the shadows only toward the next bright spot. When everything was quiet she would leave, her dishes tumbled in the sink and the bedroom light left on. When the door clicked closed she was suddenly back in the world, not in the house that wrapped her tight and kept her closed off.

When she walked down the street, there was nobody there. She only had to navigate past the odd trash bag spilled out over the sidewalk, belated leftover from the garbage truck. Her thoughts rose up around her and spiraled out, and she followed their threads as she walked. She was so caught up in her mind that she nearly bumped into an elderly woman, stepping with slow solemn care along the sidewalk.

Jen said, “Oh, I’m sorry!”

“That’s all right, dear,” said the lady. “I understand. After all, I’m taking a walk at night too, right?”

Jen fixed a polite smile on her face and nodded. “Yes, certainly. Do you walk often?” She cursed herself silently for starting a conversation, realizing too late.

“Sometimes,” the woman confided, leaning toward Jen. “Sometimes I just can’t sleep, and my house is empty now. Then there’s really nothing for it but this dark sorcery of the night, don’t you know?”

Jen looked up at her, startled. The old lady was grinning, but her face was sweetly set in wrinkles and her eyes gleamed with the yellow shine of the streetlights.

Jen nodded cautiously, and said, “I suppose so.”

The lady let out a chuckle at that, and said, “It’s quite all right, sweetie. What brings you out at this odd hour?”

“I just like to walk at night,” she said. “That’s all.”

The old woman laughed again. “Yes, of course. And at night you never know whom you might meet.”

Jen’s eyebrows drew together, but the old woman was still smiling. “I met you.”

“Just so, then.” The woman, a smile still stretched over her creased face, nodded at her and turned her face forward again, taking a small step on the concrete.

She walked slowly after that, looking behind her every now and then. There was nothing remarkable there, though, just the shape of the old lady disappearing slowly in the night.

When Jen got back home, she stretched across the cool sheets of the bed and curled her hands in the blankets. She was tired after a long walk, and she fell asleep into restless dreams of moonlight and magic.