Roger finished the email to his boss and read it over a few times before hitting the send button. The light hum of the air system and clicking keyboards provided the soundtrack of his typical weekday. He stood up in his cube and blinked a few times. It had been a couple of hours since he last moved and his body reminded him that it liked to change position every once in a while.
He walked around the corner to Chrissy’s cube. Her long legs were crossed under the desk and she wore a look of concentration as she typed away. Roger glanced down at her ample chest, forced his gaze back up, and cleared his throat.
Chrissy looked up with a startled expression that turned into a genuine smile parting her thick lips. “Hey, Roger.”
He looked at her pursed lips for a moment. “Never got a chance to ask how your weekend was.”
She crossed her legs towards him. “It was alright. I drove up north to my parent’s cabin and spent most of it up there. How about you?”
Roger shrugged. “It was ok. Took Maddie down to the park then to the doctor.”
Chrissy leaned forward, “You’ve mentioned your wife a few times but I’ve never seen her. Why don’t you have a picture of her at your desk?”
“Ah. . .” he scratched at the back of his head. “I’m not really a picture kind of guy.”
Photos plastered Chrissy’s cube. The pictures showcased all her amazingly good-looking friends, as if they belonged to some sort of exclusive club.
An impulse struck Roger. His ringing phone stopped him short of asking her out for a drink after work. He held up a one-moment gesture and went back to his desk.
“Financial services, this is Roger.”
“Roger, it’s Carla.”
Her voice sounded strained. Roger’s heart jumped into overdrive. “What’s wrong?”
“Uh, nothing’s wrong. Not wrong at all. Uh, I think you need to come home and see this.”
“Is Maddie ok?”
“Yeah, she’s fine, but you need to see this.”
Roger shut down his computer, his mind racing. What could Carla be talking about, and why was she being so cryptic?
His decade old Toyota groaned as he pushed it past sixty-five. He could not get to the condo soon enough. He unlocked the door. Maddie’s familiar shrieking filled his ears as soon as he stepped in the doorway.
He entered the room with his hands in his pockets and his face tight. Carla’s eyes were red rimmed. Roger bent down to kiss Maddie on the cheek and looked her over. Everything seemed normal.
Carla swallowed. “Look at what we colored today.”
Roger walked past Maddie and looked down to the picture of the dolphin family. Roger frowned.
“Ok, so where is Maddie’s coloring?” He turned to look at the fridge.
“Roger, this is Maddie’s coloring.” Carla nodded and began crying.
He picked up the drawing and walked to the window. The sunlight shone off the perfectly colored page. Instead of a mono color scribble, she had used seven different colors including four shades of blue. She had even drawn an “M” at the bottom of the page. Roger dropped the page and covered his mouth. Through blurry eyes, he looked back to Maddie.
He wanted to tell her how good it was, but the words lodged in his throat. Carla offered him a short and fierce hug.
Carla dabbed at her eyes with a wrinkled Kleenex. “It was just like any other morning. I cut out a picture and left all of the colors out for her. She crouched over the drawing so I didn’t see until she finished. I just noticed it took her a lot longer than normal.”
Maddie parked next to the cabinet and started at him expectantly.
“Oh, Jesus I’m sorry. I owe you some candy don’t I?”
He got her an orange sucker, walked back over to Carla, and asked her in a quiet voice, “Did you notice anything else different today?”
“No, it was a normal day.” Carla composed herself and said goodbye.
Roger glanced over to Maddie and couldn’t help think about Dr. Malum. He fished the card out of his ancient leather wallet and put it on the counter. The bone white card seemed like a pustule on the black countertop.
Maddie slurped away on her sucker and pulled herself around the condo at glacier speed. Roger kept looking at the gleaming white card.
“Dammit,” he muttered. He swiped the card off the counter and dialed the number. Dr. Malum answered on the first ring.
“Roger? This is Roger, right?”
Roger didn’t respond.
“What did she do? Did you catch a glimpse of her?”
“She, uh, colored. I mean, really colored.”
“I don’t know what you mean exactly, Roger, but that’s not important. What’s important is that you called me, and I can help.”
Roger stared at Maddie. “What do I need to do?”
“I need you to trust me. Drop her off at my office tomorrow morning at 8:00 and you will stay in the waiting room while I see her. Do you understand me?”
His mouth went dry and his stomach weighed down on him.
“Are you there, Roger?”
“Yeah. Yeah. I can do that.”
Dr. Malum hung up the phone and Roger bolted into the bathroom to vomit up the contents of his stomach. He flushed the toilet and laid his warm face against the cool floor. He looked up to see Maddie’s sneakers right in front of his face.
She smiled at him.
Roger got to his knees and touched her head as he walked past. He dialed up Arty and told him everything. Roger waited for the silence to end on the other line.
“So, this dude shot blue shit out of his hands like the Emperor from Jedi?”
“What? No, man. I don’t know, Arty.”
“Hey, I’m looking at the PDF you sent me, and what Maddie did is amazing. I just think you’re seeing ghosts that aren’t there. First, you have the weird encounter at the park, and now Dr. Feelgood is working some voodoo on her? Nah, man. I don’t care what the reality is, other than, Maddie might be coming back,” the last few words came out in a half choked manner. Arty cleared his throat.
Roger flipped the phone to his other ear. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“I’m not saying that isn’t weird shit, dude. I’m just saying crazy stuff happens all the time. No need to get all metaphysical and shit.”
“Alright. Later, bro.” Roger hung up the phone and reclaimed his wine glass from the top of the IKEA entertainment center. He gave it a little kick when he thought about what a pain in the ass it had been to put that damn thing together. He drained his wine glass and peered out the window at the city lights. From the eighth floor, the city looked to be jumping for a Monday night. Roger poured himself another glass of the sour cab and paced around the room.
He couldn’t find a reason, but his instincts told him not to take her back to Malum.
But this had been her only breakthrough since the accident. He would give the doctor one more chance.
The next morning arose in another blur, and the closer he got to the office the more his unease grew. He glanced at Maddie. Spittle hung from her lip and she nodded off for a second, her blue eyes blinking in slow motion.
Maddie awoke fully by the time he got her strapped into her chair in the chilly parking lot of the medical center. His visible breath clouded the bright aluminum of her chair. Roger pushed her into the entryway with a gust of wind that pushed him onward as if in encouragement. The second set of doors opened to them with a whoosh of sterilized, warm air. Maddie received her normal collections of hellos and smiles. Malum himself came out to the waiting room.
“Morning,” he looked over his rimless glasses at Roger. “Now, our deal is still on, right? You’re going to stay here.”
Roger felt like the last statement should have been a question, but the tone rang clear. He shoved his hands in his khakis. “Yeah. I’m going to wait here.”
“Good boy.” Malum smiled and pushed Maddie away while he whistled a happy tune.
“What a dick,” Roger muttered under his breath and pawed over the collection of three-month-old magazines. He settled on a sports themed rag and mindlessly turned the pages. He glanced up occasionally and slid down in the leather chair as the hour dragged by.
Somehow, he fell asleep. He dreamt he sat on the park bench like any other Saturday. Commotion at edge of the park caught his attention. Maddie stood in the middle of Malum and the weird lady. Except Maddie was the Maddie that he had married; the beautiful wistful bank teller that wanted to be a poet. The woman and Malum each grabbed one of Maddie’s arms and began to tug her back and forth. She opened her mouth in a scream and Roger awoke as the magazine hit the floor and Malum rolled Maddie in front on him.
Her chin rested on her chest. She breathed slowly. Malum had looked fresh and full of vigor just an hour ago. Now his hair looked tossed about and dark shadows encased his bloodshot eyes.
Roger stood. “Is she ok?”
“Of course,” Malum flashed a smile and his face returned to its previous youthful state for a moment.
“So what now?”
“I await your second call.”
Roger phoned Carla on his way home and met her at the front of their condo.
“Hey Maddie, it’s not nap time. Did you have a hard time sleeping last night?” She looked to Roger.
“I think she slept fine but the appointment took something out of her,”
Carla frowned and wheeled Maddie into the condo.
After his goodbyes, Roger drove into work. He logged into his computer and poured himself a cup of instant coffee.
Chrissy walked around the corner and stopped at his cube. Her light perfume pricked at his senses. She wore a form fitting gray skirt and a dark sweater that clung to her chest. “Roger, would you have time tonight for a quick drink?”
Roger looked into her green eyes, down to her mouth, and back to her eyes. “Uh, yeah, is everything ok? You look a little distraught.”
“Yeah. Well, no. Glenn has been acting like a total jerk recently, and I need a guy’s advice.”
Roger rotated his chair to face her. “Sure, I can offer you the enlightened modern male perspective.”
“Enlightened male?” Chrissy placed a hand on her hip. “Sounds like an oxymoron to me.”
“Allow me to disprove that over a couple of beers tonight.”
Roger felt the blood rush to his crotch. He turned back to his computer and assured himself that his motives were pure. He simply wanted to help her. He sent a text off to Carla that he might be a little late tonight.
Throughout the workday, he thought of Chrissy. He also called home a couple times hoping to hear that Maddie had done something else to indicate that a further step had occurred in her stalled recovery. Carla informed him that everything was normal except that she slept more than usual.
A new bar had opened up a few blocks from their office. Roger and Chrissy walked over there and shared a few office stories along the way.
The neon-infested bar held a full crowd. They found an unoccupied corner. A tiny server materialized from the chaos and took their beer orders.
Roger listened intently to Chrissy’s story about her boyfriend Glenn. He liked how close he had to stand to hear. He caught himself glancing down at her breasts when she looked away. He was pretty sure she caught him once and she smiled in response.
“So, do you think my friends are right about Glenn? I need a guy’s perspective. I have too many friends that are girls.”
Roger picked at the label of his empty beer bottle and motioned at the server for his third beer of the evening. “Glenn sounds like a D-bag.”
Chrissy squinted then broke into laughter, placing a hand on Roger’s arm. He leaned in a little.
“I guess my girlfriends had it right.”
The server swapped out his empty for a fresh one. Roger took a swig from his new beer. “Not only is he a d-bag, he’s an idiot. Any guy would be lucky to have you. I mean, just look at you.”
Chrissy bit her lip, leaned in and kissed his cheek. “You’re sweet.”
Roger, felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He looked at Chrissy for a long time and finally tore his gaze away. His phone indicated that he had two texts and that it was nearly 8:00. “Shit. Time flies when you’re around a gorgeous woman.”
Chrissy glanced down at his phone. “Is that the, uh, woman that takes care of your wife?”
“Yeah, that was Carla and I think she’s getting pissed off.”
“Do you have leave right now?” Chrissy pouted a little and took another step closer.
Roger’s heart beat harder and the heat spread below his waist. “I suppose I can at least finish my beer. Just a second while I text her.”
“So, I don’t mean to be rude, Roger, but can I ask you a personal question?”
“Go for it.” He took a swig of his beer.
“So, are you and your wife able to, you know, be man and wife?”
Roger laughed dryly and set his beer down on the window ledge. “You mean have sex? It’s ok to say the s word.” He sighed. “No. Not since the accident. It wouldn’t be right. She has the mentality of a two-year-old.”
“Don’t you get lonely?”
He nodded and picked his beer up not trusting his voice.
“This is going to sound really bad but I’m just going to say it. I like you, Roger. You’re really cool. If you ever want to, ah, hang out and come over to my place, I would like that. You better get going though.”
She hugged him straight on and she had to notice that he had the beginnings of an erection.
All the way home Roger felt dirty and regretful. You didn’t do anything wrong he repeated to himself.
Carla met him at the door with a raised eyebrow. “Late night at the office?”
“Carla, I’m sorry. I was having a round with the guys and time slipped away from me.”
She frowned at him. “Please be more respectful of my time in the future. Now go in and get Maddie ready for bed. She’s been zonked out all day.”
That night Maddie woke him up by calling out his name.