Obivious
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Obvious"
Originally featured on 09-02-2008
As part of our series "The Ancient Trappings of Humanity’s Endless Summer (Age-Old Traps)"

Even at this moment, there are millions of detectives searching for clues to the same respective mystery all over the world. Ironically, almost none of them are cops. Some are married, some divorced, some just started dating and some have been with the same person for years. These detectives are digging up clues, going over witness statements in their minds, thinking of ways to force a confession or if they’ve gotten one, wondering in the back of their minds about its validity. They are paging through cell phone call histories, looking at withered roses on dressers and sitting next to opened boxes reading old love notes or looking at dusty pictures. Building their case, brick by brick.

It’s rare that these detectives discuss the case they’re working on. This isn’t the type of case you can just talk about with anyone. Your best friend—maybe. A parent — slight possibility. To admit to working on it is almost like an admission of guilt on their part. Guilty of being insecure, weak or paranoid. Guilty by reason of Unreasonable Doubt. Guilty of Doubt. Or in other respective cases, guilty of Unreasonable Hope, Unreasonable Fantasy, Unreasonable Expectation.

Our guilty detectives are nothing if not vigilant and committed. They hear and see everything, constantly taking mental notes to review later. If they can find that rare confidant to talk things through with, usually their armchair detective partner becomes invested as well. If more than one confidant becomes involved, they form a team. With an unending supply of circumstantial evidence, these cases can stretch on for decades.

These detectives use the best of their analytical reasoning skills attempting to solve an Unreasonable Question. The type of question that could drive Freud mad:

Does he — Does she — Do they really love me?

***

It was summer. Thomas, Louise and Michael sipped from 32oz Slurpees and leaned on the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge. A flock of seagulls squawked and circled overhead. Thomas looked from the setting sun over to Louise and Michael who were nearly shoulder to shoulder. Over the sound of the birds, Thomas strained to hear what Michael said that made Louise giggle. Michael took Louise’s arm and connected his middle finger and thumb around the width of her thin wrist, confirming its size. More laughter from both Michael and Louise. Thomas looked back and forth from Louise and Michael to the numerous seagulls, all continuing their conversations unabated by his presence.

***

 

“I don’t,” said Louise.

“Yes, you’ve gotta admit-,“ said Thomas.

“No, I don’t think it’s weird to stay friends with somebody that you’ve dated. Why do you think it is so weird? Or is it just weird for you because it makes you uncomfortable,” she interrupted.

“It doesn’t make me-“

“Oh come on,” she interrupted. “Why’d you even bring it up then?”

“I was just saying-“

“Are you jealous or something? Is that what this is?”

“I said it was weird for a guy to want to stay close friends with his ex. Especially when she’s been dating-“

Close friends. What’s this close friends stuff? Michael and I hang out like once a week, tops.” Louise poured Thomas more coffee, then returned the pot to its niche and sat down at the small bistro table in Thomas’ breakfast nook. A bright lamp hung down over the table.

“With how much you work, that’s basically how much you see-“

“I sleep with you almost every night.”

Thomas’ face stiffened momentarily. Louise rolled her eyes.

“Well next to you, you know what I’m saying. We sleep together. We see each other almost every day. Shit Thomas, I work my ass off, I don’t see anybody that much for the past month. I see you more than anybody. Is this really how you want to spend our Sunday morning?”

Thomas paused and looked at Louise. At 37, she might have well been 25. When he met her, she was 35 and might have been 18. Her hair was in braids and hung down around her tan shoulders. She was wearing her black tank top and her Winnie the Pooh pajama pants. Then he said, “No. I wasn’t trying to start a fight. I was just making a comment about-“

“Look, maybe I’m overreacting. You know I’m stressed about work. All the marketing VPs, including that weasel Jeremy Coruminosephiello,” Louise clenched her fist on her napkin, “are trying to push through their stupid ‘Our Children Are The Future Gods’ strategy. It’s all I can do to get James to listen to me that nobody’s going to be motivated to buy more learning aids by the promise of creating a young deity. It’s preposterous. And Jeremy Coruminosephiello,” she was stretching the maroon cloth napkin between two clenched fists, “he comes parading into the Trench Meeting on Friday with his ten year old son dressed as Zeus-“

“What with a toga or-“

“Yes, the fucking toga and macramé golden belt and plastic lightning bolts over his ears,” Thomas smirked. Louise scowled at him. Thomas’ face straightened.

“So J.C. comes in — you know he calls himself that now, like he’s the fucking messiah of marketing—and gets all the VPs at the Trench Meeting in an uproar. They all want to dress up their fucking kids now.”

“You’re awfully anti-children lately. Especially for co-owning a company that caters to elementary school-”

“Well why shouldn’t I be? They’re monsters most of the time and parents act like they’re all so special.”

“You know,” Thomas exhaled and looked at her.

“What?”

“You could’ve taken the buyout. Maybe you still can. I know you’re a big deal down there-“ Louise checked his tone for sarcasm “-but the hours you put in and the stress, I mean, you could be out enjoying life. We could be out enjoying life…together. I’d like-”

Louise took the last bite of her croissant, got up from the table and leaned, kissing Thomas’ forehead. “You’re a sweetheart, you know that?”

He looked at her. And while they shared eye contact, he thought about the first time they met.

“I’m gonna hop in the shower sweetie,” she said and then she was gone.

 

***

 

It was Fall, Thomas and Louise had been walking around the Mission all morning stopping in stores. Thomas suggested the Mission because he knew about a store that sold cheap and unusual paints. He carried a bag with some nice acrylics and some new brushes. They stopped in a flower store just to smell the roses. Louise was unusually relaxed that morning, Thomas felt. The big ‘Back to School’ sales were all but over and her work had cut back. Thomas on the other hand was preparing for a gallery show, his first in a year, and had been putting in twelve hour days at his studio. Louise had suggested that they walk around and Thomas justified it to himself by suggesting Mission and planning to buy supplies. Once they had completed that task, Thomas’ urgency to return to the studio subsided and he felt relaxed for the first time in a month. The air was crisp and just the right kind of cold. Fall was Thomas’ favorite season and this was fall.

They had visited several antique stores as it approached noon. When they passed Mission Jewelers, Thomas’ walk had veered toward the entrance, while Louise’s had pushed forward. A momentary tug of war occurred before they unclasped hands. Thomas said he just wanted to look around and why not. Louise, having visited Mission Jewelers with her ex-husband many years earlier had responded that they pretty much just sold wedding rings so what was the point. The stalemate lasted about a minute before they trudged on.

 

***

 

“Of course he does.” Kelly said. “He’s an Italian from Long Island.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Louise. “He’s never discussed wanting to get married.”

“Italian. From Long Island. He’s thirty one, right?”

Louise and Kelly were getting Danish at Café Trieste. An accordion player hummed and intermittently dollar bills dropped into a top hat.

“Yeah, he just doesn’t bring it up because he knows that your last marriage was a disaster. You’re gun-shy and he knows it.”

“Maybe he just wanted to look at the rings. I shouldn’t have freaked out about it.” Louise said.

“No you should.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” said Louise.

“Why?”

“Because maybe Thomas sees you as an investment.”

“Noooo.”

“Are you sure?” Kelly asked.

The people applauded for the accordion player who had just finished his version of an old Elvis Costello song.

“Okay. Well let me ask you this. Didn’t he want to marry his ex?” said Kelly.

“I don’t think so. I think that might have been why they broke up.”

“I’m confused. He broke up with her because —“

“She broke up with him.” Louise corrected.

“And how old was he then?”

“27.”

“So either he’s not the marrying kind, or,” Kelly allowed the ‘or’ to linger overdramatically, “he wasn’t ready then and is now, or he didn’t want to marry her but he does want to marry you.”

“Maybe none of those are true. Maybe he’s just happy the way things are. Maybe he just really loves me.”

Kelly gave Louise her skeptical look. “Is anybody really happy with the way things are?”

Louise and Kelly turned to the accordionist. “He seems to be.” Louise scowled. A grinning Jeremy Coruminosephiello picked up his drink and began walking towards the door. Jeremy quickly turned his head and directed a plastic smile and wave combo at Louise before he upstaged the accordionist and ceremoniously dropped a dollar in the hat for all to see.

“He said something a while back though,” started Louise.

Kelly’s eyes widened as she turned. “Really? What?” Seeing Kelly’s immature reaction, Louise disregarded her own thought.

“Oh, never mind.”

“No what?”

“Well I was going on about how that Jeremy asshole, the big tipper that was just in here a minute ago, brought his fucking kid into work,” Louise clenched her fists, “dressed like fucking Zeus. And Thomas said that I didn’t seem to like kids for somebody that works in education. And the look he had on his face, well, he looked disappointed or something.”

“Aha!”

“Oh, come on.”

“Aha! He’s a breeder.”

Louise rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the accordionist who was now playing his version of an old Michael Jackson song. While they were applauding, Kelly got Louise’s attention and mouthed breeder. Louise got up and refilled her coffee.

Sitting back down, she declared “I’m not an investment.”

“How do you know?”

“I guess I don’t.”

“Well, do you know why he’s with you?”

After a pause, Louise admitted, “I guess I don’t know that either. We’ve never talked about it.”

Kelly asked, “Hey Louise, are you happy with the way things are?”

 

***

 

It was Winter. Thomas woke up in Louise’s bed one morning not knowing the time. Thomas hadn’t been able to find his watch for the past week. The watch was a congratulations gift from Louise after his successful show. The inscription read, “Here’s to time well spent…” and Thomas liked it so much hadn’t taken it off except when he helped Louise move her new bed into her apartment. After moving in the new bed and moving out the old, Louise treated to a feast of takeout Thai and a bottle of Old Vine Zinfandel. They ate and drank and made love and then passed out in each other’s arms. The next morning, Thomas headed to his studio without his watch.

Louise kept her house both clean and neat. She hadn’t mentioned finding his watch. Thomas walked from room to room. He looked on shelves and counters and found no watch nor did he find any clutter. After attempting to put himself in the mind of Louise, he reasoned that his watch might be in her jewelry box. Thomas returned to the bedroom opened the box. He sifted through rings and earrings and necklaces. They were all familiar to him, accessories that Thomas had seen on Louise many times.

All, but one.

Thomas dangled the bracelet, clothed in a small plastic bag pinched between his thumb and forefinger, at eye level and just stared at it for a moment. Shiny, new looking, and bright. He considered just dropping the little bag back into the box and closing the lid. This will certainly explain itself, he thought. Then he peeled open the plastic, carefully avoiding leaving even a fingerprint on the glue, and pulled the bracelet from the bag.

For Louise’s tastes, the bracelet was cheap. Black and white zebra stripes, made of plastic and vinyl. There was an inscription.

Old times never felt so new —M”

Thomas jumped when Louise’s cell phone rang. Then he heard the door and footsteps. He closed the jewelry box silently, and then still clutching the bracelet and bag, he ran into the closet. From behind a rack of shoes, he peered through the small slit between the door and the frame.

He watched Louise walk to the nightstand, pick up her phone and tell the caller that she had just come back to grab her phone and she was on her way back out to go to work. After giggling, Louise told the caller that lunch was still on at The Bullshead and that she knew it was on Ulloa and not Claremont so she would be there promptly at 1pm. Louise flipped her phone shut and walked over to her dresser.

Still holding the bracelet, Thomas imagined bursting out of the closet to berate her. Instead, he watched as she sprayed on perfume and hurried off to work.

Thomas realized he still didn’t know what time it was.

 

***

 

“Quarter to one,” said Malcolm. “See anybody that looks familiar?”

“I don’t know if I want it to be her ex-boyfriend or not,” said Thomas holding a cardboard cup.

“Are you going to,” Malcolm paused to watch as a young blonde passed. “What are you going to do? Go across the street and yell ‘aha!’?”

“Nah, I’m just going to watch. I’m going to see who this M guy is.”

Malcolm and Thomas sat at the window table of Peet’s Coffee on Ulloa.

“But how do you even know that she’s meeting M for lunch?” said Malcolm. Then Malcolm looked pensively at the counter. “How old do you think that barista is, maybe 19? 20? Definitely over 18, right?”

Thomas shook his head dismissively.

“Alright, fine. If you really think that the M guy is the same guy, you should go over there and yell ‘aha!’ so she can see how paranoid the guy she’s dating really is.” said Malcolm. Malcolm sat back.

Thomas wore sunglasses and a fedora. Malcolm was wearing the same thing he always did, his faded Smashing Pumpkins tee-shirt from their Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness tour and jean cutoffs.

“M…M…what does M stand for? Isn’t M the name of the guy that built James Bond’s cars and weapons?” said Malcolm.

“Yeah, but so what? That’s not who Louise is cheating with.”

“Oh, now she’s cheating with M.” said Malcolm. “Come on, Thomas. Are you for real with all this?”

“Explain the bracelet,” said Thomas.

Malcolm furrowed his brow. “Perhaps…Alright I can’t. But neither can you. It doesn’t mean she’s cheating.”

Thomas kept his eye on the entrance to The Bullshead. “What time is it?”

“Five minutes to one. You see anybody familiar yet?” said Malcolm.

Thomas took off his sunglasses. “There’s Louise. She’s alone.”

“Well she’s meeting the guy, or person — you don’t even know that it’s a guy, right?”

“It was a guy. I could tell by her tone of voice. The way she giggled.” said Thomas. “She’s going in.”

“So what are you going to do? You going over there?” said Malcolm.

Thomas leaned back shaking his head. “I can’t. I haven’t got a good reason to be there. I need you to go.”

“What!?”

“Yeah. I need you to go. Just walk in. If she sees you say hi, but if not just see who she’s with.”

Malcolm looked Thomas in the eye. Then, pointed at him.

“You know you’re lucky to have such a good-“

“Yeah, I know. Just go and be quick.” said Thomas.

“Give me the hat.”

“She’ll recognize it.”

“If I’m gonna play detective, I want the hat.”

Thomas frowned. “Fine.”

Malcolm got up and headed for the door to Peet’s. After a couple of seconds, Thomas got antsy and got up for a refill on his coffee. When he sat back down, Malcolm was already walking out of The Bullshead.

Thomas waited, tapping his fingers on the table. Malcolm sat down smiling.

“So?”

***

It was still Winter, just after the holidays. Thomas had just gotten back from New York. Louise had just driven back from seeing her mother in L.A. They hadn’t seen each other for a week and a half. Louise wondered during her time in L.A. whether Thomas’ mother had asked him about grandchildren. Thomas wondered during his time in New York whether Louise had missed him. Sitting at the dinner table, eating spaghetti and meatballs, they caught each other up on their respective trips. Neither trip had been particularly eventful. Louise and Thomas were both tired and with the plates half eaten, they made their way to the bedroom. Undressing for the first time in front of each other since their separation, Thomas spoke first,

“Hey Louise.”

“Yeah, Thomas.”

“I’m happy to be back. I’m happy to be here.”

“Me too. I missed you.”

“Me too. I love you.”

“I love you.”

They got under the covers. And after a little jostling, they found a position comfortable for them both, resting on each other. And in that moment, it was enough.

Read More By Doug Dean

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Portland Fiction Project

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