"I'm not going to make it," Susan told me over the phone. Her voice was, as usual, free of emotion. I ran my hands under the kitchen faucet before hanging up the phone. There was no use asking questions. Susan was as private as she was composed. Years of Lithium and a certain inborn secrecy had touched her so much that I had almost stopped asking her questions altogether—she would speak up if she had something to say, I told myself. When we first met it had been this economy of language that drew me to her. I appreciated her abruptness and honesty. She, in turn, appreciated that I rarely pressed her for more. At least, I think she did. She never told me.
The ground beef for my special meatloaf sat in a red bowl on the counter, the chopped onions and carrots next to it on a cutting board. I stared at the food, trying to make up my mind. Susan could have meant anything, from Don't wait up, I've found someone else to Go ahead and start eating, I'll be there after the salad. I had learned a few things in my time with her, like how to be composed myself, but special meatloaf doesn't taste as good when cooked for one. I got out the plastic wrap.
After an avocado-and-swiss sandwich, I cleaned our kitchen. I had spent the past few days tidying up for her return from the conference, and even if she wasn't going to have a favorite meal waiting, she should still come home to a clean house. Finally, the evening completely dark and the crickets chirping, I poured a measure of whiskey and turned on the news.
I never touched the whiskey. A reporter was saying that a bus, on its way from the airport, had lost its brakes going down a nearby hill. I checked the time. The bus driver turned down a less-trafficked street to try to lose momentum, but had inadvertently chosen a sloping cul-de-sac. Reports were coming in that the passengers had used cellphones to call their loved ones before the crash. My hands were at my sides. I couldn't feel them. There were no survivors.
This story was first published by BURST literary e-zine in 2008. The 'zine is, sadly, defunct.