Story by: Henry Martin
Photo by: Karl Strand
She’s been haunting me for years, ever since the fateful night I took her from her bed, and carried her into my car.
Now and then, when I’m alone and everything is hushed, I can still hear her cries as she makes her way toward me. Then I stop wherever I am at the moment, staring motionless until she reaches me. She is wearing the same raincoat she had on when I put her in the back seat of my car, slammed the door, and sped away from her mom.
She used to be the object of my hidden affection—affection I could never express when her mother was around. But as soon as I found myself alone with her, I would run my fingers through her blond hair, whispering gentle words of love. My Lee . . . that’s what I had called her. My beautiful Lee.
Her mother called her by her full name—Leora. It sounded harsh, impersonal. Then again, our paths rarely crossed when they were together, so I didn’t let it bother me too much. Once we were alone, she was my Lee.
Fortunately, her mother was never at home in the morning, so I got to watch her get ready for school and wait for the bus. She would stand there, by the side of the road, waving and smiling at me as I sipped my coffee behind the window. Peering through the panes, I did not move until after the bus doors closed behind her.
When she returned, I watched her get off the bus and walk up the driveway. I was there, every day, waiting for that very moment. I brushed her hair, helped her change into elegant clothes, and we had whimsical tea parties. Just she, a bunch of stuffed animals, and I. She was my princess, and I was the king of her world. I felt that nothing could go wrong as long as we had each other.
Her mom used to get home around five, and I made sure I was gone by then. A few minutes later, I was already clocking in at work. An uninspiring security job in a downtown office building. I worked the second shift, which allowed me to spend most of the afternoon alone with my Lee.
Not that her mother ever really noticed me, even when our paths crossed. I’d guess that there was a time when we were friends, but once she’d found out about my little secret, she had decided to ignore me. What secret? I’d rather suffer in a lousy job and spend time with Lee than work on my own future. Her mother hated the thought, so she would drink herself into oblivion every night.
It may sound bad, but I was actually happy. By the time I made it back to the neighborhood she was usually half drunk, snoring in front of the TV. As soon as I knew she was incapacitated, I would sit on the porch, and look at Lee through the window as she slept. I had loved every minute of it. Her hair spread on the pillow, she appeared almost angelic when the moonlight hit her just right. My little angel.
Now, just thinking about it makes me want to cry. But I had shed too many tears since that fatal night that I have none left. Nowadays I spent most of my time alone, wandering around the city hoping, and at the same time terrified, to see Lee again. Nothing has been the same, and nothing ever will. I cannot let her go, yet I feel lost when I see her. It always makes me relive the worst night of my life.
That night, as I sat on the porch, her mother came outside. An almost empty bottle of booze in her hand, she staggered towards me, her lips twisted in a painful grin.
“Looking at your princess?” she cackled.
“Yeah.” There was no point to hide it. She had caught me red-handed.
“You love her more than you ever loved me.”
“She never hurts me the way you do.”
“I hurt you? What about you . . . what about all the promises you failed to fulfill? What about me?”
“You,” I uttered, “you are the one who failed. Me, her, all of us. Just look at you . . . you can hardly stand!”
“Fuck you!” She rushed inside, slamming the door behind her.
I went back to the window. Lee tossed in her bed, but remained asleep. Suddenly, her bedroom door opened and my wife walked in. She grabbed Lee by the hair. Lee screamed.
I kicked the door open and ran inside. Lee was shrieking while her drunken mother pulled chunks of her hair out.
“Let her go!” I seized her arms, and shoved her out of Lee’s bedroom.
She was pounding on the door with her fists, howling, “You’ll never have her! She’s mine!”
I looked at Lee. She had collapsed onto the floor, her body shaking between sobs. I yanked a raincoat off the hook beside the door, and stood her up.
“Put this on, honey. Please.”
She obeyed. I sat her on the bed, slipped her sneakers on her feet, and we climbed out the window.
We made it to my car without my wife noticing, but as soon as she heard the engine start, she ran outside. Something bright glistened in her hand. I stepped on the gas.
We had made it onto the road, heading toward town. Lee kept sobbing, and I tried my best to calm myself down by talking to her in a low, peaceful voice. Suddenly, a car slammed into ours from behind. I caught a glimpse of my wife’s face as we spun off the road.
Our car jumped over a ditch and came to rest against a tree. The impact was not great, but in all the hurry, I forgot to fasten Lee’s seatbelt. She had died in my arms before the ambulance arrived.
I haven’t seen my wife since I testified at her trial. As for Lee, she visits me often, still wearing the same raincoat. And while her visits frighten me, I can’t stop looking forward to the next one. Sometimes, I just stand in an empty street, waiting for her to reach me.
Henry Martin is the author of the Mad Days of Me trilogy, a short story collection Coffee, Cigarettes, and Murderous Thoughts, and a poetry collection The Silence Before Dawn
For more of Henry’s work, check out his amazon page: Amazon.com: Henry Martin: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle
Goodreads page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6583769.Henry_Martin
And Blog: http://mad-days-of-me.blogspot.com/
For more on photographer Karl Strand check out his website: http://www.karlstrandphotography.com.au/
3 thoughts on “Waiting”
Excellent story, Henry. I have never read anything that so accurately described the unfathomable pain and guilt that accompanies the loss of a loved one. Frequently sensing the presence of someone lost is real to many people and often a terrible fear and an amazing comfort all at the same time. You have expressed those feelings perfectly. I loved this story. Looking forward to the next one.
Thanks for sharing your project with us Henry. It’s a really cool concept, pairing a story to a photograph, especially when the picture was taken for that reason. Really cool.
What an emotion filled story. From a parent perspective it was heart breaking. The issue raised and the emotions is brought out were haunting.
The picture was a great touch.