Sonya walked along the edge of the marsh and reached for his hand. Standing there looking out over the glassy water, he felt her cool fingertips touch his and enclosed them.
“So, you really love me?” he asked.
“You should know better than to doubt me. My kisses never lie.”
Alex turned to test her words.
“I believe you, but you do know if I thought otherwise you’d go straight into the swamp.”
He hadn’t cracked a smile, and she wondered if he were joking or not, but she decided he had to be. I know him better than that, she thought. She raised on tiptoe to reassure him.
Their lips parted, and he stared over her shoulder at the still black water.
The name sounded and felt foreign now. “Sonya,” he said. “Who were you.”
She had been gone two weeks. There was no hint, no note, and no one knew where she was. The police had dragged the swamp where she was last seen. He had been there himself hysterically pounding the mud, made from his tears, with his fists.
Yes, she had loved him. Her kisses hadn’t lied.
Closing his eyes, he thought back to that day, that day never left him, but she had.
“They’ll never find you,” he said, speaking to his self-imposed darkness.
He looked out the window; fireflies were in the yard. They scattered among the fog and grass like hanging diamonds.
“Will they find you?”
“Do I care?”
A month later one of her shoes was found by a trapper. The police brought it to Alex and he recognized it immediately.
“What about the other one,” he asked. “She would hate to lose a shoe.”
The officer watched his eyes.
“So, you think she’s still alive?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” said Alex, staring straight at the officer, daring him to see anything that was or wasn’t there.
The officer tilted his cap back, rubbed his forehead, and walked off shaking his head. But before he got into his car, he turned and said, “Well, how about you call us if she shows up. You think you can do that?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” said Alex, still staring hard.
Why should I, he thought.
Alex received the first of three phone calls a week later. A hissing, dissonant, sexless, voice, said, “I know where she is,” and nothing more.
An icy hand gripped his neck and scratched down his backbone.
He asked the phone, dial tone harassing, “Could it be her?”
“How could it be?” he said to the wall.
“But she’s alive, isn’t she?”
“Or is she?”
He didn’t remember much of that day—or that night. He did recall waking at three to a woman’s scream—in a nightmare—or so he thought.
That morning he found the sheets soaked and tried to recall what had happened, and then remembered.
He asked his damp pillow, “What day is it? Is it then—or now?”
It stared back..
The phone rang. He slapped it from the stand. A voice came.
He fell to his knees and clutched the handset.
“Where are you? I–they– thought you were …”
“Or even dead,” he said, “that I might have killed you. They even found your shoe.”
“It was a test,” she said.
“I’m very wealthy and I must be careful who I fall in love with. The real test is if you forgive me. There’s a check in the mail. Come to Key West and be with me while I finish my book. I’m an author. As you see, some of us can be quite quirky.”
He smiled and put down the pen, manuscript at hand.