Have You Ever Seen Her?

(an excerpt from the short story)

Before his wife, Angie, showed him the Sun Times article about the dead girl, Michael’s biggest concern had been how to politely ask their hostess for salt. He didn’t want to offend Evelyn—his boss Roger’s wife—who was eight-months pregnant and had pummeled together the dinner-for-four. Unfortunately, every dish tasted of abuse, the asparagus too soggily asparagus, the roast beef too aridly roast beef. The torture extended to the décor—the wrought iron dining chairs, so damningly unforgiving and unaccommodating, the captain’s chair was a prison device. Beige, floor-length chair tassels faded into a wiry Dior rug, the blond oak flooring asleep, bordered by a baseboard and a silk, tattered-weave wallpaper: a study in textures and beige. A luxury, Uptown apartment, pricey because of its 20-block proximity to Chicago’s Loop, it was much more expensive than Michael and Angie’s one-bedroom rental 36 blocks north on Bryn Mawr Avenue. There, Michael and Angie lived in a five-building complex that anchored the foot of Foster Beach in the Edgewater District. Building E. They had traveled to his boss’ dinner party on the train, of course, the Red Line—the very train Michael slogged to work on every morning—from the same ancient station, Bryn Mawr, where he’d seen her—the girl whose photograph headed the Sun Times article.

     Evelyn shimmered with heat, reading over Michael’s shoulder. “She lived in the Edgewater. Near you.” Her breath pressed against his neck. “Have you ever seen her?”

     He’d seen her outside the train station, on his way to work. Monday she paced in tight circles on the sidewalk in front of a bank of bike lockers. Two days later, she kicked at a milk carton in the gutter. Just yesterday, Friday morning, she stared down Bryn Mawr, toward the foggy lake, her eyes flat, her expression deflated as if someone she waited for would not arrive. In the newspaper black & white, she wore a playful, expectant expression, a young woman brimming with mischief. It was an old photo. “Dead Girl Murdered,” the unfortunate headline proclaimed. The Sun Times, a publication he only ever glanced through, was dated last Sunday, but he’d seen the girl three times since.

     “No. I haven’t seen her.” He folded the news page on the tabletop, slicing along its crease with his thumbnail. “It’s terrible. Unthinkable. I hope you don’t mind, may I have salt?”

     Evelyn stiffened. “No salt. The baby—” She pressed her forehead. “I think…maybe somewhere in the kitchen.”

     Evelyn’s perspiration lingered in the room. Michael tucked the news page under his plate.