“I’m delayed,” Tom said over the phone. Celia could barely hear him with the thunder on her end of the line and the airport loudspeaker playing an endless stream of announcements in Spanish, a language she didn’t understand, on his. The announcer’s voice sounded ethereal and discordant at the same time, like a slightly off-tune harp being plucked.
“I’ll be home tomorrow,” he continued. “Don’t get bent out of shape, okay?”
What was a strange thing to say. She never complained when Tom was delayed.
“Can’t wait to see you, love you,” she said, but he’d already hung up. She tossed the phone in her purse and shut the car door.
A lightning bolt struck across the street. She felt a crackle of heat, and could have sworn it hit the empty bus stop, but there were no sparks or smoke coming off its metal roof. She reached back inside the car for her umbrella, shaking a little. A flash of orange caught her eye as she closed the door. There was a woman at the bus stop now. She wore an orange skirt splotched with red like a blood orange peel. Her hair fell at her shoulders, obscuring her face; it was the same hazelnut brown as Celia’s and the same length, too. Her skin tone was also similar, tanned to a light bronze that looked gaudy against the bright skirt.
She could be me, Celia thought. Except the woman was at least a decade too young, and Celia would never wear an orange skirt. The way she stood was familiar, though, slumping to the left like Celia always did since her left leg was shorter than her right. Her fitted, white blouse seemed a size too small, making her appear distorted, like she was poured into it and about to seep through the seams. She looked up and Celia turned away, not wanting to be caught staring or to see who stared back, either. The woman gave her the creeps.
Celia shook off a chill as the first drops of rain fell, then hurried down the street to meet her friend, Dorothy. The doorman at Chez Mer smiled, and she noticed that he had a chipped tooth, the same one she’d broken last spring. That was odd. She lowered her sunglasses to get a better look at it, but he turned to the next patron. She considered waiting outside a moment longer, maybe asking him a question, but the wind was growing more frigid by the second. Besides, this uneasiness was nothing a martini and girl talk couldn’t fix.
The dining room looked hazy; her eyes must need to adjust. She blinked a few times then spotted Dorothy talking on her cell at a table nearby, gesturing wildly as always. Celia smiled to see her gray-haired friend, one of the few in their circle who eschewed hair dye, claiming she had nothing to hide. Celia slipped into the chair opposite her.
“I’m here,” she whispered.
Dorothy nearly jumped out of her seat, “Oh!” She looked like she’d seen a ghost but recovered quickly, “Hank, darling, I need to go, Celia’s here now. Can’t wait to see you, love you.”
Funny, Celia always ended her calls to Tom the same way.
Dorothy closed the phone and turned to hug her over the corner of the table. “It’s not like you to slip in so quietly! How are you?”
Celia soaked up the charisma that emanated from her friend. “I’m fine. It’s been a weird day, though. I think the weather’s getting to me.”
“Well, you’ll have to tell me all about it after we order.” Dorothy gestured to the waitress. “Two cosmopolitans, please.” The woman nodded from the bar. “So, tell me what’s going on.”
“Well, I got an odd phone call from Tom just a minute ago, and then this lightning—”
“Do you think he’s cheating on you?” Dorothy said, peering over the top of her cat-eye glasses.
“What?” Celia recoiled and felt a sharp pain above her brow. “Why would you say something like that?”
Dorothy turned red, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest that . . . well, I’d never suggest such a thing.” Her voice oozed contrition, “I was only joking.”
The pain above Celia’s brow spread to her temples. Dorothy would never seriously imply something like that, of course, but everything was just so bizarre today. “No, I’m sorry. I’m out of sorts. Tom sounded a bit off, that’s all, like something had happened.”
“Where is he?”
“In Peru. He just finished a research project near Lima.” Dark spots appeared in her periphery vision. There must be something in her eye. She blinked again.
The waitress placed their drinks on the table. They were saffron-hued, like the bartender had added orange juice in with the cranberry and swirled them together.
“Didn’t we order cosmopolitans?” Celia asked.
The waitress’s voice sounded tinny as Celia’s often did in the morning, like a vise was cutting her off from her lower register, “Those are cosmopolitans. Can I get you anything else?”
Celia shook her head no, and felt pressure on all sides as she did, as if she were swimming through a fast current.
The waitress walked away, her feet clomping on the floor in the same pair of cream loafers that Celia had bought on sale last week. Celia’s breath caught in her chest and a strand of hazelnut hair fell forward and stuck to her bottom lip.
“You are not yourself today,” Dorothy said, her eyes full of concern.
Celia croaked out the words, “No, I’m not.” But everyone else is, she thought; I’ve been split to pieces. The nebulous patches in her sight spread, sweeping away the lights of Chez Mer. She could barely see the color drain from Dorothy’s face before her own head hit the table with a thunk as a dazzling orange light flashed before her eyes. Then Celia saw nothing more.
Copyright 2010 by Rebecca Gomez Farrell.
Rebecca Gomez Farrell is a writer and editor with a bad case of wanderlust. She presently resides in Durham, NC, where her husband has shackled her with a mortgage. While she works on jimmying the lock, she writes restaurant, wine, and cocktails reviews, a fantasy novel, and a weekly column on General Hospital. Come by her blog, The Gourmez, and help her break free.