Thursday, December 21, 2017

An Ethereal Relationship - a short story for our times

May 14, 2030

1:00 pm

My wife, Ethereal, has been missing for three weeks, and now the unthinkable has happened. A policeman - an Officer Savvy - stands at my front door.  He says they think my wife is dead.  He wants me to come to the morgue and identify her body.  I'm stunned.  I realize my iPhone is in my hand.  I put it in the case that's attached to my belt, grab my coat and iPad and follow the policeman to his squad car.  I'm glad he has offered to drive me to the morgue.  I'm in no condition to drive myself.

Officer Savvy is a young guy - just a few years older than I am, I guess.  He seems uncomfortable.  Maybe he hasn't been a policeman long enough to be used to this sort of thing.

When we arrive at the morgue, a detective in plain clothes joins us on our walk down a long hall - Detective Bygone.  He's an older, gray-headed fellow, wearing a neatly pressed suit and speaking with a raspy voice.  Double doors are at the end of the hall, and they grow larger with each step.  We're not half way there, but I stop.  The policeman and the detective keep walking until they realize I'm not behind them.  Then they turn.

"Are you alright?" asks the blue uniform.

"I don't think there's any point in my going in there," I hear myself say with a confidence that seems out of place.

"But Mr. Numbman," the detective says, "we need you to make an identification.  I know this is hard, but . . ."

"I just don't think I'll recognize her," I say.

Officer Savvy tries to reassure me by telling me that my wife is not disfigured in any way.

"Oh, I hadn't thought of that.  No, it's just that I haven't seen her in years."

The policeman and the detective exchange confused looks.

"I didn't know," the detective says slowly, "that you and your wife were estranged.  When you filed the missing persons report, you said that you and Ethereal share a residence."

"We do," I reply, "I mean we did, but we really didn't see much of each other."

"I guess your work must take you out of town a lot?" Officer Savvy suggests.

"No, no. Neither of us is out of town very often." I feel weak, so I sit down in one of the plastic chairs in the hallway.

The detective and the policeman sit down, too.  They seem like kind men, and I think they're beginning to wonder about my sanity.

"Mr. Numbman, you said you haven't seen your wife in years.  How can you be in the same house with someone everyday and not see them?" says Detective Bygone.

"Well, you know," I begin to explain, "we watched TV every night. And we both did things on our iPads."

"You mean you did these things in separate rooms?"  Neither of these men seem to understand.

"No, we were always in the same room.  We just didn't look at each other," I say.

"But surely you did other things sometimes," the policeman says, "like - maybe - eating out together?"

"Of course, of course.  We ate out often, but we always had something to check on our iPhones, and - well, we just didn't notice each other much."

"You had no personal communication?" the detective asks in disbelief.

"Well, sure. We had personal communication.  We texted each other.  We posted on Facebook.  We even sent each other personal messages on Facebook. Sometimes we even talked on the phone."

I'm feeling a little indignant at their suggestion that Ethereal and I didn't have any personal communication.  We communicated all the time.  We just never looked at each other.  Why is that so hard for these men to understand?  Maybe the detective is too old, but Officer Savvy ought to understand.

"Anyway," I go on, "you can see why there's no way I can identify my wife."

There's a long pause, and then the policeman says, "Wait right here."

He and the detective go into a room that opens off the hallway.  They close the door.  I can hear the low buzz of conversation, but can't make out what they're saying.  The policeman is doing most of the talking.  There's an occasional grunt from the detective. They're coming back out in the hall now.

"Look here, Mr. Numbman," says Detective Bygone, "Officer Savvy here found your wife's photograph on her Facebook page.  He's got it right here on his phone.  You, me, and Officer Savvy are going to go in there where your wife is.  We'd like you to look at the woman lying in there on the table, and then look at the picture on Officer Savvy's phone, and see if you can make an identification based on the photo.  You know - maybe it will jog your memory.  You must have known what your wife looked like at some time in the past."

2:30 pm

The double doors close behind us as we walk back into the hall.  Truth be told, I'm a little embarrassed that I needed a photo to come to the conclusion that the woman lying on that table is not my wife.  But I console myself, knowing that if I were lying on that table, Ethereal would need a photo to identify me.

"Mr. Numbman, we're going to continue to look for your wife, and when we find her, I hope to God you'll look at her," says Detective Bygone. I don't appreciate his superior tone.

Officer Savvy smiles.  My phone rings as we're shaking hands.

"Gotta get this," I say with urgency. "It might be important."

"Yeah," says Detective Bygone, "maybe it's your wife."




No comments: