by Brendan Todt
The delivery driver usually leaves your packages at the garage, but the muddy footprints lead up to the door. They cluster on and around the mat as though two people had been dancing. Or as though a single person had been standing under the window shouting at the woman upstairs he was trying to win back. But you live alone. Claire left over a year ago. You think maybe there is a substitute parcel driver, as there often is, or an additional carrier riding shotgun like during the holiday season. You think maybe the package is small and tucked between the storm door and the front door. But then you think perhaps that Claire came back, and the package she was delivering was not the KitchenAid mixer she took, nor the DVD collection, but herself.
You do not approach the house because you are afraid. You think there is virtually no chance anyone clumsy enough to leave tracks like that could be waiting inside the house with a knife to put at your neck. And if they are, there is no way you could not defeat them with a little bit of anticipation and one of the golf clubs you keep in your trunk. But it’s just as frightening to think that Claire may have returned and is waiting inside. It would not be like her to be reclining naked somewhere, waiting, but perhaps she is putting her time to use, wearing the apron she left—to mock you—which you kept—to mock her—spinning the KitchenAid, rolling the dough, coloring a cream cheese frosting.
The footsteps are small but not conclusive. They look to be bigger than Claire’s, but one of the last things you told her is that she, too, had some growing up to do.
Though it is improbable, you decide, that she is baking anything, you become more certain that she is inside because here you are, standing hesitant again outside of your own house, which she left you when she left. Everything about Claire has made you feel foreign in your own surroundings, your own life, your own personality. Even the times she allowed you to be inside her, it was like you had to exit your body first before you could attempt it. You began to think that maybe the pleasure you derived from it had little to do with her and more to do with the leaving you were getting better and better at. She admitted, before the very end—in an attempt to hurt you, which did not surprise you—that her pleasure had almost nothing to do with you, except at those rare times when you seemed to be farthest away, most absent, most animal.
It is not raining anymore, but it rained earlier, and again since, so it is hard to see what’s become of the tracks in the yard, though you know well enough that some things come to nothing. It’s possible the person went inside, or tried to. It’s possible they headed back the same way they came. Suddenly you think about the wet socks that belong to that person, whomever it is. The day has turned beautiful, though you are also wet and the car smells like a poorly kept greenhouse. The one thing does not negate the other. The sun and the discomfort. The love and the hate. You cannot deny the beauty of it, nor would you want to. Anymore.
You conclude it is almost impossible she is in there, though you hope she is. The election is coming up. You are a reasonable man. Perhaps some young doorknocker wanted to come and visit with you and tell you what to do. That is not the worst thing. To be thought to be worth that trouble.
You know that she is not inside, though you hope she is.
And if she is, she can wait.
Brendan Todt is the author of the poetry chapbook The Idea of Leaves within the Dying Tree. His poem “At the Particle Accelerator at Krasnoyarsk” was included in Best American Non-Required Reading 2013. His fiction and poetry can be found elsewhere in print and online. He lives in Sioux City, Iowa and teaches at Morningside College.