Gone Missing

“It’s only been a few weeks,” Albert insisted, slouching into the sagging couch.

“It’s closer to three weeks and feels like a year,” his disgruntled friend, Tom, snapped. He surveyed his living room – once the clean, comfortable haven where, settled in his favourite chair, chilled beer in hand, he read the sports page or watched TV – all pleasures of the past. His favourite chair was now buried under fast food wrappers, crumpled newspapers and dirty paper plates.

Wherever his buddy, Albert, had settled, there was predictable weather: a slight flurry of crumbs, scattered papers, empty beer cans and an occasional dirty sock.

“Can’t you learn to clean up after yourself?” Tom growled spying another blotch on the rug.

“I don’t need to. Vera will soon beg me to come home.”

“Vera doesn’t even know you’re gone.”

“She will. The longer it takes, the sweeter the victory.”

“And the more my apartment looks like a battlefield. No wonder Vera wanted a job.”

“She had a job as a housewife.”

“Things change, Albert. Some women don’t find housework interesting anymore.”

“I don’t find my job interesting, but I do it.”

“Anyhow, if Vera hasn’t twigged that you’re not living at home yet, you’d better face defeat and go back.”

“Never. I’m sticking to my guns.”

Discussion ended, the men settled into their routine, Albert dozing on the sofa, beer poised on his belly, Tom fussing about trying to restore order. Suddenly Albert surfaced, smiling, “I went in about the caravan today.”

“You’re not buying that caravan without telling Vera are you?”

“I would if I could but I can’t,” Albert sighed. “I put the house in her name before the business went bankrupt. She has to sign the loan.”

Tom growled, “So, if you want that caravan you’ll have to give up the plan, go home and ask her to sign.”

“No way. In another week she’ll quit the job and everything will be back to normal.”

Albert stretched out on the sofa, dropped his tired feet between the dirty glasses on the coffee table, and closed his eyes. Whenever he thought of his ploy, he chuckled. Another clever idea from Albert Bedford. What a guy, what a guy! When he’d won the day, he’d have the fellows at work in stitches.

Not that he’d expected it to take so long. But success, even at the cost of a few weeks of sleeping on Tom’s lumpy couch, was worth it.

The day Vera announced she was going to take a full-time job a Super Saver and leave him in the lurch, he knew he had to do something.

“You’ll never be home,” he argued. “Nothing will get done.”

“I’ll be here,” she insisted. “You’ll just have to do your share. Wash a dish, peel a potato.”

He might have agreed to wash a dish or peel a potato but it wouldn’t stop there. He’d heard from guys at work whose wives worked. Some even had to cook supper.

So Albert came up with a plan. When Vera realized how serious he was, good-bye job. After all, marriage was everything to her.

Day one, he left Vera a note. ‘Be home late, don’t wait up.’ Fortunately, for the plan, they slept in separate rooms because Vera maintained he snored. In the morning if his door was shut, she’d assume he was sleeping.

From that day he didn’t go home to sleep – just ducked in to leave a note. ‘Left early, sorry to miss you. Love Albert. ‘

For the first week he stayed with a friend from work. Then the friend told Albert he’d have to find ‘another barnyard to wallow in.’ That’s when he moved in with Tom.

Every day Albert watched for Vera to leave the house, slipped in, and left a note. ‘Gone out, meeting the boys for the weekly game’ or ‘Have to work night shift. Don’t disturb me in morning.’

And she answered: ‘Loving new job. Sorry I missed you.’ And then: ‘Don’t know why I didn’t get a job years ago. It’s great.’

Well, as soon as she realized he was gone, she’d smarten up. See things differently.

It was a fellow at work who suggested he get an answering machine. The next day he bought one, took it home and left Vera the last written note. ‘Bought an answering machine, as you’re always out.’

That’s when he moved in with Tom, only for a week he assured his poker buddy and so far it was only two. It wouldn’t be so bad if Tom weren’t so grouchy.

Albert enjoyed calling in messages. “Gone to the soccer tournament. Probably stay overnight.” Or, “Left early sorry I missed you.” Or, “Wanted to take you for dinner but you were at work.” That might have gone a bit far. He never had taken her to lunch although she often suggested it.

“Why go out to lunch when you have a good cook in your kitchen?” he’d joke patting her bottom affectionately.

The need to get Vera’s signature on the loan was the only snag. He really wanted that caravan. It was a bargain. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be sold by next week.

Although he didn’t admit it to Tom, Albert had expected his wife to notice he’s gone and agree to quit her job if he returned home within a couple of days of his leaving. After all, what did it say if a woman didn’t even know her husband wasn’t living at home? Proved his point, didn’t it?

She was a sly one though. She left notes saying she ‘Hoped he was feeling well’ or ‘Was not too tired from work’ or ‘Hadn’t run out of socks.’ On the answering machine she sounded preoccupied. “I wasn’t here anyhow,” she chirped once, “went to visit my sister.”

He was about ready to up the ante when he got the message he’d been waiting for. “Albert, you’ve made your point,” she chuckled in a voice he hardly recognized, “I guess every game has a winner.”

Friend Tom was skeptical when he heard the good news. “It could mean something else.” “I know my Vera,” Albert gloated, feeling his old self again. Soon he’d be sitting at his kitchen table, spooning out stew, flapping the sports pages, feet cozy in darned socks, legs stretched out on the chair – King, again.

Next morning, when a grumpy female voice at Super Saver Informed Albert that Vera had left without giving notice he could hardly contain a crow. His smile inflated his face until it almost burst his jaw.

“Well,” Tom shrugged. “I’m not sorry, but I am surprised.”

“Psychology,” Albert winked, tapping his head. “Vera wouldn’t risk losing me.”

That night, after work Albert piled his dirty clothes, newspapers, crisps, and beer cans in the back of his car, waved his smiling friend good-bye and drove home.

The confident victor even bought his wife flowers to show what a good sport he was. Maybe he’d even take her out to a restaurant. Not today, of course. He was drooling for home cooking after the horrible food Tom dished out. If he never ate pasta again it would be too soon. Maybe he’d take Vera out in a few weeks or for their anniversary whenever that was.

It felt great to be heading home. The old familiar turns. As usual when he passed the shopping centre he wondered what was for supper. Then when he turned into his street he wondered if there was a game on TV that night.

There it was: the house. The front yard was trim; she must have cut it especially. He pulled into the drive. New checkered curtains hung in the kitchen window. Vera’d gone all out.

Should he call from the front yard like he usually did or just go in? Holding the tulips behind his back he fumbled with his keys. Suddenly, the door swung open, he swept the flowers before him, petals scattering like rain, and cried, “I’m home, sweetheart.”

A horrified face of a strange woman with two small children gripping her legs greeted him. Arnold gasped. Why had Vera picked today to entertain?

“What address did you want?”

“This address,” he bellowed. Someone had taken over his house.

“I want Vera Bedford.”

“Ah Miss Bedford,” the woman smiled, “The lady who sold us the house.”

“Sold this house?” Albert roared, scattering the children into the hallway.

A muscular body appeared, “Trouble, dear?”

“No, I was just explaining that Miss Bedford doesn’t live here.”

“She couldn’t have sold,” Albert spluttered swinging the bare tulip stems. “I was here a few weeks ago.”

“It was fast,” the man agreed.

“She’s booked a world cruise,” the wife chirped.

“Lucky for us We got a great deal.”

“Lucky for her too,” the woman confided, “she wanted to get away from some guy.”

~ Melodie Corrigall

Originally published in: Horizon Magazine