Writing Prompt: “When He Came Back”

From Writing Forward: Start the first line of your story with: “My husband disappeared on August 28, 1998.”

“When He Came Back”

My husband disappeared on August 28, 1998. He returned August 28, 2014.

I was making pancakes for my new husband Julian when my old husband Glen came into the kitchen. He was yawning and dressed in the same pair of pajamas that he had worn to bed sixteen years ago. I stared at him with pancake batter splattering from my spoon to the floor as he rummaged through the cabinet for a mug.

“Want some coffee?” he asked.

I made some sort of strangled noise, but Glen didn’t seem to notice.

“Ah well, more for me,” he said. He poured himself some coffee from a brand new coffeemaker that I had gotten Julian for his birthday a week ago. Then, he went over to inspect my cooking. “Looks good,” he said with a grin and kissed me on the cheek.

My cheek still remembered the once-daily touch of his lips, and it was this act of familiarity that jolted me from my numbed silence.

“Glen!” I exclaimed. “What the hell?”

He frowned at me. “What’s wrong?”

“What…what’s wrong?” I exclaimed. “You’ve been gone for sixteen years!”

That seemed to puzzle him even more, and for a moment, I doubted my sanity. Glen certainly looked sixteen years older. His brown hair was showing a few strands of gray, and there were the beginnings of wrinkles at the corners of his mouth and under his eyes. I must have looked older, too, and yet he did seem to notice it.

“I think I would remember if I had been gone for that long,” he said laughing a little.

“You vanished in 1998!” I insisted. “It’s 2014!”

“I know what year it is,” came his indignant response. He checked the clock on the microwave. “Where are the kids?”

Kids? Considering that Glen had vanished a mere four months after we had gotten married, there was no way we had kids. The pancakes were burning, but I honestly wouldn’t have noticed if a stampede of elephants had suddenly stormed through the kitchen.

“Glen, we don’t have kids.”

“What is wrong with you today, Catherine?” he exclaimed. “Bethany and Joel should be up by now.”

“Who the hell are Bethany and Joel?’ I screamed at him. I could not help but shudder, for Glen and I had talked about children before he had disappeared. We wanted to name our first girl Bethany for his mother and Joel after several important men in my family, including my father, grandfather, and a few cousins.

“Cat, what are you screaming at?” Julian came into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes and yawning. He was only in a pair of boxers, and I wished desperately that he had chosen to put on more clothes.

I realized at that moment that I had half been hoping that I was crazy, that Julian did not exist, and that Glen had simply never vanished. To me, that was a better alternative than a husband disappearing and suddenly reappearing after I had reconciled to the fact that he was dead and moved on with my life.

But Julian did exist, and he was gaping at Glen. “Are you…” he trailed off.

“Who the fuck is this?” Glen snarled at me.

“Glen, I can explain,” I began. But I couldn’t explain. I had done nothing wrong. Glen was presumed dead, and I had grieved and honored his memory for over a decade before I allowed myself to love again. Yet, I felt unbearably guilty at the moment. “I thought…”

“You screw some stranger into my house and don’t even have the decency to wait until I’m not home?” Glen bellowed.

“Glen?” Julian asked, directing the question at me.

I nodded numbly.

“Holy shit,” came my new husband’s appropriate response.

“Listen,” I began, addressing my old husband once more.

“No! I won’t listen!” he snapped. “Obviously our marriage means nothing to you! How could you do this to me, Catherine? If you were unhappy…” To my horror, Glen looked as if he was about to cry. “Do you not love me anymore?”

“You disappeared sixteen years ago,” I mumbled. “What was I supposed to do?”

Glen just stared at me, his face twisting as rage and pain fought for dominance on his features. Then, he turned and stormed out of the house, slamming the door so violently that the new coffeemaker, which had been perched precariously on the edge of the counter, crashed to the floor.

“Glen, wait!” I cried, and I rushed out after him. He could not have gotten far with no car and only in his pajamas, but I could not find him anywhere. “Glen!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, but no one responded.

When I staggered back inside, Julian was on the phone with the police. “I know,” he was saying. “It was the strangest thing! He acted as if he had never left. Hang on, ma’am…” He looked at me. “Where is he?”

“Gone,” I said, sinking into the nearest chair.

Julian looked as bewildered as I felt. “Um…my wife’s telling me that he’s gone. I’m not sure…” he listened. “Yes. I think we need someone to come out and help us with this. Okay, thanks. You’ve got my address? Okay, great. Bye.”

He joined me at the table. “They’re sending someone over,” he said, gripping my hand. “Cat, what on earth was that about?”

I didn’t answer, for I had absolutely no idea. I hoped that whatever officer the police sent over would at least be able to find some clue as to where he went.

But when the officer came and investigated, he found no sign of Glen. The mug of coffee and the shattered coffeemaker were the only evidence that he had ever been in the house. For months, I waited for him to come back, but he didn’t. He had disappeared again and left me with a new mountain of emotional baggage to overcome.

I had only been married to Julian for half a year, and even at the wedding, I had felt horribly guilty at remarrying. Glen had been the love of my life, and all of those feelings were back with new strength after seeing him that morning. I was just getting to the point where when I thought of the man I loved, I thought of Julian. Now I was back to square one.

(Let me know what you think!)

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