Read The Remedy for Regret Online

Authors: Susan Meissner

Tags: #Romance, #Women’s fiction, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Inspirational

The Remedy for Regret

BOOK: The Remedy for Regret
3.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

A Novel


By Susan Meissner


“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28


Chicago, Illinois

houghts of my mother and the island where I was born are heavy on my mind as I get ready to leave the boutique after a long day at work. I have finished redecorating the main window displays at
Linee Belle
and I am proud of how they look. I doubt if even Antonia, who owns the boutique, could’ve done a better job. I can almost hear Antonia saying, “
Lavoro eccellente,
Tess!” Excellent work. I love the way she says my name. It sounds like
when she says it.

Summer fashions are in, though it is only early April, and my primary mannequins are now lounging in breezy beach attire, stretched out on and atop sand Antonia had shipped in from Myrtle Beach. She told me that once your toes have sifted through the sand of an ocean beach, no other kind of sand would do. A beach needs beach sand. I don’t think she even bothered to consider the cost. Money to her is wonderfully relative.

The gauzy dresses and linen capris, in shades of the warmest yellows and corals, nearly give off their own heat, and I feel an island breeze as I take one last look before calling it a day though the only movement above my head is the chilly indoor air from exhaust fans in the ceiling. Nevertheless the island is near me and so is my mother’s face as I turn and walk away.

Tourists, shoppers and business owners call where I work Chicago’s Miracle Mile because if you can walk the length of it without spending any money, it’s—you guessed it—a miracle. But it’s really just an ordinary commercial district, brimming with the usual upscale shops and restaurants. Antonia’s boutique is one of nearly one hundred stores in the Water Tower Place mall at the mile’s north end. I spend my weekdays there waiting on women who have too much money in their wallets and dressing anorexic mannequins in fashions with price tags that make me shudder, even after four years of looking at them. Even so, I like what I do. I like making these tired, rich women look good. And I love dressing the mannequins. It is like never having to give up playing with dolls.

They all have names, my mannequins. Madeline, the one I have named after my mother, is the only one who carries a purse. It’s our private little joke, Madeline’s and mine. Madeline always gets the purse, no matter which display I put her in because all mothers carry purses. It is part of their mystique. Kids long to look in their mother’s purses, to play with their contents, discover where all those hidden scents come from.

I take a quick peek over my shoulder at Madeline as I start to head for the tiny office in the back of the store. Madeline’s purse is sunshine yellow and made of soft Moroccan leather. It perfectly matches her strapless, lemon chiffon dress. The mannequin I have named Blair, after my childhood friend Blair Devere, would look better in the dress, but Blair doesn’t get to carry the purse, Madeline does. And it’s a perfect match.

The store and the little office at the back are quiet as the mall has already been closed for nearly an hour. I am the last to leave
Linee Belle
for the day; Antonia left several hours ago and Elena, our main part-time worker and a busy single mother, left us ten minutes ago when the mall closed at seven.

I like finishing the window displays when there is no one else around, when there is no one to hear me whisper to the mannequins. If they had minds and could be interviewed, you’d find that they know literally all there is to know about me. I tell them everything.

I grab my jacket and my canvas bag and switch off the lights, winding my way through the darkened displays. There is almost an eerie sense of unease within me as I lower the grinding metal cage door over my island tableau. There should be the call of gulls in my ears, not the heavy sound of steel hitting marble tile. Madeline is looking at me with her painted, unmoving eyes as I turn the lock. I wink at her to convince myself that I am not bothered by her stare.

The drive home will be slow-going as usual but I don’t care. I am not entirely thrilled with the idea of going home to Simon and his demons. The remnants of rush hour traffic will give me time to unwind.

Simon is my fiancé. Sort of. He wants to marry me. And I want to marry him. I am just not able to set a date at the moment. It’s hard to explain, so I usually don’t. Besides, people aren’t asking about us as much anymore. And especially not right now since everyone seems to understand Simon is in no condition to pledge anything to anyone.

I spend the next twenty minutes in sporadic stop-and-go traffic wondering if I will go to the baby shower I’ve been invited to as well as wondering if Simon needs professional help. I am undecided on both as I turn onto my street. I prepare myself for the worst as I park my car in our apartment’s underground garage.

Simon is sitting in the chair we bought at an estate sale for fifty bucks as I open the door to our apartment. His back is to me but I can see what is etched on his face. He is sitting there just the way I left him this morning. I don’t even bother to ask him how he’s doing. It would be a dumb question. He is not
anything. He is just letting things be done.

“Hi,” I say simply as I make my way in.

The tiniest nod of his head communicates to me that he heard me.

It has been nearly two weeks since his accident. Physically, all traces of that horrible night are gone. But I know what is happening to Simon on the inside: He can’t forgive himself for what happened, even if it really was just an accident. He never meant to hurt anyone but it happened anyway.

He had been driving home from a guys’ night out with fellow O’Hare air traffic controllers and it was raining. He was making a call on his cell phone, which he had dropped, when he decided to pass a truck. Simon didn’t see another other car coming up from behind when he leaned down to pick up the phone. He didn’t know there was a little Mazda in the fast lane next to him when he started to pass the slow-moving semi. He didn’t look over his shoulder; he relied solely on his rear view mirror. Simon sideswiped the Mazda, sending it careening off into the median where it rolled into oncoming traffic. Simon swerved, too, when he saw what was happening, and followed the Mazda into the median. His car only rolled twice and then came to a stop in wet grass and soft, muddy earth. The toddler in the back seat of the Mazda died on impact when the car collided with two other vehicles. The child’s mother—the driver—died on the way to a hospital.

I remember thinking, when the call came that night, that I was so lucky Simon was okay. That he had walked away from the crunched metal of his car with just some scratches and a bruised shoulder. A few days afterward, no one could tell he had been hurt at all. His supervisor expected him back at work. So did all his co-workers. But he didn’t go back. He still hasn’t.

Now Simon spends the better part of each day hoping someone will finally decide to come to the apartment and arrest him. He wants the handcuffs, the guilty verdict. He doesn’t want the “inattentive driving” ticket that he got instead. And it doesn’t matter to him that the Mazda had only one working headlight that night. All that matters is he dropped his cell phone and he made a careless decision to retrieve it while passing a slow-moving truck.

I look at him now, sitting there with just his wounded conscience for company and I understand perfectly. I have understood from the moment I picked up him at the hospital. I try to tell him so.

“I know what you are going through,” I say, kneeling down by him, draping an arm across his shoulder. I have wanted to say this for days. I know the pain of living with something you did that you wish with all your heart you could undo. I have always known it.

“No, you don’t,” he says coolly, in reply.

I try to make eye contact.

“Yes, I do,” I say softly. “Simon, I know what it is like to feel like you are responsible for someone’s death.”

He looks away with disgust.

“Give it a rest, for God’s sake,” he growls. “You
kill your mother, Tess.”

I am speechless for several moments. Simon is one of the few people who knows what happened in the delivery room the night I was born. He is also the only person who knows that I, too, am aware of what happened that night, though no one else knows I know.

I start to protest. “But—”

“You didn’t kill anyone.”

“If I hadn’t been born—”

“Tess, that’s like saying, ‘Oh, if only the
hadn’t been built!’” he says, mocking me.

“Simon, I do know what you are feeling right now,” I say, my voice shaking. I have never heard him talk this way. To anyone.

“You are so in love with your pain,” he whispers, his eyes glassy with emotion, but he is not looking at me.

I can feel anger welling inside me and I know I should just walk away. But I fall easily into his misery. I am familiar with it.

“Well, look who is falling in love with his,” I snap back. I rise to my feet and make my way to the kitchen. He says nothing as I leave the room.

I get myself a glass of water and drink it though I am not aware that I am thirsty. In the four years I have known Simon, he has never made me feel this way. I am searching for the word that describes it. Foolish. He has never made me feel foolish about how I feel about the night I was born. As I hold the glass tighter in my hand, I am starting to sense that fear is getting mixed in with my apparent silliness. If I don’t have Simon on my side I don’t have anyone. I know this. He is the only one I have ever felt comfortable telling what I know, what I feel; what I envision happened the night my mother died.

He is the only one who knows how I have always imagined it—the night that defines me but which I cannot remember. He knows I see a waiting room that is library-quiet, that there is an odor that is somewhat like a mixture of Listerine, furniture polish, and scrambled eggs. He knows I see a pale moon outside a row of windows; a moon losing its radiance as the brighter light of the sun begins a slow ascent over the island where I was born.

I recall it now, though I don’t particularly want to. With the empty glass in my hand I see it as I have always seen it. In a waiting room chair that squeaks at the slightest movement is the doctor who sits with his head in his hands. The doctor is my father. He hasn’t sat in a waiting room chair since he was a child. He had forgotten what it was like but he remembers it slowly now. It was boring. It was stiflingly quiet. There was nothing to do but wonder if there would be pain. Will he get a shot? Will the doctor hurt him? Will he be able to keep from crying out? He doesn’t want to shed tears in front of his mother.

Then the image of himself as a little boy suddenly vanishes as an Air Force medic brushes past him and he can’t help but imagine that pain indeed awaits him. He is no longer the little boy who knows nothing. He is a doctor who knows too much.

The doctor’s gaze travels to the windows and he can see that the night is just beginning to give way to dawn. The island called Terceira is slowly coming to life, as are the rest of the Azores; a group of tiny islands off the cost of Portugal. He has forgotten that the day will mark the beginning of the Sanjoaninas Festival. Thousands of Azoreans will attend, along with a handful of mainlanders and Air Force personnel like himself stationed on Terceira. Tomorrow there will be a bullfight in the street. There will be music and drinking and laughter. The air outside is charged with expectancy. Inside the Lajes Field base hospital, however, where the doctor waits, the air seems to have lost its ability to sustain life. He can feel it.

My father can’t keep his hands from shaking as he waits for the doors behind him to open. He wants to get up and pace the room, but he can feel no strength in his legs.

This kind of fear is new to him. Everything about this night is new to him. He has been a father for about six hours. He has not yet been told that he has been a widower for about six minutes.

He knows nothing about how to be either one.

I should say right now that my father doesn’t like to talk about the night I was born and my mother died. I know what I know because his friend Joey was in the waiting room with him that night. Joey told me ages ago what it was like and only after I begged him. He was visiting us in Omaha before we left for my father’s new assignment in Arkansas. I was twelve then. Joey took me out for ice cream when my father went to sign out two days before we left SAC headquarters.

Joey didn’t want to tell me anything, I could tell. He was thinking my dad should be the one to tell me, that I shouldn’t have had to beg old friends to describe what it was like the night my mother died. Maybe my dad should have been the one to tell me but I didn’t care then who did the telling. I just wanted to know how it happened.

Joey told me that my father found out just before morning broke and that the waiting seemed to take forever. Joey said my dad had called him in the middle of the night and asked him to come down to the hospital, that I had been born but that something was wrong with my mother. I have always had to imagine the rest.

Not the bullfights, though. Not the festival.

Hours after my mother died, Terceira Island celebrated its annual festival with typical reckless abandon. The islanders didn’t know a young Air Force wife had died after giving birth. Had they known, the festival would have gone on as planned anyway. What happened at the Americans’ airbase wasn’t of much local interest unless it involved a search and rescue within the Azorean territorial waters.

Joey didn’t actually tell me this part. I imagined it. I imagined it because when my father was making arrangements for my mother’s body to be flown back to England where she was born, the streets of our island were crowded with spectators watching the blood of bulls spill onto the ground.

I don’t know why exactly, but when I picture that waiting room in my head, I picture my father waiting there alone. I know Joey was there. But I just don’t see him in the room until later, when the waiting is over and the grieving begins. I picture the doors opening behind my dad. I picture him reluctantly raising his head to meet the eyes of the one who has entered the room with the sole purpose of delivering horrible news. This person is probably a friend like Joey. The 1605
Air Base Wing at this base wasn’t huge. The USAF Hospital Lajes was made up of a small company of average Americans; doctors, nurses, corpsmen—officers and enlisted—from average places like Des Moines, Amarillo and Cleveland. My father worked behind those doors he now waited in front of. As a family practitioner, he hardly ever had to be the giver of bad news. No doctor at Lajes Field had to do it very often. In the year and a half he and my mother were stationed there, it never came up. He stitched torn skin, set broken bones, delivered babies, gave the hated shots. But at a small base like Lajes Field, a mini world within a world, death would come only on rare occasions. Like that night.

BOOK: The Remedy for Regret
3.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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