Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Journal

Patricia E. Patterson


Paul drove into his office parking lot, made a U-turn, and headed back toward home. He had the same feeling that Janet had whenever they left home—did someone turn off the coffee pot or lock the front door. Paul grabbed his cell phone and punched the office number.

“Good morning, Sutter and Sims,” the receptionist answered. “How may I direct—”

“Carol, it’s Paul. Is Brad in?”

“Hi, Mr. Sutter. Yes, Mr. Sims is with the new client. Where are you?”

“Carol, please get Brad.”

Paul heard the click and waited.

“Paul, where in the hell are you. Mr. Jenkins—”

“Do the best you can, Brad. I’ve got an emergency at home.”

“But you have the proposal. What about the figures?”

“I’ll call later. Entertain him for now.” Paul ended the call.

He stomped the accelerator and sped down the freeway. Tires screeched as he turned off onto the ramp and down side streets. He slowed and pulled up in front of their home. He looked around: front door and garage door closed, but he didn’t see any lights on. He pushed the button and the garage door opened. Janet’s Camry was parked in its usual place. He jumped out of his car, hurried to the back door, turned the handle—locked. He pounded on the door as he fumbled his key in the lock.

“Jan,” he yelled, walking into the kitchen. Her Earl Grey tea and journal were in the same place when he’d left less than an hour ago.

“Janet, answer me. Jan. Honey, where are you?”

He ran into their bedroom, the bed still unmade. He checked the bathroom. No Janet. He threw open the closet doors; no clothes missing that he could tell.

Paul’s heart beat faster, like it wanted out of his chest. His legs shook, but he headed to the stairs. Since the kids had left home, they’d closed their rooms. He went into Kelly’s room. Empty. Next Mike’s. Nothing. His hands trembled as he opened the last door to their guest room.

“Janet, don’t play games with me.” No one answered. Paul pushed open the closet door—empty, except for a cardboard box.

“Jan, where in the hell are you?”

His throat closed. What if someone else is here? He slowed his pace down the stairs. He moved his eyes side to side; no movement anywhere. On the last step, he groped for his cell phone. Shit—he’d left it in the car.

Paul crept to the hall closet, grabbed the handle, and swung the door open. He ran his hand over winter coats, shoved the hangers apart—no one, nothing. He entered the living room and checked the front door. Locked.

“Janet.” His voice sounded unreal to him. “Janet, Janet, Janet.” He continued to yell on his way back into the family room and out the sliding glass door. He stopped. Had that door been locked? He couldn’t remember.

“Paul, what’s going on?” Margaret hollered from her patio next door. “I heard your shouts all through our house.”

“Meg, have you seen Janet?”

“Not at this hour. Hey, what are you doing home?”

“Meg, I can’t find Janet.”

Meg’s face took on a serious look. “Hang on Paul, I’ll be right over.”

Seconds later he heard the gate click open and shut, and Meg appeared around the corner.

“Okay, now what’s this about Janet?”

“When I left this morning, she sat with her tea and journal at the kitchen table. But on the way to work, I got this, well, a feeling that I couldn’t shake and came back. No Janet.”

“Ah-ha, now you know about a woman’s intuition.”

“Meg, this is no laughing matter.”

“Sorry. Let’s take another look,” and Meg started toward the patio door. She glanced back. “Well, are you coming?”

He nodded and they went into the kitchen.

Meg pointed to the cup of tea, “Sure looks like she didn’t drink any.”

“Mornings, she sips her Earl Grey and writes in her journal. She’s done this every day of our thirty-five years together.”

“Well, let’s see what she wrote. Maybe that will give us something to look for.”

Paul stretched his arm out and slammed the book shut before Meg could get to the journal.

“No. That’s private. I’ve never looked into any of them and won’t start now."

“Yee gods, how many journals does she have?” Meg asked, astonished at the idea of Janet writing. “She’s never mentioned any of this.”

“Just one of her habits, but it won’t help find her.”

“Paul, have you called the kids? Maybe she talked to them, said something. If it were me, I’d start there.”

Paul stared at Meg. Why hadn’t he thought of that?

“You make the calls and I’ll walk around a few streets. Maybe she went for a walk and stopped at a neighbor’s house.”

Paul walked out for his cell phone. He heard Meg’s footsteps behind him. Then she walked down the driveway and followed the sidewalk to her left. He’d call Mike first; he’d be less emotional. He punched in the code.

“Hi, Dad. Saw your number on the screen. What’s up?”

“Mike, have you talked with Mom this morning or yesterday?”

“No. Why?”

“She’s not at home.”

Paul heard Mike’s laughter, and his jaws clenched. Jan’s not here, and all Mike can do is laugh, he thought.

“Dad, listen to yourself. She probably went for a walk or to that charity thing. She’s not tied to the house.”

“Yeah, but her car’s here, her tea’s untouched, and her journal’s on the table.”

“Look, I didn’t mean to laugh. She’ll be back soon. I’ll call this evening to hear her story.”

Paul heard the click. Then he dialed Kelly’s code. He listened to the rings and her voice mail. “Kelly, it’s Dad. Call me on the cell. Need to talk to you. It’s important.”

Paul walked back into the kitchen and sat at the table. He stared at the closed journal and shook his head. No, I’ll not open and read it, yet. Paul shuddered.

“Did Jan get home?” Meg hollered as she walked into the kitchen.

“No.”

“Oh, I thought I heard you talking.”

“Just to myself, Meg. Any luck?”

“Nothing. What about Mike and Kelly?”
“Mike knows nothing, and Kelly didn’t answer.”

“What about her charity committee. Maybe someone picked her up to work on their next project.”

“Yeah, could be. Thanks, Meg. I’ll think of something, maybe the police. . .”

“Hey, give her time to get back home. Try calling someone on her committee and wait for Kelly’s call. If you need me, holler out the back.”

Paul nodded and heard the back door close, then silence. He looked again at the closed journal and ran his fingers over the blue leather. He opened it to the first page. Janet’s handwriting stared back at him: My Daily Thoughts, January 1, 2005. Paul slammed the book shut for the second time. I can’t do it.

He got up and walked over to the small desk that Janet had placed in the kitchen. He looked around for telephone numbers and her charity work. After shuffling papers, he located a list of names and numbers next to the desk telephone. He picked up and dialed the first number. No answer; the same with the second and third numbers. Maybe she is at the event, he thought, and his heartbeats slowed. “I’ll just wait,” he said aloud.

He looked at his watch. Almost noon. He pictured a harried Brad and went out to get his briefcase. With papers spread over the small desk, he called the office and Carol connected him to the conference room.

“About time,” Brad answered. “I’ve covered the policy and we were going to lunch. Can you meet us?”

“No, but switch to the speaker and I’ll give you the figures.”

“We’re ready.”

About thirty minutes later, Paul had finished his proposal. He put the phone down expecting Janet to walk through the door for lunch. No Janet, and no call from Kelly. Maybe they went shopping.

Paul put his head down on the small desk. He’d never felt so drained. Then he remembered the cardboard box in the guest room and wondered what was in it.

Maybe . . . he raced back up the stairs straight to the closet. He ripped the tape off the box and stared at all the blue leather journals in it. He picked up the top one and opened it to the first page: My Daily Thoughts, January 1, 2004. These must be all of her old journals, he thought, and picked up the second book. This one read January 1, 2003. He put it back and took the first book over to the bed, propped a pillow up against the headboard, and stretched out on the quilt. He turned to the second page, “I hate this life,” he saw scribbled, and screamed.

*

“Paul. Paul, I’m right here,” Janet said, as she laid her journal on the bed.

“Jan, why did you leave? Why do you hate your life?”

“Paul, look at me,” she said, as she pushed the button on the side of the bed. “I didn’t leave, but we weren’t too sure about you. Do you know where you are?”

Paul looked around the small room, as a nurse walked through the door.

“Well, I see you’ve decided to join us.” She began checking his blood pressure and looked at the monitor. She moved the drip bag, and Paul felt the needle in his arm.

When the nurse moved to the end of the bed to write on a clipboard, Paul saw a small table with a cup of tea and the blue leather journal at the foot of his bed.

“Good afternoon." A man in a white coat walked into the room. "I’m Dr. Collins. Let’s take a look. You certainly gave your wife a scare, and I’ve never heard someone talk so much with a high fever and pneumonia.”

“How long?”

“Mr. Sutter, you’ve been with us three days, asleep but talking.” The doctor finished his exam. “We’ll see how you do the next day or so, before I send you home.”

The doctor nodded to Janet, and the nurse followed him out of the room.

Janet pulled her chair closer to the bed, reached for her journal and set her cup of tea on top of it.

“What happened, Jan?”

“You slept later than usual, and I knew you had that new client. So when I went to get you up, you were moaning, your face, no, your whole body burned with fever, and you kept saying ‘Why do you hate this life?’ I had no idea where that came from. I called Meg, and together we got you out of the house and into my car. I drove you to the hospital. Didn’t know what else to do, and you’ve been here for three days.”

“You didn’t leave?”

“No. You said some strange things, but I didn’t leave,” and she took a sip of her tea.

“You weren’t home, I couldn’t find you, and I read the first page of an old journal and then the second page. Every page in that journal read the same thing—I hate this life.”

“Paul, it’s all part of the high fever, the strain on your body, and I’ve never written any words like that. Here look.” She moved her tea to the bedside table, opened her journal, and held it up for her husband to read.

My Daily Thoughts, January 2005
This is the best life. . .

***

Patricia E. Patterson has been writing since the mid-1980’s. She has published her poetry and fiction in books and online. She’s a member of The Atlanta Writers Club and Georgia Writers Association. She has finished her first novel and is working on a second. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia.

© P. E. Patterson

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012