I stood by the pay phones at the arrival gate of the Seattle airport admiring Debby's neatly packed body as it wiggled toward baggage claim. I'd sent her ahead because I needed to place an important phone call I forgot to make before our flight left Atlanta.
Marie answered the phone on the first ring.
"Who is this?" Her voice was icy, suspicious.
"Honey, it's me." Who'd she think it was? Geez.
"Paul?" A feeble squeak.
"Of course. Marie, what's the deal with you?"
She didn't answer right away. For a second I thought she'd hung up, but then I heard her breathing heavily. It sounded like she was laughing.
"Very funny, Marie."
When she spoke again, however, it sounded more like she might be crying. "Paul?" she sniffed. Her voice quavered. "Is that really you?" Then the sound of her voice abruptly turned harsh. "This better not be some sick joke." She spat out the last two words.
I was beginning to lose my patience. "Yes, Marie. It's really me. What's going on?"
"Paul! Where ARE you?" Now she was crying and laughing. In the space of only a few seconds her emotions had seemed to tour a vast emotional spectrum: suspicion, meekness, sorrow, anger and now what I can only describe as frantic elation.
I talked rapidly, trying to calm her. "Look, babe: I'm sorry I forgot to call earlier. I'm still in Atlanta," I lied. "I got bumped from my flight and can't get outta here 'til tomorrow."
Then she really began to cry.
"Honey, what's the matter? I'll be home tomorrow." I didn't expect that she'd be this upset.
"Oh, Paul. I thought you were dead." Breathless sobs made her words barely decipherable.
"What are you talking about?" This conversation was getting spooky. "Have you been watching another one of those sentimental chick flicks on TV, or what?" I laughed, uneasy.
"Paul, didn't you hear the news? The plane you were supposed to be on crashed two hours ago. There were no survivors." She began to wail again. The sobs came from deep within her.
I was too stunned to speak.
"Paul. Come home. I need you," she whimpered.
"I'll be there as soon as I can," I said quietly.
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