Charlie & Emma

Here is a draft of a story known as a fragment.  I've tried to enter into the mind of a woman, and I'm wondering if the women who read this would give me feedback on whether I've succeeded.  (Men are not excluded from giving feedback.).

I was nineteen and working my way through school at Gumbo's Diner on Howe Street.  no one harassed me there because that's where the Vancouver police liked to eat.  There was one officer in particular – he always sat at one of my tables. 

He was quiet.  He'd order a burger – every time: "Deluxe," he'd say, "with everything on it."  I'd smile, he'd smile, and every time I brought him something – a fork, a napkin, a glass of water – he'd say, "Thank you."  Like he was raised in some strict Baptist family.

One Saturday night he sat down in civvies.  When I asked him what he'd like, he just looked at me and said, "I'd like to take you to the moveis."  And months later when I inquired why it had taken him so long, he pretended to be John Wayne: "Well Emma…I guess I just had to be sure you were The One."  It made me laugh and hold on tighter as we walked arm in arm.

He drove a big motorbike and the smell of his leather jacket, especially on hot days, filled my nostrils.  As we lay on the grass, the scent of his black hair and the taste of his mouth in mine thrilled me.

And that's the way I like to remember him.  He wasn't perfect, by a long shot, but I felt I could trust him.  Thirty years of marriage and three children slid by…and one October he didn't return home – his bike parked perfectly along Highway 1.  He just dissolved like a lump of sugar in Burrard Inlet.

Because he was one of theirs the police looked everywhere: Stanley Park, the waterfront, the ditches of Highway 1.  So thorough were they that two bodies were found, but not Charlie. 

I waited five years.  And then in April, there he was, an apparition walking in my direction…pushing a shopping cart down the same crowded street.  I just stared at him, stunned, as he walked by me with no recognition in his eyes. 

"Charlie!"  I shouted.  "Charlie!"  And he just kept walking.  I ran up behind and grabbed his shoulder, "Charlie!"  He turned round, startled, "What's the matter lady…what do you want?"

I began to cry, "Where've you been?"

"Are you okay…you need something?"  he asked, drawing back a string of matted hair.  And then I saw it, the scar tissue around his forehead: wrinkled, slightly caved, like a wound that hadn't repaired well.  Without knowing what had happened, I knew he was no longer mine.  I simply said, "I-I'm sorry…I thought you were someone else."  And indeed he was.

My grief was inconsolable and over the months, as I saw him pushing the cart loaded with his worldly possessions, I offered him money and invited him to stay in my home.  But he just said, "No, thank you."

He lived beneath a bridge on the East Side – nameless, disordered, ill.  None of the hospitals remembered him and none of the Gospel Missions recalled when he'd started visiting the soup lines.  Then one day he vanished, again, like the first time.  And I have not seen him since.

I am old now, and his face is fuzzy in my mind.  At Christmas, when the children visit, his name seems to have melted imperceptibly like Vancouver snow.  But I do not need photographs and home movies to remember.  I have the smell and the taste of him within me, and the memory of a young waitress in love.


4 thoughts on “Charlie & Emma

  1. That saddened me, touched me, was so vivid in it’s detail.

    I am a woman very in touch with my femininity….

    and I did not question your sex once in that story-
    so job well done.

  2. It’s difficult to comment on this because it covers a whole lifetime in one page. Fascinating story line, very poignant. It might make a good short story, with a starting point of when she sees him with the shopping cart, and sprinkled with her memories. That might help intensify the loss, which must have been terrible for her, and deserves more attention. I’d think she’d do more than “wait two years”.

    As to “getting into the mind of a woman”, of course all women are different, but I personally do identify with the smell thing. Odors are known to be really powerful at evoking memories, and I know that a distinct smell of someone I love always brings up positive emotions in me.

    Hope this helps a bit.


  3. I think you managed to sound like a female narrator. No problem there.

    That’s a lot of story in just a few paragraphs, and it could be expanded a great deal. It bothers me that she didn’t search for him, make the police dredge the water, somehow try to account for his disappearance. I think a woman would do this, especially as confident as she was of his love.

  4. Thank you all for your helpful feedback. My most perceptive and insightful critic, my wife, agrees with you – and more. I have several re-writes ahead of me.

    If you would like feedback on any of your compositions, do send them to me.


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