Running into the woman that paid to have you killed for your life insurance is enough to startle anyone. She strolled by, as the setting summer sun warmed the nape of my neck, wearing the cornflower dress that I bought her last summer and the black pumps that were two sizes too big – the ones that her heels popped out of with each step. I caught her distinctive gait out of the corner of my eye while I sopped up a plate of olive oil and sea salt with the remnants of a warm baguette.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, in retrospect – we’d often spent a good part of the evening sitting on the patio of the Flying Fig. We loved to soak up the warm, night air, drink a bottle of wine, eat the locally sourced food, and watch people wander up and down Market Avenue as Cleveland relaxed and settled into the weekend.
“Claire?” I pushed my chair back quickly and stood up, hoping to get her attention. “Claire?”
“Harold?” she gasped. Her eyes grew wide as dinner plates.
“It’s me, baby.”
“But,” her face blanched, “you’re dead.”
I don’t remember much about dying. I remember Charlie – that bastard – and I remember his chainsaw; I remember all sorts of unpleasant things about that chainsaw. I remember begging for my life as he fired it up and the feeling of helplessness as he took my head clean off.
The next thing I remember is waking up in the basement of the funeral home with my head firmly reattached and then sneaking out in the middle of the night. It’s the period between the two that’s a bit hazy. I found out from the paper that my body had washed up on the shore of Edgewater beach and my head had followed a day later.
I’d hoped that, when I finally ran into her, Claire would have been able to fill me in. Apparently not. “Well, I was.” I swirled my glass of Grenache and smiled, “Not so much anymore.”
A crowd passed around us, between us, behind us in that long moment: clever, pretty men and smart, well-dressed women crossing the cobblestone street, moving from the patio of the wine bar to the patio of the Brewing Company and vice versa.
She wheezed – the cigarettes were catching up with her, “This can’t be happening. This can’t be.” She wobbled unsteadily.
“Well, I don’t want to keep you,” I said. “It was good to see you, Claire.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Harold,” she backed away slowly, trying to not trip over her ill-fitting shoes. She finally turned, but continued to stare at me over her shoulder.
“Oh, and when you see him,” I said as she walked away, “tell Charlie I said ‘Hi.’”
If she were able to run in those pumps, I’m sure she would have. I watched her as she disappeared around the corner, headed toward the Bier Markt, probably to meet Charlie. I flagged my server down.
“All ready?” she asked with a smile.
“Yes,” I said, as I took the last sip of my wine, “I’m very ready.”