Strange Days by Elaine Rosenberg Miller

The man sat in the bed of a pick-up truck, facing her. They were stopped a traffic light. The hot late afternoon sun beat on her windshield, creating oscillating waves that distorted her vision. Her children played in the rear seats, strapped in for safety, bickering, arguing, demanding. The man stared right back at her. He was very handsome in a nonchalant manner. His graying hair hung loosely to his shoulders, framing his classic features. He had a noble head, similar to the statute of Augustus in the Metropolitan Museum up north.Yet, here he was in south Florida on a street named Okeechobee Boulevard, riding in the back of a truck.

With a start she realized that he resembled a late popular singer who had died at age twenty-six, He had been found dead of a heart attack in his Parisian bathtub. Or had he? Theories abounded. They said that he had tired of the music business, wanted to disappear and staged his death. His coffin had been sealed, it was reported. Only two people had actually seen the body, one his common-law wife, who allegedly died just a few years later. Had she dissembled to join him exile?

When she had been younger, his songs, lyrics had been provocative, his looks leonine. To her, all other men measured against him, failed.

Today, as she did every day, five days a week, she drove to two different schools and delivered her children, worked an eight hour day, then retrieved them. This day, she had decided to go to the market. They were out of peanut butter.

Is it possible? she demanded. How? What would he be doing in West Palm Beach? If he goes through that light, I’ll never see him again. Where could he be living? He had been born in Florida, hadn’t he? She had read it in an article. He might know his way around Florida. He could hide. Why hasn’t anyone else recognized him?

She remembered the youth, her youth, wearing an appliquéd tee shirt. A slash of satin fabric. Lighting Lady, she had named herself. She danced, her body flowing with the music. Understanding for the first time, the power of hypnotic attraction.

“Maa! He hit me!”

“Don’t hit your sister,” she mumbled.

Had he crooked his head? Had he acknowledged her? How long was this traffic light? His smile was ironic. “It’s him!” she swore to herself. He has gone from being the idol of millions to having no car and hiding in the Everglades.

He’s so beautiful, she mused. Why is such an attractive man riding in a pick-up truck?

She hated the south. Despised the small mindedness. The drawling speech. Its violent history. Yet, she had followed her husband back to his childhood home and stayed. She had been an urban person, loving the fast moving street life of the north.

Okeechobee. It sounded like a fungus. She had told him that she would try it for six months. That had been several years ago. Everything had changed. She was resigned.

That night, as she danced on the stage, having been pulled up from the audience, she felt her slender body on fire. The spotlights shown on her as well as the performers.

“I want a lollipop!” her son demanded.

Wordlessly, she handed him candy.

“Not that, a lollipop!”

“Me, too!” the other child said.

She handed them what they wanted.

Don’t go, she pleaded as the light changed and slowly, then with increasing speed, the truck moved forward into the intersection. She followed it. He smiled, bemusedly.

“I want pisgetti for dinner!” her daughter said.

The truck roared on. Her eyes peered at his retreating visage.

“That’s spaghetti,” she sighed. “Say spaghetti, sweetie.”

“Pis-ghetti.”

He was a cipher in the distance.

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