on the way

The phone rang irritably on Marilyn’s bedside table. On its third ring, she considered that whoever was on the other end of the line might have something important to offer like a publishing deal or congratulations for a sweepstakes win. She read Peter’s name on the screen and decided that, while he couldn’t possibly provide information that would change her life, she should answer the phone anyway. 

Without hesitation, his voice came through the speaker loud and clear, “Mary, do you know what time it is?” His urgency did not shock her.

“I wish I didn’t,” she replied, rubbing her tired eyes with enough pressure to bring up colored dots behind her eyelids. 

“It’s eleven in the morning, Mary.” She never heard her name more often than she did in conversation with Peter. You never had to wonder who he was talking to or about. 

“That early?” she asked. He laughed sarcastically on the other end of the call. 

“Very funny, Mary. I need to know if you’re coming to my birthday dinner tomorrow. I’m making a reservation for seven, and I need to know who’s coming. You’re the only one who hasn’t let me know. I love you, and I want you to be there,” he said. She bit a hangnail on her thumb and stood up to stretch. 

“I’m thinking about it,” she teased. “I want to go, honestly.” She made her way over to her desk where her notebook lay open, demolished by chicken scratch reminders and ripped sticky notes. She shuffled some papers around to find the takeout menu she had written on the day before. 

“So, that’s a yes? I can put you down as a yes?” he asked. She found the slip underneath her half-empty coffee mug. ‘Sara art show Friday at 5,’ was printed across the top. 

“Yes. Sure, yeah. It’s just that Sara’s art show is also tomorrow night, but it starts at five. It’s over in midtown, so I can probably meet you after. I’ll just be a little—”

“Late?” he interrupted. She turned halfway to react to his comment, forgetting that he couldn’t see her squinted eyes and shaking head. 

“Yes. A little! But I’ll be there,” she said. She took her mug into the kitchen and set it in the sink to wash it out later, a task she would surely forget about. 

“Good! I miss you, Mary. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow! Have fun in class,” he ended. Her heart dropped for a moment as she realized that today was Thursday. Two weeks into the semester and the thought of school had completely slipped her mind. 

“Thanks, Peter! See you soon!” she said, but she hung up before she could finish saying his name. In the bathroom, she pulled her short brown hair back into a ponytail and squeezed some toothpaste on her toothbrush. She rushed to the closet, rummaged through sweatshirts and orphaned socks, and pulled out a pair of brown trousers and a plain t-shirt. Her heart was racing as she pulled her laptop into her leather tote. “Shoes!” she said, her voice muffled by the foaming toothpaste. After a quick scan across her room, her loafers were nowhere to be found. A high school essay she aced eight years ago? On the bookshelf. The receipt from the office supply store for a retail-therapy pen purchase? On the stack of books she always meant to read. A party invitation from her first college roommate that used to do her homework exclusively at 2am? On her desk under the takeout menu. But her shoes? Lost to the abyss of her busy apartment. 

En route to check the living room, she spat out her toothpaste in the sink. “There you are.” She slipped her feet into her shoes and grabbed her blazer that was resting on the armchair. A quick glance at the oven clock reminded her that she had ten minutes to get across town to the university. With her bag thrown over her shoulder and her apartment in more disarray than it had been when she awoke, she grabbed her keys from her nightstand and made her way out into the world. 

Moments like this made Marilyn love the city. Like everyone else walking along the trash-lined sidewalks, she had somewhere to be. She moved swiftly, dodging those who took their time and cursing at them in her head. She was lucky she didn’t have to wait for a train. The September heat made the underground unbearable on most days and she was already sweating from her expedited preparation. 

She reached the school at 11:43 and was greeted in the lecture hall by the faces of one hundred potential-filled young adults. Their dull roar of conversation settled down as she approached the podium and pulled the laptop from her bag. She took a deep breath to calm her heart that was now beating out of her chest and wiped perspiration from her forehead. Her gaze met the students and she smiled back at them, pushing her shoulders back for one final grounding moment. She had their full attention. “Thank you for your patience,” she said. “Let’s get started!”

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