The stranger (story)

in fiction •  29 days ago

When Maggie Calhoun set out to find the man of her dreams all she had was a name, Burt, which she didn’t particularly like as she thought it sounded like a cross between burp and fart. And it wasn’t exactly the man of her dreams, but rather then man in her dreams. Actually, it was just one dream, but one quite compelling.
Maggie was a heavy sleeper and most mornings she had no recollection of dreaming anything at all. She just assumed she must have dreamed, as doctors say all people do. It did not bother her in any way. She just assumed her dreams to be too mundane to be worth remembering them.
She had to find this Burt because he needed help, although she wasn’t exactly sure what sort of help. In the dream, she was very close to this man and her hands were cupping his cheeks firmly, but with infinite tenderness. She recalled the feeling of the fine stubble on his cheeks rubbing against her skin, but not his face, not one single trait. “You have to believe, you have to, Burt!” she was pleading with him, but she had no idea what the man was supposed to believe.
Her daughter, Deb, eyed her a bit suspiciously when she first heard that Maggie was determined to look for a stranger she’d dreamed about. At 54, Maggie was too young to be losing it, but you could never know. Yet, apart from this weird notion she must find the faceless Burt, her mother seemed to be quite rational and her usual happy self, so Deb said nothing.
The good news was that Maggie felt this Burt lived in the city. She couldn’t be sure, but the place they were in her dream seemed familiar, like maybe the small coffee shop right outside the mall, the one that served chocolate merengue.

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‘A bit of adventure might do you could’, Deb agreed, but her mother scoffed at the idea. She wasn’t interested in any sort of adventure, certainly not the sort Deb’s tongue-in-cheek remark seemed to imply. Maggie considered herself a happily divorced woman, quite lucky to be rid of Jack who was aging badly and she frankly could not stand anymore his deluded efforts to be seen as still young and fit. She used to space out and busy herself with dinner when Jack came home from the gym, stinking and flushed, like somebody who’s five minutes away from a stroke or something. When that woman, Lydia, suddenly discovered that Jack with his sexy bald-spot and the little fat-roll over his hips no amount of exercise could shift was the man of her dreams, Maggie was happy to let her have him. She made sure all of her husband’s stuff was packed by the next day. The funny thing was the look of hurt in Jack’s eyes when the boxes were all loaded in the van, like he couldn’t believe his wife of twenty-five years shed no tears when they said good-bye. The first night all alone in the house did feel strange and she missed her husband’s reassuring presence, but the next day she ordered the most expensive alarm-system and that was that.
It wasn’t romance she was after, the dream had been clear, that Burt need her or at least somebody to keep him from going over the brink. Maybe he’s a lonely man who needs a friend, she thought. Or maybe, he just lost someone important and needs a shoulder to cry on. The connection had felt so real and strong in her dream, her heart ached when she thought of the man waiting to be found.
Monday afternoon would be the best time to start her quest, she decided. She wanted to avoid the throng of weekend-shoppers who crowded the coffee-shop on any given Sunday. How could she even hope to find a perfect stranger in a crowd of noisy people laden with their bags of trophies, not to mention their tired screaming children?
It is so that on Monday, May 5th, at 5 pm, Maggie found herself sitting at a table in the middle of the shop and ordered a cappuccino and cookies. Apparently, they no longer served merengue. And stared around her, trying not to be too obvious, yet making it clear she’d be glad to start a conversation with a lonely man named Burt. That’s why she had decided against bringing a book or a magazine, that would send out the wrong signal she didn’t want to be approached. She spent a rather uncomfortable hour looking around, by which time the waitress had already cleared the empty cup of coffee and asked twice if there was anything else she might like. Time to go.
On Tuesday, Maggie ordered a green tea, which came in a bigger cup she could make last longer. There was indeed one middle-aged man drinking coffee in the corner of the room, but he did not seem especially sad and did not raise his eyes from the paper he was reading. Maggie was starting to feel a bit silly, chasing a ghost in a coffee shop, when an elderly gentleman in a brown suit too heavy for the balmy weather approached her and asked if he might sit down. There were no empty tables left, so his request was perfectly justifiable. And considering they were both past their prime it did not feel inappropriate. An old guy plating himself at the same table with a young pretty girl, that would be creepy, but Maggie wasn’t exactly the type a man, even in his sixties, would hit upon in such an overt manner.
By the time Maggie decided there was no cause for alarm, the man had already ordered an espresso and a butter scone.
As they both raised their cups at the same time, their eyes met and the man used the opportunity to thank her for allowing to sit at her table. Maggie’s heart started to pounce waiting for the man to introduce himself, as such a situation required, but he surprised her with a very direct question.
‘Are you looking for Burt, too?’

(to be continued)

Thanks for reading!

Photo by nrd on Unsplash

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