Writing to Chicago

In honor of Nanowrimo, (or perhaps to keep myself from cheating and using old material) I am publishing some short stories I wrote in college. Let me repeat: I wrote in college. Apologies in advance.

Brandy had been sitting in the Accord so long she could barely see past the steam collected on the windshield. Her legs were cramped and she was exhausted. She had been parked outside Paul’s office building for 3 and a half hours, and there was no action to be seen.

Half an hour later, she was so intent on examining the split ends in her hair she almost didn’t see them walk out. Yes, them – she was hanging onto his arm, lauging and gazing into his eyes as he hugged her around the waist. I knew it, she thought, and she felt satisfied in a sick sort of way. But then she looked a little closer at her rival.

In her mind, the other woman her husband had taken up with had always been 10 years younger, with long red hair and a perfect body. This woman, however, had brown hair, was about the same age as her husband, and was, well, a little frumpy. Is he blind? She even makes me look good.

Curiousity and jealousy told her to follow his car as they left the parking lot. Even from a safe distance, she could see the outline of their heads moving. The woman threw her head back a lot. Was he making her laugh, she wondered?

The following weekend Brandy was alone again. Typical, she thought as she walked into their apartment after work. She dropped her bag on the floor and collapsed onto the couch.

Feeling a dull pain in her side, she reached underneath her and threw the television remote to the ground. With red eyes and a weary tone, she said to herself, “I just can’t take it anymore.”

After kicking off her shoes and stretching out somewhat comfortably underneath the afghan she’d had since college, the ringing of the telephone brought her back from the peaceful feeling of sleep about to settle in.

She let it ring 3 times before she could muster a smile and a cheery greeting.

“Hi honey,” a familiar voice said. “How’s my wife?”

“Fine, now that I’m hearing from you,” she spoke with gritted teeth and a superficial smile. “And how are you?”

“Ok I guess.” There was a strain in his voice. “Today was too busy – I lost a client, the boss was moody, everything is in shambles here. …”

She blocked his voice out of her mind the same way she used to block out the sounds of her house creaking when she was younger. She’d tell herself, “There may be a monster, but I’m not letting him get to me.”

“When are you coming home?” she interrupted.

“What? Oh,” his voice took a softer tone and he said, “Brandy, it may be longer than we talked about. This mess at work may push me back another few weeks. They need me here.”

She wondered what he was doing right now. Was he alone in his hotel room hours away? Or was she there with him, massaging the knots out of his shoulders that he always gets after a long day? She tried to think of something to say, but she knew she would probably choke out a sob if she opened her mouth.

“Honey, are you there?” The smoothness in his voice made her want to puke. “Try not to be mad at me. Brandy, you know I’m not doing this on purpose.”

“I understand,” she said. “At least, I’m trying.”


Weeks of following them left Brandy with nothing. She had watched them together countless times, and she could not figure out why he would choose this woman as his mistress. They’d been to dinner, to the movies, and to the park. They’d been dancing, stargazing, and shopping. But the years had not been kind to this woman and Brandy did not understand her husband’s surprising attraction to her.

She’d even discovered a toddler that obviously belonged to the woman. She lived with her son in an average apartment in an average section of town and she drove a brown dented Datsun. Her name was even average – Dawn. There was nothing significant or special about this woman, and the competition was killing her.


“Well, I don’t really understand what the big deal is. If you’re so upset about it then why don’t you just leave him?”

Brandy circled around the family room of Monica’s home and examined the bright orange and yellow painting on her friend’s wall. This painting is so strange, she thought. “What?” she said. “I can’t just leave!”

“Well, why the hell not?” Monica’s nasal voice made Brandy wish she was hard of hearing sometimes. Monica, covered in paint, was sitting in front of an easel mumbling around a paintbrush in her mouth.

Brandy clutched a mass of frizzy blonde hair and tugged at it to distract tears from coming. “I can’t be by myself,” she said.

“You scared of the dark?” Monica laughed. “I don’t feel sorry for you one bit, then. If you’re not going to do anything about it then don’t be surprised when it doesn’t get any better.” She took the brush out of her mouth and dipped it in blue paint, then attacked the canvas with long, extended strokes.

Brandy signed and walked over to a ceramic plate hand-painted by her friend. It was a mess of gold and black swirles circling in and out with no obvious meaning to it whatsoever.

“Brandy can I ask you something?” Monica’s voice startled her, and Brandy looked to see the woman had stopped painting and was looking at her. “Do you even know what love is?”

Brandy’s brown eyes blinked hard and her brow wrinkled. “Who do you think I am?” She was flustered. “Of course I know what love is. I’ve been married for 3 years! Who are you to ask me anyhow? You haven’t had a lover in how long?” Her voice was a notch higher than before.

“All I’m saying is if you loved yourself you wouldn’t let your husband cheat on you,” was Monica’s simple reply. Her voice was relaxed, and Brandy wanted to hurl the plate at her. Instead she grabbed her purse and headed toward the door, muttering under her breath something about overdue videotapes.


One spring morning as Brandy’s errands had her running all over town, she noticed the familiar Datsun parked in a lot across the street from the local park. Don’t stop, she told herself. Yet she couldn’ keep her hands from turning the wheel and parking right next to the ugly car.

Today Dawn was sitting on a park bench alone, and she seemed to be staring at absolutely nothing. Brandy walked toward her but stopped while still several feet away and looked at her. Her hair was a mass of slightly messy curls underneath her hat, and her sundress was a little faded but still pretty.

Brandy’s feet were magnets that pulled her toward the woman. She felt herself sitting beside Dawn and smiling at her forcibly. Suddenly she was intoxicated by this woman’s presence. This sweet-smelling, kind-looking woman had ahold of Brandy’s husband. What do you say to someone who has taken your husband? “Beautiful day,” she said.

Dawn turned to her and smiled softly. “Yes, it is.” Her voice was soothing. “I just had to come soak up some sun.”

The two women sat in silence until Dawn took a shabby notebook out of her bag and proceeded to write a few words. After a few moments, she put the pen cap to her mouth and nibbled on it while looking around thoughtfully.

Brandy, curious, leaned slightly toward Dawn and shifted her glance toward the book. She couldn’t make out the words scribbled across the wrinkled pages, but she could see different-colored inks and different sizes and shapes of the letters. She glanced up and Dawn was smiling calmly at her. “It’s my journal.”

“But why would you – I mean how – what do you write about?” Brandy was flustered.

“Oh I don’t know. I write about myself.” At Brandy’s puzzlement, she added, “I write about things I notice best. Like the weather. I write about how it affects my mood.”

“Oh …” Brandy tried to picture herself keeping a journal. She almost laughed out loud at that thought. She didn’t really see the point of writing about something so stupid as the weather. “But why?” she said.

“It helps me connect with myself,” was the reply. “It makes me remember why I love my life so much.” Brandy’s skeptical glance caused Dawn to smile.

“I tell you what,” Dawn said. “Come back tomorrow, bring a pen, and I’ll show you.”


“She keeps a diary for Christsake! Why would she do that?”

“It’s her form of expression,” Monica mumbled. “Just wait till you taste this.” Her voice was loud and excited. Monica was standing in the kitchen with a lime green apron in front of a huge pot of bubbling red sauce. “You’re gonna love it!” she spoke over the sound of the fan on top of the stove.

“Never mind the food.” Brandy was irritated. “What am I supposed to do about this?” Brandy paced across the kitchen tile and shot a dirty look in her friend’s direction. “This is very crucial,” she continued.

“Why don’t you try it?” Monica gathered a sampling of sauce with the mixing spoon and blew on it softly. At Brandy’s puzzled glance, she said, “The journal. Try writing in one.”

Brandy rolled her eyes and uncrossed her legs. Her foot hit the ground hard. “That’s not the point,” she whined. “I don’t care about the stupid journal.”

“Well, maybe you should care. Maybe you would even realize how much you don’t love Paul anyway,” Monica said right before sliding the spoon into her mouth and closing her eyes as she swallowed. “I am the best cook,” she said. “Want some?”

Reluctantly Brandy took the bowl that was offered along with some Saltines. This tastes like shit, she decided. “One of these days I’m going to tell her,” she said.

“She says writing in her journal helps her remember to love life or something stupid like that. Well, I just don’t understand how writing in a journal is going to help anything,” Brandy whined a few moments later to fill up the silence.

“Writing in a journal will show you what the rest of us have been telling you for years about you settling for Paul,” Monica said. “Now stop complaining and eat your food,” she added sharply.

Brandy clenched her fist and concentrated on the pain her fingernails left on her palm, but it did no good in concealing her anger. “Why does everything have to revolve around you Monica?” she shrieked. “I’m trying to tell you about my problems and all you do is talk about dinner!”

“Well, dinner is more important to me, Brandy,” came the reply. “You do not center the universe.”

Brandy’s chair tipped and hit the floor as her legs straightened. Monica’s annoying laughter followed her as she slammed the door to the woman’s apartment.


The following morning was cold and cloudy, but the park was calling and Brandy sat at the familiar bench with a pen in hand. Twenty minutes passed before Dawn showed up, and in that time Brandy looked at her surroundings and tried to imagine what Dawn saw when she looked at the trees and flowers that separated the park from the four-lane road on the other side of the shrubbery.

“Here,” a voice said from over her shoulder as a notebook was handed to her. “Now write whatever it is you were just thinking about.” Slowly, Brandy turned around to greet her rival. She took the notebook, being careful not to touch the other woman’s fingers, and gingerly thanked her.

Dawn walked to the other side of the bench and sat down. The two women introduced each other by first name only, then made idle chitchat for a few moments.

Finally Brandy decided to take a chance. “So what kinds of things do you write about?” she asked. “Your husband?”

Dawn laughed lightly and it sounded a little bit like bells. “Oh no, I don’t have a husband,” she said. “It’s just me.”

“But don’t you have anybody special in your life?” she pressed.

A difference seemed to come over Dawn’s face, and Brandy could almost see her eyes misting over. “Yes,” she said slowly. “There is someone special, but he is not mine to hold.”

Damn right. “Why not?” she asked.

“There’s another woman,” came the reply. “But don’t be sorry for me,” Dawn said quickly.

Don’t worry, she thought bitterly.

“It’s his wife,” she finished, and the tears were more than a little apparent by now.

“Well then why – why would you want to be with someone like that? Why would want to ruin his relationship with his wife?” Brandy struggled to keep her tone even, to keep her voice from cracking.

“Oh honey no,” Dawn’s voice was strong. “His relationship with his wife was gone before I even became a part of him. I am his soul mate.”

“But how can you say that?” Brandy’s nervousness was gone. “How can you say they never would have worked things out? If that’s his wife … If that’s his wife, then he belongs to her, not you.”

Dawn sighed, and the expression on her face was one Brandy had never seen before on anyone. Brandy almost wanted to hug the woman. “He belongs to no one,” she said flatly. “But he loves me.”


“But he loves me … but he loves me.” The words that echoed in Brandy’s mind as she put the last suitcase into the already full Accord.

Pulling out of the driveway, she did not even glance in the rearview mirror. Time heals all wounds, she told herself as she wiped a single tear from her cheek.

By the time she gets to Chicago, he’ll be coming home. And he’ll see the note, and he’ll know she knows.

The radio played an old country song and Brandy kept driving. By the time I get to Indianapolis, he will have told her, and she will come over and see the note, and she will know who I am, and she will know he’s not even mine to let go of.

Brandy never was great with words, but she knew in this case, she didn’t have to be. For the note, scribbled on the first page of the journal, stated simply, “I loved you, but she loves you better. Help her to remember why she loves her life so much.”

She had ripped it out and left it on the counter, tucking the journal inside her purse. She might need it.

Brandy kept driving. Chicago, she thought. I can do that.

This story was published in the 1999 Winthrop University literary magazine. Call me George Lucas, but the editor in me came out and I had to fix some of the details lest I cringe while you read it now. So this is slightly different than the original version.