The fog just happened. A carpet of cool, white vapor uncoiled and corralled the trees, soil, and concrete. A cloud seemingly descended upon Beaufain Street. It was eerie how it crept and oozed into every nook, cranny, crack and crevice until all at once it rolled up my Brownstone’s steps, embraced my flesh, and settled down into my lap. The fog was an interesting occurrence on an otherwise insignificant morning, an anomaly like the unusually cool summer day of which the weather man warned me. A product of global warming he implied, yet would never say outright. I knew not the cause for the unseasonable chill in the air or the reason behind the stratus cloud that surrounded me and quite frankly I did not care. As a matter of fact, I did not care about anything at all. Depression has that effect on you.
My hands were nearly invisible in front of my face. I clapped them to make sure they were still there. My palms crashed together and separated the mist; it looked quite magical, as if I were wading through talcum. I heard rustling coming from a nearby window and felt immediate regret. “Of course you still have hands, you fool!” I chided myself. Had I sat quietly in the cloud I might not have roused her: Lunette, my neighbor, the imp whose assignment was to torture me as if I had not already suffered enough torment.
Lunette slowly opened the window, looked out at me and said groggily, “Are you okay out there?” I sat there quietly, hoping she would get the hint. However, she remained in the window to my dismay; my impoliteness was only matched by her patience. After she yawned and looked around she said, “My, it’s foggy out here.”
I shook my head as the torture began. One of Lunette’s most terrifying weapons was her uncanny ability to state the obvious. But the most nerve-racking weapon in her arsenal was her daily salutation. “Happy Monday!” she would say. What was so happy about this day or any other? Days offered me only sadness and that sadistic imp knew it. Yet she stated, “Oh, happy Sunday!” as if she forgot her mission of disturbing me on a daily basis. Her bright, cheery smile simply annoyed me. Her jovial voice vexed me. Had I good sense, I would have slipped away while the fog provided me cover.
It was not like I hated Lunette. I actually liked her as a person. Perhaps in another life, surrounded by a different set of circumstances, Lunette and I could have been close friends, confidants even, enjoying intelligent conversations over cups of coffee. But we did not live in that mysterious place called another life. We lived in this life, a place filled with heartache and loneliness. I longed to wallow in the bowels of sorrow and self-pity but Lunette would not let me. That truly upset me.
“Vaughn,” she called out. I took a deep breath because I knew what came next. “How are you doing today?”
“Same as I did yesterday,” I replied.
“May I join you?”
I closed my eyes and sighed. “It’s a free country,” I said.
I should have run off, should have allowed the fog to swallow me whole; however, I sat there waiting for the torture to begin. Lunette’s questions were worse than waterboarding. Our sessions usually ended with me being extremely curt and Lunette cursing. I had no idea that today would be subtly different. I chuckled sarcastically as Lunette pulled up a chair beside me.
“How’ve you been?” she asked.
“You’ve already asked me that question.”
She was quiet. It was hard to see her in the fog but I imagine that her caramel complexion was probably flush red with anger. I could barely see them, but I imagined her light brown eyes were piercing into mine. Lunette was pretty. She was very pretty. But she wasn’t beautiful. Not to me. My wife, Nia, was beautiful. But her body was rotting at Arlington National Cemetery. Therefore her beauty didn’t really matter.
“It’s been six months.”
“I know it’s been six months!” I fired back as I stared in her direction. “I know that better than anyone, better than you!”
“She was my friend too, Vaughn. You are my friend. I’m worried about you.”
I turned to face the street; I guessed that it was still there. We were breathing heavily. We were right on schedule. “I told you. I keep telling you. I tell everyone. I’m fine.”
“No you’re not. You don’t go anywhere. You don’t do anything.”
“Of course I’m not doing anything. I’m depressed. My wife went over to Afghanistan and got herself blown up by a roadside bomb.”
“Vaughn, why won’t you talk to someone? I told you about my friend…”
“There’s nothing to discuss. She left me here alone to be harassed by my family, her family, and let’s not forget her best friend. I don’t want to be bothered. My family has gotten the memo. When will you?”
“I get it Vaughn. You’re hurt and your heart is broken. But that gives you no right to be hateful.”
I closed my eyes and hoped that she would go back to her apartment. I prayed for it, folding my hands and bowing my head the way I did when I used to go to church. I prayed aloud so Lunette could hear me. “I want her to leave me alone, God. Why won’t she leave me alone?”
“You know I sent my resume to that firm in Atlanta,” she whispered while I prayed, “but they never called. I sent my resume to Brackston and Coulder in Boston because I thought it would be nice to be closer to home. No reply from Brackston and Coulder.”
“Are we going anywhere with this?”
“Let me finish. That firm in New York, the one that wooed me, all-expense paid trip, and five-star hotel, that firm rescinded their offer. At least they sent me a nice letter. Do you know what all of this means, Vaughn?”
“It means that you’re a horrible attorney that no one wants to hire.”
Lunette was quiet and I could see her eyes stabbing me through the fog. “You’re incredible, Vaughn. Do you know that?”
“And you’re stupid.”
“You heard me, stupid. I said you were stupid and passive.”
“Okay, I’m going back inside before I do something I’ll regret.”
“Did you ask Atlanta, Boston and New York to explain their reasons for passing up on you?”
“No, because I already know the reason.”
“Oh yeah? What’s the reason?”
She gave no reply. Her stillness surprised me. Had we truly been on schedule, this would be the time when she would start to yell at me, curse me like a dog. I needed it. I needed to be bathed by her insults but instead she gave me silence. We stared each other down on a Brownstone porch surrounded by what appeared to be smoke. Her fiery brown eyes lurked on me through the mist and I remembered our first meeting. Nia introduced Lunette as her bestie from college, the roommate with whom she studied law. Lunette came down from New Hampshire, happy to be among friends in geechie land. She landed a job at a mid-sized firm located on Meeting Street, so we sublet the downstairs apartment to her. At the time it made perfect sense. But Lunette never fit in and my matchmaking efforts always ended disastrously. “Thanks for nothing,” my friends would say.
“What’s wrong with Lunette?” I asked Nia once. “I can’t pay anyone to date her.”
“Be nice,” Nia would reply. Nothing more, nothing less and I was nice to her for Nia. Now my patience for Lunette was wearing thin.
“Stop worrying about me,” I said.
“I can’t help it.”
“Then you are indeed stupid. And you’re obviously a lousy lay.”
“Gerald dumped you. Amos dumped you. Even Big Khalid, the human garbage disposal, dumped you. Why can’t you keep a man?”
Lunette cursed me out, called me names.
“You got dumped!” I cried. “People get dumped all the time. Get over it, start dating someone and leave me be!”
“You are one to talk. You haven’t started dating again!”
“Nia didn’t dump me; she died!”
Nia didn’t dump you. Humph.
I heard Lunette mumble those words under her breath.
“I dumped Gerald, Amos, and though I hated to do it, I even dumped Khalid.”
“Why?!” I yelled and the fog separated with the vigor of my voice.
“For your information, Vaughn Monroe, Nia wanted to go to Afghanistan. You want to know why?!” Lunette fired back.
“What did you say?”
Lunette turned her face from me and I figured that she was looking out into the street. It was hard to see through the fog and the anger that seemed to paint my surroundings a smoky red hue.
I yelled words at Lunette that I would later regret. Then I tossed my chair down the steps and stomped off into the smog. I hit the concrete hard, hastily marching through the fog down Beaufain Street toward Colonial Lake. Surely the lake was the source of the mysterious mist because it grew denser the deeper I ventured toward the water. The mist bathed me, made me light-headed. It made me wish to be lighthearted. I longed to love again. I missed love. My tears mixed with the mist and my face was drenched. The wind helped matters little as it whipped up and pushed me backwards. Perhaps the wind was one of Lunette’s agents, trying to send me back to her torture chamber. But I would burn in Lunette’s fiery furnace no longer.
In desperation, I fought through thick precipitation, my mind replaying a time when I made love to my lady: my Nia. Her breast flopped against my chest, my sweat mixed with her sweat. I kissed her neck and tattooed her chocolate skin with my teeth. She tasted so good to me. “I never want us to be apart,” I whispered. She had me whipped, my fingertips between her lips; I lived between her thighs. That’s why I asked her to quit her job at the law firm. “Let me take care of you,” I said. “I work from home. I’m a total success. We’ll never need to leave the bed.” Every day she was mine in that way. I worshipped her. “Quit your practice!” I shouted as Eros engulfed me. “Forget the firm, your family, and friends. It’s me and you against the world!” She cried tears of joy because she was free from the stress of nine to nines. She was mine; I unselfishly gave her every ounce of my day.
“Why?!” I screamed through the fog, “did you have to leave me?!”
I knew she had no choice. Contracts were signed long before we met. War escalated and Uncle Sam activated even the reserve units. She had no choice. Had she a choice she would have remained with me.
I marched down Beaufain, hardly able to see a few feet in front of me. I felt a dip which alerted me that I had left the sidewalk and stepped down into the street. I kept marching and suddenly I felt something. Something brushed against my palm and it felt like fingers. Someone had touched me. I screamed from shock, “Hey! Who’s there?!” Then I saw bright lights. I heard brakes screeching. I bounced from a metal hood, rolled over the asphalt and finally fell into the mud. I was fine, more shocked than anything. I couldn’t see through the fog but I heard their voices perfectly.
“I told you we shouldn’t drive through this fog! Is he dead?” I heard a woman say.
“I was only going two miles per hour. Sir, are you alright?” a man said.
“Good then,” the man replied. Then I heard him whisper, “Get in the car and let’s go.”
“We can’t leave him like this,” she protested. But I guess she finally conceded because I heard the car speed off down the street. I lay down in that mud and cried immensely, caught up in the moment. One minute I was marching. The next minute I was muddy. It amazed me how quickly chance changed the course of history.
That’s when I heard her call out to me from deep within the fog. “Vaughn.” I sighed, shook my head and then looked into the direction of a sky I could not see for the cloud that surrounded me. “Vaughn,” she called again.
“Why me?” I asked aloud. I was going crazy because I could hear Nia calling my name.
“Vaughn, you’re not going crazy,” Nia said.
Then I’m dead, I thought.
She couldn’t have been there. I saw her body; the morticians put it back together as best they could. I decided to go with closed casket because I didn’t want anyone else to see Nia that way.
“You’re not dead,” Nia said as if she could read my mind. “Listen, I was wondering if you might get up from that mud and come talk to me for a few minutes.” Her voice reached out to me from across the street. I peered through the mist and somehow I was able to see her sitting on a park bench by the lake; she appeared to be the source of the fog. She wore it like a flowing gown whose train traced the surroundings, spreading in every direction. It was Nia, alive and beautiful, no longer dead and broken. She beckoned me to cross the street to sit by her. “But do be careful,” she said. “Wouldn’t want you to get hit again.”
“What are you doing here?” I asked as I pushed from the muck, stood up, and started walking towards her voice. “You are dead.”
“Yes. But that is not important.”
“How am I able to see you?”
She caressed the long, fluffy, flowing fabric she wore and said, “The fog, of course. It’s like dust and the wind. How would you see a breeze otherwise?”
None of this made sense to me.
“You’ve dealt with my death harshly,” Nia said.
“How else should I deal with it?”
She shrugged her bare shoulders. Her silhouette shined in the mist. I found it difficult to see her facial expressions, couldn’t tell if she was smiling or frowning. Nevertheless, I sat beside her, overcome by an indescribable feeling. I was warm and freezing simultaneously. I felt whole yet hollow. I slid closer to her, felt her supple hips against my leg. At that instant, I wanted to take her away before the grim reaper realized that she had escaped. I wanted to hide her in my house and make love to her for an eternity. I boldly placed my hand on her thigh because it belonged to me. I held her warmth in my palm.
“Touching me feels good to you, doesn’t it?” Nia asked.
Her voice was velvety and the question needed no reply. She knew my feelings.
“Yes, Nia. I’ve missed your touch. I have missed you.”
She said nothing. I imagined she was smiling from ear to ear, reveling in the splendor of my relentless adoration. “Can you control this fog?” I asked. “Can you make it go away? I want to see your smile.”
“I can’t control this fog,” she replied sweetly. “Besides, what makes you think I’m smiling?”
“Get your hands off of me!” she snapped. Then she slapped my hand hard. My heart beat arrhythmic. The world around me grew dreary. A day I dreamt of repeatedly was now a reality but it was actually a nightmare.
“Move!” she screamed and thunder shook the ground around us. I quickly slid over. The air grew colder as Nia shook her head and snickered.
“What’s going on here?” I asked. “Why are you being mean to me?”
“Oh poor, poor Vaughn. Always the victim.” She snickered again, a sick twisted laugh laced with wickedness. “Oh I want to savor this,” she said. “But time is of the essence so I’ll have to be brief. I loved you, Vaughn Monroe. But I hated being your wife. The sound of your voice vexed me. Cologne I once found irresistible, I came to detest over time. I was depressed by your presence. Your laughter was maddening. I kept praying for something bad to happen to you; I wished on the rare occasions when you left the house that you would never come back home. Perhaps you would be kidnapped or killed by a car bomb.”
Nia ranted and chaos compassed me round about. I heard shouting from a nearby house. Dogs howled a horrific chorus. Bells tolled. The timpani bellowed. The thunder rolled as lightning bolted.
“I begged to go to Afghanistan,” Nia shouted. “It was my only chance to get away from you!”
The mist waved all around her; the wind matched her madness. Her mouth no longer moved yet her harsh words still echoed in every direction. Birds flapped away for fear, the flapping of their wings barely visible in the fog. I was frozen. Then the wind calmed and the thunder rolled away. The shouting subsided leaving only the faint residue of a small dog’s bark as an ambulance sang softly off in the distance.
“You smothered me, Vaughn,” Nia said calmly. “You tried to turn me into someone I wasn’t and I hated being your wife.” She was crying. I could hear it in her voice and it hurt.
“I worshipped you,” I admitted. “Shouldn’t a man worship his queen?”
“At the end of the day I couldn’t take it,” she replied. “I could not take your worship. I wasn’t made for it.”
I hung my head and swallowed hard. I thought about my marriage to Nia in the same way a mathematician would retrace his calculation to discover his error or how a chemist would revisit his chemical formula to find out how something went wrong. I wanted a strong marriage with no wasted moments. The scriptures say that we are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes. We don’t have much time to begin with and our calendars are filled with committee meetings, commutes, and conundrums that do nothing but embezzle our time and energy. My friends complained about the lack of loving they received and it honestly bewildered me. We can control our loads and if there’s too much on our plates we have no one else to blame but ourselves.
I discovered the solution to the problems that led to marital complacency. We must remove all obstacles so we can enjoy each and every minute of the twenty-four hours we are given. After much hard work, I built a business that thrived and I never had to leave my living room. I met my soul mate. So naturally I wanted to share my discovery with her, my Nia. “We’ll be free!” I told her. What more could any woman ask for than to spend her waking hours with the man that she loved?
In my mind I went over the chemical equation that I so carefully created to make my marriage perfect and I slowly started seeing my miscalculations. My equation was unbalanced. Freshman chemistry taught me that an unbalanced equation could be dangerous. The equation needed to be balanced to be stable. Instability, if unchecked, could ruin an experiment at the least and at the worst it could cause an explosion. And that’s what happened. My marriage eroded slowly and eventually exploded. Yet I never saw the subtle signs that should have alerted me that I had been a total jerk of a husband.
“Were there any good times?” I asked even though I was scared to know. The truth gives us freedom. I wondered whether or not I truly wanted to be free.
“Of course there were good times,” Nia replied and I breathed a sigh of relief. “But the bad times outweighed them.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “If it weren’t for me, perhaps you’d still be alive.”
Her statement hurt me in foreign places and led me to retreat to the land of what if. What if I was a better husband? Would Nia still be alive? Would we still be together or was our marriage destined for destruction? I decided to shelve those questions because I realized that none of them truly mattered. I could not change the past.
“You know she’s in love with you,” Nia whispered, “Lunette.”
“Excuse me?” I furrowed my brow because that statement came out of nowhere and completely caught me off guard.
“Oh my goodness, Vaughn! Haven’t you seen it?”
“Lunette? Your friend Lunette?”
“Yes.” Nia shook her head slowly. The fog was starting to dissipate. I could tell because I was able to see Nia’s face clearly. She was smiling. I smiled as well.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I replied.
“No. I’m not kidding. Lunette is in love with you.”
I didn’t ask Nia how she knew. Perhaps she haunted the Brownstone and overheard Lunette’s conversations. I was no authority on what a spirit could and could not do and for some reason I did not feel the need to go into it too deeply with Nia at that time.
“I guess I committed the cardinal friend girl sin,” Nia added.
“What do you mean by that?”
Nia looked at me; her beautiful brown eyes sparkled in the thinning mist and I noticed that as she was slowly vanishing along with the vapor. “Never mind,” she finally replied. Then she looked at the fluffy white gown that adorned her chocolate flesh. Its train was getting shorter and shorter. Nia whispered, “I need you to do something for me.”
“Move on with your life.”
I knew that Nia had to leave me and as the mist diminished I realized something else that was extremely important. “I’m in control of this fog,” I announced. Nia only nodded yes. I had been living in a fog that I created, holding on to my depression as if it helped me. But the cloud was disappearing. I saw Nia clearly even though she was nearly transparent.
“Thank you,” she said before she completely vanished.
“You’re welcome,” I replied, understanding at that time that I had finally let her go. She could finally find her rest. As I walked back to the Brownstone on Beaufain I marveled at how quickly the atmosphere changed after Nia vanished into thin air. The sunshine baked away the last of the vapor and a warm breeze massaged me. I laughed for the first time in six months. I laughed at nothing in particular. I just felt jovial. I started jogging. Then I ran. Then I started crying tears of joy and I laughed some more.
The chair I threw down the steps like a little child was still on the sidewalk. I carried it up the steps and put it in its rightful place. Then I walked into the foyer feeling like a free man. I knocked on her door with no hesitation.
Lunette finally opened her front door after I had knocked and waited a few minutes for her to answer. I knew she heard my first knock and figured she was standing on the other side of the door making me wait. Or maybe she was in her bedroom hoping that I would go away. I was glad to see her open the door.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I had no right to speak to you that way.”
“It is not okay. I was dead wrong and I sincerely hope that you accept my apology.”
Lunette gave me the warmth of her smile and then she asked, “Would you like some coffee?”
“I’d love some coffee,” I replied.
She let me in and closed the door. She looked nervous, twirling the end of her jet black hair that fell from under a pink paisley headscarf. “You can have a seat at the kitchen table while I get the coffee,” she said.
“Cool,” I replied.
Lunette returned to the small dining table shortly afterward carrying two cups of coffee. Steam rose vigorously from their rims, filling the air with a robust aroma. When she took her seat, peaking at me over the rim of her coffee cup, I noticed that her hand was trembling. So I decided to move forward with light conversation in an attempt to ease the moment’s awkwardness.
“I remember the first time we met,” I said. “Do you remember that day?”
“I do,” she replied.
I laughed as the memory fully replayed in my mind. “I remember introducing myself as Vaughn Monroe, self-published author.”
“You asked me if I had ever read your work.”
“I did and you gave me this strange look. You remember that? What was the look about?”
Lunette giggled. “You don’t want to know.”
“Yes. Please tell me.”
She smiled and looked away. Her light brown eyes shined in the sunlight. “Okay,” she said, “You asked me if I had ever read any of your books and I was thinking ‘I have never heard of you before. Of course I’ve never read your books.’”
“You thought I was arrogant didn’t you?”
“Yes. A little. I guess you have to be a little arrogant to be successful.”
We allowed a silent moment to pass in which we sipped our coffee and looked outside the window. The sun shined; birds were singing. A warm breeze invited itself into the apartment and we welcomed it. Summer should be about sunshine, singing birds, and warm breezes. That frigid fog had no right to blight my summer day.
“The funniest thing about the morning that I met you was the oatmeal,” Lunette said.
I laughed. I had totally forgotten about that.
“I was trying to sound so intelligent while I talked to you,” I replied, “I guess I was trying to impress my wife’s best friend.”
“Yeah, but you had a glob of oatmeal on your shirt the entire time.”
We shared a long, jovial laugh that warmed my heart. “Nia teased me about that oatmeal on my shirt on a regular basis.”
Little by little Lunette’s smile went away. Nia. We both loved Nia. We both missed her. “It never really dawned on me, Lunette, that you were grieving just as much as I was. I should have been there for you. I should have allowed you to be there for me.”
“I miss her, Vaughn. I think about her daily. Sometimes it feels like she’s here with me.”
Maybe Nia was with us before. Her ghost probably stood in the same room with us without our knowledge. But now I knew that she was gone because I finally let her go. I thought about what Nia told me before she vanished with the fog. Then I placed my coffee cup on the table and looked into Lunette’s eyes. I took a deep breath and decided to beat around no bushes.
“Lunette, I know that those firms in Atlanta, Boston, and New York wanted to hire you.”
“And I know that you turned all of them down, for the same reason you dumped Gerald, Amos, and Khalid. You’re in love with me.”
Lunette looked away. She breathed heavily, nervous to be sure. I was nervous as well but we needed to clear the air. “You’re in love with me, aren’t you?” She only nodded yes as she continued looking out of the window. “It’s okay,” I said.
“No it’s not.”
“Lunette, look at me.”
She shook her head no. “I can’t.”
She closed her eyes then turned to face me. She hung her head as if she were ashamed.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I am in love with you,” she replied, “the husband of my best friend.”
“Nia is dead,” I said with more ease than I thought possible.
“I fell in love with you long before Nia left for Afghanistan.”
That’s when Nia’s confusing statement came back to me. I guess I committed the cardinal friend girl sin. Now that statement made perfect sense.
“Nia would complain about you on a daily basis,” Lunette confessed. “I guess the more she complained the more curious I became. My curiosity turned into a crush. That crush turned into love. I am a horrible friend.”
“No you’re not,” I replied. “You would have been a horrible friend if you had acted on that love.”
Lunette finally gave me the softness of her light brown eyes. She nodded in agreement and I could tell that she had just freed herself from the guilt she felt. “I guess you’re right,” she said.
“I have an excellent idea. We should go out, have some fun. It’s been a while since either of us has gone out and had some fun.”
“I’d like that,” she replied. “We’ve been too busy grieving.”
“To new beginnings,” I said as I lifted my coffee cup towards her.
“New beginnings,” she replied as our coffee cups came together. “Now I hope you don’t think that just because I’m in love with you, I’m going to be some easy sex. It doesn’t work that way.”
I laughed. “Nothing like that. Just two friends going out, having fun.”
“I would really love that,” she said. Then she smiled. Her smile was beautiful.
I looked over Lunette’s shoulder at the shaft of sunlight that came through the curtains. I marveled at the fine particles that only seemed to exist in that shaft. It looked like they were dancing, floating, flying freely. They looked so happy to be living in the sunlight.