A Short Story–The Unexpected© Elsa Wolf

Maggie, hunted for the ringing phone, it was under a Smithsonian magazine. A moment passed. She grabbed the phone and looked at the caller ID, it was her son. The reception wasn’t ideal and his voice sounded like he was talking into a tin can. To keep her other hand busy, she took a sponge off a plate and wiped down the kitchen counters.

“Let’s have breakfast together tomorrow,” Joey said.

“Yes, I’d love to,” Maggie replied.

“We need to meet at 8 A.M. by the bus stop, my class schedule is packed.”

Maggie couldn’t figure out why he sounded so insistent.  It wasn’t like him, and it was too damn early, but curiosity won. At the appointed time, they rendezvoused at the bus stop on Connecticut Avenue by the National Zoo. He didn’t say much, other than greeting her with a smile, until they reached the university campus. She thought about when he had first chosen her Alma Mater and the pride welled up again. At the corner of H and 21st Street, the bus pulled up in front of an empty lot where a building had been during her years at GW, but a sign listing future plans stood in its place. On the other side of the road, the Lisner Auditorium still shined with a newer open courtyard flanked with pathways leading up to an obelisk in the center.

Joey’s phone chimed. As they stepped out of the bus, he interrupted their plans and announced that he had to disappear for a brief meeting. Maggie didn’t want to wait but didn’t really have another choice. He’d apologized, and they agreed to meet by the obelisk in 45-minutes. The phone chimed again. Maggie felt rather annoyed by the constant interruptions of text messages, this was their time. Regardless, he jogged off with his backpack flopping left and right across his shoulders. He, like most runners, was fit and lean. Maggie longed for the days when she was as fit. The years hadn’t been kind. Her mid-section had lost its definition. She snickered at herself for referring to a part of her own body as it. By the curb sat a vendor’s cart. A black coffee—no cream or sugar—would perk her up. The man poured the brew into a to-go cup, she paid cash. These days, more often than not, people use a debit or credit card. For small amounts, it hardly seemed worth the effort. Maggie meandered back to the courtyard and sat down on the bench to wait. Looking at the coffee, she smiled and recalled never being willing to buy anything from street vendors or food trucks for fear of getting ill. Today, in these modern times, everyone bought things from them without any problems. Lifting her toes to the sky, she did a few rounds of leg-lifts and breathed in the moist air.

Two other people appeared and sat on the bench on the other side of the narrow courtyard. Both appeared rather placid right up until they began a heated debate on international affairs, which she did everything in her power to avoid listening to. Not only was it rude to eavesdrop, but she’d had her fill of such things on the news the prior night. The world was off balance; people were having trouble finding jobs with proper pay and health insurance, among other things. Maggie figured technology had become a good and bad thing.

Fifteen minutes later, a commotion began on the opposite side of the street beyond the vacant lot. From the back of a building, smoke billowed out of the upper windows. People were shouting as they ran out the door on the street level, almost everyone was dressed in robes or pajamas. Maggie wasn’t sure whether to call the emergency crews. The fire alarm was blaring so loudly, she put the coffee cup on the bench and covered her ears. In the moments of indecision, lights from the sides of the empty lot popped on and began to flood the area with multi-colored beams. People on the sidewalks rushed into the scene with chairs and sat down to watch. Others stood. This was the craziest thing she’d ever witnessed. Why were they sitting there gawking and not helping? A few minutes later, multi-colored balloons floated out the lower windows, the ‘audience’ broke into cheers. Just about the time Maggie thought she’d go mad, Joey showed up with Sandy.

“What is going on!” Her heart was racing.

“Mom, it’s okay,” Joey replied. “This isn’t real; it’s a stage production they brought outside to create something real in the actors’ minds. Think of it as flash-mob.”

“Well, it worked. I’m terrified for the victims and appalled by those people sitting and watching. I would have preferred singing or dancing; thank you very much.”

“Never mind them.” He put his arm around his girl. “Mom, I had to go get Sandy. I wanted her to have breakfast with us, and she wasn’t picking up her phone. The pings on my phone before I left you were something different. Anyway—we have a surprise for you.”

“Really, Joey, I can’t take any more excitement today after that fictional fire across the street.”

“Mom, you’ll be all right.”

“Nice to see you again, Mrs. Tilly.”

“You too, dear.” Turning to her son, she said, “Can we go to breakfast? I’m hungry, you both must be, too.”

“Mom, we have something to tell you. We’re engaged.”

“Engaged for another show?” Maggie teased.

“Maaaa, no, we are engaged.” He moved his finger back and forth between Sandy and him. “Marriage. I asked Sandy to marry me.”

“Right on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. On one knee.” Sandy held out her hand to show off the stone.

“Aw…” she contained her delight. “Congratulations. Mmm, that looks familiar.”

“Mom, you’re too funny.”

“Who me?” Maggie engulfed them in a group hug. Stepping back, she said, “So, that’s why your dad was asking me where I’d hidden his mother’s ring.”

The end of the dream

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