This stoplight is where I would turn to go to her house. The once familiar route becomes stranger every day. Still, it would be so automatic to flip my turn signal, hang a right, and, in only a couple of minutes, be at her front door. She won’t have left for work yet; I could surprise her. But what would I say?

I have dreaded the possibility that I might finally muster up the courage to come and talk to Marci only to arrive at the same time as some other man. Our cars are parked nose to tail, and we both start walking up the driveway looking at each other sideways, sizing one another up. Even though I’ve gone so long without talking to Marci, I still can’t believe she would already be with someone new. She opens the door, and the sight of her face fills me with too many emotions to process at once. I want to plead for her forgiveness, to confess the depth of my love, to weep like I never have before, but all I can manage to say is, “Who the hell is this?”

“Me?” he grunts. “Who the hell are you?

“What’s going on here?” Marci asks.

“Look, buddy,” the guy is saying, “I think you better go on home.”

I hate it when people call me buddy. I want to beg Marci to give me another chance, but as her new boyfriend tries to slide past me into the house, I shove him aside and yell, “You stay away from her.”

“Get your hands off of me,” he growls, shoving me back.

And all I want is to see Marci smile, to feel her hand touch mine, to get lost in the magnificence of her eyes, but instead I have my fists closed around the overpriced fabric of this guy’s shirt, and I’m doing my best to throw him to the ground. We crash into the porch railing, tumble into the yard. He knows how to wrestle, but I know how to throw a punch, and somewhere nearby Mari is screaming, “Stop it, both of you please; just stop it!”

I could imagine driving down the road, just out of curiosity, wondering what, if anything, had changed, wondering if I might catch a glimpse of Marci doing yard work or reading on the porch. But then I round the last bend and see the flames. My foot slams the brake, and I end up stopping abruptly with my car angled awkwardly on the curb. Marci’s house is on fire. Black smoke pours into the air. Her car is still in the driveway. There are sirens whining, but they still sound far away, and with every second that passes…

I don’t have time to think, I charge toward the house and kick in the front door. I barely manage to cover my face as a jet of flame bursts from the opening. I smell burnt hair, but the opening is clearing, and I charge into the house. The familiar setting has been transformed into a hellish inferno. I rush from room to room looking for Marci and finally find her passed out on the floor of her bedroom. I scoop her up into my arms.  She has a slender frame, but her dead weight hangs awkwardly, like a sack of grain. Still, I carry her toward the front door, struggling to breathe. Above the roar of the flames, the house creaks and cracks. It’s all going to come down. I just have to get out, but my legs don’t want to keep moving. Right when I feel I’m about to collapse, there are firefighters with me, supporting me, guiding me out. I gasp in the fresh air and find myself beside an ambulance. They attach an oxygen mask to my face, but Marci is being strapped to a gurney. “Will she be alright?” I keep trying to ask. “Will she be alright?” The house is crumbling; people are shouting; the fire hose isn’t helping; Marci’s soot stained face looks perfectly serene.

Worst of all, I sometimes see myself arriving at the house and finding it perfect. Clouds part in the sky, and sunlight bathes the quaint ranch style home in radiance. The sweet fragrance of blooming tulips rises to meet me as I climb onto the porch. Despite my better judgment, I give in to the hope swelling up inside me. She would take me back. We would be together again. I would finally be complete. I push the worn little plastic button, and the chimes of the doorbell ring like a stirring overture. I count the approaching footsteps, watch the turning of the doorknob; every second I come closer to being reunited with Marci stretches infinitely longer like a curve approaching an asymptote.

Somehow, the door actually opens. My eyes fall on … no one. The doorway seems completely empty. But then, I look lower and see a pair of glasses, large and thick. Attached to the glasses is a small, round Asian woman. “What do you want?” she says. “Are you here to sell something?”

“You … I …” I peer into the house, I check the number on the house, look at the street sign. I’m in the right place, but everything is wrong. And how long had I been standing on this porch without saying anything. “Is…uh…is Marci here?”
“No.” If the answer weren’t final enough, the swift slamming of the door makes things perfectly clear. I had lost Marci forever.

I’m disturbed by the bleakness of my own imagination. It’s not that I can’t picture us ever being happy again. I actually think about it all the time. I see us smiling and in love.  It’s like nothing had ever happened, except that we have learned how to move past our problems. I don’t seem as selfish, and Marci doesn’t seem as needy. I’m tenderer, Marci’s more passionate, and the sex always feels like making love. We can communicate clearly without ever yelling. The clarity of the vision is what makes my heart ache. I know how good things could be. I just can’t imagine how we would ever reach that point. And I know that with each new day, the chances of my vision becoming a reality get lower.

Someone behind me honked. I had forgotten where I was. My mind was on its way to work, my heart was with Marci, but physically, I was still sitting in the car. Which was the real me? All of them? None? But I didn’t have time to contemplate metaphysics. The light had turned green, and I had to go.