Anniversary ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
“Why do we have to go so far?” Sylvia said, rolling up the window to keep her hair from blowing.
“It’s a surprise,” Elliot said.
“Couldn’t you have surprised me closer to home?”
“Not too much farther.”
“You must think I’m awfully stupid,” she said. “Do you think I don’t remember the way to Sea Cliff Inn? It’s only been five years.”
“You could at least pretend to be surprised.”
“I’m not eight years old.”
When he came to Sea Cliff Inn and turned in at the gate, he said, “The place hasn’t changed much. Remember how somebody told us the old hotel was haunted?”
“It was the waiter,” she said, “and he’s paid to tell people that. It keeps them coming back, bringing their gullible friends so they can say, ‘that old hotel on the hill up there is supposed to be haunted’. Then those friends will bring more friends and say the same thing.”
“Maybe it is haunted,” he said.
“Any sensible ghost wouldn’t want to stay around here,” she said.
“Let’s get a room and spend the night. It’ll be just like our wedding night.”
“I didn’t bring anything,” she said. “It was a surprise, remember?”
“We don’t need anything.”
“I’m not spending the night,” she said.
Elliot parked the car and they went into the restaurant. When asked if they had a reservation, he hadn’t made one.
“You’re in luck,” the maître d’ said, checking his list. “We had a cancellation.”
“I knew this day was lucky,” Elliot said.
“Why didn’t you make a reservation?” Sylvia asked when they were seated at a table on the edge against the wall.
“We were never here,” he said.
They ordered cocktails and then they got up and moved out onto the dance floor. The orchestra was playing a very slow, dream-like number, popular a number of years ago.
“You were always a lousy dancer,” she said. “I don’t know why you even bother.”
“They played that song five years ago tonight,” he said.
“It’s probably something they play every night.”
“Some of the musicians are the same and some are different.”
“I don’t know why you remember all those details about things that don’t matter,” she said. “It’s morbid, somehow.”
“It was an important night,” he said. “Five years ago. Tonight is an important night, too.”
“Yes, yes, yes! Let’s sit down again. You’re stepping all over my feet.”
When they were seated again, he said, “Five years ago we sat over there by the fireplace.”
“I remember,” she said. “You spilled a drink on my dress.”
“It was an accident.”
“I ended up donating that dress to the church charity bazaar.”
They had another cocktail and then the waiter came and took their order for dinner. As the waiter was leaving with the menus in his hand, Elliot said to him, “This is our fifth wedding anniversary.”
“Congratulations,” the waiter said.
“Were you here five years ago?”
“No, sir. I’ve been here about a year.”
“We were here five years ago this very night and sat over by the fireplace.”
“You must like it here, then,” the waiter said with a smile.
“It has memories.”
When the waiter went away, Sylvia said, “You have the annoying habit of trying to draw information from complete strangers that I, for one, would rather not have to hear.”
“It never hurts to be friendly.”
“He’s probably someplace right now, laughing at you.”
“Don’t you think it’s gratifying to him to have somebody notice that he exists, that he’s not just a robot that fetches things? He probably goes for hours without anybody saying a word to him or noticing him.”
“That’s what he’s paid for. If he doesn’t like, he needs to go into some other profession.”
Elliot sipped his drink and looked out into the crowd. “Lots of people here tonight,” he said dreamily.
“Too many,” she said.
“Maybe some of them were here five years ago this very night.”
“Why don’t you go ask them?”
“There are so many of them that could be us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you ever thought that you and I are quite ordinary looking? There’s nothing unusual about either one of us. If somebody was to pick our ‘type’ out of this crowd of people, they’d have maybe forty or fifty pairs.”
“Speak for yourself. Some of us like to think of ourselves as unique.”
“Only to yourself. Outwardly you’re just a ‘type’ like millions of others.”
“I’m sure you think you know what you’re talking about, but I don’t have a clue.”
“It was just an observation. It doesn’t matter.”
“That’s the truest thing you’ve said all evening.”
The waiter brought the food and when he went away again, Sylvia said, “Are you sure you didn’t want to pat him on the bottom? No? Maybe next time around.”
They ate in silence. When they were finished, she went to the ladies’ room while Elliot smoked a cigarette. When she came back, he asked her to dance again.
“No,” she said. “I don’t enjoy having my feet stepped on and, besides, I have a headache and I want to go home.”
“But we’ve been having such a good time,” he said.
“I plan to sleep on the way home.”
When they were in the car again, he turned, not toward the coast highway to go home, but in the opposite direction.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she asked.
“I want to drive up to the promontory. It’s my favorite place in the whole world.”
She made herself comfortable in the seat and put her head back. “Wake me up when we get home,” she said.
There were no other cars on the promontory. He parked the car and got out, went around to the other side of the car and pecked on the glass near her face. When she opened her eyes and looked at him, he motioned for her to get out of the car.
“What is it now?” she asked.
“Let’s go for a little walk and admire the view.”
She got out of the car reluctantly. “It’s cold up here,” she said. “I’m not dressed for this.”
“You won’t feel the cold for long,” he said.
They began walking away from the car toward the cliff.
“I love this place,” he said. “No other place is so wild and windswept. So lonely and deserted. Do you hear the surf?”
“I’m not deaf,” she said.
When they came to the cliff, he went very close to the edge and leaned over.
“Careful,” she said. “I never understood why they didn’t put a fence up here.”
“A fence would spoil the natural beauty of the place,” he said. He picked up a small stone and dropped it over the side. “They say it’s three hundred feet to the rocks below. There have been suicides here and a few murders, too.”
“Very interesting. Can we go home now?”
“What are you thinking? Do you wish I’d jump? Are you thinking about how you might push me and make it look like an accident?”
“Very funny. I’m cold.”
“An anniversary is a time for reflection. A time to look back to where you’ve been and forward to where you’re going.”
“Yes, so you’ve said a dozen times.”
“When were you going to tell me about you and Lance Boyle?”
For a moment she said nothing and then she said, “I’m not going to talk to you.” She turned and started back toward the car, but he grabbed onto her arm and held her.
“You can’t get away from it that easily,” he said. “I want to know when you were going to tell me.”
“You’re insane,” she said. “I want to go home.”
“Did you think you could go on deceiving me forever?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“There’s proof, so there’s no point in lying.”
“Did you ever hear of a private investigator named Pinky Adams?”
“I didn’t think so, but Pinky Adams knows all about you! All the sordid details.”
”You’ve been spying on me!” she said.
He twisted her arm behind her back and pushed her very close to the edge of the cliff. “I want you to look down,” he said. “I want you to look into the abyss. I want you to know what it’s like.”
“Let me go!” she said. “You’re hurting me!”
She whimpered and did as he said. When he had her believing he was going to push her, he released her and stepped back. She turned around and slapped at his face with both hands, scraping her fingernails across his cheek.
“If you ever do anything like that to me again, I’ll kill you!” she said.
“I have here a letter,” he said, reaching into his inner pocket, “from you to Lance.”
“Give me that!” she said.
“In the letter you discuss with Lance the various ways that you might kill me and make it look like an accident. You even entertain the notion of hiring a professional assassin, depending, of course, upon the cost.”
“Where did you get that?”
“Lance and I had a very interesting talk last night. He gave it to me. Or rather, he sold it to me. Not only this letter but all the letters you’ve written to him. Letters in which you state how you are mad with passion for him and will do anything to be with him.”
He reached into his pocket and drew forth a sheaf of a dozen letters tied with a red ribbon. “You’d be surprised at how cheaply he values your letters.”
“I’ll kill you!” she shrieked.
“The sad truth is that Lance doesn’t care for you at all. He’s been laughing at you behind your back and playing you for a sucker to see what he could get out of you. With the money I gave him, he’s going to go away and marry the woman he’s been cheating on you with. Isn’t that funny? The man you were cheating on me with was cheating on you the whole time.”
“You’re a liar!” she said.
She ran for him in a mad fury with her hands extended. It was her intention, he believed, to push him over the cliff. When he saw what she going to do, he stepped out the way. She went headlong over the cliff with an animal-like howl.
He walked slowly back to the car and, after smoking a cigarette, drove to the nearest small village. After finding the local law enforcement agency (or what served for one), he parked the car and went inside.
He sat facing the village constable while he explained what had happened.
“We had dinner at the inn,” he said. “It was our wedding anniversary. Afterwards we took a little drive and ended up on the promontory. My wife had never seen it before and I wanted to show it to her.”
“I see,” the constable said. “So you got out of the car and were walking. Then what happened?”
“My wife was wearing high heels. I’m afraid the whole thing is my fault because I insisted we go for a walk. It was just starting to get dark and the wind was blowing like crazy.”
“So your wife got too close to the edge and fell over.”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“Might it have been the wind?”
“Yes, I think the wind might have been a factor.”
“Were there any witnesses?”
“No, no one was around.”
“Where were you when she fell?”
“I was standing about five feet away. When I saw what was happening, I grabbed for her but, of course, it was too late.”
“These things happen, I’m afraid, from time to time,” the constable said sympathetically.
“Do you think you can get to her before the tide carries her away?”
“We’ll do all we can. Do you believe there’s any chance she could still be alive?”
“You will, of course, make yourself available for further questioning.”
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp