Past Due

Laura J. Campbell

Sidney DeGreen had promised to be home by 8:00 p.m. It was now 11:42 pm.
Chelsea cleared the table, placing the special second-anniversary dinner she had prepared for them into plastic containers. Celebration transformed into leftovers with the sealing of plastic lids. She blew out the candles she had lit for the romantic occasion that didn’t happen.

She sat on the sofa, looking at her pet, a Chilean rose tarantula, named Other. The spider sat in her habitat, looking at her benefactress as if trying to ease Chelsea’s sadness.

“I thought he was the one,” Chelsea said. “I guess I was wrong.”

She looked out of the window, the rain appropriately beginning to fall, its heavy drops splattering against the glass. “Way to break up, Sid.” She slugged back warm champagne.

She looked at Other.  “He just walked away and left his things here. Even his toothbrush. It means something when a man keeps his toothbrush in your bathroom. But maybe I read too much into that. It wouldn’t be the first time.”

The arachnid looked like she was understanding Chelsea’s words.

“At least I kept my photograph of the planet Pluto up, even when he told me it was geeky and he wanted me to take it down,” Chelsea said, nodding to the beautiful colourized image of the demoted planet that decorated her living room wall. “He put that picture of Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ up in the hallway for our first anniversary. He said the lovers in the picture looked like me and him. I guess so. All gild and no gold.”

 “I didn’t even warrant a text to break up; just the ultimate no-show. I’m a fool. I even got a bank account with him.” She filled her champagne flute again, opening her laptop computer.

She opened the banking website, to check their mutual balance.

“And it just got worse,” she told Other. “Can you believe it? He took $2200 out of the account. He transferred it to his personal card. That leaves about $2200 in the account. I guess he was dividing it 50/50. A divorce settlement and we weren’t even married.”

The spider moved up towards the edge of the glass of its enclosure as if to comfort her.

Chelsea slept restlessly. Her cell phone’s blue light suddenly illuminated, rousing her out of her fitful sleep.

It was 4:44 a.m.

There was a text from Sid: “I’m sorry” followed by a broken heart emoji. “I’ll always love you. Good-bye.”

She had no words. Her emotions were raw.    

She put the phone face down on her nightstand.

It was 8:00 a.m. and Chelsea’s champagne headache did not appreciate the sharp rapping at her front door.

“It’s too early for a Saturday,” she complained, throwing on her robe and tying it around her waist. As she got out of bed her foot knocked over the empty champagne bottle.

She spied through the peephole in the door: if it was Sid attempting to reconcile, she was in no mood to deal with him.

It wasn’t Sid. It was a policewoman, dressed in a crisp uniform standing at Chelsea’s door.

Chelsea opened the door and let the policewoman into the house. Chelsea was confused why the police were visiting her. Half the money was Sid’s to begin with; he had every right to it. She hadn’t reported it stolen.

“It took a while to locate you,” the policewoman stated.

Chelsea started the coffee machine.

 “Why are you here?” Chelsea asked. Her head throbbed. Could you get arrested for being intoxicated in your own home? She wondered.

“We didn’t find Mr. DeGreen’s wallet until very late last night. It had been thrown quite a distance into some bushes by the impact. Your name was written on the back of photograph he carried with him of the two of you together. But it was just your first name. There are more than a few women named Chelsea in the city. We needed to make sure we were knocking on the correct door. The ATM receipt helped – we got your name and address off the account when the bank opened this morning.”

 “His wallet was where? What impact?” Chelsea poured herself a cup of coffee, offering a cup to the policewoman, who declined with professional grace.

“He was hit by a car.” The policewoman squared her shoulders. “I’m sorry. Mr. DeGreen is dead. He passed away from his injuries this morning in the hospital, at 4:30 a.m.”

“What?” Chelsea was tasting an unpleasant cocktail of emotions: confusion, anger, grief, shock. Violently shaken together. “That’s not possible.”

“He was walking through a shopping centre parking lot, last night, at around 7:00 p.m.,” the policewoman said. “From the parking lot security video feed, he was heading towards a jewellery store in the centre, checking his wallet. His head was down. Regardless, it was a hit-and-run. The car should have stopped; Mr. DeGreen had the right-of-way. He was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Terrible odds. He was initially admitted to emergency surgery as a John Doe. I got here as soon as I could. I would hate for you to figure it out from watching the morning news.”

“It looks like you’re the closest thing to next-of-kin he had,” the policewoman continued, handing Chelsea the wallet. Chelsea recognized it; she had given it to him as a birthday present the year before. The corner of a receipt had been partially pulled out. A jewellery store receipt: a diamond engagement ring, $2200 balance due upon pick-up.

Still nestled neatly in the billfold were twenty-two one-hundred-dollar bills.

 The policewoman handed a business card to Chelsea.  “Please call me if you need anything. I’ll let you know if we get any leads. But know that these cases are difficult. Hit-and-runs are hard to solve.” She let herself out.

 Chelsea melted into the sofa. Other scurried up, concerned about her human.

Chelsea pulled up the text Sid had somehow sent her at 4:44 a.m.

 She buried her face in her hands. “I thought he’d left me – but, no. He’d been taken from me.”

 The spider settled attentively next to the glass.

 Chelsea picked up her phone and returned to Sid’s last text; she opened the reply box to the message. “I’m sorry, too,” she typed. “I’ll always love you, as well. Good-bye.”

 She followed it with a broken heart emoji.

 As she hit ‘send,’ the sorrow in her heart erupted.

It would be hours before she could open the refrigerator and look at the remnants of the dinner they never shared.

The opportunity that now would never be.

Laura J. Campbell lives and writes in Houston, Texas. She is encouraged in her writing by her children, Alexander & Samantha. Mrs. Campbell won the 2007 James B. Baker Award for short story for her science fiction tale, 416175. She has sold over 45 short stories and two novels. Her short fiction has appeared in Pressure Suite: Digital Science Fiction Anthology 3, Under the Full Moon’s Light, Gods & Services, Haunted MTL, Luna Station Quarterly, The Weird and Whatnot, A Celebration of Storytelling, and many other publications. Many of Mrs. Campbell’s more recent works are available through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Laura-J.-Campbell/e/B07K6SZJJ9