Enough work for the night. Madison tossed the papers aside and curled up in bed. Outside the blizzard intensified. She tapped the remote control and the television cast a pale blue light against the darkened room. The wind rattled the loose windowpane and the venom of the storm sneaked in under the frayed weather stripping. Chilled, she snuggled deeper under the covers, the quilt hugged to her chin.
As the screen warmed into focus, she bolted upright and stared. There he was. On television. Vibrant in conversation. Cocky even.
But he'd been dead for ten years.
She'd kissed the cold corpse of death and grieved the lover gone to rest. Kicking off the comforter, she scrambled to the television.
Mike. It can't be.
Extending her fingers, she traced the outline of his sculptured jaw, the scar along his temple and the arch of his brow. Puzzled, she sat in front of the mystery, working out the possibilities in her mind.
No, there was no other answer. She'd stayed until the final closure, the ground covering left to warm his casket. Mike was dead - only alive in her heart and in the characters he left behind in books.
Yet he laughed before her, sharing his dreams and latest novel; his wink and a knowing smile turned in her direction, penetrating the storm, enveloping her spirit as she knelt on the carpet. A longing tugged at the corners of her lips.
"Well?" his familiar voice filled the room.
"I did it, Mike. I finished my novel, No More Bobs, but the synopsis. I wish you were here." She whispered.
A sympathetic sigh crossed his lips. "I hated writing a synopsis. Just don't let it get to you."
"I have to shrink the entire story into a two-page summary." Exasperated, she held up the dismal pages and let them flutter to the ground. "I'm boxed into a 90,000 word coffin."
"90,000 words. Terrific." Encouragement blanketed her like a cloak. "So tell me about the story."
“It’s about a woman who dates seven Bobs and counting in one year.”
“…And did you do the field research?” he leaned forward and waited.
With a whisper of a flush, she grinned.
“That’s my girl.” He said, somewhat pleased and then reconsidered, “Hey, what am I saying? I don’t think I like these Bobs.”
“There’s also a designer aphrodisiac and escalating hormones,” she softened, drawing his heart back to hers.
His presence nudged. "I want to hear about these hot and bothered hormones."
"Later when we're alone," she said and then sighed, "What am I doing? I am alone."
Outside, the wind shrieked through the unyielding branches and again the voice rich with a southern flavor spoke, "Maddie, it's me. I'm right here."
She crumbled to the carpet, the chill deepening. "Sorry, my mind can’t focus. It’s that synopsis. Rewrite after rewrite. It's killing me."
Mike started, "About the synopsis Maddie¼"
A gust of wind battered the house and the television flickered. Static snow sprinkle over the screen. Frantic, she pushed the station to return. Slowly, the talk show refocused and the channel light blinked number thirty-seven.
Odd. I don’t get a channel thirty-seven. It must be the weather.
Somewhat disheveled, Mike reappeared. He rubbed his backside and stroked the static out of his pant’s leg. “Man that was a zinger.”
Amused, she inched closer to the box. A man known for his designer styles, custom cuts and imperfect perfection, this cosmic ruffle reeled Mike out of his element. Yet she found it a comfort. By habit, she reached out to realign Mike’s tie along the button-line. A strange current burned under her touch. Baffled, she pulled away.
"Hey Maddie, recognize the guest next to me?" He said as he shook off a final quiver.
She stared at the screen, astonished, "That's Tony. He lived down the street from me when I was seven." She studied the leathery skin, weathered and wrinkled with age. "He pulled out my front tooth and comforted me with lemon drops and chocolate stars. But he can't be on this talk show, he died shortly after¼ "
"¼ After he read your first story of the Pumpkinhead family?"
"How'd you know that?" a chuckle of embarrassment escaped.
Mike feathered his brown waves and rested back in his chair, comfortable in her closeness. "Tony was your number one fan and he has a first edition Madison Lawhon book."
The construction paper book, the production of childhood, stapled at the folds, dog-eared at the corners and the stick people highlighted in crayon. She remembered.
She blushed a humble shade of red, grinned softly, and then added, "But I stood on the corner that October night, a bag of lemon drops in my pocket and saw the ambulance drive away in silence."
The storm intensified as she rocked in memory. No, Tony was dead.
Madison huddled at the foot of the bed, wrapped in the comforter, unable to calm the internal shivers and outward confusion. A catalog of questions bombarded as she tried to analyze the situation.
Finally, she questioned. “Something’s wrong. I write humor not sci-fi. Aliens and other worlds are your specialty.”
A robust chortle returned and Mike answered, “Writer’s write what they know and I’m trying to tell you--”
Above the weather worsened. The television screen blinked, once, twice and died with a pop. A low sizzle was the only credit of the interview.
With flattened palms, she hit the monitor and begged, “Come back…”
Only the whistle of the wind echoed her words as she collapsed to the carpet. Blank and empty as the screen, she lay still. Beyond the frosted windows, blackness rode on the tail of the storm and pulled Madison into its wake.
Madison stood behind the curtain, peeking out at the audience. The studio lights blared, and she took one last frump check and straightened her skirt. On the stage, an empty chair ready for the next guest. The applause welcomed her as she walked, head up and shoulders tall, "Our next guest is Madison Lawhon, author of No More Bobs." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Clapping strongly, Mike stood waiting next to her seat, a broad grin lighting his face. She greeted the host with a firm handshake and hugged Tony as he slipped a bag of candies into her open hand. A tear trickled down her cheek and she inhaled sharply, turning towards the place she belonged; a perfect fit in Mike's linebacker arms, home in his embrace.
She snuggled closer and whispered, "I don't understand. What am I doing here?"
"I tried to tell you," he took his seat as the audience quieted.
"Tell me what?" she sat legs crossed at the ankles, feminine and sparkling for the crowd.
He covered her hand with his and looked at her, a gentleness behind the message, "You know that synopsis that was killing you?"
She sighed in frustration, "Yeah."
He leaned in, kissed her softly and laughed, "It did."