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Many Happy Returns - Devor M. Barton

Tom looked up from his suicide note as Catherine walked through the front door. It was his third draft, but he had to be sure he got it right before he did the deed. Somehow, he needed to explain to his wife that it wasn't her fault he couldn't go on living, that she was actually the highlight of his otherwise pointless existence. He was lying, of course. Their increasingly loveless marriage had been the convincing factor that he was incapable of having a meaningful relationship with another human being, and without that kind of loving interaction, life just wasn't worth living. Tom's difficulty lay in telling his wife why he had to die, but without hurting her feelings. He had once loved her too much for that.

"Honey, I'm home," Catherine said, a smile on her face. Tom shoved his note in a desk drawer and stared at Catherine. She was nicely dressed in high heels and a dark blue business suit (which was cut a bit lower than necessary), and her bleached-blonde hair looked like she had just come from the stylist. "I got some take-out from that Chinese place you like so much," she said. Catherine stood on her tiptoes to give Tom a kiss, but he jerked his head to the side, causing her to miss and smear lipstick on his cheek. She smiled up at him. "Just let me set the table, and we'll eat."

He watched Catherine as she crossed the living room towards the kitchen. "Um, the doctor won't let me eat MSG anymore," he said.

"No big deal. I'll just make you a salad or something." She stumbled over a pair of beige pumps left by the kitchen door, causing one of her shoes to come off. Before putting it on again, she noticed that the toes on the pumps only came up to her instep. Shrugging, she shoved her foot back into her shoe and entered the kitchen. After a moment, Tom followed her.

Catherine was opening cupboards and slamming them shut again, talking aloud to herself. "Let's see, where are those dishes .... where did they go.... Ah! here we are!" She lifted a pair of fancy plates from the stack in the cupboard and carried them into the dining room. Tom watched her leave and return. She stood for a moment, hands on hips, scanning the kitchen floor. "Tommy," she said, "where's Bowser's food dish?"

"Uh, we didn't need it any more. He kind of ran away." Tom realized he was having difficulty looking Catherine in the eye.

"Did he now?" she replied, and went to the back door. Opening it, she took a step outside, and began calling her dog's name. 'Bowser! Bowser! Where are you, boy?" She walked back into the kitchen. "Tommy," she asked again, making the name itself sound like a question, "what happened to the fence?"

"Well, I took it down. It was an eyesore, and after Bowser left, there didn't seem to be any reason to keep it up."

"Hmmp," Catherine said, returning to the food on the counter. "You've had a busy day."

"Not particularly," Tom replied, looking down at his rumpled jogging suit.

"Oh, well," Catherine went on, "I'm sure he'll come back when he's hungry."

"I doubt it," Tom mumbled, lifting his eyes from the linoleum. Catherine was crouching in front of the refrigerator, digging around in the crisper. Tom noticed that her skirt was a little short too, so that when she bent over just right... Tom shook his head to clear it. "Catherine, is everything all right? Are you feeling okay?"

Catherine glanced at him as she plopped a pile of produce onto the cutting board. "Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?" Drawing a butcher's knife from the stand, she began chopping a carrot into little discs.

Tom scratched the back of his neck, his eyes drifting towards the ceiling. "Well, you know... I mean..." He took a deep breath and started over again. "Catherine, you've been gone for over four years."

Catherine continued chopping. Tom wasn't sure if the sound had really intensified or if he was just imagining it. "Yeah, so?"

Tom chewed on his lower lip. "It's just that, over time, people tend to change. A little. Some. You know?"

Catherine turned around to look at him. Tom noticed that she still held the knife in her hand. A piece of carrot was stuck to the blade. "Oh? And what changes have you been through?"

The back door opened, and a dark-haired woman wearing tight jeans and a loose blouse walked into the kitchen. She stopped and glanced between the blonde and the lipstick on Tom's cheek. "Honey, who is this?"

Tom looked back at Catherine. "Well, for one thing, I'm married." He held up his hand to wiggle his ring finger so that Catherine would notice the gold band.

Catherine looked at the two of them, who stared back at her. Finally, she put the knife down on the cupboard and wiped her hands on the side of her suit. "I guess I'll have to set another place for dinner then." It took her four tries to relocate the cabinet with the good dishes. As she carried a third plate into the dining room, she could hear Tom and his wife conversing in low tones. When she returned to the kitchen, Tom was using a dish towel to wipe the lipstick off his face. "Catherine, meet Mary. Mary, Catherine." The women looked each other up and down. Tom rolled his eyes upward and gave Mary a slight nudge with his elbow. She glared at him, then stuck out her hand toward Catherine. "Hi," she said.

Catherine shook Mary's hand, lightly. "Hi," she replied. Catherine walked back to the cutting board and began shredding lettuce. "So, Tom, are there any other surprises I should know about?" A wailing cry came from outside the kitchen, causing Catherine to drop the lettuce. She turned around to look at Tom. Smiling weakly, he said, "I'm also a father."

Catherine followed the sounds of tears into what she knew as the den, but which was now filled with baby items. Mary and Tom followed her. There was a wooden crib in the middle of the room. In it, Catherine discovered a plump little baby. Uttering a cry of joy, Catherine lifted the baby from its bed to get a better look at it. The child's sobs diminished as it stared at her. "Oh, my God, he's darling," Catherine said. "What's his name? How old is he?"

Mary took her child from Catherine and held it close to her chest. The baby started crying again, and Mary jostled it up and down, trying to calm it. "Her name is Allison, she's eight months old, and it sounds like she's hungry, so if you don't mind, I have to go prepare her bottle." Tom was forced to step aside as Mary stomped past him out the door. Catherine followed, making faces at Allison over Mary's shoulder, causing the baby to stop crying and smile again. Like a caboose, Tom followed the train back into the kitchen.

Mary was holding the baby with one arm while using her free hand to place a bottle of formula in the microwave. Catherine continued making 'kootchie-koo' sounds for the baby's benefit. "Wow," she said, "I really envy you. I always wanted to have kids, but the doctors all said that wasn't possible. No big loss, I guess. After all, Tom kept telling me that he didn't want kids."

Mary whipped her head around to glare at Tom. He coughed into his fist. "Well, like I said, people change, you know? Hmm?" The resulting silence was ultimately interrupted by the microwave's ding. Mary removed the bottle, tested the temperature, and took it and her child back into the living room. She didn't even look at Tom as she passed.

"Mary!" he implored, following his wife out of the kitchen. In a moment he was back, index finger extended in Catherine's direction. It took a moment for his mouth to form the right words. "Stay here!" he said, then he was gone again. Catherine returned to the cutting board to finish her salad. Through the open doorway, she could hear Tom's one-sided conversation. "Look, I just told her that so she wouldn't feel bad. You know how much I love you and Allison. You guys mean the world to me. Mary, at least look at me!" Catherine decided to chop up an onion, just so she could rationalize the water in her eyes.

"...and then, when I was on safari in Africa, I was attacked by a tiger. Boy, I'll tell you, I consider myself lucky to have survived that encounter. Needless to say, the tiger wasn't so lucky."

Tom and Mary played with their food while Catherine talked. Tom didn't understand why Catherine had put onions in his salad, but he didn't feel much like eating anyway. Mary, who usually loved chow mein, seemed more interested in moving it around on her plate than actually putting any in her mouth. Catherine didn't even notice. Thanks to her alone, none of the food would go to waste. Tom had never before noticed Catherine's ability to talk while chewing.

Mary, putting her fork down with a clatter, took the opportunity to break into the conversation. 'There aren't any tigers in Africa," she said. Catherine looked at her. Mary continued. "Lions, but no tigers. Tigers exist only on the Asian continent. You couldn't possibly have been attacked by a tiger while in Africa."

Catherine leaned forward on her elbows. "It had escaped from a zoo," she said, glaring at Mary.

Mary threw her napkin on the table. "I'm going to go check on Allison," she said abruptly, and left the table.

Catherine snorted in the direction of Mary's exit. "Boy, she sure is a piece of work. Where in Bloomingdale's did you find her?"

"I met her looking for you." Tom raised a glass of wine to his lips, paused, and put it back down again without drinking any. "Cathy, we need to talk."

"Shoot," she said.

"What happened to you? Four years ago, I come home from work, and you're not here. No message, nothing. 'No problem,' I think, 'maybe she just had to work late.' So I called your office. The receptionist said you went out for lunch and never came back. I called your parents, all your friends, everyone in your address book. Nobody knew where you were, so I called the police. A couple of days later, they tell me they've found your car, abandoned, with the keys in the ignition. No evidence of foul play, they said, even though you'd emptied your bank account the same day you disappeared. They gave up, but I kept looking. That's how I met Mary. She's a news producer at Channel Four. When I went to the station, trying to get your picture on the air, she was the one I talked to. I think she took pity on me, and tried to help me find you, but we sure didn't have any luck. She... consoled me, when I needed someone, and we got to be really good friends. And then, after I'd given up on you, we became more than friends. I fell in love with her, Cathy. But you still haven't told me anything. Where were you? I had horrible nightmares that you'd been kidnapped, raped, killed, and your body dumped somewhere, and somehow, that it was all my fault. But now you walk back, four years later, into my life as if nothing had ever happened? What's going on?"

Catherine swirled her wine around in her glass, then took a large sip. "I'm sorry, Tom. Sorry that I left you, that I let all this happen, that you worried about me so much. Now that you bring it up, I don't think I thought about you at all. Or about anyone else. I was only concerned about me. So I just sort of wandered around for four years, trying to get my head together. I didn't realize it was so long; time loses all meaning when you don't have any appointments. I spent a lot of time on automatic, eating and sleeping whenever I felt like it. But, finally, I figured everything out, got my act together, and I came back here to tell you 'yes.' It never occurred to me that I might be too late."

"'Yes' to what?" he asked.

"Oh, come on. You remember. 'Yes' to the question you were going to ask me the day I disappeared."

"What question?"

'The day I left," she said, "I went out for lunch. On my way to the deli I passed your car, parked in front of that 'Diamond Company' jewelry place. We'd already been living together for two years. I felt closer to you than I'd ever felt to anyone. It was getting so that I could practically read your mind. So I knew that you were inside there, trying to find an engagement ring for me, and I guess... I just sort of panicked. I didn't feel ready for marriage, for that kind of life commitment. But I loved you, so I didn't know what to say, and I just snapped. I parked the car and went for a walk, just to think about things, and to form a decision. I kept walking for four years. And now that I finally have an answer, the question is no longer being asked. I guess that's life." And with a weak laugh, Catherine shoveled another bite of chicken and rice into he mouth.

"The 'Diamond Company Jewelry Store,'" Tom said. Catherine nodded. "On Fifth and Main.'

"Uh-huh," Catherine said, her mouth full.

"Across from Barney's Barber Shop."

"That's right," Catherine said, revealing half-chewed food.

"Catherine, I was getting my hair cut. I've never been in that jewelry store in my life. You'd have known that if you'd bothered to come home that evening."

Catherine swallowed, then placed her napkin in front of her mouth. "Oh," she said. "Oh, I see. Ohmigod." Although she tried to choke them down, Catherine couldn't stop the tears that came to her eyes. Silently, she dabbed at them with the cloth napkin. Eyes locked on the table between them, Tom continued.

"I mean, yeah, sure, I like you and all, but love? That was just a word I said. I didn't have any idea what I really meant until I met Mary. Oh, don't get me wrong, the sex was good, and you're a lot of fun to be around, but devote the rest of my life to you? Come on! You were way too mentally unstable for me, always crying for no reason, and laughing at things that weren't funny. Heck, you can't even have children. What kind of a life is that? There's no point in getting married if you can't raise a family..."

Tom finally looked up at Catherine, her face buried in her napkin. He could tell from the way her shoulders shook that she was crying again, just like she used to: no sound, but plenty of tears. "Oh, geez," he said. "Aw, geezes, Cathy, I'm sorry, I didn't mean any of that. It just sort of came out. Look, me and Mary are going through a hard time right now, what with the baby and all. Mary says marital satisfaction plummets after the introduction of children. She did a story on it. I just..." Tom got up and walked to the other side of the table, squeezing Catherine's shoulders between his hands. "I'm sorry," he said. 'Don't cry. Come on, don't cry." Catherine shook him off. Surrendering, Tom returned to his seat, waiting for her to recover.

By the time Catherine managed to dry her eyes, hours later, Tom had placed a blanket and a pillow on the living room couch. He presented her with an old T-shirt and sweat pants that belonged to his wife. "Here," he said, "you can sleep in these, if you want. And the couch is plenty comfortable. Trust me, I know. Is there anything else I can get you?"

"No," Catherine said, "that should do it. Tom, I really appreciate your putting me up. I hadn't planned on your being married, and I have no where else to go. Thank you."

"Hey, it's the least I can do." Tom smiled. "Sleep well."

"You too. And I mean that. Tell Mary that if Allison starts crying, not to worry about it. I'll take care of her. I need to do something to pay you guys back, and Mary looks like she could use a full night's sleep. Besides, I think Allison likes me."

"Well, okay. Just let us know if you have any problems. 'Night."


Tom entered his bedroom and shut the door tight behind him. Mary was sitting on the bed, brushing her hair. "Just how long is your friend staying?" she asked him.

"Only a couple days, hon. just until she gets back on her feet. I promise." Mary put her brush down. "I don't think I like the idea of your former girlfriend living under my roof."

"It's not like that, Mary, and you know it. When someone suddenly disappears on you, without any explanation or warning, and you don't hear anything about her for four years, you tend to become very disenchanted. Besides, what else could I do? She has nowhere else to go. Her parents are dead, she's completely lost touch with all her friends, she has no money... Anyway, she's volunteered to take care of Allison, and we could use a nanny for awhile. The plant's getting tired of their PR officer never being around, and you keep saying how you can't take any time off from work."

"I'm not sure I like the idea of a woman as irresponsible as Catherine taking care of my child."

Tom buried his face in his hands. "Mary, it'll be fine. Trust me. It's only for a couple days. Now get some sleep." He turned off the light and slipped under the covers next to his wife, making sure he wasn't close enough to accidentally touch her while he slept.

A week later, there was a slight industrial accident at the plant, and Tom had to stay late so he could tell the reporters that there was no cause for worry. By the time he got home, Catherine had already put the unused dinner dishes away. He made a sandwich out of the roast she had prepared and carried his meal into the living room.

Catherine was sitting on her couch, watching TV and feeding Allison. "Evening," she said, as Tom sat in his recliner.

"Evening," he replied. Catherine had a towel draped over her shoulder which covered Allison's head. Tom was about to bite into his sandwich when a question occurred to him. "Are you breast feeding her?"

"What? Oh, no, not really." Catherine lifted the towel aside, revealing Allison's contented lips sucking on a bottle. "I was just thinking about how I can't have kids, and wondering what it was like to breast-feed. This is the closest approximation I could come up with."

Tom shrugged his shoulders and turned his attention back to his sandwich. An ad for the news came on, mentioning the accident at the plant. "I saw you on the news tonight," Catherine said. "You were really good."

"Thanks," Tom mumbled through his dinner.

"Oh, Mary called. She said the station manager wanted her to stay after work tonight, and not to expect her home 'til late."


Catherine turned down the TV volume with the remote. "Hey, Tom," she said, "I've gotta ask you something. What did you do with all my stuff? I've looked around a little, and there's nothing here that was mine. What ever happened to my Camaro?"

Tom swallowed. "You have to understand; I didn't know if you were ever coming back. I kept all your stuff for as long as I could, but the memories became too painful, and Mary said it wasn't good for me to keep living with a ghost, so I got rid of it all, sold it, gave it away, whatever. And your Camaro! The insurance was so exorbitant, and I didn't have anywhere to keep it, and then, when I found out the baby was coming, I traded it in for the mini-van. You don't hate me, do you?"

"No, I understand. I probably would have done the same if I were in your position. And I don't think a Camaro would have been a good car for Allison." The baby had finished her bottle, so Catherine started to burp her. "You're sure there's nothing left of mine in this town? Not my car, not my job, not my friends. Not even my Elvis phone that swings his hips when someone calls?"

Tom smiled at her. "I never could stand that thing. It was one of the first items to go." Catherine smiled back at him, but it wasn't very sincere.

They sat and watched the evening news together without further conversation. When it was over, Tom turned in for the night, tired from his hard day at work, and wondering what had kept Mary at the station. Nothing on the news had been particularly breaking, so he didn't know what she could have been working on. Tom decided he'd have to ask his wife directly when she got home.

She entered the bedroom in the middle of the night, leaving the lights off. Tom became half-awake as she crawled into bed with him, snuggling close as if she longed for his body heat. Tom took her in his arms and held her close, enjoying the long-absent but familiar feel of her body against his. Their bodies joined like they had been made for each other, each one a half fitting perfectly with the other to create a monumental whole.

Tom woke up completely when Mary entered the bedroom and flicked on the overhead light. She stared down at Tom and Catherine in her bed. "What the-" Tom gasped, glancing between Mary and the woman he thought had been his wife.

"Don't get up on my account," Mary said. "I've been promoted to News Director, and I thought I should let you know, but obviously this is a bad time. I'll come back later." Mary left the room.

Tom chased after her. "Mary, I can explain. I thought she was you. Really! Mary!" But she had left the apartment and was driving away before Tom could catch up to her. Deflated, Tom returned to his apartment.

Catherine was standing in the middle of the living room. "Tom, I- I don't know what happened. Last thing I remember was falling asleep. I must have been sleep walking, and since I used to live here, it was just natural for me to-"

"Shut up," Tom said, "just shut the fuck up. Tomorrow, you are leaving. You are taking your stuff, whatever you have left, and getting out of here. I don't care if you do make a good nanny for Allison, I never want to see you again. So, good night. I am going to bed, and you are staying here on the couch, and that's that. And don't you dare touch my child again. Bitch."

The next morning, Tom awoke to the sound of laughter filtering through his bedroom door. He opened it to find Catherine and Mary sitting on the couch, painting their toe nails, and giggling like school girls.

"And the way he snores!" Mary was saying. "He sounds like a human garbage disposal."

"Well, the way he eats, it's hard to tell the difference."

"Tell me about it!" Together, the women noticed Tom standing in the bedroom doorway. "Morning, dear," Mary said. "Sleep well?"

"Could've been better. What's going on?"

"Oh, Catherine and I are just doing a little bonding. Girl stuff, you know? Actually, I'm not sure why I was ever opposed to her moving in. You were right, she's a great person. And look what a great job she does with nails!" Mary wiggled her toes at him, then her fingers, the nails of which were all painted a brilliant scarlet.

Tom blinked the sleep out of his eyes. "Look, Mary, about last night," he said.

Mary waved her hand dismissively. "Forget about it. Water under the bridge. Oh, I meant to tell you. With my new position, I'm going to have to put in a lot more hours, and work a lot later, too. So I was talking to Catherine here, and we've reached an arrangement where she takes care of Allison and we pay her a weekly allowance. It'll be great! I've got my dream job, Catherine has a place to live and a steady income, and Allison has a wonderful woman to take care of her. It works all around."

"What about me?" Tom asked.

"What about you?" Mary replied.

"You're not mad at me?"

"Should I be?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, me and Catherine- You saw us- I was going to kick her out today."

"We can't kick her out, Tom." Mary was using her stern voice. "We need her. Now, more than ever. Who else could we get on sudden notice like this to take care of Allison? As for you, old habits die hard. I understand that. It's not like I can't forgive you. Oh! look at the time. I've gotta go to work." Mary blew on her toes, then shoved her feet into her shoes. "Don't wait up for me; I'll be back late." Grabbing her purse, Mary disappeared out the door.

Tom turned to Catherine. "Okay, you can stay. After the accident yesterday, there's no way I can stay home today. But as soon as we find a real nanny, you're out of here. Understood?"


"Good." With that, Tom went into the bathroom and got ready for work.

Tom rarely saw his wife after that. Mary always left for work before he woke up in the morning, and no matter how late he tried to stay up, she never got home until after he was asleep. Even on weekends, she spent most of her time at the station. He couldn't think of a time when their relationship had gone more smoothly.

After a few weeks of this, Tom arrived home from work one day to find a large package waiting on the dining room table. It was from the home shopping channel, and it was addressed to Mary Kirkendahl, her maiden name, which she always said she hated. "What's this?" he asked Catherine.

"I don't know," she said. "It's not for me, so I didn't open it."

"Well, she's my wife, which gives me plenty of right to open it." Too impatient to get a knife, Tom tore the flaps apart with his bare fingers. There was another box inside. Tom lifted it out and stared at it. "Wow, cool," Catherine said, leaving Allison lying on the floor as she approached for a better look. "Hey, that one's just like mine."

And it was. The pictures on the box clearly identified the contents as one (1) Genuine, Authenticated, Elvis Presley Push-Button Phone with Amazing Swivel-Hip Action when it rang. Tom opened this box too, but the label was correct; it was identical to the Elvis phone that Tom had managed to sell only a few short years ago.

"Incredible," Catherine said. "I didn't realize Mary had such great taste. This is so neat! Let's hook it up and really surprise her when she gets home." Catherine removed Elvis from his plastic wrap and, disconnecting Tom's cordless, plugged the King into the wall. As she worked, Tom noticed a gold band on her finger.

"What's that you're wearing?" Tom asked, pointing to the ring.

"Oh, this?" Catherine held up her hand. "I found it outside on the sidewalk today. I think it's real gold, but I'd be surprised. I'm going to put up some signs around the neighborhood, saying I found it, just in case someone's looking for it. You never know."

Tom stared close at its fanciful markings. "That looks like Mary's." He compared it to his own wedding ring. They were a matching pair.

"I'm sure it's just a coincidence," Catherine said. "What would Mary be doing without her wedding ring? Surely she'd let you know." Tom wondered how Catherine could be so sure, and made a mental note to check Mary's ring finger the next time he saw her, whenever that would be.

Catherine called the operator and asked him to call her back. She sat and watched as Elvis swung his hips in time to "Burning Love." After the third time she'd done this, Mary came in through the back door. "Good," she said, "you're both here. Come outside and look what I got!" She rushed out again.

After taking a quick glance at Allison to be sure she'd be okay for a couple minutes, Tom and Catherine followed. Mary was standing in front of a cherry red Camaro, doing a Vanna White impersonation. "Well? What do you think?" Mary asked.

"I love it!" Catherine screamed, rushing over to examine its leather upholstery. "You have to take me for a ride in it some time."

"Is this yours?" Tom asked. Mary nodded. "What happened to your Honda?"

"I traded it in. Thanks to my new salary, I can finally afford to have a sports car like I always wanted. No more of those crappy sedans for me. And you wouldn't believe the pick-up this thing has. Rush hour traffic has never been easier." She glanced at her watch. "Shit! I've gotta get back to the station. Give Allison a kiss for me." Mary climbed into her new car.

Tom grabbed the door before she could shut it. "Mary, a new car... This is a big decision. Shouldn't we talk about it?"

"I'd love to, hon, but not now. I've gotta get back to work. You know how it is. I promise, we'll talk tonight. Or tomorrow. Whenever I have time. Toodles!" Mary waved at Catherine and shut her door. Tom barely managed to get out of the way as she threw the car in gear and drove away. As he watched Mary disappear down the street, he realized he'd forgotten to look and see if she were still wearing her wedding ring.

Tom never saw Mary after that. Not that he didn't try; she never came home. He tried calling her at work, but she was never in or always busy, and she didn't return his messages. He'd drop by the station on his lunch break, but since he didn't have clearance, the guard wouldn't let him in, and soon was threatening to call the police. With no one else to turn to, Tom found himself talking more and more with Catherine, who always had a ready ear. He'd tell her things he'd never told anyone, even himself, about his relationship with Mary and how unhappy he was. Tom never knew if Catherine was actually paying attention or just acting like it, but it helped to talk. Somehow, it made everything easier, especially at night, when Tom needed someone to hold and Catherine was only too willing. And he had to admit, Catherine was a better mother to Allison than Mary had been. Mary had never even tried to breast-feed her child.

Finally, on one of his many calls to the station, the receptionist told him that Mary didn't work there any more. "She what?" Tom said. "She doesn't work here any more. She's been promoted up to New York. She's working on the national news now. It was all very sudden."

"That's funny. She didn't tell me anything about this. Is there some way I can get in touch with her?"

The receptionist game Tom the number for the network news, but when he called, they said they didn't know any one by that name. In fact, they'd been in the process of downsizing for several months, and weren't likely to hire anyone new anytime soon. When Tom called Channel Four to ask them about the promotion, the station manager said Mary had told them about it.

Tom called all over to try and find Mary, every station and network he could think of, but no one had even seen anyone answering Mary's description. With nothing else to do, Tom ultimately called the police.

The police found Mary's car at the airport. The keys were still in the ignition. All the money had been emptied from her bank account. But Mary was no where to be found. The police couldn't find any evidence of foul play. A detective investigating the disappearance arrived at Tom's house one evening to ask a few questions.

"We've been checking out your wife's friends and acquaintances, sir, and we've come up with something interesting. According to our records, you went through a similar experience a few years ago with a missing girlfriend."

"Well, yes, but she's turned up again since then. Actually, she's been our nanny for a couple months now."

"I see," said the detective. "So your girlfriend disappears, turns up four years later, becomes your nanny, and then you wife disappears in a startling similar manner. Awfully convenient, isn't it, sir?"

"Are you implying something, detective?"'

"Me? Oh, no, never. It's just that, if this were, say, a murder case, or a clear-cut instance of kidnapping, you'd be our prime suspect. But seeing how the previous missing person is no longer missing, I guess we have no choice but to let this case go. I'm sure your wife will turn up eventually, give or take a few years. Still, I wouldn't go leaving town any time soon without notifying us, if you know what I mean."

"Thanks for the advice, Detective."

Tom showed the detective to the door. "Women don't like you much, do they, sir?" the detective asked him.

"They like me fine."

"Sure they do, sir. Sure they do."

That night, in bed, Tom watched as Catherine played with her gold ring in her sleep. He had to admit, the ring fit like it was made for her. Restless, Tom slipped from the bedroom and sat at his desk. Taking a pad from the drawer, he started working on another draft of his suicide note. He had to change the name "Mary" to "Catherine," but other than that, it was pretty much the same as the previous notes.