Frank Bowen had been waiting ever since he went to lunch at the Laughing Dragon and he was plenty scared. The guys at Stephens and Wayne, the ad company he worked for went every week to the Dragon for its buffet. The food was great and Frank had his usual sweet and sour chicken with veggies, an egg roll and peach cobbler for dessert.
At the end of the meal, the waiter brought the check and laid down four individually wrapped fortune cookies. Steve, Jim, Keith and Lonnie all cracked their cookie in half, pulled out the little white paper and read their fortunes out loud, laughing and slapping each other on the back as they kidded each other about their ridiculously silly fortunes. Jim’s fortune told him not to spend money he didn’t have. Everyone laughed at this because Jim had inherited his parents’ wealth and many properties when they died ten years ago. Steve‘s fortune said Be content with what you have. If he had been content he would have never climbed the ladder to the top of the agency.
The four friends urged Frank to open his cookie. Snapping it in half, he pulled the paper out and it was blank. Not a word was written on it.
“Guess they forgot yours,” Jim said. “Just make up your own.”
Some of the other guys laughed. “Leave it to Frank to get the blank paper,” Steve piped up.
But Frank didn’t laugh it off because the whole situation made him feel uncomfortable and not just the kidding around. After finishing their drinks, Jim, always the conscientious one, said they’d better get back to the office.
Leaving a generous tip, the five friends walked to the front of the restaurant to pay their bill. Each one paid his own bill and when it was Frank’s turn, his hands shook uncontrollably and instead of taking two twenties out, he almost handed the woman behind the register a hundred dollar bill, He caught himself in time and pretended to laugh it off.
“See you back at the office, Steve called out as he slid into his new Ford Sports Track. He had a sweet souped up Corvette, but today he had taken his wife’s vehicle because he needed to stop by the hardware store and pick up a few things that would never fit in his car.
The rest of the group called out their farewells as each one slid into his respective vehicles and headed back to the office after a long and leisurely lunch.
Frank’s mind wandered as he walked into the middle of the street headed for his Jeep Cherokee on the other side. An old white pickup traveling at least five miles above the speed limit screeched on its brakes as Frank fell to the pavement. The driver didn’t stop, and a crowd formed around him, but Frank opened his eyes, felt his face, arms and hands for injuries. Nothing hurt and everything seemed to be intact, so he got to his feet, brushing off his jacket and tucking his shirt back inside his pants.
“I’m fine, he told the open mouthed spectators, just a little scared, but nothing seems to be broken. You can all go back to whatever you were doing now.”
The audience remained silent for a second, as if not quite knowing what to do, and then one by one, they pulled away from the group. Pulling himself together, Frank walked over to his Jeep and was happy to see that he had no pain anywhere. His fortune cookie should have said, Today’s your lucky day, because he couldn’t have gotten much luckier to have been knocked to the ground by a hit and run driver with not even a scratch on him.
Slamming the door and sliding in behind the wheel, Frank checked his face in the rear view mirror. He had a small smudge on his forehead, or was that a bruise? It didn’t matter whatever it was didn’t hurt. His face, slightly pale as his reflection stared back at him told of his narrow escape. He started up the car vowing to put the unfortunate experience behind him.
As he neared home, Frank found himself regretting his lifestyle. He’d always loved the free and easy life, no wife, no kids, no one to worry about except himself. Thinking of the empty house that awaited him put Frank in a reflective pensive mood as he drove into his driveway, parked his car and got out. Harry Gerken, his next door neighbor stood in his yard watering his flowers. “Hi, Harry. How’re you doing today?”
Harry never even turned to look at him. Either he was so absorbed in his work that he didn’t hear him, or he just didn’t fee l like answering. Harry had always been a good friend, so Frank chalked it up to old age and immersion in his task.
Frank climbed the porch steps, unlocked the door and let himself in. His house wasn’t very large, but had big open rooms. Sunlight streamed in the living room windows where the curtains parted.
He went upstairs to his bedroom, took off his work clothes and donned a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. While dressing, Frank had a strange feeling. He’d felt it as soon as he entered his house. The feeling, like a dark heavy burden hovered over him and weighted him down. It made it difficult for him to move from one place to another in his house. Frank was tethered like a ball on a pole to his home and he didn’t like the sensation, didn’t like it at all.
His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the phone. Frank picked up the receiver but it continued to ring and even though he said “Hello, who is this,” it continued to ring.
Determined to call the phone company to report the malfunction, he replaced the hand set. Tomorrow would be soon enough to report it. He just wanted to relax for the rest of the day, Pulling back the living room curtains he looked out at the sun drenched street and yards of his neighbors. Maybe he’d go out and sit on the porch for a few minutes, relax and enjoy the quiet spring day. The more he thought about it, the better the idea sounded.
Grabbing a glass of iced tea from the refrigerator, he headed out to the small cement stoop that served as his porch. Its black iron railings wrapped around inside itself. Frank had always liked that iron railing. The black color and curling of the iron gave the house a homier look than it had before he had put it there five years ago.
Sitting there lost in his thoughts, he heard a loud screeching sound and was surprised to see a black cat standing in front of him, its fur raised inches off its back.
He’d always liked animals although he didn’t have any pets. His work schedule demanded he be away from home a lot and he didn’t think he could put the time and effort and love into taking care of an animal.
Frank wished he had a pet now. Maybe he wouldn’t feel so alone. Maybe he should have gone back to the office instead of coming straight home, but after the accident, he thought maybe he’d better take it easy and make sure he didn’t have any injuries that might land him in a doctor’s office.
The cat still stood there, growling as he rose from the stoop and inched his way over to the animal to assure him that he wasn’t going to hurt him. Standing in front of the cat Frank slowly extended his hand. Just then, the cat let out another inhuman scream and ran away.
Frank stood up and looked after the animal. What had gotten into that cat? He’d never had that affect on animals before.
He looked at his watch and realized it was later than he had thought. Where had the afternoon gone? Soon the newspaper boy would ride up on his bike and throw the paper onto the porch. Frank wondered if there would be anything about his accident in there. Probably not, the driver had left and he hadn’t gotten hurt or required an ambulance. He had gotten up and left before they could answer the man’s 911 call. If the ambulance came at all, it was after he’d been long gone.
Sitting down on his porch again, Frank waited for the paper boy and didn’t have long to wait. John Wilson, his paperboy rode up, and threw the paper into the yard. Frank waved at the boy but he didn’t wave back even though he looked right at Frank. John rode on after barely pausing to throw the paper.
He got up and walked to the middle of the yard and picked up the paper. Taking it back to the house, Frank picked up his empty iced tea glass and entered his house, closing the screen door carefully behind him.
Walking slowly into the kitchen, Frank rinsed his glass out and put it rim side down in the dish drainer. He’d read the paper later. It was time for supper, but he didn’t feel hungry. Maybe he’d skip tonight and just watch TV until bed time. Bed time? When was the last time he worried about that?
At the end of the day Frank usually stopped at O’Malley’s on his way home for a drink or two. More often than not he didn’t come back alone. That’s probably the reason he felt so lonely today coming into an empty house. He hadn’t remembered feeling that way before, just today.
That’s alright; things would straighten out tomorrow once he got back to work. He should have gone in after the accident. He was alright, not a broken bone on him and no aches and pains. He felt pretty good for being knocked down by a truck racing the clock.
He watched a drama on TV and then the tail end of the news, something about an accident, but he didn’t catch the whole thing, just something about a hit and run driver. Maybe that was the driver who hit him. Frank wondered if they caught him/her yet. It didn’t matter. It turned out alright, but he certainly didn’t want that guy doing that again to someone else, they might not be so lucky.
As the night wore on, Frank discovered he wasn’t a bit tired so he decided to stay up and have a few beers. Maybe that would make him sleepy, but after three drinks, he still was no more tired than he had been earlier.
He lay down on the couch and tried to rest while watching a scary movie on TV. The cable stations were on all night so he kept it on hoping the droning voices would tire him even more.
Frank turned off the TV and went into the kitchen to make coffee. The sun was just peeking out of the clouds and after a quick shower, he felt more refreshed.
After two cups of coffee he debated whether to eat breakfast or not. He still wasn’t hungry and hadn’t eaten since the lunch yesterday, but there was no sense in eating if he didn’t have an appetite. By lunch time he’d probably be famished.
Checking the kitchen wall clock, he saw he’d better get going. He didn’t want to be late, especially since there might be some repercussions from his hooky-playing yesterday afternoon.
Grabbing his briefcase and leaving the house, Frank felt a strange pulling sensation but tried to ignore it as he walked to his Jeep, opened the door and slid behind the wheel.
Minutes later, he noticed cars pulled over to the side of the road and a crowd gathered in a circle as if hiding something. An ambulance, fire engine and two police cars also were on the scene, the policemen directing traffic around the accident.
Frank recognized this place as where the hit and run driver got him. Maybe the driver came back and hit someone else. He hoped that they got him this time.
Climbing out of his car, he slowly walked over to where the crowd gathered. As he got closer he felt the pull even stronger, like a magnet drawing him closer.
It wasn’t hard for him to squeeze in between the thinning crowd. The paramedics hovered over the body listening for a breath and taking vital signs until one of the men said.
“He’s gone. We’ve done what we can.”
Frank felt the force pull him down and inside the body of the man lying in the middle of the street. His expensive suit was torn and dirty In his right hand, he held a fortune cookie with a blank paper flapping in the gentle breeze.