Bonnie had at last figured out the combination to the lock on the door at the end of the hall. She rested inside the secret room beyond that door, lying back on the pink upholstered chaise lounge. When Alex came back, he would be so surprised. This was the room of her dreams, and she had just now discovered it, here at the end of the long hallway in the house they had rented for the summer.
The door opened and her short rusty-haired spouse stood in the doorway, hands on hips.
“What happened to the Cheetos,” he whined.
Bonnie was thrown by the question. She leaned back further on the chaise and let her gaze travel from corner to corner. This room was her.
“Just look at this, Alex,” she said. “It’s my perfect space. I’m so happy you’re here to share it with me. Look at those window seats…”
Alex interrupted. “I bought a large size bag of Cheetos yesterday. How could they be gone in one day?”
Was his face getting red like his hair? Surely not. It must be the sunlight through those incredibly huge windows. She’d have to move the palm tree obstructing her view. Who plants a tree inside a room, cutting a hole in the floor?
“Earth to Bonnie.” Alex’s voice grated on her ears like fingers on a sheet of aluminum foil. “Okay, so you’re embarrassed to admit it, but honestly, you know I always eat Cheetos when I watch a darts tournament and now, they’re all gone. How can you be so thoughtless?”
Bonnie had no answer. Indeed, for the first time in their brief marriage, Bonnie did not wish to answer. She was still puzzling over the palm tree when she heard the clickety clack of a train coming closer down the tracks. It seemed to be coming from behind the trunk of the palm tree. She got up from the chaise, walked to the window and peered around the tree. No tracks in view, just the beach and the ocean outside the window.
Alex slapped his thighs. “Now there you go,” he shouted. “Are you even listening to me? Where are the freakin’ Cheetos, Bonnie? Did you eat them all? I think you should go out and buy me some more, because the darts tournament is about to come on in like two minutes.”
The chugging train sounded closer but still Bonnie could not see it. She examined the tree, touching a palm frond. A loud whistle like that of a train passing through the station startled her. She jumped back.
Alex walked over to her at the window. “Did you hear me? I want you to buy more Cheetos and I want them now!”
The palm fronds shook. Or did they? Bonnie couldn’t be sure. Wheels clacked from somewhere inside the trunk. She laid her ear next to the dry bark.
“Oh, for cripes’ sake!” Alex threw his hands in the air, whirled around and knocked over the bowl of blue hydrangeas on the desk. Water ran across the wood and dripped onto the red and gold Oriental carpet. The cat meowed and ran from the room through the open door. Bonnie wished Alex would follow.
How could he not have seen the built-in bookshelves, the soft cashmere throws, the reading lamps in every corner? She touched the teapot and the tray with fresh scones she had baked that morning hoping to share them with him in this dream of a room. Had he even listened when she’d described her ideal home soon after they’d met? He looked so interested back then. And when he’d asked her to marry him, he’d promised to give her exactly that home one day. She remembered him, a tall black-haired suitor gazing lovingly into her eyes. When had this oaf taken over his body?
Bonnie picked up the flowers and bowl. “I’m sorry about eating the Cheetos, darling. I didn’t realize they were so important to you.” As important as my dream room which we are now standing in together, but obviously not as together as I thought.
“Ah, never mind.” Alex ran a hand over his face and turned to go. “Do you think you can at least manage dinner?”
Ouch. That one hurt, and it wasn’t the first time he’d said something so condescending. Bonnie stared at the man she’d vowed to spend her life with for better or worse. Until death do us…
“Alex, come and look at this tree. How do you suppose it got here?”
“Aw, I don’t know, Bonnie! Who cares?” He flung himself down into the overstuffed club chair in the corner. Eyes closed, he rubbed one hand at the spot between his eyebrows.
Bonnie put the hydrangeas and bowl back on the table, leaving the water spill for now. Her breath quickened. Could she? Should she? What if…
“Alex, is that a bag of Cheetos over there?”
Her husband’s eyes flew open. “Where?”
“Right here, behind this palm tree!” She pointed, then walked over and rested a hand on its bark, unusually warm and throbbing …yes, a strong throbbing pulse against her hand. “I can’t believe my eyes, Alex! Come look!”
“Aw, Bonnie!” He bounded up from the chair and stomped to the tree. Without stopping, he grabbed hold of the trunk. His scream hurt Bonnie’s ears but thankfully lasted only a second or two. His body whipped around and around the palm until it was just a blur. In less than a minute, he was gone.
The long spiky leaves shook themselves out and settled back into their places. A lonely whistle sounded from deep inside the trunk then faded away.
Bonnie went back to the chaise, picked up a warm raisin scone and took a bite. She let her eyes travel around the room of her wildest dreams, taking it in, inch by inch, and foot by foot. It was too bad about Alex.
But really, he should have been paying attention.
Linda C. Wisniewski is a former librarian who lives and writes in Bucks County, PA and volunteers at the home of author Pearl S. Buck. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published in 2008. Linda's time travel novel, Where the Stork Flies, was published in May 2021. She/her blogs at www.lindawis.com and tweets at @lindawis.