The Dead Friend (short story)
The postmark was five days after Mark's memorial service. Yet here in my hand was a postcard written in his familiar crabbed left-handed scrawl and signed signed "love, Mark". “I’m not dead. Meet me Tuesday night at 8 at the Bistro at IKEA.”
IKEA had been our favorite hangout in college, a good place to stroll, imagining our more prosperous futures. We'd pick a model room and settle in for an hour or two, reading or reviewing for an exam. Then we'd head for the Bistro for a soft serve cone at a price that couldn't be beat. But that was years ago, and Mark was dead. Or was he?
The Bistro was busy when I arrived, as tuckered-out shoppers, their carts full of plates, accent pillows and frozen meatballs, stopped for a quick hot dog or frozen yogurt before facing the task of loading their cars. Finding a spot at the counter, I looked around. Mark's face as I had last seen him kept surfacing in my mind: sparse hair, sunken cheeks, his gray eyes drooping and dull. I imagined him emerging from a checkout line, his hospital gown flapping above his knees.
"Is this seat taken?" The soft feminine voice startled me. "Are you expecting someone?"
"Sort of. I'm meeting a friend but not sure..." This was awkward. Then I saw the baby in the carrier and the bulging shopping bag over her other shoulder. "Please, sit. It's ok."
The baby was awake, staring around at the commotion. She -- obviously she, from the floral headband and pink t-shirt -- fixed her gaze on me and blinked. "Hi, there!" I said softly. Her mom laughed, "I see she's made a new friend."
"How old is she?"
"Three months today. She's a May Day baby."
May 1st. Mark's birthday. The baby's gray eyes caught mine again and she smiled.
"Say hello, Marcia."
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