Writing Sample: Fiction

I Hope
By Betty Arrigotti

Espy Perdid awoke in her loft apartment and pondered the probability that her hope for marriage had disappeared overnight along with her thirties. The phone rang. She considered not answering it, but habit won out.

“Happy birthday, Esperanza!” gushed her twin sister Dolores, happily married and a new grandmother as well. “The digital camera is great, thanks! Check your email for my gift. Have to run! The family is whisking me away for the weekend to celebrate!”

“Happy birthday, Doll. Have a good time.” Espy dropped the receiver and wondered if Doll ever had less than a great time.

Curiosity pulled her to the computer and she clicked on the only new message: “Welcome, Esperanza, to Sensational Oregon Singles!”

“Great initials for a dating service,” Espy scoffed to Squig, her pet iguana. “It never ceases to amaze me how Dolores can give an insult and a gift at the same time. This beats both the membership to L.A. Weight Loss, and the Dale Carnegie course to win friends and influence people.”

A link in the email led her to the website, and the personal introduction Dolores had submitted for her.

This ought to be good, Espy thought. Dolores has always wanted to define me. Espy took guilty satisfaction in ridiculing her sister’s simultaneous attempts at generosity and self-cloning. However, she read the brief bio with pleasant surprise:

“I am a successful, independent professional woman who has made a happy and comfortable life for myself. I’m an integral part of the lives of my extended family and many dear friends. Although I am contented with my abundant life, it could be enhanced by someone to share the journey.”

The tribute fanned an ember of possibility to flame. However, minutes later the flame barely flickered. Overweight men in their forties seemed to require slim, wealthy nymphs in their twenties. Deep into sarcastic mocking, she clicked on the next listing, and felt her heart clench. A familiar face raised her pulse rate, just as it had four years ago. The only married man she had ever coveted smiled at her from the screen. Josh Barnes, her epitome of a man of integrity, was advertising on a singles site, under the name Josh Steinway. Disgusted, she punched the power button and both the computer screen and her hope surrendered to blackness.

The next morning Espy called her best friend. “Marge, in all my years of failed romances, who’s the one guy I never got over?”

“Easy. That personnel guy at your last job. The one you loved from afar.”

“He’s on a singles site!”

“So make a date!”

“He’s married! He’s using a different name and lying about being single.”

“Maybe he’s divorced, Espy. It’s been four years.”

“He’s the one guy that never would end a marriage, Marge.”

“Maybe she walked out.” Her friend’s voice took on a defensive tone, and Espy remembered Marge had once left a husband in order to take a promotion.

“Then why the alias?”

“Espy, you and I both know you’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Espy smiled. Marge could read her like a balance sheet.

Espy remembered her struggle to break the inadvertent hold Josh had on her. She had even attended his church in order to bolster her resolve not to interfere in his life. The sight of him holding his daughter and beaming at his wife sealed Espy’s decision to leave the company, and her infatuation, behind.

The next morning Espy once again took a seat in the back of Josh’s church. Just before the service began, he entered, guiding his six-year-old daughter to a seat. His shoulders sagged more than she remembered, and Espy imagined guilt weighed them down.

Where’s his wife? she wondered. She had hoped to see the couple together, to tell whether they still seemed happy. By the end of the final hymn when people were filing out, Espy was torn between fight or flight. Needing to see Josh’s face, she waited. Several people greeted Josh on their way out and she could tell he was still held in high regard. He was almost to her seat when their eyes met. His face lit with pleasure.

“Esperanza! Great to see you! It’s been, what, three years?”

His reaction brought warmth to Espy’s cheeks and voice, in spite of her resolve. “Four. Hello, Josh. And Clara, right?”

The little girl smiled as easily as her father and nodded up at Espy.

Josh checked his watch. “Could you walk with us to the nursery? I’d love to visit with you.”

Her thoughts wavered between curiosity to see his wife and reluctance to face her, knowing her husband’s secret. Espy hesitated. “I wouldn’t want to intrude, Josh.”

“Please, Espy, you haven’t met my son.” Josh glanced down at Clara, who looked from him to Espy, and then slid her hand into Espy’s. The decision seemed to be made. Josh stood back to allow the two to walk in front of him.

“A son!” Espy commented over her shoulder. “Congratulations. I bet he keeps your wife busy.”

Father and daughter both stopped. Espy looked to Josh, who sighed, “You didn’t hear…. Joyce…”

“Mama went to heaven when Baby Ben was born,” Clara explained softly.

The indignation Espy had been nurturing surrendered. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

They walked in silence to the childcare wing. Clara led them to the toy-filled toddler room, where an impish version of Josh ran into his daddy’s arms. Josh lifted him above his head and turned to Espy with a laugh. “May I introduce Mr. Benjamin Steinway?”

“Steinway?” Espy repeated as the toddler reached his arms out to her and she transferred his solid weight to her heart. “How do you do, Mr. Ben?” she asked as she rubbed noses with him.

“The children and I changed our surname to Joyce’s maiden name after she died. Our own type of tribute. She suggested it before we were married, me taking her name, but I laughed it off.”

Josh turned to Espy with a shy smile and asked, “Want to go to I HOPE with us for breakfast?”

Clara explained, “He means IHOP, but I said it wrong when I first learned to sound out words. We all call it that now.”

“I HOPE!” chortled Ben.

Espy’s heart echoed his words.

Copyright 2005 ©


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