An hour ago Max, Ellie’s husband, came home while Ellie was in the kitchen, on the phone with her daughter, Francesca, anatomizing Francesca’s arrogant boss and contemplating if Francesca should quit. Twice there’d been a notification beeping through the call that Max was trying to reach her. Ellie had mentally resolved to call him back while continuing to listen to Francesca, whose dilemma absorbed Ellie because she could identify with it so clearly — when do you quit vs stick it out and can you get what you need without making a scene? To the point that by the time Max walked in, Ellie had forgotten all about her mental resolve or even that he’d tried to phone her, twice as it turned out. She cut Francesca short with a “Got to go, your Dad just walked in,” as soon as she saw her husband’s face elongated by misery, his eyes drooping like a bulldog’s. Clearly something was wrong — and as soon as he told her he’d lost his wallet, she absorbed his panic, the floor of predictability dissolving under both of their feet. The freefall into the void. His inability to remember, the absence, the breakdown, the slow disappearance of everything.
Ellie begins to turn the house upside down, hears Max in his office, yelling. “I just want to talk to a human being! Is it too much to ask?” Obviously he’s not talking to anyone, this is a complaint to the gods.
His voice quiets, apparently he’s been granted his wish to speak to a human. Slightly agitated, herself, Ellie feels a need to pee. On her way to the bathroom she eavesdrops, hears a young man’s voice saying, in conciliatory tones, it’s easier to get a new drivers’ license online. Next the conciliatory young man says okay, he’ll schedule an in-person appointment for Max, what is the closest office? Max doesn’t know. When she finishes peeing, Ellie quickly sets up the online request and pays the fee herself. His new license will here in a week. Until then, he’ll be driving illegally, pretending he doesn’t know a receipt isn’t acceptable.
His old nut-brown wallet fat and lopsided from being carried in his pocket. His driver’s license, credit cards, Medicare card, ATM card, and what Max claims is a substantial amount of cash: all lost. She visualizes it inside a pair of pants, on a counter somewhere, fallen behind the bed. She feels terrible that she isn’t sure she believes him about the substantial amount of cash. Or maybe what he calls substantial isn’t what Ellie calls substantial. They talk about everywhere they’ve been. She recalls her own hysteria and inability to focus on anything else the time she thought she lost her grandmother’s emerald ring. She’d even called the Salvation Army in case she’d donated it rolled into a pair of pink socks. Then she’d found it in the concave base of a lamp where she’d set it for safekeeping.
“It’s the chaos in our house,” she says grouchily, and begins tidying the kitchen from his crumbs and crumpled napkins.
“I don’t blame anything or anyone,” Max says sensibly. “It’s just that I don’t have it.”
He’s right, she decides, and helps him ransack her purses, since he often asks her to carry his eyeglasses or inhaler (but never his wallet, at least not lately? suddenly she isn’t sure), her car’s door pockets and glove compartment and under the passenger seat since they rode in it together three nights ago, in the rain, to a potluck event for his nonprofit. No. The garage where their two bicycles are stabled companionably side by side, two steeds they’d ridden took together to the river on Sunday.
How could she retrace his steps when she couldn’t retrace her own? She must really write in her journal, just the facts, every twenty-four hours. What if there was ever a legal case and she’d need to recall what she did on the ninth of September?
“The forge, the forge,” he shouts up the stairwell while she is taking a break, messing around on social media to disconnect from the panic. Instead of words she hears “Or, Or.” Back downstairs to ask what? Good news, Max says, nobody has used his credit cards since the day before yesterday when he’d purchased two bagels and whipped chive cream cheese at The Forge Bakery. What brings Elle to tears is knowing their loss is in plain sight, even though in a day or two the wallet will reappear in a pocket Max checked already,