Stranger (Ginger Man 13B)

Charlie heard Maggie talking in exasperated tones, reminding him that this dinner at Rick’s was his idea in the first place and she had reminded him about it yesterday and he’d said OK and she had no intention of showing up on her own. But those were just words coming out of her mouth, and though he knew they were directed at him he was barely conscious of them reaching him, as if there were a transparent wall between he and Maggie, her words struggling to cross the barrier.

He heard himself apologizing, admitting that the evening at Rick’s had been his idea, but that was last week, and — and now it was this week, and things were different, this wasn’t a good night, we can go some other time.

“It’s something that boy said, isn’t it?” The accusation snapped Charlie out of his reverie. “That notebook — ” she was standing now, was pointing down at the notebook Charlie had placed on the makeshift dining table — “that’s the one you got from Mike’s mom, right?”

Charlie turned away from the table, looked squarely at Maggie, her finger still pointing like a dagger at the notebook. Her posture commanded attention, as if it were her instead of Charlie (or more exactly, his parents) who owned this trailer, that he was the guest rather than she. That feeling of being a stranger in his own home disturbed him at first — but a deep breath later, he suddenly felt liberated instead.

Yes, he replied, that was Mike’s notebook. And yes, he had shown it to that boy, Rune. So yes, Rune had said something about what he’d read that had made him change his mind about going to Rick’s that night. But yes, he was sorry.

She had sheathed her dagger finger, but the stern look of disappointment remained on Maggie’s face.

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