By Friederike Fischer

FriederikeI wrote the short sto­ry “Lone­ly” in one of my uni­ver­si­ty sem­i­nars. It was meant to be an assign­ment. Just an assign­ment. But my pro­fes­sor con­vinced me to enter the Dani­il Pashkoff Prize for Cre­ative Writ­ing and sub­mit my sto­ry. So I did. Even though my text didn’t win, I’m always grate­ful for new expe­ri­ences, and for peo­ple believ­ing in me.

“Lone­ly” is a sto­ry about a woman’s despair and obses­sion. She strug­gles with inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships and tries to keep every­thing around her in per­fect order. When her boyfriend doesn’t appear for din­ner on Valentine’s Day, she starts to ques­tion his feelings…


Tick. Tick. Tick. The clock’s steady rhythm fills the air. It is dark. Only now and then, when a car dri­ves by, a flash of light hits the room. Some­one is sit­ting at the kitchen table, frozen. Every­thing seems to be pre­pared for a din­ner, but the meal on both plates is cold and the can­dles already burnt down. In the mid­dle of the table a lone vase is await­ing a bou­quet of ros­es. Wait­ing. Still waiting.

It’s Valentine’s Day and Jim has promised to come. Mag­gie is expect­ing a pro­pos­al tonight. She’s even told Sue about it. But it’s near­ly mid­night now. Too late. It’ll be embar­rass­ing to tell Sue. The neigh­bors will talk. Her par­ents won’t stop ask­ing for a grand­child. Jim knows about these things. Why hasn’t he arrived? She even sent a note to remind him. Has he forgotten?

The motion detec­tor in front of the house lights up, and Mag­gie jumps to her feet. She runs through the hall and hasti­ly opens the door. She looks around, but sees noth­ing. Not even a cat. Just her dark, mud­dy front lawn. It is a rainy night like the one when she first met Jim. Hold­ing out his umbrel­la, he smiled at her as they wait­ed for the bus to arrive. It was just a faint smile, maybe just a twitch on his lips, but it is the one thing about Jim she likes to remem­ber most. Oth­er­wise, she would have to think about his strict out­er appear­ance and his seem­ing­ly supe­ri­or atti­tude. He likes to play tough. But she loves him nev­er­the­less. Two weeks after their first encounter, they met again in a drug­store and he asked her out. Near­ly six months have passed since then.

Mag­gie clos­es the door and goes back to the kitchen. Her hands are shak­ing and a sad smile cross­es her face. She looks around, her eyes focus­ing on noth­ing, and sud­den­ly she grabs the vase. An abom­inable noise – like a fork scrap­ing on an emp­ty plate – breaks the silence as the vase falls to the floor and bursts into hun­dreds of tiny, sharp pieces. A puz­zle that can nev­er be solved. Water cov­ers the floor between the glass frag­ments, reflect­ing a kitchen where every­thing is in its place. Every­thing is in per­fect order. At least it used to be.

It is not the first time for Jim to miss a roman­tic ren­dez-vous. One time, he and Mag­gie agreed on meet­ing for lunch, but he nev­er showed up. She tried to call him, but sup­pos­ed­ly he was in a meet­ing. He is always busy. Always work­ing. When­ev­er Mag­gie sees him in his suit with the brief­case in his hand and that strict look on his face, he seems to be in a hur­ry. He is the one earn­ing all the mon­ey and that’s why she nev­er thinks about com­plain­ing. Mag­gie is an under­stand­ing per­son, she would nev­er blame him for that. But now she feels like they have hard­ly seen each oth­er late­ly. Maybe Jim doesn’t love her anymore.

Slow­ly, not notic­ing the glass frag­ments on the floor, Mag­gie starts to clean up. The food has to be wrapped up and stored in the fridge. The dish­es need to be put back in the cup­board. Pots and pans have to soak. Per­fect. Maggie’s fin­gers skim over the table­top. The shak­ing has stopped. Every­thing looks pre­sentable again. Except the vase. It’s bro­ken. Mag­gie leaves it on the floor, switch­es off the light in the hall, and feels her way to the bath­room. With a sigh she clos­es the door, and soon the sound of run­ning water can be heard.


Knock. Knock. Knock. Sue shuts her umbrel­la and wipes her feet on the door­mat. It is still rain­ing though Maggie’s front gar­den already looks like a moor. Some­thing she will not be hap­py about. Too much dirt. But to be fair, this real­ly is one hell of a morn­ing. Sue knocks once more, curi­ous about whether Jim real­ly did pro­pose to Mag­gie the day before. But nobody answers.

“Still in bed, huh?” Sue mum­bles and search­es her bag for the key. “I hope everyone’s dressed.”

She enters the house. Silence. The long hall looks exact­ly like it always does. Tidy, clean, pre­sentable. Maggie’s bed­room on the left is emp­ty, the sheets are in per­fect order, and it doesn’t smell like some­one recent­ly slept there. But that’s not unusu­al. Next, Sue looks into the kitchen where she near­ly steps on the bro­ken pieces of a glass vase on the floor. This is some­thing unusu­al. She also notices some water­marks and fol­lows them to the bath­room. That’s where she finds Mag­gie. Lying in the bath­tub. Not breath­ing. With­out a heartbeat.

A few min­utes lat­er, the house is full of strangers. Police, para­medics… Sue is sit­ting on a kitchen chair, shocked and crying.

“Did she have any fam­i­ly?” a police offi­cer asks.


“Was she married?”

“No. But she was going out with some­one. Jim.”

“Do you know how to con­tact him?” he asks, scrib­bling some­thing on his scratchpad.

“No. I’ve nev­er met him. Just saw a pic­ture once.”

Maggie’s death is declared a sui­cide. They said that she over­dosed on her usu­al med­ica­tion: some sleep­ing pills mixed with tran­quil­iz­ers. Every­one calls her a wacko now though nobody had ever noticed some­thing unusu­al about her before. Sue didn’t either.

Ring. Ring. Ring. A few months lat­er, Sue leaps aside as a bik­er near­ly knocks her over at the bus stop. She gasps resent­ful­ly. The man next to her noticed the inci­dent, but doesn’t seem to be inter­est­ed or shocked. He some­how seems famil­iar. He is wear­ing a suit, car­ry­ing a brief case, and has a rather unfriend­ly look on his face. This must be Jim. But Sue can­not be sure, can she? She hesitates.

“Excuse me. Aren’t you Jim?”

“Yes. Do we know each oth­er?” He doesn’t even look her in the eyes for longer than one short second.

“No. But you know Mag­gie, right?”

He looks at his watch. “Mag­gie who? I don’t know what you’re talk­ing about.”

“Mag­gie Wilder. You were going out, weren’t you?”

“No. We went on a date once but I haven’t seen her since. She was real­ly strange, send­ing notes every day and call­ing my office. And now excuse me, I’ve got work to do.”

He steps onto the bus and van­ish­es. As Sue gazes at him, her eyes begin welling up with tears again.

“Oh Mag­gie,” she sighs. “You must have been so lone­ly, so very lonely.”

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