The Man's Smile
by J. Robert DeWitt
He says he can bring your wife back. But on one condition. Then he leans across your kitchen table and whispers to you.
"I won't do that," you say.
"Then you're out of luck," he says.
"I could never do that to a child."
"Humans have done much worse for far less."
He leans back and smiles with his large, yellow teeth. For a moment words float to your mouth. This is over, you want to say. But instead you are silent. That is how you realize you are considering his offer. Hesitation presses inside you, a bubble rising in your chest, and this terrifies you. Not the man and his teeth. Not his whispered condition. But the fact that some part of you wants to accept.
"I am the only one that can bring her back," he says. "No one else can do that."
You know this is true. You have seen his ship hidden behind your farmhouse, deep in the forest. He has shown you secrets inside it. Truths about time and space. Visions of other worlds. Realms of unknown dimensions. And he has proven to you, over a cup of coffee in your kitchen, that he can bring your wife back.
"Because," he says as he sips your coffee, "I know you will do it."
That night you cannot sleep. You sit on the couch and stare at the photo of your wife. With your fingers you touch the smiling face behind the glass. She has been gone eight years, but you have never let go. Her clothes still hang in the closet. Her makeup still lies cluttered in the drawers. Her last voice-mail still flashes on the recorder, a single red numeral glowing in the dark. You set her photo on the table. You tell her about the traveler and his ship. You try to explain his offer, but you cannot say the words out loud. All you say is "I'm sorry, honey. But I love you too much."
The man arrives the next morning from the forest. You watch him through the kitchen window as he walks across the cornfield, the stalks brushing against his suitcase.
"You'll need to drive to the city," he says as he sits across from you. "That's where she lives."
"I haven't said yes yet."