MapWriter 7.0 Error Log, Case Two

Anita stopped at the animal shelter on her way to the mall. She would have liked to adopt another dog, but Danny had put his foot down after she brought home the fourth. Their children were grown–what could it matter? Instead, she spoke softly to the dogs and left a sizaeble donation. Danny, when she spoke to him at all, always put his foot down. She wasn’t sure what the expression meant, but he was the sort of man who had firm feet, and where he planted them, there they remained.

Then she was off to the mall because she needed–she needed nothing. But how else would she occupy herself? She entered the mall and breathed in the fragrance of cinnamon that reassured her that some parts of the world remained stable. What might Danny like? She could buy him a new watch, or a tie, or a new pair of comforting dress shoes. She could buy her way back into his heart, force him to speak to her, acknowledge her existence. And after he noticed she was not merely alive, but also the woman who shared his bed, then she would bake him a venison casserole, his favorite meal–the dinner his mom whipped up after the men of his family brought their game back. They were men with money who hunted for sport.

Danny hunted nothing except money, and that was fine by her. She could buy a venison roast at Heller’s gourmet meat market. And then she could bake it and serve it with a fine red wine, and she could eat it herself. When was the last time he had left work early enough to eat dinner with her?

She bought him a light sports jacket, perfect for a windy day at the beach. She bought him cashmere socks. Everybody needed socks, especially her husband, who, with his firm feet, wore them out in six months. She maxed out one credit card after another with de-crinkling creams, whatever that meant, and expensive wooden toys her grandchildren would never play with. And when she could think of nothing else, she had her hair cut and styled at the Lanstrum’s salon–no appointment necessary.

After the haircut, her head felt light, but not in a good way. Her body buzzed with dizziness, and it was only three o’clock. What could she buy? What, what? As she passed the MapWriter store, the Cartographia, she stumbled slightly, stopped and righted herself, and peered in. What would Danny say if she bought her Life Map? He wouldn’t say anything because he wouldn’t know about it until he saw the credit card bill, and then he would pay the bill as he always did, without question. In his own way, he was a generous man. He never questioned, never yelled. Did this mean he loved her, or that he no longer cared?

She walked in, a little bewildered by the computer pods where others worked to build their Life Maps. She bypassed the stations and stepped lightly to the counter, hesitant, but ready. She must have smelled of money, a fragrance Danny brought home that lingered in his hair and hers, too, because the salesman tried to sell her on the latest model. She declined. Her credit cards had already taken a beating–she would take the 7.0 model, which would give her the option of three life paths, without the extra programmable features.

Half an hour later, she carried away her Life Map in its sleek case. Over a double mocha coffee with extra whipped cream, she unfolded her map and tentatively ran her fingers down the three paths. Her possible major life events lit up: Divorce. Divorce. Divorce. The word obstructed all three paths. All three. She couldn’t help it–she cried. She cried into her stupid high-calorie beverage and then bought herself a package deal of three cookies, fourth one free, and ate all four. Her husband hated her. There was no other explanation. What had she done? She had done everything, sacrificed everything for him. And all her efforts would end in divorce.

She drove home, determined to stuff the $1000 map in the nearest neighborhood recycle bin. But she didn’t because it might still help her, not if, but when Danny left. Her dogs barked at her from the backyard, and she let herself in the front door, swept through with her packages into the dining room, meaning to sit and cry until he arrived to witness her desperation.

He was already there, waiting, a beer sitting in front of him. She paused, shocked, unsure. His hair was so black, but was silver at the temples, as if he’d painted the silver himself. And maybe he had. He turned to look at her.

“God, I’m tired. Where have you been?”

“Shopping.”

“Do I bore you?” he asked. “Is that why you shop every day? Because you’re tired of me?”

“No, I . . .”

“I don’t blame you,” he said. “I’m tired of me, too. Let’s go fishing, Anita. Do you want to hire a boat and go fishing in the bay with me?”

Did Danny enjoy fishing? How would she know? He looked up at her, and the pleading in his dark eyes gave her pause. He needed her. No, no, that wasn’t right. He loved her. That’s what his eyes said.

“I bought you a fishing jacket,” she said, and handed him the bag.

He accepted the jacket with a pleased but surprised smile. Anita left the dining room to change into her cooking clothes. She would stow the map at the back of the closet, in the farthest place possible, and never look at it again.

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