A Secret Grave 51: Disappear Like Smoke

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It turned out Victor knew next to nothing about the woman at the conference. She’d introduced herself as Caroline Martinez and while the first name possibly was right, the second was false – he  searched for her under Martinez for months and couldn’t find her. He also wasn’t sure where she lived. She’d said Miami. He located a number of Caroline Martinez’s in Miami, but none was the right one. He expanded his search to all of south Florida: still nothing. That left him distraught. “I’ve never had a connection with someone like that before,” he told Peter. “Our brains, our bodies – we were completely in sync. It was as if we’d known each other our whole lives.” He tried to get information about her from the conference organizers, but that, too, was a giant dead end. Peter advised him to let go of it. “She obviously didn’t want you to know who she was. And look: you left her with your contact info and she never reached out, so that tells you something.”

Eventually Victor gave up. But the hurt lasted a long time. Over the years, he met other women but Caroline had become his ideal and not a single one held a candle to her. (“That’s simply because you couldn’t have her,” Peter commented sensibly. “You know that, right?”) He closed his Dallas clinic and opened a new one in Austin where he had a brief flirtation with his landlady. (I asked Peter to be a little more detailed about this, thinking I could finally get to the bottom of Victor’s relationship with Betsy, but all he told me was it was like all of Victor’s associations with women: “attraction, drama, suspense, dissolution.”) And then in 2005, standing on a checkout line in Whole Foods, Austin, miracle of miracles, Victor spotted a dark-haired woman paying at the register two people ahead of him.  She was in jeans and a blouse, and had the same black eyes and dimples as the Caroline Martinez at the conference.

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caroline-dimples

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He’d have recognized her anywhere. But there was one difference. She had a little boy with her. The minute Victor laid eyes on that little boy, he knew it was his. Not only because of the boy’s age – five years old or so – but because of his profile, which was identical both to Victor’s and to Victor’s father, Leonard Gottleib. He’d seen that face in the mirror his whole life. He opened his mouth and yelled “Caroline!” as loud as he could.

She turned at her name. Her face went white. In that split second, recognition passed between them, a memory of the secret weekend five years earlier, the passion they’d experienced, the love they’d never fulfilled. She’d just finished paying for her groceries and she grabbed the bag and her son and fled. Victor abandoned his own groceries and ran after her, but in those few seconds she’d disappeared like smoke.

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smoke-face

smoke study II., milena mihaylova, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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He searched everywhere, up and down the street, in neighboring stores, but she was gone, vanished, and now his heart, which was pumping wildly, really had something to break over.

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To be continued…

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Cover photo (cropped) ~ in smoke — Human being is carrying his pet, ASIM CHAUDHURI, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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