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Of Natural Causes



Miriam N. Kotzin and Bill Turner

Mark was driving west into a platinum sky. The sun was dropping behind the mountains out of his sight, and around him were miles of flat plains. Wendy sat quietly next to him. He wondered if she would speak again.

Kansas City wasn’t good to them. Now, Denver had to change their luck, or she would leave him. He knew it. He could feel her slipping away. She had been patient, but she had to have a limit, and he knew she was near it.

The color was leaching out of the plains into the evening. Mark felt as
though he were driving into a black and white movie with a script he didn’t like. He watched Wendy lean forward and switch off the radio. Now the only sound in the car was the sound of the tires on the road and, he thought, of their breathing.

Maybe she’ll say something now. A few more miles of silence behind them, and he pulled the car over to the side of the road. The mountains ahead were black against the darkening sky. “Wendy,” he said, “we’re an hour out of Denver, and before we pull in, I’ve got to make sure that you’re still cool with this. I can’t pull it off alone.”

”Pull what off?” she asked, pausing to look at the luggage in the back seat. ”You’re so dramatic. This is only a job.”

”Maybe,” he said, “but I know you’re getting tired of this. I have to find the right spot.”

She said nothing, but laid her head back and closed her eyes. Mark waited for her to open them. When she did, he smiled at her. She gave a slight smile back and then sighed.

”You know my father is going to have a fit about this,” she said.

”He has a fit about everything these days,” he replied.

”This is different.” She turned to the back seat and pulled a bottle of
water out of the travel bag.

”He can’t expect you to stay at home forever,” Mark said, starting up the car. “He’s not that unfair.” As soon as he said that he wished he hadn’t. Wendy has always been daddy’s little girl, and she hated to hear anything that sounded like criticism of her father. Especially when she secretly agreed with it.

”We won’t be that far away,” Mark went on. “It’s not like we’re moving east like your sister.”

Wendy didn’t say anything for a while. Then she said, “It’s not the best time to give him the news, that’s all.”

Now who’s being dramatic, he thought. Her father could be and frequently was too damned demanding. Mark hadn’t conned anyone. Being a print journalist was his goal. Nickel and diming his way to a good set up was a part of the deal. Wendy knew that.

He felt a moment of righteous indignation. “You want to go back to him?” he asked, now unafraid of the answer.

”Of course not,” she replied.

Mark paused and thought about his anger. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m just nervous. I need a break. This city desk job may be it.”

”You’ll do fine,” she said. She laid her head back again and closed her
eyes. She held the half-empty bottle of water instead of putting it in the cup holder.

Mark could not see her face. He’d been a coward not to want to talk about this before, and he was paying the price for it now. “So we’ll tell him together?”

”You sound like you’re afraid of him.” Her voice was flat, empty of

”You could say that,” Mark answered, “Or just that I think he’ll take it
better if he knows you’re on board with the move. He wants you to be

”I didn’t know this was about my being happy.”

Mark was silent, the road stretched ahead in his headlights. He’d perfected the fine art of the obituary at his last job. The next obit he wrote had better be for Elvis, he thought. ”I was mistaken,” he said, “you seemed glad when you heard about the offer.”

”You were happy. So I was.” She turned her face to the window. “Do we have to talk about this now? Everything’s settled.”

Settled for me, he thought. It was time to mark time. He would die

Not in Kansas City.