The Suitcase This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

February 22, 2012
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In his typical placid manner, Norman Fueller carefully rolled a rugged suitcase into Your Power Fitness. While Norman’s body went through the mechanical functions of scanning his gym card and walking to the locker room, his mind focused on the wondrous hum his suitcase made as the wheels turned. Nothing sounded more beautiful than weatherworn wheels hitting plastic-coated floors, except, maybe, those same wheels weaving through thick carpets. Both made the leather suitcase spit out joyful squeaks, a constant reminder to Norman of their steadfast companionship.

They had reached locker 99. Norman hoisted the suitcase up and cautiously slid it inside, positioning it so the suitcase’s shoulders could rest against one wall and the wheels could graze against the other. Needing nothing from the suitcase, he locked it up, took a long drink from the water fountain, and then returned to make sure the locker was securely closed. Satisfied, Norman ran six long miles on the treadmill, returned for his suitcase, and went home.

Pulling into the driveway, Norman observed his wife, who was tilting back on the porch to get a better vantage point for her binoculars. Gertrude had been consumed with hawk watching for quite some time, ever since her daughters no longer needed her help before school.

“Seen any good ones?” Norman asked as he pulled his suitcase out of the trunk. Gertrude dropped the binoculars and leered at the man who had just broken her concentration from a huge Buteo hawk. “No, Norman,” she snapped. “Judith and Carrie need breakfast. I’ll let you do that.”

He tried to hear his suitcase again as he entered the house. Pulling the handle erect made an obnoxious shriek, which probably originated during his travels over the uneven streets of Bologna. Or maybe in Custer National Forest when his backpacks were stolen and all he had was his suitcase. No, he smiled inwardly as he remembered it was actually at the Berlin library – when he heard, “Dad, what the heck. There’s no more waffles.”

“This is your job, man, to buy the waffles. Is it really that hard?”

His daughters had bombarded him before he even reached the foyer. Norman did his best with three eggs and a box of chocolate cheerios, then sent the girls off to school.

Though it was a Friday, Norman knew he would wear his best tie and black dress pants to work. Something about sharp attire made his wife a little weak and unsteady, and he felt that would be necessary if he wanted to earn her back before she left for the bank. As he scrubbed at his chest in the shower, Norman imagined Gertrude sinking into the arms of her powerful, businessman husband. After dressing, he sauntered out of the closet and leaned against the door frame. She met his eyes, dropped the pearl necklace in her hands, and flew toward him. “Zip me up, will you?” Gertrude turned around and Norman pulled the navy blue dress together, not forgetting the two tiny clasps at the top.

Saturday was Starbucks and Costco day, so Norman shadowed the women as they waited in line for frothy drinks and meandered through grocery aisles. Being a chauffeur and a wallet didn’t bother Norman, because he could usually drone out their discussion of apple-pears with his suitcase. Gertrude had rolled her eyes when Norman put his suitcase in the trunk that morning, but she tolerated it as another one of man’s idiosyncrasies.

Most things, Norman had discovered, were nearly intolerable without his suitcase. He never imagined that the bag he bought after college would be anything more than a travel aid, a trash bag for his souvenirs and T-shirts. But after Norman’s world tour ended with his realization of four aimless years gone by – and Gertrude, who helped him realize his aimlessness – he kept the suitcase as a token from his youth. Norman married the sensible woman, began the sensible job, and bought the sensible house. The suitcase rolled behind, the only squeaky kink on an otherwise very sensible block.

“Norman, I have boxes here and only two arms.” They were leaving Costco, it seemed. Norman stuffed three whole stock boxes under his arms, left one hand for his suitcase, and headed to the car. While driving home, he let their voices wash over his muteness; Gertrude’s plain and direct speech, ­Judith’s floating giggles, Carrie’s biting diction. Norman wouldn’t dare break up the melody of their rapid discourse with his unvarnished, gangling words. He waited, unwearily, for a moment that would be appropriate for his small comments and empty questions.

But the car filled with their noises until Norman pulled into the garage, so he turned off the ignition and retreated to his suitcase.

“Don’t forget to lock up the car,” Carrie yelled as she sped inside. Norman responded with silent compliance, and then wandered into the house, bemused at his daughter’s deep concern for a car she didn’t have to make monthly payments on.

Later that evening, when Judith and Carrie were at their respective teenage parties, Norman lay in bed trying to follow the plot of Gertrude’s favorite movie. From what he could understand, the main character became pregnant after incestuous rape and now was undergoing chemotherapy for her fast progressing breast cancer. Norman looked over at his wife. She was leaning forward; face eager, eyes brimmed with tears. He looked down at his hands.

“Oh, God, this is beautiful, isn’t it?” Gertrude said to no one. Norman adjusted his legs under the blanket.

They sat in silence until the movie was over. Finally, Gertrude looked at her husband. She parted her lips to confide in him, maybe, or confess, let every dark thought fall from her mouth to his heart.

“My nail polish remover is on the top shelf of the closet. Do you mind?” Norman automatically sat up, pushed off his covers, and walked toward the closet. He thought about what a pleasant evening they were having, just his wife and him. Sure, it ­wasn’t adventurous or particularly exciting, but it was contentment. And that’s the ultimate goal, after all. This is contentment, Norman told himself.

He pushed the closet door open, but it jammed. Flushed with panic, Norman worried that he might have hit Gertrude’s sewing machine. Quickly, he shut it and flicked on the closet light to investigate the damage. The sewing machine was fine, sitting on top of a plastic bin, contentedly staring back at him.

But on the floor lay Norman’s suitcase, with its handle ejected and zipper undone. The suitcase was wide open, nearly unhinged, weighed down by desert-caked wheels and stormblown seams. Though ragged on the outside, the inside was completely hollow. There were no T-shirts, no spare toothbrush, not even Norman’s gym clothes. He hadn’t put anything in there for over seventeen years. Norman kneeled down and gathered his suitcase in his arms. It took him a while to realize it was dead.

“Norman? Are you there?”

The next morning, Norman packed his suitcase with underwear, razors, and ten packets of Judith’s favorite fruit snacks. He slammed the front door defiantly and relished in the crisp music of his suitcase rolling over cold cement. I did it, he thought as he slid his pounding heart behind the wheel and pulled out of the driveway. I did it. Another life was a mere four miles away, but Norman rolled down the windows anyway and breathed in the early morning traffic. He pressed hard against the gas pedal to feel the wind in fierce fast cuts against his skin. The more Norman swerved and sped, the more his heart resonated within its body.

The minivan in front of him had shining red lights for some reason. Norman paid no attention until his foot came crashing into the brakes and his car came within inches of its demise. He realized he was at the intersection of Montgomery and Interstate 55. Left was the freeway, right was Your Power Fitness.

At the flipped finger of the minivan’s driver, Norman closed his eyes and tried to regain the feeling of wind plunging under his ears and chilling his neck. But all was stale now. His eyes opened to a ragged Chili’s and five fading street signs.

Norman turned right. He double-locked his suitcase, ran six miles, and went home.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Writergirl009 said...
Apr. 2, 2016 at 1:12 pm
Wow, this is amazing! No wonder it was published! Congrats!
reader123 said...
Jan. 15, 2013 at 8:36 pm
i love it. it was so captivating and interesting and detailed. and i just loved it    
silverwolf63 said...
Feb. 24, 2012 at 3:28 pm
confused...very descriptive and mysterious, but I'm confused
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