A husband goes on a date.
Copyright © William Auten
“Please,” Rick murmurs, trembling, before stepping in. He shams a smile, and Gwen nods at him through cigarette crackles and smoke. He glances at her computer and, seeing it closed, thanks whatever listened to his plea outside the door, but he pretends to take his time loading his containers in the dishwasher as he moves between that and lifting the laptop’s cover until he can peek at the video lens. He stops, the cover hovering over the keyboard, when Gwen shifts on the couch, flips channels, and coughs after a long drag. He stretches from the table to counter and re-rinses his travel mug while monitoring Gwen. The more he pulls up the cover the more he trembles, and discovering the laptop is powered down does not stop his shaking or assuming Gwen was on it as when he came home one day from work and she was neither surprised nor sorry, grabbed her robe, covering herself, and stepped out for a smoke. Rick shuffled to the lens and the naked man on the other side.
He closes the laptop, double-checks Gwen, and wipes his hands, but the lens and its eye remains the same—all around him. He sorts his and her mail and passes over a flyer for a carnival coming to town and sets a temp for the oven. “I’m having dinner here tonight. Do you want some?”
“I stopped by to get clothes. I took a nap and wanted to watch something. It’s almost over.” She cranks up the volume.
He marches to the living room and blocks the TV as a family receives keys to their renovated house. “Can we talk?”
“I don’t want it to be this way.”
“We’ve been over this a thousand times.”
“Our marriage isn’t only words.”
“Rick, I told you, I thought I could pull off the wifey thing, but I’ve always been wild.” She flings her hair over her shoulder and smirks. “We had our share of that early on.”
“We took an oath, and that still means something to me.”
“Oaths don’t predict the future.”
“No, but they should cement the present.”
Gwen twitches at Rick before she laughs. “You live in a world that’s old-fashioned.” She waves bye-bye. “You might as well ask my father for my hand at cotillion. Look at the numbers. Marriage doesn’t work.” Her purple nails scratch her neck. “You expected me to settle down. We tried, but now we know.” She drifts into the bedroom and rustles through closets and drawers.
Rick clicks off the TV and leans over the computer humming like it’s recording while, he turns it over and confirms, it’s off. His fingers flutter. Last week at work he nearly cut off one under the band saw; all eyes fell on him. He told Mavis about it, and she showed him her ring finger—a scarred digit a meat slicer diced off—and told him never to order, she winked, the ham and Swiss. Part of him wanted to clip off his finger or a chunk from his palm or his hand to feel something else. During his years at the shop, he has stubbed toes until they appeared gangrened; had plantar fasciitis and, after wood flecks and dust found their way under his safety glasses, infections; and has bruised his right knee, gashed his left, and strained a rib after falling off the truck. But he has never chopped, cut, sliced, or nibbled off anything about him.
He snaps away from the laptop when Gwen announces she’s going to her sister’s and jams it into her suitcase. She starts for the front door and suggests Rick embrace their new situation.
“Which is what?”
“You’re free to do whatever you want with whoever. No questions asked. No strings attached.”
“While we’re married?”
“Most guys would give an arm and a leg to do this.” She steps onto the porch and, her hip cocking against the rail, lights a cigarette. She types on her phone as the sky falls gray.
Rick turns off the oven and grabs his keys but can’t leave. A car blocks the driveway, and the driver is not Denise or her husband; Rick has seen the driver somewhere. Gwen slides in, cigarette first, protecting it from the drizzle. He wants to follow them, but he restarts the oven. His tosses his keys, and they knock his and Gwen’s mail across the flyer for the carnival.
A blue SUV pulls into a spot down from Rick. The woman inside checks her makeup and hair in the rearview mirror and surveys the parking lot and bar where customers stream in and out. She pauses on a man who unfolds his sunglasses and leans against the car across from Rick’s. The man is similar to the height and weight Rick entered on his profile, but the man feathers his black curls after he puts on his sunglasses. The woman steps out of the SUV, wiggles down her miniskirt, but retreats when a woman, striding from the nearby café, carries two coffees and, for the baby in her arms, a juice box, and the man, opening his passenger door, kisses and helps them in. Rick rubs his bald head. The couple drives off, and the woman from the SUV, frowning, scans the lot and pauses on Rick who wants to slink into his seat, but he tilts his phone after it pings <I’m here. Are you?>. He grabs his ratty Flying Squirrels ball cap but, catching himself in his rearview mirror, snatches it off and white-knuckles his steering wheel. He takes off his wedding ring; sets it back; starts taking it off again but stops. “What does it matter?” he says before getting out, waving, faking a smile, and chuckling his way to the woman who crosses her arms and frowns deeper.
“Yep.” She leers at him. “Garth?”
“That’s me. Nice to meet you.”
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