By Teagan Kessler
She might finally have to leave him. She sat in the darkness on her curb-alert special couch, tired feet tucked under her, and she watched the TV throw colors at the plain white walls. A laptop wobbled on her bent knees as she moved her finger round and round over the trackpad, the cursor making slow, dutiful circles on the screen. Her mind spun much faster. She had to make a decision. The affair demanded it.
Stay. Be a good wife.
Go. Make a new life.
She didn’t know. Couldn’t know.
The bottom drawer of her dresser held a plane ticket to a faraway place—maybe even that whole new life, if that was what she wanted. The more she thought about it, the more her stomach tied itself in knots, pulling tighter and tighter like a stick through a tourniquet.
She glanced at him, then balanced her wrists on the laptop, her fingers typing out “what should I do” into the search bar. Several useless random-decision generators gave her answers she didn’t like—neither option seemed right—and she gave up. She could never make decisions, and could never follow through once she did. Opening the closet in their childless second bedroom risked an overflow of unfinished projects, her lava-hot passion for them quickly cooled to a barely bubbling blackish crawl.
Forget major life decisions. She couldn’t even decide what to do in the next ten minutes. She could distract herself from the sickening uncertainty, maybe get up and go sew a few more strips to her crooked quilt, or go out and buy a few new plants for their apartment’s balcony. That would be a waste of money, though, considering the dead plants out there now. Funny that she should end up with pots full of nothing but roots when she had none of her own.
When they first met, her husband gave her the stability and big, noisy family she’d longed for her whole life, but the affair was still a fault line between them, delivering aftershocks that left them wondering if they would ever again stand on solid ground. He watched the TV, some crime show with some fake body covered in some fake red blood. She guessed the husband did it. It was always the husband.
Or the lover.
She set the laptop on the table, and she knew he saw her hands shaking.
“It was definitely the husband,” he said, putting his arm around her and kissing the top of her head. “It’s always the husband.”
A smile spread across her face, slow and sweet like spilled molasses. She loved him. She knew that. She slid sideways and rested against his body, warm and strong and hers.
One week later, he packed for the trip, gathering clean clothes for a fresh start. They were going to be together. Always. She said she’d ordered him something special, and he felt like a kid again as the clock ticked its way toward the usual daily mail delivery. He went outside, hoping it would arrive today. They were flying out tomorrow. He grinned when he took the plain brown envelope from the ancient mailman’s hands, weathered and gnarled like branches straight out of a nightmare. But nothing could darken his mood.
He hurried inside the large apartment building, taking care not to be seen by the other residents, many of them lonely old women who liked to detail the lives of their nine billion grandkids. On any other day, he would listen and give polite nods, but his enthusiasm had him taking off down the hall like a sprinter from the line. He saw sweet Mrs. C emerging from 6D and he considered a tactical roll out of the elevator so as not to be seen, but she tottered off in the opposite direction. He slipped into his apartment and ripped the envelope almost in half in his impatience.
Something fluttered to the floor, but he didn’t look down until after he’d read her note.
His stomach went weightless at her words.
He looked down.
The plane ticket he’d sent her a week ago lay on the floor, and he slid down the cabinets to join it, stunned.
The note stared back at him.
“I’m sorry. I can’t. I love my husband too much.”
He hadn’t even known she was married.
* * *
Teagan Kessler is a writer, editor, dog foster, and MFA student. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with her foster-fail dogs, Rocket and Skip.