By David Henson
“This is nice,” my wife says as we seat ourselves at a window table with a view of Lake Michigan. It was her idea to drive up for the weekend. She thinks the change of scenery will be good for me, hopes I’ll be more willing to talk about it.
The water is on the other side of a meandering road that follows the shore of the finger peninsula. The tourist towns are still a few weeks from coming out of their winter slumber.
Lucy doesn’t waste any time. “Is it me? It —” She stops talking as the waitress approaches. When the server asks if we’re having lunch, my wife and I exchange glances. Sometimes we can almost read each other’s minds. Sometimes. “Just coffee,” Lucy says. The server fills our cups and goes to another table.
“It must be me,” Lucy says. “At least partly.” She sips her coffee, her eyes crouching above the brim of her cup as if they’re about to pounce.
I turn and stare out at the lake, so wide here you can’t see the other side. “You shouldn’t have been snooping on my phone.” The comment rings hollow even to me. My wife and I have never had an issue with using the other’s phone if it’s handier.
“I knew something was wrong, and you wouldn’t talk to me. But you spoke with a stranger for two hours?”
I watch a gull fight the wind, then swoop down to the water. “They’re trained. I wasn’t thinking straight.” I face my wife.
She leans in, forearms on the table. “If it’s because of what happened, we could try again. We knew there was no guarantee it would work the first time.”
“It’s too hard. Harder on you.”
“I’m willing to try the procedure again.”
Motion swims past the corner of my eye. A couple with two small children strolls past the cafe. The girl opens her arms and skips backwards. Maybe we should try again. But I have to get it together first. I sip my coffee. “Strong, but it’s not bitter.”
“Are you talking about the coffee or me? Because I’m bitter.” Lucy looks down at the table, then back up. “I want to help. They passed you over for the promotion. Did that have anything to do with it?”
A gust rattles the window. Lucy deserves an answer. I wish I had one. “I don’t think it is, was, anything specific.” I let the lake take my gaze again as my wife takes my hand.“That’s not going to work,” I say.
Lucy pulls away.
“Not you.” I nod toward the beach at a guy holding a red kite. As soon as he lets go, it shoots up, slashes back and forth then nose-dives into the sand. “You need a longer tail on a day like this.”
“You promised that when we got up here, we’d talk about it.”
“Aren’t we?” I watch the guy retrieve the kite and stuff it into a green trash barrel, the tail lolling over the lip.
“Not really. Was it because your father —”
“I hadn’t seen that asshole for 20 years.”
“Still, when your mother told you what he did, it must’ve been a shock. Maybe it dredged up something. Then missing the promotion and what happened to me.”
“It’s a lot to land on somebody almost all at once. Maybe it overwhelmed you. Temporarily.”
Temporarily? I hope. Lucy stares at me. I feel as if she wants to grab my shoulders and shake me until The Reason falls out of my head. I wish it would. I’d pick it up and examine it like a seashell. I’d put it to my ear and listen to everything it could tell me.
My wife puts her hand over her cup when waitress comes to our table.
“Please,” I say, then nod toward the lake. “The ice is gone. Spring’s coming.”
The server tops me off. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“A few hours away,” Lucy says.
The waitress wipes a dribble from the table. “Ice drifts out of sight, and folks who don’t know better think the weather’s changing. Next day, ice drifts back in. We call it fool’s spring. Likely as not, we’ll get more snow in a few days.”
“When daffodils blossom,” I say, then go quiet when I feel my wife’s foot press mine.
The waitress hesitates, then moves on.
“We didn’t drive up here to talk about signs of spring,” Lucy says, her eyes frozen on me again.
She’s right, but I just don’t know what to say. Nobody speaks. The silence is heavy as March snow.
“Unforgivable,” Lucy says.
“When I was a kid in Sunday school, they said it was an unforgivable sin.” My wife gasps and throws her hands over her face.
I see out the window that a black Lab chasing a frisbee has run into the road. An SUV swerves; the dog snatches the prize out of the air and dashes back to the beach.
“Is it over?” my wife says, still hiding her eyes.
I take a last sip. “The dog’s OK. Ready?”
Lucy uncovers her face. “Promise that if you ever feel that way again, you’ll talk to me, not some stranger on the phone.” I can feel the tremble in her hand when she squeezes mine. “No,” she says, “talk to whomever you need to. I hope it’s me.”
My wife puts down cash and stands. When I rise, she leans so close, I can count the orange specks in her eyes. She tells me she loves me. I say it back and feel a twinge. I don’t know if it’s from love or guilt. Lately I’m not sure there’s a difference. I have to snap out of it. “Take a walk?”
“Along the beach?” Lucy says. “A bit windy, isn’t it?”
“Around the village.” Maybe we’ll see daffodils. Maybe when we get home, I’ll plant some of my own.
* * *
David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years and now reside in Illinois. His work has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net and has appeared in numerous print and online journals including Eunoia Review, Fictive Dream, Pithead Chapel, Moonpark Review, Literally Stories and Fiction on the web. His website is http://writings217.wordpress.com. His Twitter is @annalou8.