Your Name is on the Mortgage, but You Ring the Doorbell

By Tiffany Porter

Your name is on the mortgage, but you ring the doorbell. From outside, his approaching footsteps are ominous, the way thunder sounds before you see the lightning. But then the door swings in, and bumbling attempts at normality are lobbed from either side of the threshold before you cross precariously from what was to what has become. 

The ivory-colored shade that covers the lamp on the second-hand credenza does little to combat the darkness all around you. The light from the single bulb casts a jaundiced glow that makes the man who used to be your husband look ill and monstrous. If you had known, you’d have made the foyer more welcoming back when you still could. A woman’s gentle laughter and the scent of thyme and parsley drift deceptively like a welcome from the kitchen that you had once insisted on painting red. If you had known, you’d have picked something neutral. But now it’s too late and you’re standing in the foyer that you never cared about before and dread nearly overtakes you.    

With formality reserved for guests, the man that used to be your husband offers to hang your jacket. You wonder if the cheap wire hanger between his trench coat and rain slicker is still there. Pulling the faddish purple peacoat from the closet had been an afterthought when you walked out for what you thought was the last time. It had been hot, and you weren’t thinking of the future. Possibly, the hanger is still there, an unnoticed vacancy waiting for your coat to return to its rightful place. Or maybe something classic and timeless hangs from it. You pull the now passé purple wool around you tighter, and try to tell him that you want to keep it, but it’s too late. He’s already opened the closet door and revealed what’s become of your lives. A disaster lurking behind hollow-core veneer. 

“Let them come to terms with this in their own way,” the therapist has said. “Give them some room to express their feelings.”

In the closet are cubes built to organize shoes and ward off chaos, but the perfectly spaced shelves stand barren. Your children, with reckless abandon, have haphazardly thrown their shoes onto the floor of the closet that you had once been fastidious about. 

You want to lecture your children about their carelessness.   


You want to throw your own shoes into pile of sneakers, ballet slippers, and baseball cleats and slam the door. 


You want to throw the woman that is laughing in your kitchen into the closet and slam the door. 


You want to organize the closet and put things where they belong. 

You want to put things back. 

But instead, he closes the door of the closet that desperately needs rearranging while you jam your hands in your pockets, muttering something about holding on to things, and wait to be invited inside a life that is no longer yours. The man that used to be your husband gestures silently in the direction of the kitchen, as though you might have forgotten.  

Then you’re there in the same room with her. She’s cradling a shepherd’s pie with oven-mitted hands while she stands in what used to be your kitchen. She is unassuming and gentle and you hate her with a passion that makes the heat pouring from what used to be your oven seem temperate. “Smells nice,” you say inanely, cheeks burning with the keen awareness that you are empty handed. 

“The Birthday Boy’s favorite!” she grins at you, ludicrously. As though you don’t know that it is your son’s birthday. As though you don’t know that shepherd’s pie is your son’s favorite meal. But he’s not your son anymore, and his sister is not your daughter, and they are no longer your kids because they are now the kids. 

This woman made claims – absurd, unbelievable, impossible claims – of loving the kids as though they were her own, and that was the last you ever heard of your kids. That was the moment they became the kids that belong to the collective of you, the man that used to be your husband, and the woman that is now his girlfriend who is standing in what used to be your kitchen.

“It’s good for the kids to see you all together,” the therapist has said. “They need to know that they don’t have to choose between you.”

You want to find fault with her perfect-looking, delicious-smelling shepherd’s pie. 


You want to find fault with her affable expression and amiable manners. 


You want to make the best shepherd’s pie the kids have ever had, then smear it across her affable face. 


You want the Birthday Boy to renounce his love for shepherd’s pie and pledge his allegiance to enchiladas instead.  

You want the kids to be your kids. 

You wish you had brought a cake. 

But it’s not a problem that you failed to bring a cake to a birthday dinner for one of the kids because the man that used to be your husband has developed the capacity to be helpful since you moved out, and picked up a piece of art masquerading as a birthday cake on his way home from work. “Voila!” he says with a flourish, unveiling a lush, miniature prehistoric forest roamed by miniature, but startlingly life-like, fully edible triceratops and velociraptors. “I know how much he loves dinosaurs,” the woman says, ruffling the hair of the now ecstatic son that has barely registered your presence for his joy over the Mesozoic loaf of sugar and carotenoids, “so it just seemed easiest to have a cake made, you know?” 

Dinner is pleasant in the way that getting a speeding ticket is pleasant. Being pulled over is inconvenient and embarrassing, and the ticket is expensive and the whole event will follow you around on a record kept by people that don’t know anything about you, or why you were speeding in the first place. But at least it was just a ticket and you didn’t get arrested. At least you didn’t die. 

Using sweet voices in high pitches to dull sharp edges, you and the man that used to be your husband exchange wounds through the kids. 

“Did you show your mom the awesome shoes daddy got you yesterday?”

“Did you tell your dad about the awesome new bed you have at mommy’s house?” 

“Did you tell your mom that we’re thinking of getting a puppy?” 

“Did you tell your dad that his girlfriend is a fucking bore?” 

Then everything is over. The perfect shepherd’s pie has been bludgeoned beyond recognition, destruction of astronomical proportions has been wreaked upon the once tranquil Jurassic landscape, and the kids are spinning around in circles in the backyard, their bloodstreams overloaded with insulin that feels like euphoria. 

You should get going. 

You make a sincere but unenthusiastic offer to help with the dishes, but are dismissed with the reminder that doing the dishes is how the kids contribute to the family. As though your contributions are no longer required because this is no longer your kitchen, much less your family. The docile expression of the girlfriend never changes when she offers to let you gather up the trash instead. 

Kisses and hugs and promises to see them in a few days are bestowed upon the kids as they flutter by you in waves of still chaotic energy. You smile mirthlessly at the room and announce that you’ll show yourself out, as though the act of you leaving was somehow novel. But the man that used to be your husband insists on following you through the kitchen, around the corner, and into the still gloomy foyer where awkwardness hangs between you like a stench. He doesn’t offer a hug, high-five, or handshake. Nor does he insist that your selfish, morally bankrupt character is corrupting the kids. 

“That sounds like progress to me!” the therapist will say. “Every peaceful interaction is a victory.” 

You want to tell him he should paint the kitchen taupe and add a lamp to the foyer. 


You want to tell him that his girlfriend’s bovine-like expressions are impossible to take seriously, despite how good her shepherd’s pie is.


You want to tell him that this evening was great and that you’re happy everyone can be together for the sake of the kids. 


You want to tuck your kids into their beds in this house that used to be your home when he was your husband and you were a family. 

You want to go home. 

You nod at him slightly, the way you would at a person you recognize but whose name you can’t remember. Then, turning one corner of your mouth up toward the October sky, you step on to the brightly lit front porch while the man that used to be your husband gently closes the door behind you. 

                                                                *   *   *

Tiffany Porter is an emerging writer with short stories published in Life In 10 Minutes and Ad Hoc Fiction, and forthcoming in Mosaic Literary Journal. She is the recipient of an Honorable Mention in the 45th New Millennium Writing Awards. She lives in Virginia with her soul mate and their many monsters.

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