By Jean Wong
Going downstairs, Rick heard his wife chatting with her sister Lynda. They were talking and chewing at each other—their voices one continuous line of sound. His mind backed up as he noticed them squeezed into the new kitchen nook. The familiar, roomy table was gone.
“Hi, Hon,” his wife Carol said. She didn’t get him coffee like she usually did.
“Hey, Rick,” Lynda smiled. “You’re a late bird.”
“Well, he needs his z’s—he’s been working like a hound dog. Right, Funny?”
Carol called him names like Funny or Silly or Chuckle Trousers. He didn’t care for clown names, but she called him others names, too—Mighty Mouse, Know-It-All, Frown Face. This morning, he liked the endearment. It felt intimate, like they were married and happy.
Earlier, he’d picked up the phone and heard Carol talking to some guy. He heard her laughter… Throaty, robust, different. Until today, he’d almost forgotten the way they used to laugh together.
He’d put the phone down. It was her business.
“And then she just went on and on and on. I was horrified.” Carol lowered her voice, emphasizing the word horrified.
“That’s what she did to me last week. I pretended I didn’t see her, but she still cornered me.” Lynda picked through her muffin, taking out the raisins.
“She’s everywhere. You have to wear a paper bag to keep from bumping into her.”
“You’d look good in a designer paper bag,” Rick said, trying to join in the conversation.
Carol pushed a plate of croissants towards him.
The croissants looked dry. Last time Rick looked into the fridge, there’d been nothing but almond milk and a shriveled banana.
“Going to get a newspaper,” he said, knowing they’d hardly notice he was gone.
Rick opened the car door and sat down. He stared at the gust of leaves rolling along the street as if they had someplace to go. It must be Lynda. He didn’t mind Carol’s sister, but wasn’t two weeks a little long? Yeah, that was it.
Rick waited for himself to feel better. Maybe it was the phone call.
He headed towards Jessica’s house. She loved him. At first, it was just casual. She knew he would never leave his wife, yet eighteen years piled up, and she hung on.
Jessica opened the door before his hand reached the knocker.
“Hey,” Jessica greeted him with a bright smile, but she seemed distracted. She wore tight jeans with a knit blouse, her tits and ass bulging through the cloth. His tongue pushed through greedily, tasting her moist warmth.
“Goodness,” she laughed. He backed her up into the bedroom. He loved the magazines on the floor, the bed carelessly made, clothes piled on a chair. He couldn’t stand all that Southwest stuff Carole was into lately… Cactus and lizards…jeez. He pulled at her pants, taking her clumsily, rough like when he was a nineteen-year-old. He could tell she wasn’t really into it, but at this stage it didn’t really matter. Jessica wasn’t exactly a sex kitten. It was afterwards that was dessert for her—a real snuggle bun. He didn’t mind, just as long she kept the talk light.
They lay on their backs, their bodies barely touching. He felt good. Sometimes he could just…what? Like he was in another dimension, a world where all the pieces of the puzzle were locked in place and everything fit.
The phone rang.
Jessica picked up, murmuring, “Yeah, sure, okay… That will work. Bye.”
He could sleep forever. He hoped that wasn’t one of Jessica’s neighbors coming over with a coffee cake.
He looked up at Jessica. Her cheeks were flushed like when she drank too much. She slid from the covers.
“Hey, baby, what’s up?”
She didn’t reply. She was already in the bathroom.
He heard the shower turn on, something she rarely did after sex. Said she liked to keep his scent on her. He lay back, listening to the streaming water and the slight rattle and whine of the pipes. She needed to get a plumber. Also, that damn leak under the sink. There were a zillion things that needed fixing. His eyes scanned the chipped ledge under the window, the naked light bulb in the closet, then landed on the phone as he wondered who had just called.