My wife doesn't understand me, he tells you, and you don't ask what that means.
She's cold, he says. She'd never do something like this, like what we do.
You know he likes you because you eat ribs with your fingers, sauce sticky on your chin. You get your hands dirty. You have a filthy mouth and laugh too loudly at his raunchy jokes. You drink cheap beer and smoke too much. The first time he told you to meet him, you took it as a dare. Men often mistake you for an empty space that needs filling.
But lately - even though the only proposal you've gotten is for a new position, one that has nothing to do with being a wife - you've come to think you know how she must feel. Everything new grows old eventually. There's not much more to understand than that.
She calls you on Wednesday nights when he actually is bowling. She says she can smell trouble but doesn't know her name. You're too much of a coward to spell it out for her, but she's been a good enough friend that you don't want to see her get hurt.
Leave him, you say, but she won't. Even you know that he gets what he wants, and he still wants a wife. She wants a baby even though she's getting too old. At the very least, she says, she deserves the comfort of his money.
I used to love him, she tells you, but maybe that wasn't enough, maybe he needs some whore.
I married the wrong woman, he whispers in your ear now. He means this as a compliment, thinks he understands what you want to hear.
A smaller version of yourself lays beneath him, the bleach of sheets too many people will sleep on irritating the skin on your back. Twenty years ago, you wanted to be her, but you were young then, and - like most young people - you had no idea how devastating it could be to get what you wanted.
So as he stretches and reaches for his socks, you tell him a story. In this fable, you tell him, a dog got a bone from the butcher. This foolish dog, you say, saw his own reflection in a stream and mistook it for a bigger dog with a bigger bone. The dog lunged to steal it, and
By the time you finish, you don't know which one of you has fallen in the water, which one of you is struggling to shore.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Stephanie Johnson. All rights reserved.