He approached the door, but waited till she saw him through the screen.
“You,” she exclaimed; he heard you bastard, and agreed humbly, “Me.” Object pronoun, getting actions he deserved?
She jumped right past What do you want? to “Why should I talk to you?”
Something rose in him like drops in a fountain. She didn’t call out the Rottweiler to attack him, the dog he’d given her before he bolted. He answered, “Because you think it’s good news? I won a lottery and I’m going to pay you back?” He wanted right away to negate his sarcasm. What he felt was nauseating loss, not sarcasm.
She said, “You trashed us. You trashed the marriage.”
She had on a dress he’d picked out for her in Nordstrom’s once. Pale red, a Missoni knit dress. She modelled it for him in the store; he could hardly keep from kissing her. He’d teased, “What do you think?” knowing she was thrilled that the dress—everything about her—pleased him.
Her looks hadn’t changed in three years, an itch he needed relief from, remembering how he’d been her itch too, that stung when he forfeited their marriage.
His scruffy briefcase held packets of hundred-dollar bills; he’d collected almost $10,000. He peered into the blue house and wondered if she’d thrown all his things out, clothes, books, family stuff passed down. Those three years stabbed his memory. He’d stolen her money in order to bet against a new gambler in town. After losing some of it, he won—enough to learn that hitmen would recover the gambler’s losses. He put part of his winnings in his wife’s account, fled across the country. Stayed sometimes with a woman who had her same brown-blonde hair, clear eyes, compact form. He’d taken menial jobs but was still gambling, not risking big losses, living on what he won and his modest pay, struggling to restore what he’d robbed.
In desperation once, he tried writing a letter, though he hated writing. What came out of his ache startled him … Even if I were blind, I would see you. Even if I were deaf, I’d hear you. He blushed with shame, tore up the letter.
Through the screen now he strained to hear his children’s voices in the house. Tiny when he left, not even crawling. Dread and desire unmoored him. He stooped to the briefcase, brought out an envelope.
“Give it to me.” Her hand stretched, and through the open door he could see the living room of his home, dark, bare. A patterned sofa, two kids’ chairs. A man’s jacket hung from the sofa.
Time to go. He propped the briefcase by the door.
The whole time, she’d stayed stiff, lips pressed, her frown unblinking. She moved back into the house and he waited a moment and crossed the yard with its plants sunk in dry soil. There was no need to look back right now, and he drove away from the cul-de-sac.
Terese Robison, a Barnard College alumna, has been an editor, translator, interpreter, and tutor/mentor for youth on probation. She taught writing at Gateway Community College in New Haven before moving to Brooklyn, where she works as a writing consultant at Touro College. Her poetry has appeared in Hiram Review, Bitterroot, and three anthologies compiled from contest awards. Her short fiction has appeared in Tahoma Literary Review, Life in 10 Minutes, Monkeybicycle, Mexico This Month, and elsewhere. A collection of her stories was developed in postgraduate study with Janet Burroway at FSU, as well as at UCLA and SCSU. She is also writing a book on idioms and metaphors in English speech.