This short story is in response to this daily prompt.
“I have five minutes. I told him I was going out for cigarettes.”
“I haven’t told her.”
“But- you said- I don’t understand.”
“There hasn’t been a good time. She’s wrapped up in the details of the funeral.”
“I can’t- you can’t- this is outrageous! We’re supposed to leave in the morning! You gave me your word.”
“Catherine, it’s her father for Chrissakes. The poor thing just lost her father. Can you have a little bit of empathy?”
“Empathy?! Empathy?! How about you have a little empathy for me for once?!”
The server looked up and made eye contact with her. She knew she was being louder than what was acceptable, especially at this time of night, and she wondered how this might look in his eyes. It was nearly dawn. Her husband almost hadn’t noticed she had left in the middle of the night. He was a large, dense man and had a brain to match- as if he was made of wood with skin stretched over him, feeling nothing and obtaining no sense of intuition.The moment between she and the server dissipated as she rearranged herself, consciously taking the tension out of her neck, placing her elbows on the counter, trying to remain as casual as possible.
She and Duke had been seeing each other over the past three years. Her husband stiffly going to work, making passionless love to her on a predictable schedule, eating dry toast and never looking her directly in they eye- disinterested in what might be beyond her surface, or maybe content with the facade presented. Duke’s wife was beautiful, especially for her age, but she’d become distant and Catherine often wondered if she would become more beautiful with time as Duke’s wife had.
She knew Duke might be trading in the first wife for an updated, younger version, and it might someday happen to her, but taking that chance was better than staying in this stagnant life. The truth was, she didn’t know who’s baby it might have been. She’d convinced herself it must belong to Duke. How could a human life be formed out of the dust of such a loveless bed? And when she told Duke, there had been a brief flicker of light in his eyes before it turned to dread. She thought through it- if only his wife wasn’t in the picture. If only the roles were reversed and she was the man who had impregnated her precious young and slender lover, she would take her mistress by the waist and take her to a new city, maybe Chicago, and they would start their lives together, no questions asked. But she had told him six weeks ago and he had remained frozen.
The lines in his sleepless face were not a good sign, she thought. Nothing good happens in the middle of the night. They should have waited until dawn to reunite, waited for the dark monsters of anxiety and self reflection to crawl back into their tiny closets, waiting for darkness to fall again. Maybe then he would be ready to get on the train, like they planned, and get out of the city that had condemned them. They would run to the vast and colorful northern suburbs, leaving New York behind like a stain on hotel sheets. They’d find a small home and once she was comfortable and settled and there wasn’t any backing out of the mess they had made, she would fake the miscarriage that happened two weeks ago and show her allegiance to him, and he to her, by staying.
He opened his mouth and she felt the world crumbling around her.
“I can’t go through with this. I thought I could leave her. I thought we could move forward. I was wrong. I’ll give you the money you’ll need to…”
This was the end. Her chance to leave and start anew was slipping away as quickly as it had slipped in. A montage of memories ran through her head. The gala where he pressed her against a locked bathroom door, instantly running his hand up to her backside, pulling down her garter. The weekend they had managed to get away from their dreadful spouses and flee to the Hamptons, talking about their future and their plans for children, a house outside this city flogged with memories of who they used to be. Maybe they could go to Paris for their honeymoon. Duke had been fortunate throughout this bought of extreme recession and his family’s inheritance remained protected. He would take her away from her mediocre life with her mediocre husband. She recalled the moment she realized she was pregnant, she knew she had hooked him and secured this life for herself. And the moment she lost the baby, fearing it would all unravel if he found out.
She felt herself accepting a check. She took the shakily written note from Duke, it read “Dr. Janson, 45 W Turner St. New Jersey” and heard something from his mouth about Dr. Janson being a trusted doctor who took care of these matters and had long been a family friend. He got up briskly, knowing that her stunned face, frozen in this casual pose, staring at her fingertips, was not going to emit any more sound. He walked away without a touch, without a kiss.
She held onto the check for a week, wrapped up and neatly tucked into her compact. She took it out once in the morning and once in the evening and held it to her nose, searching for any trace of lingering cologne. Finally, when the check only smelled like her powder, she cashed it. She went to Gimbel’s and bought Duke’s cologne. She wrapped it neatly in brown paper and tied it with twine. When she came home that evening, she made dinner for her completely ignorant husband and gave him the sweet, thoughtful gift.
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