That evening she was wearing her tights again, but this time she skipped dinner to begin exercising at the studio. She thought she’d leave the house before he returned, but that day, he didn’t come home late. Just as she was lacing her tennis shoes, the loud rubbery smack of the front door frame insulation startled her.
The kitchen wall clock read five forty-five.
“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?” he said, as he reached to grab her hair that was wound into the fist–bun again.
She batted at his hand, insisting that he was “messing it up.”
“I’m growing out my bangs, so it took forever just to get it all up, okay?”
Mark smiled and apologized for his junior high flirting that still crept into their interactions from time to time. Although he knew it was more annoying than affirming, it was a remnant of their dating days when she learned that he wasn’t really all that funny at all—just charming and thoughtful in the same way small sons can be when they’ve been told that they’re good. It was that brand of corniness that was somehow simultaneously boyish and paternal that was occasionally endearing but never sexy.
She resumed tying her shoes.
“You’re still going to leave?”
When she didn’t answer, he offered to make dinner.
“Maybe we could watch a movie or I’ll rub your back.”
This sudden interest surprised her, so she hesitated in collecting her bag and keys. Her cheeks colored when she observed his obvious intent, but it drained when she looked at him. He tried again.
“You really still look beautiful in that outfit,” he offered. “I remember when I couldn’t wait to tell everyone that I was dating a dancer.”
He pushed the kitchen chairs aside to get closer to her. As he walked toward her, she backed away. She was blushing now, her rigidity characterizing the coloring as indignation, not coquetry.
Putting his hands on the top of her small hips and drew her closer.
“I was so proud to have you.”
Her body retracted within his embrace so quickly that it felt like a shudder. The space between them had grown too large to close. Where she used to fit, once filling up the circle of his arms, she had condensed, cold and sharp and fragile.
He could have kept reaching, but he didn’t want to when he wasn’t sure of exactly how much she knew, or if it mattered to her at all. So he kissed her forehead, releasing her and backing up toward the living room couch. When he sat down on their sofa, he asked her when she would be back and if she’d like him to make her anything to eat for when she got home.
She answered that it would be around “eightish,” but ’not to worry about the food. She had a Power Bar and an apple in her bag.
“Always prepared! You should have been a Boy Scout. Sure as hell would have kicked my ass on that Eagle Scout project.”
He knew compliments highlighting her accomplishments always got to her a little better than anything about her appearance. She agreed, and for the first time in a long time, she laughed.
“You know how I feel about that! I would have out-Boy-Scouted your ass for sure.”
It was an ongoing joke. She really liked the idea, but it was true. He was weaker. She could and often did out-climb or out-hike him even though he was still in decent shape. He didn’t think too long about it because the front door slammed as she said “Bye” and he was alone.
He’d wanted to remind her to call the doctor or go to the chiropractor about the cracking he heard last night. It didn’t sound right. Something was wrong. But he forgot about it when he turned on the television and saw some distracting commercial about green energy that used prog rock music and a montage of beautiful stock photos. He wasn’t sure if they used green energy in their apartment or not, so he thought about that, too.
By the time he went to the kitchen to raid the cupboard for chips and salsa, he was distracted again by the missing blue bowl he always used to for snack, and the sound of his wife’s snapping bones did not cross his mind again until the next day.
This is the third installment of “The Fault,” a short story about infidelity, and what happens when you break yourself. Check out the beginning, second scene, and recent previous installment for reference.