“But we’re okay, right?”
Though it was early, the day was already hot. With the air broken she had opened the windows, but the curtains hung down straight and unmoving. There was no breeze. No relief.
“Right?” he repeated.
She looked at the pot of coffee in her hand. Still over half full, because she had not had her cup yet. His own cup, full of so much cream it was nearly white, sat half full in front of him. She wondered why he never poured her a cup when he made his own. She wondered what it might be like to dump what remained of the scalding fluid over the top of him.
From outside came the repetitive squeal of chain on metal. The swingset in motion. Agatha making her own breeze.
With a heavy sigh, she set the pot back on its burner.
“Daniel,” she said, trying to keep her voice flat, steady, unemotional. Trying to keep her hands from shaking. “We are NOT okay. We have not been okay for a long time.”
“How can you say that, Grace!” He mopped runny egg yolk up with his barely brown toast and took a bite. Crud dripped onto his chin, caught in his baby beard. “Things have been great, better than ever!”
She turned her back to him, so as not to look at the yellow mess on his face, or watch him eat as if nothing were wrong.
He was right, in a way. Things had been better than ever. She had been trying so hard. Maybe too hard.
“I’m really good at playing pretend. I’ve been playing house since I was old enough to hold a dolly, Daniel. But it can be really hard to pretend and after last night….”
Last night she had gone with him to a faculty party she hadn’t wanted to go to. But she was trying, God helps her she was trying. As usual, Daniel had disappeared. He always left her alone in a crowd full of strange academics and expected her to hold her own.
When she went in search of him she had found him, and immediately wished she had not.
The girl was barely 19, and he wasn’t even apologetic.
Outside Agatha was talking to her invisible puppy, Patches. They were going to get her a real puppy for her birthday.
Had been going to.
Agatha had come with Daniel. A pair. A shell-shocked single father and a snuggly little 2-year-old girl with a shock of red hair.
For two years Agatha had been hers. She hated to leave her.
“Can I have some more coffee?”
When she turned to face him again he was holding the cup up, expectantly.
“No,” she said. “But you can have the house.”
He looked perplexed for a minute. Left his hand, and the cup, hanging in the air. He lower it with a bang on the table.
“Damnit Grace, it was the first time!” he bellowed.
“With her,” she said. Her voice still low and even.
“You left that part off. With her. It was the first time…with her.”
His face twitched as he tried to figure out what to say. Did he deny it, that there had been others? Did he admit it and beg for forgiveness?
But Daniel didn’t beg. He also never admitted he was wrong.
“We’ll talk about this when I get home, Grace,” he said, standing from his chair. He even gave her a swift kiss on her astonished cheek before swooping out of the door. But when he left the driveway he turned in the wrong direction. Away from the office.
The swingset chains groaned outside again, and Agatha giggled. Where was she in her mind? Who was she playing with? What magical world was she on?
She was going to miss the girl the most.
She would need to call a sitter, of course. She wouldn’t be here when Daniel got back and somebody had to be here but….
She didn’t’ know how long she stood with her hand on the receiver, not picking it up.
She was going to leave, without a doubt. She was tired of playing house with a man who was playing house with countless other women.
But she was really good at playing pretend. And every child needed a mother.
She went upstairs to pack the bags. She had to be quick, they had a lot of ground to cover before Daniel got home.
Inspired by Pretend.