This is a work of fiction.
I started writing this story as part of this post about writing dialog. I’ve revised it and added more.
“I told you,” Jason said. “I’m not coming home, so don’t pester me.”
Pester him? As if I were a whiny little kid. The whole thing made me both sad and angry.
The worst of it was that I knew there was no point, but I had to keep trying. After all, he’d been my husband for the last three years.
“Maybe we can talk to somebody. You know, get some help. Maybe we just need to do something differently, you know?”
I hated how I actually did sound like a whiny kid, but I didn’t seem to be able to stop it.
“No,” he said firmly. “It’s over. You should receive the papers in the next few weeks.”
The papers. By that, he meant the divorce papers.
We’d had a pretty good marriage, but then Ruth, his high school sweetheart, had been widowed at twenty-six, and he’d gone straight to her.
How stupid I’d been to believe that he was only there to console her. Console her. Right.
“Are you still there?”
Yes, I wanted to say, I’m still here, and it’s you who isn’t, even though you promised you’d always love me.
“Yes,” I said.
“I’m sorry, but I have to choose, and I choose Ruth.”
The clear, hard certainty in his voice left no more room for doubt — or for hope.
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll see you in court.”
At first, I thought there was something wrong.
I mean really wrong.
The way Jason looked, I really thought catastrophe had struck.
We’d been married for just under three years, and I knew him pretty well by then.
We’d made love the previous evening.
Now, it was 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon in August.
I was sitting on the couch, a book in my lap, and Jason was standing in the doorway, looking like the world had ended, or was about to do so.
“Jason,” I said. My voice should have been soft, like I’d intended, but it was a bit too loud and even a touch sharp.
He walked slowly into the room, past the coffee table where yesterday’s paper lay, and sat down beside me.
I’d been reading a spy thriller for the better part of the day and hadn’t paid him any attention since breakfast. I didn’t know, but assumed he’d been in the basement, playing with his flat-screen TV, his fancy computer, or maybe with himself, and frankly, I didn’t care as long as he left me alone to read.
“You know Chad?”
Chad, no, who was that?
I looked over at him and saw he was on the verge of tears.
Crap. I couldn’t act like I didn’t care much, even though I didn’t care at all about who this Chad might be.
“Um, sorry, I’m not sure who Chad is.”
I vaguely knew Ruth. She was blonde and a little shorter than me. She was nice enough. I thought I might have met Chad, but I couldn’t have remembered his name under torture.
“Yes, I know who you mean.”
He took a deep breath.
Couldn’t he hurry it up and tell me whatever the problem was so I could get back to the book?
I wasn’t usually like that, but it was the best book I’d read in a long time.
“He . . . Chad was . . .”
He looked at me, as if he expected me to finish his sentence for him and read his mind like married couples are supposed to do, but I had no clue.
He waited a little longer, and then said, “He was killed in a hit and run this morning.”
Poor guy, but what did that have to do with us?
“Um, er, when is the funeral?”
He gave me a strange look.
“She’s all by herself.”
“Oh, um, do they have any kids?”
I should have known this, but I didn’t.
“Yeah. Tracey. Didn’t I tell you about her?”
He probably had, but I must not have been listening.
“Oh, right. Er . . . how old did you say she was?”
“Two months. Ruth’s all alone with Tracey, and there’s nobody but me who can help her out at short notice.”
“Um, okay. So you’re going there now?”
Good. I could read with no more distractions.
“Can you help me pack?”
“Yeah. An overnight bag.”
“Shirts, pants, underwear, socks, and toiletries.”
“I’m not sure where my overnight bag is.”
“Okay. Just a second, and I’ll help you.”
I marked my place, got up, and went to help him.
Two hours later, I’d finally found the bag, held his hand (not literally) while he searched for the clothes I’d listed, and kissed him goodbye as he left.
I spent what was left of the day finishing the book, and then I went to bed.
Sunday morning was very hot, and I woke up thinking about the beach.
Jason wasn’t beside me, but that didn’t set off any alarm bells; he was an early riser.
What did surprise me was that there was no coffee.
If he got up first, Jason always put on a pot, and he only had one cup, so there should have been plenty left for me.
What was going on?
I stood in the kitchen, trying to remember, and then I did.
Jason had gone to Ruth because her husband had been killed and she was alone with Tracey.
Had he said when he’d be back?
I rummaged in the drawer and pulled out the scoop we used to measure coffee.
Well, he’d taken an overnight bag, so maybe a day or two.
I’d see him later or tomorrow when I got home from work. He’d taken a week off and wasn’t going back to work until Tuesday, so tomorrow was more likely.
Fine. No problem.
He could be a good guy and watch Tracey while Ruth made funeral arrangements.
I’d married a pretty decent man.