Slip of the Tongue(5)

By: Jessica Hawkins



My laugh is forced, uncomfortable. “No. That’s me.”

“You didn’t mention—” He looks back at the frame. “Divorced?”

“No.” I hold up my left hand and wiggle my fingers. “I’m wearing a ring.”

He looks. “You weren’t earlier.”

“This morning? I had gloves on. Or you mean after my shower?”

He clears his throat and gently returns the photo to its spot. “Where is he?”

I focus back on our dinner. “Not sure.”

I haven’t checked my phone since before my shower. I forgot. Most likely, there’s a text waiting. I don’t know why Nathan continues to let me know where he is when he goes out, though. That small communication will probably shut down soon.

“Either out with his friends or at a homeless shelter,” I guess. Realizing how that sounds, I quickly add, “Serving food, I mean.”

“Of course he is,” he mutters. He comes back to my side of the kitchen. “Is it court mandated?”

I smile, even though I’m not sure if he’s joking. “No. He volunteers once or twice a month.” It’s an automatic response, but come to think of it, it’s no longer accurate. Lately, he’s been there every week.

Nate does good work as a grant writer for the Family-kind Association, a youth-oriented nonprofit with homeless shelters and soup kitchens around the city. Earlier this year, he turned down a promotion to Communications Director a few days after we found out about his dad’s lung cancer. Me, I sold out the first chance I got. I was offered a promotion months ago, and I accepted on the spot. I never had money growing up, and I want to help myself. Nathan never had money, and he wants to help others.

My neighbor takes a swig of his beer—Nathan’s beer, actually. My husband brought it home from Brooklyn after a tour of the brewery this weekend. It occurs to me Nathan might not want this man in his kitchen drinking his beer. I brush the thought away. Unlike me, Nathan enjoys being social. If I let him, we’d have company over more often.

“Does he normally go out on Monday nights?”

“Mondays and Wednesdays he goes bowling with friends—sometimes he’ll go by the shelter first.”

“And you stay here by yourself?”

“Why not? I enjoy the alone time. I’ll read a book or whatever.” I don’t mention that whatever normally means watching Project Runway or binging on Netflix shows. For some reason, I don’t want him to think I’m a couch potato.

“This happens two nights every week?” he asks.

“Yes. And sometimes weekends.”

“Weekends?” A pause. “What do you mean?”

I shrug. “Like, some Sundays, he plays pick-up basketball.”

His silence is telling. It encroaches on my good mood like fog. We never really agreed to weekends, Nathan and I. A year or so ago, I read somewhere separate hobbies are good for a relationship, and Nathan and I were always glued at the hip. Nathan didn’t like the idea of spending even one evening apart. Which is why I catch myself wondering when his absence spread into the weekend and became a regular thing.

“And that works?” he interrupts my thoughts. “For your marriage?”

I pull two plates from a cupboard. “Yes, I suppose it does.”

“Really?” He sounds unconvinced. “You prefer to spend time away from each other . . .?”

I set the dishes on the counter and pause. “When you put it that way, no.”

“How else would you put it?”

“We have our own lives.” And those separate lives are bleeding into places they shouldn’t. Like the bedroom. My husband hasn’t touched me in two months, and he hasn’t given me a reason why. When I ask, he shuts down, and I’m afraid pushing him will make it worse. But how can he stop wanting me all of a sudden, practically overnight? At first, I’d convinced myself it was stress. Unlike me or most people I know, Nathan gets emotionally attached to his work. I never thought it would last this long. It’s hard not to take it personally, two months without fucking.

“What did you do this weekend?”

“Yesterday, Nathan went beer tasting with friends. I went to a movie with my brother and his daughter. Nathan—that’s my husband. He hates matinees. He’d rather be outside.”

“And you hate breweries?”

“No.”

“You hate his friends?”

“No.” I dump stir-fry from the pan onto the plates. Ginger hears the scrape of the spatula and comes in to lie under the kitchen table. “Couples don’t need to spend every minute together. We can have our own lives.”

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