Ann sat on the edge of the couch, staring at the packed suitcase on the floor next to her. The late afternoon light in the room had fallen towards gloaming. She re-read the note she’d composed the night before and was about to place on the coffee table for her husband, Peter. She’d rewritten it over and over again and had finally decided on two brief sentences. It said that she didn’t love him
anymore, she’d become involved with another man, and she was leaving. It said to tell their daughter, Rosie, that she loved her and always would. Rosie had just turned seven and was playing team soccer for the first time; Peter had gone to pick her up from practice. Ann’s plan was to leave the note while they were gone, then drive across town to her lover’s condo where their new lives together would begin. It was all she’d been able to think about for the past three months.
Her lover’s name was Don. They co-taught several humanities classes at a new high school they’d been recruited to that fall, which meant they spent a lot of time with one another.
Don was fifteen years older than her. At first, their interactions had been professional; although Don was deeply attracted to her, his own wife had left him for an older man early in their marriage, and those memories prevented him from acting otherwise. That lasted until Ann told him, without warning one afternoon, that she was unhappy in her marriage and had feelings for him she couldn’t keep buried any longer. From there, things developed between them quickly until it was as if they were alone in a boat that had become untethered from its mooring and was cascading uncontrolled down a river.
Ann wasn’t sure when she’d begun losing her love for Peter, but she knew it wasn’t long after Rosie’s birth. She still respected and admired him; he was a good father and husband, a kind, decent man. But it had been a long time since she’d felt any passion for him. She’d written him a poem for his birthday a couple of years earlier that he claimed to not understand in which she’d described herself as needing an aphrodisiac for her thirty-year-old heart. Her lost love for him was like a rubber band that had just worn apart somehow and couldn’t be put together again. She set the note on the coffee table and turned it so it faced the front door.
Don changed the sheets on his bed, the one that would soon be their bed. He checked to see if the wine he’d put in the refrigerator had chilled yet; it had. He rearranged more items in the bedroom closet to free up extra space for her, then did the same in the bathroom. He went out onto the balcony and moved the new deck chair he’d bought her a few days before closer to his own. He stroked his beard and looked out over the neighborhood’s rooftops and trees where the sky had turned the color of a bruise.
Ann stood, lifted the suitcase to her side, and started towards the front door. She stopped when she passed Rosie’s bedroom and looked into it. The fleece blanket the two of them had made together was folded neatly at the foot of her bed. Rosie’s teddy bear she’d had since she was a baby perched against the pillows, its head crooked because all the fur around its neck had been hugged off over the years. Ann leaned into the bathrobe that hung from the back of Rosie’s bedroom door and closed her eyes inhaling her daughter’s scent. She began to weep.
Don went back inside. He straightened the candles and place settings on the dining room table, then checked the salmon in the oven; it was nearly done. He stirred the rice warming on the stove and took items out of the refrigerator for a salad. Before he started chopping, his cell phone pinged on the counter next to him and Ann’s name flashed across the screen. He grabbed and swiped it.
Her text read, “I can’t do it.”
Don felt his eyebrows knit. He tapped back, “What do you mean?”
“I can’t leave her. Rosie. I can’t.”
He stood blinking. His hand trembled as he tapped, “Can we talk?”
He called her number anyway. It went straight to voicemail. His message was one word: “Please.”
He returned to his texts and tapped, “You still there?”
There was no response.
A train passed several blocks away. Don waited until the sound of it had disappeared before setting the phone back down on the counter and turning off the oven and stove. He took the bottle of wine out onto the balcony, sat in his deck chair, and took a long pull from it.
Ann had destroyed the note and unpacked her suitcase when she heard Peter’s car pull into the
driveway. She hurried into the kitchen and took a leftover casserole out of the refrigerator. She was just putting it into the microwave when Peter and Rosie came in through the back door.
“Mommy,” Rosie shouted, “I made a goal!”
Ann didn’t turn around when she felt Rosie wrap her leg in an embrace. She reached down, squeezed her daughter’s shoulder, and said, “Good for you, sweetie.”
Peter came up behind Ann, kissed the back of her head, and said, “Want me to make a salad to go with that?”
Ann stiffened and heard herself say, “Sure.”
He opened the refrigerator, pulled out the crisper drawer, and asked, “How about a glass of wine?”
“Sure,” she heard herself say again.
Rosie still clung to her leg. The same train that had passed Don’s condo ran behind the woods that bordered their neighborhood. Soon the sound of it was gone, replaced by the splash of wine being poured into glasses and the melody Rosie hummed while she held her mother’s leg.
William Cass has had over 190 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as december, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3. Recently, he was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a couple of Pushcart nominations, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. He lives in San Diego, California.