I’d held it together under the cover of darkness, but caught in the lights in the lobby, lost in the shuffle of handshakes and laughter and blazers and cocktail dresses, I had no choice but to hide, almost literally, tucking myself behind the steps, under a vibrant green EXIT sign, clutching a bottle of beer and popcorn, of all things.
I sipped the beer. A single piece of popcorn fell from the bucket, bouncing off my jeans before it hit the purple carpet with a soft thud. The beautiful puff of corn, birthed from a kernel. How does that happen?
Dan hated popcorn. Dan liked Tom Clancy. Nighttime news. At least he used too. He liked shows with predictable endings or endings he knew before we ever sat on the couch to watch them because he’d seen them many times before. Now he didn’t watch them. He didn’t sit on the couch with me or come home sometimes. He worked like a machine. And he didn’t need me or anything else. That’s what I thought before the show.
Before the show had been dinner at Riley’s. Dan distant and quiet, his bleary eyes roaming over my shoulders, his sharp nose panning left and right. We’d shuffled past the colonnade and into the theater, I’d watched him as he walked straight ahead, A to B, always few steps ahead of me. So when we entered, and he’d whipped back with a burst of happiness, I hardly recognized him.
At first, I’d smiled too. Smiled like an idiot because I thought that maybe I’d finally done it, buying these tickets. We’d simply needed a night to dress up, to shimmy into a dress and have dinner and a stroll, catch a show. But the way Dan doubled back, abruptly turned and brushed passed me like a man late for a flight, her name a careful whisper—Josie—like the tiniest bit of honeysuckle nectar leaving his lips. Then saying it again as thought it were a wish come true. And I knew, I knew it before I turned around and saw that she was young, predictably blonde, athletic with a smile like an upward arc that had not yet plateaued. Trust me, I just knew.
And it wasn’t so much that my husband might be cheating on me. Really, it wasn’t. The hows and wheres, the whys or whens or even the if so much. It was the want. Want that bloomed like a parachute–like popcorn–an explosion of happiness that took hold in his eyes. I felt the wind of his want sailing past me like a truck on the interstate. It blew me back.
Excited. Flushed. He nodded easily as she spoke. He put his hands in his pockets, took them out again. He rocked back on his heels, guffawed as his eyes never left her eyes. Eyes attached to a face that never turned back as I waited—waited like a child for him to introduce or even acknowledge me at all. The room spun, a gala of laughter, whoops, sophisticated banter, people doing things I must have imagined my husband and I doing when I purchased tickets to such a fallacy.
They were doing this when she glanced at me. As she reached out for him–this sudden stranger–and touched his arm to convey some sort of feeling or emotion that must have failed her vocabulary. I shriveled in it all. Looked away because it’s what I do, it’s what chases men to confident blondes, or brunettes for that matter. I shrunk in her gaze, thinking all those times Dan quietly found me repulsive. And the lights dimmed, flickered momentarily like a power surge or my crashing brainwaves. As Josie, begged off, all lips and teeth and hair shining as she waved and sauntered towards the stairs with her friends. Dan’s eyes trailed her, in the perfume of her wake, before he found me standing there, some sort of stray dog hoping for refuge.
We entered the darkness for the show. I was woozy from it all and Dan was quiet as we found our seats. The band took the stage. By that time I could do little more than see a blurry, faceless amoeba, the music muted by the throb of my own blood. The crowd cheered and it by then it was all so pointless. Sitting there, watching humans play instruments, hoping to entertain those who sat and demanded a performance.
The man to my left bumped my arm and I jerked. He smelled sharply of aftershave. The woman in front of me bobbed her head like an imbecile. The man to my right, the one I married, sat miles and miles away. And she sat somewhere down below. A girl who owned her own happiness. A girl who was positively fertile and on the right side of thirty. A girl who never hid in corners.
And so I found myself alone at intermission, clutching popcorn and beer, near the bathroom. Bathrooms with mirrors I wanted to avoid. No, I wasn’t in line. I had nothing to wait for. And so the lights dimmed again, summoning me to the darkness. To seat 112 in Row EEE.
Dan stood at the entrance to the balcony, eyes searching the lobby. I thought back to the day we got married. The way you think a marriage is forever when it can’t be. Our wants no longer in stride. We become two bodies in orbit, our wants and needs cluttering the space like satellite debris.
When he saw me he grimaced, motioned for me to hurry. I tossed the popcorn into the trash, corn and kernels falling like shards into the bag. I tried not to think about how my appearance inspired such small misery—a small explosion in my chest. I washed it down with beer and walked towards my husband.
He turned and we entered the darkness.
You paint such a vivid picture. Really great writing, Pete.
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Wow Kay, thanks for the read and the kind comment. My wife and I went a show last Saturday and during intermission i saw this girl with a beer and popcorn, her makeup was sort of running and she was a mess. This story started writing itself from there…
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I felt like I was watching her too as I read it. I hope for her sake her night got better. Great job!
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Gripping story of a marriage on the downfall. The wife’s pain is sharp and yet so deeply hidden. As a writer, you reveal that pain in the characterization of the husband. I find it interesting that as characters go, we know more about him than we do the narrator, which further enhances her insignificance. I have I told you lately how much I love your writing?
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