A TORN PAPER • by Greg Heinemann

A piece of brown paper torn from the grocery sack.

“What’s that?” she asked.


“What do you mean ‘what’? You just swiped at it with your hand. That note on the table. What is it?”

He studied it like he hadn’t seen it. His face was like that night at The Onion.

“I don’t know. It was on the table.”

Sophia picked it up.

Written on the paper were the words, “This was found.”

He said, “Doesn’t make much sense. Does it?”

“No,” she said. “I guess that’s why you look so bewildered.”

“I’m just hung over. Thank God, the old guy brought the groceries.”

“What time did you get in last night?”

“Not sure. I was drinking beer with some of the locals. Then we started buying each other shots.” He laughed.

She couldn’t remember either of them drinking shots since college.

What was wrong with him? She could tell his hands were fidgeting under the table. Weak.

And he was feared at Metrotech. They said he was hard driving, quick thinking and decisive. Sophie knew most of the drive came from the 5’5” bitch that was staring at him in the kitchen of their lake house. As for quick thinking, it took him a full ten seconds to come up with, “Doesn’t make sense. Does it?”

Decisive? Looking at him sitting there. Her momma would say he looks like he can’t decide “whether to shit or go blind.”

She stared at him.

Driving down, he’d spoken to her like she was an employee, like he really was the Alpha dog.

“I’ll tell you why. ’Cause I want to go to the lake, ’cause I can relax there, and ’cause I don’t give a shit about seeing the Hendersons or anyone else at that wedding.”

She hadn’t spoken for forty miles. That he relished the silence pissed her off even more.

Now, sitting at the table, he wanted her to talk. He wanted her to say something. She put away groceries.

He opened the newspaper, also delivered by the old guy. The old man ran the grocery and delivered to most of the lake houses on Spencer Road. His considerably younger wife operated the tavern attached to the store. It had become more like a nightclub since some of the condo owners had begun renting their units to college students. The college girls drank like just-released cons and showed their sunburns and new tattoos to any who’d look.

Sophia and he sat quietly. A furtive glance at the note in the middle of the table his only puny movement.

Growing a set had not come suddenly, and she’d liked it at first; not the nastiness, but the taking over when the lawn guy claimed to have treated the grass when he hadn’t, and the picking out her new car. She’d never really wanted to have to push him. Nobody wanted to be a bitch. She hated that her mother had pushed her father around.

Yeah, she liked it that he was starting to take charge more at home. He had done the same thing a few years back after his promotion. Then that night at The Onion while she had checked her coat, he walked ahead and was suddenly embraced and kissed on the lips by a young girl, who when Sophie got a better look turned out to be one of the secretaries from Metrotech. Maybe if he had been quick-thinking and decisive he could have gotten away with it, but when Sophie walked up he was the puppy on the couch. Sophie had quickly been back in charge. She wasn’t sure there’d actually been an affair, but there was clearly something unwholesome going on, and he knew he was caught. Only looking back did she realize how painful the victory had been for her.

She asked him to go for a walk.

“When I finish the paper.”

It didn’t have to be all or nothing.

When they walked by the old guy’s store, she said she needed to run inside for a toothbrush. He followed, a fifth grader led to the principal.

She said to the old guy, “Thanks for bringing the groceries, but about that note. What was found?”

A glance, then he extracted a five from his wallet.

“Your husband came by the tavern last night and drank a couple beers. After he left, my wife found a five on the floor. I meant to leave it with the note. I must’ve forgotten.”

But first, for just an instant, he had looked at Sophia’s husband’s left hand. She remembered him swiping at the note and fidgeting under the table.

“Oh, thanks,” she said. The old man was quick-thinking. Her husband thanked him also. All she wanted was a little balance.

Greg Heinemann is a high school football coach in the Midwest who enjoys writing all manner of fiction. He has published in Twisted Tongue, Big Pulp, and Ducts.

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