The door swings open, and a big, too-likable face gazes down at me.
“Hi,” the twenty-something says, inviting me in and — I’m not kidding — playing host. “Want a beer? I’ve got Guinness.”
A beer? Seriously?
“No,” I snap. Sort of. That angry word, charging from glottis to tongue, shrinks at the lip from years of Catholic absolution. After all, it’s not his fault I’m here for my wife.
This isn’t a bachelor’s lair. Just a single guy’s apartment. Sturdy furniture, Samsung TV. Plants in good health. Nothing tawdry.
I nod at the bedroom.
“Yes, sir.” He lowers shame-filled eyes, all this awkward, I see, for him, too. “Really don’t want a beer?”
“Sure,” he says, as though not. He waits, and when I don’t speak, stammers, “I didn’t know — I mean — she wasn’t wearing a ring.”
“I don’t blame you.”
That face brims with a childish need to please, even if he could play halfback for the Jets. But while he might be, what, two decades younger than Angela and me, he’s still old enough to understand indignity in each gut-ripping form.
His eyes light up. “Want help with her?”
Could I hate this kid, though? Not even if I tried.
“I got it.”
Angela has passed out after calling me to get her. He’s covered her splayed nakedness with a black-and-gray-checkered comforter, folded her shiny club clothes across a chair.
I dress her, a sad reverse striptease.
“Come on, honey,” I sigh, carrying her to the front door. She murmurs but doesn’t open her eyes.
Her Tinder date fumbles to open it for me.
“Donald,” he says.
“Oh,” he says and then dashes to the bedroom, returning with Angela’s iPhone. I shrug, so he tucks it into my shirt pocket.
“Look, I still feel like—”
“Take care of yourself, Donald,” I say, trying to end this debacle well.
He might’ve waved.
“You, too, sir.”
Halfway home, Angela comes to.
“Oh,” she says, “it’s you.”
“How the fuck do you think I am?” she rasps, tired but hostile, rubbing her drunken temples. Before I answer, she’s rooting around her purse. “Where’s my—”
I hand over the e-cig.
She snatches it.
She studies me with judgmental eyes, vapor tendrils curling around her beautiful face.
“Why not divorce me already?”
As always, I say the truth.
“Because I love you.”
That makes her laugh. Her throaty, barb-tipped laugh.
“Then I’m pathetic,” is all I can say.
She regards me as sport now. “An hour ago, I had Donny’s thick dick in my mouth. You’re not even mad, Wayne. Always so controlled, so proper.”
Nothing further from reality. My insides roil like titrating acids in the dental lab I manage. But I don’t take the bait. Finally, she throws her hands up, our conversation pointless.
I pull into the garage, thankful for sleeping neighbors, not that they haven’t witnessed these farces before. She jumps out of the Lexus. I follow her inside. The cat meows, and Angela’s voice goes lofty as a schoolgirl’s.
She tosses her purse by the umbrella stand, slaps earrings on the kitchen counter. Wriggling out of her skirt, she yanks at my hand, voice savage now.
“Let’s go. I didn’t cum yet, and I need to get my fuck on.”
“You know you want some,” she teases, naked from the waist down. She pulls me to the stairs, but I plant myself on the landing.
“Suit yourself, then. That’s why girls have vibrators.”
“Too late. Use your hand, maestro.”
She disappears around the top of the stairs. The bedroom door slams.
Perfume stains the air. When I can move, I go to my study, take a blanket from the closet, and toss it by muscle memory onto the couch.
The ominous buzz hasn’t woken me. Angela’s crying has. She’s come downstairs, watched over me I don’t know how long.
“I’m okay,” she lies, smudged mascara striping her cheeks. I reach out, and she sobs into my shoulder, “I’m so horrible to you.”
“You’re too kind to me.”
Soon will come apologies, heartfelt as her cruelty. Her emotions can switch on and off like joyless Christmas lights, terrible lows after terrible highs, the unbroken pattern that defines our imperfect marriage. I’ve been friend, lover, therapist, father-confessor. Tonight, lost in her warmth, her fragile, trembling, helpless form, I choose husband.
All the while, that terrible sound bounces along windows and through shadows, finally circling overhead, taking me back to twelve, bee-stung and in anaphylactic shock, throat swollen, nasal passages clamped, suffocating in a cheerful garden of daisies and coneflowers.
“Do you know bees’ eyes have thousands of lenses?” I find myself saying.
She sniffles. “Thousands? Why?”
“Polarized vision, even in dim light like this,” I explain, having studied my enemy. She rests her head in my lap. I stroke her hair and smile a little. “They see things differently but always find their way home.”
She tenses. “You hear that, Wayne?”
The buzzing may have gotten louder. I’m not really listening anymore.
“They’re so slight, they can walk on us, and we wouldn’t even know it.”
“Why do you love me?”
My thoughts scatter, the answer hiding in a crowd of questions. Why is she so tortured? Nothing will ever cure her, not Paxil, Stelazine, Zyprexa, Risperdal, Topamax — why not?
Why can a single sting kill me?
“It’s enough I love you,” I say, near crying myself.
“Is it?” she whispers, fear rising in her voice. Then she begs, “Please, please, please, don’t leave me.”
I think of my EpiPen in the car, a million miles away, of Donald so wanting to be liked, of my wife of 23 years needing forgiveness to make her whole once more.
For the second time that night — even as that bee, hard-hearted, rages past my ear — I don’t budge.
“Not now,” I reassure her. “Not ever.”
Stephen Kyo Kaczmarek is a writer and educator from Lewis Center, Ohio.