I was napping on the couch when the phone rang. In the background I heard metal clanking, men huffing and grunting in anguished release. My wife Pauline was on the line, laughing with a man whose voice I didn’t recognize. I interrupted them when I said, “Honey?”
Pauline sighed. “I’m staying late at the gym.”
I hadn’t been to the gym in weeks. I used to meet Pauline after work, and we’d discuss our days lounging side-by-side on recumbent bikes. I was content with our routine, but Pauline must have needed something more exhilarating. I found her straddling the elliptical trainer one night, on her back pumping dumbbells the next.
One day I forgot my gym shorts and swung by the house. I rested a moment on the couch, waking two hours later from the most refreshing nap I’d ever taken. After that, I needed a nap every day. Pauline hit the gym without me. Her limbs grew lean and corded with muscle.
“That’s too bad,” I said. “I was hoping we could eat together, maybe — ”
“Eat without me. I’m spotting my partner, I’ve gotta go.”
“Partner?” I asked the dead connection.
Temptation Burger was three blocks away, near the old creamery. I could have walked but I drove, alarmed by the seatbelt’s grip on my gut. At the drive-thru speaker I ordered a salad.
“Our special today is the Bacon Temptation with fries.” This girl’s voice was so enticing that I wanted what she was offering instead. I ordered the Bacon Temptation, and when she suggested I upsize my order for a dollar more, I didn’t hesitate.
I pulled up to the window. The girl leaned out, twisting her necklace around a fingernail studded with stick-on gems. I paid, and when she returned my change, that fingernail lingered in my palm. It felt like a condiment packet scratching my skin, and instinctively I squeezed it. She didn’t seem to mind.
She handed me a bag that was too hot to cradle. The drink she gave me was solid and thick. “I know you ordered a diet,” she said. “I substituted a shake instead. Hope that’s okay.”
I forced my best smile. “It’s okay with me, sweetheart, but let’s keep it our little secret.”
Good Lord! I gritted my teeth when I heard myself. I averted my eyes, considered driving away, but gathered my nerve and turned back to apologize.
“It’s all right.” The girl smiled coyly and pointed at my dinner. “Everything you came here for is all right there, in your lap.”
I parked at the old creamery, beneath a mural of cows masticating their cud in an open field. I unwrapped my burger and chewed back at them. A man parked nearby, and then another, each with dinner in a steaming bag, both of them the type of old man I seemed set on becoming. We were our own herd of masticators, solemnly chewing, dreaming of naptime, milkshakes, and gem-studded fingers.
Greg Likins is a mild-mannered public librarian residing somewhere near Boise, Idaho.