It was a damn mess, really, with no one but himself to blame. But he’d done what he’d done and there was no erasing it. He dreaded the coming clean, had thought it over in his head for weeks. No, ever since he fell into it. Maybe even before it began.
Now it was time.
He chose the time carefully. And the setting. Home was too personal. He didn’t want their home tainted with the imprint. He knew how things could resonate in the walls. He’d seen it growing up, how even after his mother was gone, their house still echoed her disapproval. It needed to be somewhere away.
But it couldn’t be anywhere too public. He could imagine some horrifying scene in a restaurant. Something he wouldn’t know how to handle, Leslie breaking down, sobbing, screaming over the salad course. Or dessert, if he couldn’t bring himself to say it before then. He’d feel all those eyes on him, like his mother’s eyes from the walls, condemning him, waiting for him to make everything right.
So, a compromise. A getaway. Just the two of them. No kids. A long weekend mellowed by afternoons spent making love. And he would make love to her, with all his heart and body. The straying had shown him how much he appreciated her steadiness. He’d make love to that, to their years together, to their future.
If there was one.
So he planned. Made reservations at the Door County resort she’d always wanted to visit. And Leslie had been thrilled — another nail in his heart — her cheeks pink as he told her about it.
“It’ll be perfect, Mark,” she said, her arms wrapped around his waist. “You’ll see. It’s exactly what you need to get back to your old self.”
Her hope gnawed holes in him.
The day of the outing dawned too beautiful. A blue sky, a fresh dusting of snow on the branches, but the roads glistened black with wet as they drove along the shore of Lake Michigan. The beach lay littered with tumbled ice blocks, their spires and hollows gleaming wetly where the water carved and dripped. Beyond, the water chopped thick as slush, the frozen green of old Coke bottles.
Leslie’s hand, warm and dry with winter chap, reached over for his and she squeezed his fingers in the quiet that had sidled between them.
Mark fixed his eyes on the road and drove.
As soon as they arrived, Leslie asked him to light a fire in the fireplace while she unpacked and changed in the bedroom.
He looked around, felt his eyes narrow. What was like this, these days, in this world full of filth, so unspoiled and innocent and redolent of happy memories? He hated it, the damned fireplace, with its granite and basalt, the stones rounded and heavy like a woman’s breasts. Hated the shining hardwood floor with its handmade rag rug, the cozy table for two nestled next to the kitchenette. Why did he pick this place? Why not a Budgetel, with its tacky, white-walled sameness? Now there was a place a man could come clean. An institution. Sterile. Unfeeling.
He was on one knee, stacking wood in the grate when Leslie came out, her brown hair in a ponytail, her face flushed from scrubbing. She wore one of the jog suits she wore around the house, gray with white stripes down the sleeves and pants.
“Still working on that fire?” she asked.
And something in him shattered, the need, the love, the happy memories of good times and their children and their life, all the little, hurtful, unkind things they’d said over the years that made him feel small and drove him to wander in the first place. He dropped his head into his hand and rubbed his forehead, stroking, stroking, as though rubbing would take all this away. A sound came from somewhere, an animal sound not Mark, at least not as he once knew himself.
Leslie was on her knees at his side, an arm around him. “Mark! Are you okay? Talk to me! Mark!”
He swallowed, looked up, looked at her.
“I have something I have to tell you.”
Greta Igl is a former technical writer and self-proclaimed Jack-of-all-Trades. Her short fiction has been published in Long Story Short, Tuesday Shorts, Word Riot and Six Sentences. For more about Greta’s writing, please visit www.gretaigl.blogspot.com.