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Joan Lownds

The Married Man


    I watch Paul as he trudges toward my New Haven brownstone, carrying a Styrofoam container of spaghetti and meatballs. Across the street in Wooster Square park, the cherry trees are blooming, shimmering pink, white and fuchsia in the twilight like flowery fireworks.  People are setting up a bandstand for this weekend’s cherry blossom festival, and reggaeton music floats through my open window with a steady, upbeat thump. Yet Paul has not even glanced toward the park, eyes focused on some point in the middle distance as he walks with a vestige of a former athlete’s swagger. His baggy white pants and faded denim shirt hang on his tall, thin frame, and at 65, he is nearly completely bald, with a reddish gray goatee. In his reverie, he doesn’t notice me staring at him through the window. This is the man that I want, but cannot have—because he is married. To a dead woman named Maggie. 
   He comes in, gives me a peck on the cheek, sweating slightly in the unseasonably hot, mutant spring weather of 2022. The freakish heat is irritating the smattering of rosacea across his cheeks. 
   We sit at my kitchen table in the bay window and I pour glasses of white wine to go with the food, which has a garlicky tomato smell and is making my mouth water. Paul's blue eyes are clouded, as he grouses for several minutes about the traffic from Hartford, where he works as claims analyst for an insurance adjuster, and the line at Vincenzo’s restaurant. My tuxedo cat, Yaz, named for Red Sox star Carl Yastrzemski, nuzzles Paul's legs as he talks. Animals love him, and he actually has a pet skunk, Crocus, who lives under his porch and allows himself to be petted without ever spraying Paul. Maybe they sense his charisma, even though it has a broken orb. 
   After a deep sip of his wine, Paul asks, “Did I ever tell you that Maggie once worked at Ernie's Pizza in Westville?”
   “Yes, you did,” I say, between mouthfuls of a meatball. I am famished because I work as the staff writer at the Animal Mercy League, where I have to pretend to be a vegan.
   Paul doesn't seem to have heard this, and barrels forward into the story about how Maggie could twirl a pizza over her head and behind her back. The story stretches on for several minutes with Paul not making eye contact behind this thick curtain of words. After a while I notice that he hasn't touched his food, while I have made short work of mine.
   He gulps more wine, then veers into another story about how Maggie the alpha female also made pizza for all the women in the neighborhood on the first day that their kids went back to school, and the moms ate it for breakfast with champagne. Maggie has been dead for ten years,  but her hovering ghost is never far away. The story seems endless, careening out of control, and Paul is breathing a little too fast.
   Finally I set down my fork. 
   “Paul, you seem agitated. Is something wrong?”
   “I'm sorry.” He drops his shoulders. “Today is Maggie's 60th birthday, and I forgot.” 
   “I see.” We sit in silence for a few minutes, because I am never quite sure what to say when one of these Maggie milestones arises. There seem to have been several during the year we have been dating. Through my window I watch a young woman wearing neon fuchsia running shoes and a Yale t-shirt sprint by. The air is dimming to indigo. 
   Paul takes a dubious bite of his food. “Would you like to go for a ride?” he asks.  
   “Where to?”
   “The cemetery, to visit Maggie’s grave.”
   I hesitate. Is this a good sign that he wants to include me, or is it just fucking weird?
   “OK,” I say.
   While Paul uses the bathroom, I check his daughter Heather’s Facebook page on my phone. Paul isn’t on Facebook much, but Heather posts almost daily, using it as therapy for her issues with her mother’s death. I have never met Heather, but her grief seems almost as raw as Paul’s. I am Irish, so I don’t really understand this, after ten years. Why can’t they have a wild period of mourning and pain and then come out the other side? When my mother, Lillian, died, my father, Emmett, cried and sobbed everywhere and all day long for months. I was stunned because I had never seen this man cry before—an aerial gunner in World War II. Finally he seemed a little better, after he had his own prolonged Irish wake. Yet Paul never cries about Maggie, just tells stories about her, as if this opens the door into another dimension where she is still alive.  
    As I suspected, Heather has posted a birthday message to her mother, with a link to Willie Nelson singing “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” When Paul emerges from the bathroom, I quickly shut off my phone.
   “Do you mind if we stop at Big Y to get some flowers?” he asks. 

    The Madonna of the Heavens stands at the entrance of St. Lawrence Cemetery, balancing a globe on her fingertips. The low, swollen light glints off the rows of marble and granite markers, and white dogwoods blaze along the stone walls.  As we climb to the top of the rise, the sweetness of geraniums mingles with a fresh-mowed grass smell. The heels of my sneakers sink into the spongy spring earth, and I feel a little unsteady, even though Paul has taken my arm, with his courtly manners. 
    A few droopy Christmas trees are still sitting on the graves near the old oak trees, and tiny American flags on the veterans' graves flutter in the breeze. At the top of the rise, I can see a fiery swath of the Sound. 
   Then Paul stops in front of a simple granite marker which reads, “Margaret Helen Laskoski, April 23, 1961-Jan 16, 2011,” with a silhouette of a snowmobile etched into the stone. He lays a bouquet of yellow roses on the grave, and sits down. I join him.
   “That’s where they’re going to plant me, when I croak,” he says, pointing to the unmarked stone next to Maggie’s. His tone is light—lighter than it has been all night. The wine and meatballs are starting to roil around in my stomach. 
    "I think Maggie would have liked you,” Paul says. “I think you would have been good friends.”
   “I wish I had known her.”  
   We sit there for a few minutes in the falling dusk. After a while, I start to get spooked. 
    “Come on, Paul, I think we should go.”
   Then suddenly a bright burst of blue light encircles Maggie’s grave. “Holy fucking shit!” I holler. 
   Paul laughs. “It’s OK! Relax, Rosie. I have these lights timed to come on when it gets dark. They scared the shit out of the cemetery caretaker, too.” His eyes are sparkling and vital, as if he has arrived in the land of Oz, where his black and white world has burst into technicolor. 

   The next morning, I am attempting to write a press release in my corporate office at the Animal Mercy League in downtown Wilton. Since I am finding it difficult to concentrate, I keep looking out the window at the foot traffic on Main Street.  The hedge fund suits with their briefcases and the breeders in their bright Lycra yoga outfits seem to be battling it out for dominance on the sidewalk, almost knocking each other down to gain advantage. 
   Then my friend Angela enters my office, startling me because the thick beige carpeting and sound absorbing ceiling make it impossible to hear anyone come in. 
   "The suits and the breeders are at it again," I say.
   "My money is on the breeders. They use their baby carriages as weapons.” Angela, the executive assistant to our boss, Sandra Leonine, is a tall African American woman, and her lavender hair is gathered on top of her head in a bun. She looks impeccable in her pearl blue blouse and black slacks, even though she only sleeps four hours a night because she is going to veterinary school part time. On the other hand, I look like hell after getting only a few hours of sleep last night after my cemetery visit with Paul. My graying red hair is pulled into a pony tail, and my faded green sweater is pilled and has a chocolate stain on it I hadn’t noticed.
   “They have done far too many Downward Dogs.”
   Angela laughs and takes a seat next to my Big Papi bobblehead, drumming her long slender fingers on my desk—the fingers of the classically trained pianist she used to be before deciding to become a vet. Currently she is the mother of six foster cats, and in her pockets are bags of cat treats.
   "So tell me again why we are protesting the tree?" I ask.
   "We're not protesting the tree. We're fighting the town for planning to chop down this old oak tree whose roots poked through the sidewalk and caused it to buckle. Someone tripped and broke her ankle and sued the town, so they decided to chop it down. Then Sandra pitched a fit."
   "Yeah, I guess so," I say, reading Sandra's quote: "This is a crime against humankind because trees store oxygen and provide shade." I stare at the blank page on my laptop. "Christ, I thought I was working for the Animal Mercy League, not the Plant Mercy League. The next thing you know I will be writing a press release defending the rights of broccoli.”
   "Sandra has become more and more erratic."
   "Also, the head of the Public Works Department sent me a statement which said the tree is being removed as part of a repair project to comply with the American with Disabilities Act for compliant sidewalks. So how do I spin that? We're not exactly fighting to protect wild horses or ban fur sales anymore."
   "I know." 
   "Can you tell Sandra that I'm stumped?"
   Angela rolls her eyes. "Rosie, come on! Focus. Sandra is coming back from her trip to the primate sanctuary today.”  
   “Hey, where has Fred been?”  Fred is Sandra’s husband, and his euphemistic title is “Director of Operations.” Mostly he spends his time spying on his employees’ computer screens and cooking up paranoid fantasies about PETA, whom he views as evil. 
   “He scratched the side of Sandra’s white Mercedes, and is trying to get it fixed.” She laughs. “I heard him talking about it on the phone. Sandra’s reaction should be interesting.”
   “He might be smart to get out of Dodge for a few days.”
   I stare at my computer screen again, with a picture of Sandra standing defiantly in front of the whorled, ancient tree, confronting some startled looking town workers in their yellow and orange vests. 
   Then I give Angela a rundown of the date with Paul.
   She raises her eyebrows. “What do you want with this guy, Rosie?”
   “Well, I think he needs a little time,” I say. “Then maybe I can get a foothold into his life and we can have a real relationship.” With sex more than once every few months, when all the multitude of stars align. I fantasize that Paul and I get a house by a beach somewhere, maybe in Maine, far away from the cemetery and the dirt road where Maggie crashed her snowmobile.
   Angela is quiet for a moment. Then she says, “You met him on a dating site, right?”
   “Right. His daughter Heather convinced him to try it. Or so he says.”
   “They’re all broken on those dating sites.”
   “Well, Paul is actually better than most of them. I met one guy who was an English professor at Southern Connecticut State and he was a perv, but a very genteel perv. He kept saying, ‘Forgive me, my dear, but can we kindly speak on the phone so you can tell me what you are wearing?’”
   “That’s sick.” Angela shakes her head. “Isn’t there some other way you can meet a man?”
   “If you can think of one for a divorced, overweight 65 year old woman with a Red Sox obsession, let me know.”
   “You’re not overweight.” This is one of the many reasons why I love Angela. After my divorce three years ago, she stayed overnight with me for a while. She ate red licorice before she went to sleep, and the smell of licorice is still comforting to me.
   “Sometimes I think these guys make my ex look good,” I say. “I did like Michael. I just didn’t like his girlfriend.”
   “No, Rosie. We didn’t like that damn cheater, and wherever he is, I hope he stays there.”
   She’s right. Michael was dicking it up all over New Haven before I finally kicked him out. I try to push an image of him out of my head, with his beautiful, wild black hair, and pull my sweater tightly around me. The cranked up air conditioning in this place makes it feel like a damn meat freezer.
   Suddenly I notice the approach of a very red-faced Sandra, with Fred in tow. The soundproofing is not strong enough to drown out her hollering. “Why the hell did you use WHITE OUT to hide the scratch on my car?”
   Fred looks dumbfounded, as if he was asked to recite all the 62.8 trillion digits of pi. 
   “Did you think I wouldn’t notice, you fucking dumbass? It just made it worse!”
   Angela and I hold our breaths until they pass, and then we put our heads down on my desk and laugh until I feel the tears streaming down my face.

   The driveway is buckled and crumbling at Paul’s gray, paint-blistered colonial on Maple Street in Bethany, a rural suburb of New Haven. Just beyond the sagging, screened-in porch is the dirt road with the telephone pole that Maggie wrapped her snowmobile around. I wonder if Paul visits it and puts flowers and balloons there. Probably. A light breeze carries the piping voices of children and the smell of lighter fluid for the grill. I am here for the birthday party of Heather's four-year-old daughter, Ava, bearing a Tupperware container of chocolate frosted cupcakes and a gift certificate to the local bookstore. As I walk up the front steps, I notice that someone has parked a red and gray Ford Chevy truck with an NRA sticker, on the side lawn. Maybe Heather’s husband Derek, because Paul has told me that Derek is “conservative.” I have never met Heather and her family, and I am not getting a good gut feeling here.  
   Paul kisses me on the cheek. “Are you ready for this crew?” he says, grinning. He is drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and seems very pleased with himself for arranging this meeting between Heather and company and me. Although it is only around 1, he already has a boozy scrim on his eyes. As I step into his living room, I adjust my vision to the dim light. Paul has transformed the room into a man cave, with shades on the windows instead of drapes; a massive, wide screen TV; a brown leather recliner beside stacks of mysteries; and New York Yankee lampshades. A pair of his canvass boat shoes sit on the wood beam coffee table. The decor could best be described as modern contemporary death. There are framed photos of Maggie on every wall: with black braids, chin up, and a look of defiant happiness in their above ground pool, baby Heather in her arms and a buff young Paul at her side; Maggie visibly pregnant in a turquoise wedding dress, holding hands with a long-haired Paul in a suit with a vest; Maggie wearing a lacy, low cut camisole top and smiling wickedly. There is one of her on a red and silver vintage Harley motorcycle, but none of her on her snowmobile.
   “Rosie, this is Heather,” Paul says, as his daughter enters the living room,
   “So nice to meet you,” I say, shaking her limp, sweaty hand.
   “You, too,” she mumbles, giving me a disapproving scan. She is tall and heavy set, with blonde hair and black roots, and she is wearing two pink tank tops with spaghetti straps. I believe there is a peony tattoo on her chest, but I am afraid to look. She must think I’m Amish, in my crew neck, blue flowered shirt.  I hand her the cupcakes and envelope with the gift certificate for books, which she examines doubtfully. 
   "This is for ‘The Bibliophilic Affair’ for Ava."
   "The what?”
   "The local bookstore, so Ava can have fun picking out books and puzzles.” Christ, Paul reads a lot, didn’t he ever take Heather to story time at the local bookstore?
   "Thanks." She has a look of childish aggrievement, as if I gave her socks instead of a pony.
   The strained silence is interrupted by a child crying.
   "I should go." Heather bolts down the hallway.
   "Let's go outside and I'll introduce you to everyone," Paul says, oblivious to the barb in Heather’s tone. 
   Outside, the sun is poking through some thick, gray clouds, but I can smell the rain coming. A bushy-bearded man who resembles a young Ulysses S. Grant is slapping burger patties onto a grill. He wears a trucker hat pulled low on his forehead that says “Lions Not Sheep.” Others in similar Duck Dynasty style garb sit at picnic tables and on lawn chairs, drinking cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Most are 30-ish couples with kids, but there are a few gray hairs like Paul and me.
   Beyond them, Heather is playing a game of badminton at full volume with some children in matted down weeds which look like the remnants of a garden. A covered, above ground pool is perched nearby, like a marooned box ship. 
   Paul steers me toward Ulysses. “Derek, I'd like you to meet Rosemary McBride," he says.
   "Nice to meet you," Derek says, shaking my hand. Although he is only in his 30's, he has the deeply weathered skin of someone older.
   "Can I make you a burger?" 
   "Yes, thanks." 
   He throws some more coals on the grill, and they ignite, shooting up flames. I can feel the heat on my face as we watch them flare.
   "Derek’s family owns the Bethany airport," Paul says. "Derek, Heather and Ava live in an apartment at the airport." His words are starting to slosh together.
   "At the airport?" I ask. Isn't this similar to raising a child at a welding site?
   "Yeah. Ava learned to listen fast or she’d be in deep shit!" Derek howls at his joke, and Paul joins in.
   "That's Ava over there," Paul gestures toward a chubby towhead in a spangled teal and pink Little Mermaid costume, playing badminton with Heather.
   "She is adorable," I say. 
   There is a pause while Derek bastes some chicken wings with a long handled brush. 
   "Did you know that DCF came poking around and saying it was dangerous to have Ava playing in the yard, so close to the runway? Goddam Commie Democrats in Connecticut can't mind their own business!"
   Paul shoots a look in my direction, but I am not about to respond since I don't speak Crazy Person.
   "We're going to sit down and get a drink. Talk to you later, Derek." Paul says.  
   We sit in some lawn chairs near a table laden with a lime green Little Mermaid birthday cake with a candle shaped like the number 4, along with sea shell cookies and punch in matching colors; blue, starfish-shaped marshmallows with candy eyeballs; and a bowl of Doritos. My plain vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting sit on a smaller table nearby—the ignominious, second string party treats. No one has touched them. Next to the table is a stack of be-ribboned presents, that include a purple scooter and a pink toy vanity with pretend makeup and perfume bottles. 
    "Would you like a beer?" Paul asks.
   "Do you have any wine?" Heather looks over at me from the badminton game, taking this in. 
   "OK, I'll have a beer."
   While Paul is getting the PBR's, Ava starts shrieking as another little girl crashes into her. 
   "Don't be a wimp!" Derek yells, which causes Ava's cries to escalate until Heather picks her up. 
   Derek shakes his head in disgust, but Heather ignores him. She gets burgers for Ava and herself, and they eat them sitting cross-legged in a patch of crab grass. 
Paul hands me the PBR. I haven't drunk beer in years, and it has a bitter taste.
   "Heather looks a lot like Maggie," Paul muses, taking a deep sip. Of course Maggie had to show up at this party. I wish that she would find another place to haunt, just for one day. 
   "Heather has her temperament, too," he adds. "I used to tell her not to try to out-stubborn her mother." 
   He then launches into a story about how Heather once refused to leave a bounce house and Maggie just left her there, even got in the car and drove away for a few minutes. As he talks, I picture his mind as a giant warehouse jammed with Maggie stories, overflowing the aisles.
   I try one of the purple and green cupcakes. “Wow, this is delicious. Caramel and some kind of coffee flavor? Where did Heather get these?” I ask.
   “Carmel machiato. She made them. It’s her hidden talent. I’m always telling her she should quit her job as a teacher’s aide and market her baking instead.”
   Suddenly Heather appears behind Paul.
   “Yeah, it’s my hidden talent. Do you have any hidden talents, Rosie?”
   “I can write backwards in cursive and print legibly with my left, non dominant hand.”
   “Really?” Heather frowns with insolent incredulity and glances at Paul. Who is this fucking weirdo?  Can’t this woman let her elderly father have a damn girlfriend?
   “I’m good at cards,” Paul says cheerfully, from his alternate reality. A shield of Heather hostility repellent seems to surround him. 
   Then Heather stalks off in the direction of Ava, who is sobbing again, her face and hands smudged with cupcake icing. 
   “Ava is having a bad day. Too much excitement,” Paul says. Not to mention the cloud of sugar which anoints the air like incense on Good Friday. Heather tries to distract Ava by handing her some of her brightly wrapped presents, but it backfires and her cries escalate into a full blown meltdown. 
   “Let’s go sit on the front porch,” Paul says. He grabs our burgers and two more beers and I follow him out of the yard, where Ava’s shrieks could shatter crystal and melt your snow tires.

    In the screened-in front porch, we settle into a brown wicker love seat with faded blue cushions. It has a loamy, musty smell. Scattered around are a yellow watering can and empty flower pots,  along with two rusted wrought iron garden chairs. The breeze has turned chilly and the rain has started to sluice down the roof, so Paul gets a quilt from the living room and wraps it around my shoulders. Then he turns on the Red Sox/Yankee game on his phone, but the Sox are getting blown out in the seventh. 
   “Christ, the bullpen is like a flow-through tea bag. Please shut it off.”  Paul laughs and turns it off. I try not to hold it against him that he is a Yankee fan.
   We eat in companionable silence for a few minutes, and Paul scarfs down his food with an uncharacteristic appetite, dribbling ketchup on his shirt. Then he washes down his burger with a slug of his PBR. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this drunk. 
   “Maggie used to love to garden,” he says, glancing around at all the gardening tools. 
   I set aside my half eaten food.  “Can I ask you something? Did you and Maggie ever fight?” I ask. 
   “Oh hell yeah. About a week before she died we had a big fight. She wanted to adopt a child and I said we were too old. So she picked up a dinner plate full of food and threw it at my head. Luckily it hit the wall instead. Smashed to smithereens all over the place, though.” He laughs at this. 
   “What?” Is this why the grief is so disfigured? I want to say. But Paul puts up his hand. 
   “I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t ruin the mood, Rosie.” He cracks his knuckles and starts rooting around in his pocket for something. 
   “I’ll try not to.”
   “OK, good.”
   “That was sarcasm.”  
   “I know.” He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a joint and lights it. We haven’t smoked weed in a while, and suddenly I want to lose myself in it, pulling the sweet, earthy aroma deep into my lungs
   Paul mashes the roach into one of the terracotta pots and then slips his arm around me. 
   “Will the smell of pot wake up Crocus the skunk?”  
   “No, he’ll keep sleeping under the stairs, probably.”
   Paul starts kissing me with more intensity than he’s had in weeks, setting my nerves on edge. Then he pulls away, looking over his shoulder. But neither Heather or anyone else is there.
   “Rosie, let’s go away together,” he says. “Let’s go to Mohegan Sun next weekend.”


    The glass tower of the Mohegan Sun Casino rises out of the Connecticut backwoods, shining like an alien monolith. On a Friday night, a sea of people emit a jittery energy, at the clanking, dinging slots and gaming tables. A 55-foot waterfall roars down a gilded, illuminated ledge in the middle of the lobby.  We walk around for a while and stop at a bar that is back lit to look like a burning stone. As we order strawberry Margaritas, I notice that the ceiling is encased in a planetarium, where a fiber optic Orion bares his shield. 
   “I feel like I’m doing acid,”  I say. 
   Paul laughs. “Microdots or windowpane?”  He’s in a good mood, having escaped the murk of his house for a night. 
   “Speaking of that, why are there no windows here?”
   “Probably because they’re afraid people would jump out of them when they lose their money.”
   As we head to the food court, Paul points out a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture, “River Blue.” It looks like an eerie cobalt stalactite that has landed in the middle of the casino. 
   “Maggie loved it,” he says. Of course she did.
   The food court reminds me of a scene from the fall of the Roman Empire, with a burger place, Starbucks, Mexican food, donuts, ice cream, pizza, an Irish pub, fried seafood and steaks. As the smells mingle together, I feel slightly woozy. 
   “Christ, where’s the vomitorium?” I ask.
   Paul laughs again, and pushes a strand of my hair behind my ear. “You have to forget about being a New Englander when you come here. Excess is the name of the game.”
   After a dinner of fish tacos, we walk hand in hand back to the casino area of this debauched shangri-la. Paul wants to play black jack, and I head for the slots, making my way past a huge expanse of green felt tables and chandeliers, with people throwing dice and fanning cards. Most of the slots crowd are seniors, in jeans or sweats with embroidered flowers or the UConn logo on their shirts. A musky human smell layers over the food smells.  I manage to commandeer a machine of the Flintsones, which allows you to bet on dinosaur races or on Barney and Fred’s bowling tournament. I start to win some money on Dino’s races, and the machine goes berserk when I reach $100. A small crowd has gathered, and the waitress brings us all free glasses of wine. My winnings increase to $170 before my luck starts to turn, and five minutes later I’m down $70. My audience disperses quickly, as if my bad luck is contagious. A white haired woman in an American flag sweater backs up her mobility scooter, beeping loudly.
   I stop playing and look around at the thousands of flashing slot machines, and the giant television screens with live horse and greyhound racing. Along the wall, a glittering stream that leads to the waterfall catches the reflection of the sapphire ceiling panels. We’re probably supposed to feel distracted and psyched out by the sensory overload and hyperbole. Meanwhile, I’m out $70 in this temple of thieves. 
   I wander away from the casino, and sit down on one of the orange and brown, Native American-themed sofas.  A rowdy middle aged group, a few of them wearing windbreakers with the Elks logo, checks in at the desk with a beleaguered looking clerk. The booze must have been flowing on the bus trip. 
   In the planetarium I search for the Orion nebula in the middle of Orion’s sword—a multiple star, Theta Orionis. My father, Emmett, used to show it to me through his telescope and I would faintly see four stars, quivering and spinning. He said it was largest area of star birth in our part of the Milky Way—a stellar nursery. But in this ersatz casino constellation, it is impossible to see the four stars shimmering with creation. Suddenly I wish I could talk to my father and my mother, Lillian. They would probably laugh about this place—they always seemed to think something hilariously funny was going on, especially at their New Haven tavern, McBride’s. At the bar, they placed two life-sized human dummies, a man and a woman, elegantly attired in a pin-striped suit and red silk dress. Whenever someone bought a round for the bar, they asked what this couple drank, and Emmett would reply, “They drink champagne.” I wish I had inherited my parents’ joyful Irish genes instead of the melancholy tool kit I got stuck with.  
   I find Paul sitting in a plush leather chair at a blackjack table, where the dealer has a black mustache that looks too big for his face and is sporting a tuxedo vest and bow tie. The group of players is also more upscale and better dressed than the senior citizens at the slots. Paul is on a win streak, with an impressive stack of chips beside him. His blue eyes are sharp as he examines his hand: Jack of Diamonds, Queen of Spades. There is a pause, and a man beside Paul in khakis and a blue button down shirt keeps clearing his throat. Finally Paul lays down his winning hand, gathers his chips and gets up to leave.
   “It’s bad etiquette to leave when you’re ahead like that. You are being rude,” the throat clearer tells him.
   “It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it,” Paul says, as we bolt out of there to cash in the chips. 
   Back in our room, Paul counts his winnings, a total of $1,200. “We’ll come back here, Rosie.”
   We smoke a joint and have intense, geriatric sex—the first sex we’ve had in months. When we are done, Paul pulls me into his arms. “I love you,” he says. “I never thought I would feel that way again, but I do.”
   “I love you, too.” My eyes fill with tears, and I spoon myself into his warm body as our heartbeats slow. 
   When I wake up, lights from the parking lot strafe the ceiling, and I hear the canned laughter from a sitcom on our neighbors’ TV. A chill surges through me as I realize Paul’s arms are no longer around me and the bed is barren. Instead, he is sleeping in the other queen bed, curled up away from me, facing the wall. What the fuck? I throw on my bathrobe and stagger through the dim grayness toward the coffee table.  Paul’s blackjack fattened wallet sits there, beside an empty bottle of Miller Lite, a half eaten bag of Doritos, and the roach from the joint, stuck inside a coffee cup. The place still reeks of the piney, skunk smell of weed. I look over at him, and he hasn’t budged, lying beneath the chevron-patterned Native American art. 
   Then I notice that his laptop is glowing. Quietly I unfold it. As my sleepiness disperses, my brain tells my eyes that Paul has left it open to his Facebook page, where he has just posted a picture of Maggie and himself, fingers intertwined,  standing in the icy cobalt glow of the Chihuly stalactite. 

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