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Richard Spilman



It was a sunny day. He had a tee time with friends, and his wife had plans too, though he wasn’t sure what they were. He came upon her at the breakfast bar where the kitchen spread out into a great room, holding on, it seemed, for dear life. Not crying, but looking like someone who ought to be crying.

     “What’s the matter,” he asked.


     “Come, on, what’s the matter. What can I do to make you happy?”

     And she said, “You’ve never made me happy.”  Just like that, without anger or rancor or grief or even passion. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’m not going to leave you,” and then she picked up her keys and left.

     They had been married forty years, and while they’d had conflicts, there had never been trouble, so for a while he thought she must be exaggerating. Then he set his coffee down on the breakfast bar and sat where she had sat, looking into the kitchen with its marble counters and tooled cabinet doors, and he couldn’t breathe.

     Never is a long time. Perhaps happy wasn’t the right word. But he knew better.

     He sat in the Eames chair in the great room, pushing it side to side with his foot. One of his golf buddies called, but he didn’t answer. He was there when his wife returned and looked up at her with such misery, she said, “Get over it. I married the wrong man, you married the wrong woman. There’s nothing we can do about it now.”

     There is an aggressiveness to clear sight, so that even when it is benign there always seems to be an element of revenge.

     She was a teacher, who had retired when the first wave of post-Covid kids returned to school. “They’ve turned into monsters,” she said. He was a lawyer, who did mostly wills and trusts and mortgage contracts—things that could easily be done by anyone on his staff. So, in a manner of speaking, he still worked.

     They had friends, lots of them, and were active on the charity circuit. People liked them, admired them, commented on their loving marriage, because even at their age, they held hands, touched each other lightly as they moved from one place to another, smiled what seemed like genuine smiles. Ron and Mary.

     When she came back downstairs, now on her way to another unknown destination, she bent over him as he stared at the TV screen and kissed him, hard.

     “I’m not angry with you,” she said, “but we’re getting on, and I need to be honest. You can take it.”

     All evening he stared at the screen, volume down, and went over their life together as if it had been transferred onto the screen, looking for signs, and since anyone who looks for signs finds them, he found many. Moments when he could have been more attentive, more involved, more interesting, a better father, livelier, stronger etc. But somehow, like the images on the screen, they held no meaning. Many small failures, yes, but in a lifetime, how could it be otherwise?

     When they went to bed that night, he wondered if he shouldn’t sleep in the other room, but that made her laugh, so they lay down together. Eventually she put her arms around him and said, “If it’s going to be like this, I really will leave.” He embraced her, but his heart wasn’t in it, and neither was the rest of his body. A mash-up of their life together kept playing through his mind.

     “Don’t be childish,” she said. “It’s been a week. You know you want to.”

     Childish. That made him angry, and anger helped. 

     When they were lying side by side again, she said, “Told you so.”

     They dozed and woke up. It wasn’t that late, and she said straight out, “Maybe if we’d made each other happy, we wouldn’t have managed the long haul, do you think? Maybe there would have been too many expectations.”

     He didn’t know. “I keep thinking, all those chances . . .”

     “When you could have screwed someone else?”


     “Did you?” And when he didn’t answer, she added, “I’ve been down that rabbit hole, all those maybes. They’re worse than romance novels.”

     “I was happy.”

     “No, you weren’t, dear, you were blind.”

     “What did you want?”

     “O God!” But she thought about it. “I wanted to be afraid. Not of you, women aren’t like that. You never frightened or intimidated me, and that’s good. But I was never afraid of losing you. If you left, you left, if you died you died. With the kids, I was afraid, but not with you.”

     They’d had three and all were somewhere else and seldom came home. Good children, who said all the right things and remembered birthdays.

     “You’ve been a tolerable husband,” she added.

     “You, too.” 

     It just came out that way, and when she laughed, he did too.


     He rose early the next morning, and thought briefly about loading his pistol and blowing his brains out, or hers. Instead, he dressed and made coffee and went to work.

     She was there when he got home, and they decided to go out to eat. His wife seemed buoyant, her smile playful. It was summer, and she’d bought a hat—straw with a colorful ribbon. It had been years since she‘d worn a hat. “Do you like it?” she asked.

     And he said, “Yes.”

Jeffrey Alfier Matin_Bleu.jpeg
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