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THE PRESENT

I was folding the laundry. There is something about folding my husband’s underwear that makes me feel all sentimental like I might even cry. Especially the old ones that are worn thin like onion skins, translucent and useless like calling the post office or trying to stand still in the ocean. I’ve never put my wedding ring into my mouth, but I know exactly what it would taste like, cold and lumpy and vulgar. I was folding the laundry when my husband called down to me in the basement. His voice rang, hanging like a thread between my ears, and I put down the underwear. My husband was not an urgent man, but now he cried for me like a hungry cat.

“Can you please come here?” Like a present, “We need to talk.” I pulled the bow up the stairs. A young woman, 18 at most. Dirty slit hugging my chair. “She is the perfect one, my one true love, the love of my life! She brought me back to life! For I was so frozen, so tired and mute and beneath her plaid skirt the house was on fire. The smoke swallowed my heart and my tongue and my knees. I am better fed than any man I never wondered.”

I couldn’t believe my ears.

I was good, I thought. I didn’t bother him too much. I was rarely a nag. I looked good for my age, that’s what everyone told me. I wanted so badly to be good enough. I mean, I guess that was the hitch, if you catch my disease. I wanted so badly to be fucking special that I was boring as hell. Isn’t that just side splitting, tuck in your spleen hysterical?

“I… I don’t know what to say,” I said.

I felt so sore all over, I thought, I hoped, I might die. Her dirty sheath was still fanned out across my blue and white striped cushion, legs spread. She even sat like a whore. Can you believe it? This woman, you know, if you can even call her that, was barely a lick older than our two daughters. Bloody hell, she was only a child! A child! Only monsters hate children. I couldn’t bear to be a monster, to hate a child. I couldn’t bear it, so I buried it. I surrendered my vanity, my pleasure, my pride, for god’s sake, I surrendered my life! If you cut me out, it sure was a pretty picture, him standing, her sitting at the round table in the kitchen, holding hands like fucking teenagers. She was a teenager. The tablecloth that matched the cushions and the drapes and the wallpaper. The toes of her heeled mary janes looked towards one another like crossed eyes and a piece of lint choked on her plaid skirt.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” I said. I’ve thought so many times of what I could have done differently, of all the things I should have said instead. I can’t believe how weak I was. I must be sick. But the truth is it is what it is. Whether I like it or not she’s like a daughter to me now, and that’s just how my cake was iced, you know?

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