Caroline used her finger to draw an X through a wet spot on the table at the deli. “He said his life with me was dull.” Caroline’s eyes skittered to the people entering the deli. She stopped drawing, picked up the tumbler of water, and studied it. “He said he wanted to enjoy what life he had left. He said he was fifty-nine. He said I was sixty-three and had years ahead of me.” She put down the tumbler. At school, Caroline had been the prettiest girl, with her shining skin and shining eyes; now she wiped at her eyes tiredly.
“I’m so sorry,” Andrea said. She didn’t want to hear this. She wanted things to stay the same. “This is so awful.” Andrea had been happily married to Ralph for thirty-five years.
People shook the rain from their umbrellas, waited in line for tables, laughing, talking. You could not hear the piped-in music except for a stray note now and then. On the wall was a print of autumn bounty, vegetables and fruits spilling from a basket. The servers behind the counter ladled soup, made sandwiches. After lunch, Andrea and Caroline would go back to their jobs, Andrea to the arts organization, where she forwarded requests for money from aspiring novelists and Caroline to her storyboarding at the advertising agency. They were lucky to still have jobs.
“He never even said he was sorry. He’s in love with a customer he met at work. She’s recently divorced.” Caroline stroked her own hand as if to smooth the skin. “When I’m divorced, should I be looking for another man? I don’t think so. Last night I couldn’t sleep. I sat at the dining room table. All these sounds around me. The house settling, mice in the walls, knocking in the pipes, noises all around me, and me all alone. ”
“You’re not alone. You have friends.”
“Yes.” Caroline’s face said otherwise. “Yes.”
“Let’s go to a movie tonight. Would you like that? We could see the new Brad Pitt movie.”
“All I would think of is how he left Jennifer Aniston.” She shook her head at herself. “I know, I know. I’m being crazy now.”
“I know there’re many worse things. All those topics your novelists write about: pollution, global warming, dead grandmas.”
“You don’t have to find something worse to contrast yourself with.”
“I’m lucky to have you as a friend,” Caroline said. “You’re such a good person, Andrea.”
Andrea’s wrist bumped against the tumbler of water. It teetered and sloshed, but she caught it before it fell. “I’m not. But thank you.” She thought of how she had gossiped about Caroline, how she had said Caroline was self-involved. But perhaps she was the self-involved one, perhaps everyone was. Such a rush of noise in her ears. She moved the glass so it wouldn’t fall. She wished this weren’t happening. She didn’t want change. She bit into her dry sandwich. She would go home tonight and kiss her Ralph.
published 6 November 2013