By: Bob Kalkreuter
He’d finished his third drink before she told him she was leaving.
“What?” he said, startled. They were sitting at an outdoor café, the late afternoon sunlight scrabbling over the cement in pursuit of retreating shade.
She sat with her back to the street. He was squinting, trying to screen the sun from his eyes. He stabbed his half-smoked cigarette into the ashtray, stalling. Trying to concentrate. “What?” he repeated, shifting his head so she blocked the sun. “You’re… What do you mean?”
“I can’t do this anymore,” she said. “This pretending.”
“What do you mean pretending? What are you pretending?
“You have to ask me that?”
“Well, okay. I can guess. But I thought we’d worked things out.”
They sat at the small table, separated by a chasm.
“How can you think that?” she said.
“It’s been two months.”
“Does that mean you didn’t sleep with her?” She twirled her wine glass in slow circles, watching the sunlight sparkle in the ripples of Chardonnay.
“Yeah… okay, I did… but I said I screwed up. And I haven’t seen her…”
“Talk, it’s really just talk to you, isn’t it? Don’t you think talk should be more than talk?”
He hesitated, searching for words, ideas. An out. Something that made sense. He felt ambushed. For two years she’d been his lynchpin. His rock, when he lost his job and floundered in finding another. She’d been the one thing he could depend upon.
What happened? Initially his fault, for sure. But he knew better now. And she’d forgiven him. Yet here they were.
He had no answers.
The last couple of weeks he’d begun to relax, thinking the worst was over.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“What don’t you understand?”
He turned his glass and blinked. He tried to think. “What does that mean, talking’s more than talking?”
“Just that talk is more than words. That’s all. A marriage is more than talk.”
Behind them, a waiter with a red birthmark on his chin came from inside the café, swept open the door with his back, then his elbow, balancing a tray with two beers and a bowl of pretzels. He glanced at them as he moved past, not breaking stride.
“Well, I’m done with her. I told you. I screwed up. Why don’t you believe me?”
“I do believe you,” she said, looking at him.
He hesitated, uncertain, disoriented. His thinking thrown into a loop. “Uh…then… well…”
What did she really want? He wasn’t clear.
She lifted her glass, took a sip. “She was a fling, a lark, nobody you could be serious about. Right?”
“Yeah. Of course,” he said, thinking that she’d made his own argument, made it better than he could have himself. He sighed, surprised. Confused.
Perhaps she wanted to make him pay again. Well okay, he’d play that game. Be contrite.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
A car horn blared in the street. He glanced up. She didn’t.
Still, he sensed things weren’t going well. That his life was cloudier, not clearer. That she was leading him into a trap. He just couldn’t see the exit.
“What do you want?” he said. He lifted his glass again, pretending surprise that it was empty.
“Want? I told you I’m leaving.”
“But she was just a fling,” he said, hoping to strike a balance between passion and cool. “Like you said.”
“I believe you,” she said, her voice still steady, calm. “Really.”
Annoying, confusing calm.
He looked up sharply and put down his glass, unsure what he felt. Or should say. He’d expected pushback, anger, indignation.
But not this.
She moved her head and the sun flashed into his eyes again, making him squint. “You’re right. She was nothing to me. Nothing.”
“I believe you,” she repeated. “That’s why I’m leaving. Because it was a fling.”
She rose. “You weren’t serious about her. She wasn’t important, just available. That’s who you really are. The real you. Maybe you stopped seeing her, but you haven’t stopped being you.”
With that she moved away, her light summer skirt flouncing about her legs as she threaded her way between the tables and merged into the pedestrian traffic. Sunlight seemed to glow between the strands of her loose, dark hair.
“Can I get you a refill, Sir,” said the waiter, appearing at his side.
Unwilling to trust his voice, he nodded, but when he looked up again, she was lost in the crowd.
“Will the lady be having another, sir?” asked the waiter, picking up her glass.
“No,” he said, feeling stunned. “I don’t think so.”