The D Word

Short fiction by Ben SD

She never thought it would come to any more than a first date with some awkward flirting over drinks. “We have to talk,” she said before he could come in the house. Those words have made braver men tremble, but he had been expecting them. She didn’t know that, but she might have guessed; this had been a long time coming. She took a deep breath of the honeysuckle rich air and waited for him to answer.

He never thought it would come to anything, this whole love affair. He held impressively low expectations of himself. Now, ten years deep, it made sense to him that it would come back around to being nothing. He took in the view from the yard – the neighbors’ houses, their lawns all greener and shorter than theirs.  The grass tickled his ankles as he stood there but he couldn’t bear to move an inch. There was a smell of cut grass on the air, but it wasn’t from his home. Their home. Her home. “Why not inside?” was a question with an obvious answer, but he asked to hear her say it; he needed to gauge exactly which discussion they were going to have.

A large truck passed as she replied, sending a spray of dirty water from a lingering puddle against his calves and muting her words. He still couldn’t move; it was just water anyway. He didn’t need to be a lip reader to know that she had said she wanted to do this “away from the kids.” Those last words caught him even over the roar of diesel.

“It’s okay,” he said, “I won’t make a scene of it. What did you want to talk about?” He knew. He’d always known. He was surprised it had gone on this long. He’d been practicing this exact conversation in his mind for the last decade. The problem was him, he knew, or some inexorable part of him. It wasn’t that he was a failure, it was that he knew he was a failure and so he just was. He was a self-fulfilling prophecy. He wasn’t blind to it, just felt unable to stop it.

She didn’t think of him that way – not as a failure. She would never have married him if she had. She would never have spent the week with him in Punta Cana if she had. She wouldn’t have tried the bunny slopes with him in Colorado. She wouldn’t have brought him to family reunions and funerals and weddings. She sure as hell wouldn’t have wrecked her body making life with him. No, she didn’t think he was a failure; she thought he didn’t care. Just like he knew he was a failure, she knew he didn’t care. He put on a great show of caring when he needed to, sure, but he was fake, a sociopath and narcissist. She swatted at a bug buzzing around her and said, “You’re not real.”

This was not the direct approach he had expected. Somewhere in the depths of his head, alarms were blaring. Shots fired! We’ve been hit! All hands on deck! To your battle stations! He had a choice to make: connect or protect. He wanted to be closer to her, he wanted to connect, but he needed to defend himself also. He finally settled on a middle ground. “What do you mean?” She stood outlined by the red of the front door, itself outlined by the dirty white house. It wasn’t much, but it was the sort of home you could raise a family – or someone could, anyway.

She lowered her eyes until he could hardly see them. She was already fighting back tears. Clouds passed under the sun and gave her a moment of aid while she tried to hide, exposed as she was. She didn’t answer his question, not exactly. She knew that she was what kept him together, but all this time he was only after safety and companionship, never her. She was his raison d'être but she thought anybody could fill that role. She didn’t want to do it for free anymore. She deserved something back. She said, “I want a divorce.”

He wanted to cry too, but his tears had pulled back and hidden themselves where he couldn’t find them. The air felt suddenly cool, and another cloud lazily drifted across the sun as he formulated a response. This was exactly what he had prepared for, but somehow none of the mental exercises had prepared him for it at all. His arguments and platitudes were all gone. They weren’t real. He wasn’t real. Eventually the silence stretched so far that it broke, and he muttered ineffectually, “I’m so sorry.”