Friday, February 18, 2011

The Red Robe

I have a red satin robe. It hangs at the back of the closet, near the rack where he used to keep his shoes. I'm reminded of it every so often when it falls to the floor, its silky fabric too delicate to cling to the hanger with any real determination.

I'm not sure why I keep it. Certainly not to remind me of him - our two children do that every day, the boy a spitting image. When he left, I purged the house of everything he gave me, though he (ever the caretaker) insisted I keep the things of value: engagement ring, diamond earrings, the big TV. But I didn't want these things. Sold them for bottom dollar just to have them out of my life.

The purging wasn't out of anger. None of this was his fault, you know. It was all mine, though my friends and family try to tell me otherwise. We weren't happy. He was always working. But I was the one who cheated, or at least wanted to. I misread intentions, believed that the one who got away was coming back. I was wrong. About all of it.

The robe was a gift, an uncomfortable gesture, not sure of the appropriateness of lingerie for a first Valentine's Day. At the time, his awkwardness was appealing, genuine. The matching red g-string is long gone, my body, older and softer, having outgrown such a small piece of fabric.

But I keep the robe, picking it up off the floor every few months. Placing it back on the hanger that has held it for 10 years. Maybe more. Once again finding its spot in the back of the closet, where he used to keep his shoes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

What If?

On her drive across the Bay, she thought of silly jokes. It was kind of their thing, laughing uncontrollably at jokes that should only be told by a 5 year old. “Two guys walk into a bar, Sam Clam’s Diner, Tied in little Nazis,” the kind of jokes only good friends and a couple of drinks can turn hilarious. She wasn’t sure why she was going there anyway. To show off to her ex with her shiny new car and shiny new diploma? But she knew it wasn’t about him, hadn’t been for a long time. She was there to see Greg.

Greg. He was always the one, wasn’t he? Even when dating Chris for all those years, she knew Greg was in the room just across the hall. Nothing ever happened between them, nothing physical anyway. But the tension was there, and before she left, it was palpable, and they weren’t fooling anybody. But she went east, leaving both her stale relationship and her desire behind.

But three years goes fast, and now she’s back. She has a new degree and a new job, even a new apartment, but thinking about Greg, she felt the same old butterflies. Maybe she hadn't changed as much as she thought.

As she rounded the familiar corner, she started to reconsider. She could always call, tell him something came up, would visit another weekend. But she kept driving, strong with her desire to catch even a glimpse of her old life, and hopefully bring one piece of it into the new one.

He was waiting when she pulled up. “Nice car.”


Neither of them were very good at silence, so they talked small talk, “Weather’s great, I see they replaced the curtains, how’s your sister?” Eventually one of them brought it up. “Why didn’t we ever get together?”

“I wanted to.”

“I know, me too. But.”

The butterflies kicked in again, but she was bold. “But what? Why don’t we?”

“Chris is my best friend. I can’t do that to him.”

“But he was bad to me. Cheated when I was gone. And besides, that’s been over a long time now. Almost three years.”

“It doesn’t work that way. We can’t.” And it was over, just like that. Before it even began.

They took a drive in the new car. She took him home, said goodbye, pretending not to be heartbroken. They kissed when he left, but just briefly, an acknowledgement to the shared feelings but final enough in its austerity. He shut the car door, and as he walked away, she rolled down the window. “Hey Greg?” He turned around.

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”


“Olive who?”

“Olive juice.”

“You too, Nina.”

She waited until she was out of sight before letting the tears fall. She only cried about it that one time, told herself it was for the best – a clean break from her old life, a true fresh start. But even now, over ten years later, she sometimes thinks about that day. Wonders whether she should have fought harder, made the compelling case her law degree should have trained her to do. But the time never seemed right. He met someone, she did too, and their lives moved forward as lives do. They still see each other from time to time, both now married, mostly happily. But despite herself, she always wonders, “what if?”

This piece was written as a part of The Red Dress Club. This week's prompt was to write a short piece in which a character told a joke and a character cried. The piece has to be maximum 600 words and must be able to be read aloud in no more than 3 minutes. It is from an NPR contest called Three-Minute Fiction.