Sad Contemporary

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

Four years ago we boldly declared that we wanted to get married on Christmas Eve. The holiday season is unforgiving of our recklessness. Until this year, he has never forgotten to schedule the reservation. A last-minute cancellation finds us in an upscale restaurant with names neither of us can pronounce and a bottle of wine as a centerpiece. His face is flushed when he returns from parking the car and he hasn’t paid attention to a word I said.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s not you. There’s just so much going on inside of my mind right now.” 

This has been our routine as of late. When we tied the knot, everybody warned us the first year would be the hardest to survive. But then we were still drunk on holiday feel-goods and our love for each other. Now his phone is an island between us. It vibrates against the table. He glances at it but doesn’t unlock the screen.

An unfinished plate of food sits before him. Medium rare steak bleeds into steamed asparagus. I spear a piece of wilted lettuce leftover from the garden salad and pretend it doesn’t resemble my heart. Once beating, now a gaping wound. Disregarded.

“Let’s just go,” he says.

I agree. What is there left to do? His hand shakes as he writes the check.


“I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s not you.” 

The words have lost their meaning. Apologies are a precursor to goodbye. When we were newlywed, we spent the days after the holiday together in bed and dizzy with champagne. We returned gifts and wrote lists of our dreams and aspirations. Nothing seemed impossible then. We returned gifts and wrote lists. I still remember our first year together. He wanted to be less of a perfectionist and I intended to complete a novel. A bestseller, maybe. 

“We should make New Year’s resolutions!” I declare in an attempt to pin him down.

“Mine is to be more present,” he says without missing a beat. 

There’s a strip of white flesh beneath his missing wedding band. He tells a story about how he took it off in the shower and forgot where he put it.


When I discover a stone missing from my wedding band, he offers to have it replaced. “It shouldn’t take too long,” he says.

“I’ll stop by the jeweler’s after work tonight.”

My shoulders are rigid and I brush away the hand he reaches for me. His face collapses. “I promise to remember this time.”

We’re lying in bed together. His back is turned to me. Fingers flying across the phone screen, he presses enter before rolling onto his side. I can’t do this anymore. 

“Do you remember your resolution?” I demand.

“Well, what about yours?” he fires back. “Did you ever sign up for that writing class? How many years has it been?”

“Fuck you.”

“I’m just going to go.” He throws the comforters back.

While he’s changing out of his sweatpants and t-shirt, the phone screen glows. My fingers itch with the temptation to check, to finally find out who this bitch is.

There’s a passcode. I set it down exactly as he had it and ignore him when he says goodbye. We’ve never kept secrets from each other. Ever. I don’t know how to confront him without admitting I attempted to go through his phone. The door slams shut.


Where are you?

There’s a blue check mark revealing that the message has been delivered. He doesn’t respond. Is he with her? What does she look like? He returns in a better mood than he left, laden with grocery bags.

“I’m sorry for taking off like that.” He doesn’t look me in the eyes. “Why didn’t you respond to any of my texts?”

“I got busy and forgot. It won’t happen again.” He smiles sheepishly. “I, uh, got your ring.” It feels different somehow. The weight of it unfamiliar. 

“I shouldn’t have snapped at you. I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Trying to show my appreciation, I wrap my arms around his waist. He freezes at the cutting board. I pull away from him. He coughs into his hand and tries to act as if nothing happened.

“Did you ever find your ring?”

“No.” He scratches the back of his head. “I think it might’ve fallen down the drain while I took a shower. I’ve looked for it everywhere.”

When? I want to demand. Instead, I ask, “should we order a new one?”

He shrugs. “I know I’m married to you.”

Does she? What if he gets mad and storms off again?

He notices my silence.

“Maybe it will still turn up.”


“How about we give it another week?”

“Whatever you want.”

The food is done but neither of us has an appetite. We’re on the sofa. Together but not. I’m going to work on that book. Even if he’s given up on us, I still believe in the impossible. I haven’t given up.

“There’s something I need to talk to you about.” He mutes the volume before fidgeting with the remote.

I shut my laptop. The words are there but there’s an impenetrable fog watching him flip through TV channels. As long overdue as this conversation is, I find myself unprepared. He stares at the remote in his hand and chews on his lip.


“I lost my train of thought,” he lies. “Go ahead and order that ring.” We sleep facing away from each other. A gulf separates us. Two hours later and the glow from his phone still outlines his side profile. 

I don’t want to need him.

It’s six in the morning. His side of the bed is empty. The pillow is cold as if he hasn’t laid there in a long time. Red eyes greet mine in the mirror. I brush my teeth.

It’s not until I go to make the bed that I discover a crumpled piece of paper. A receipt, maybe. Somewhere he took her. I recognize his handwriting.

I’m sorry. It says. I tried. 

Tried for who? Is this a note to his mistress? Is he with her right now? His cell phone goes straight to voicemail. I know he sees my name on the caller ID because the damn thing never leaves his hand. I hit redial. By midnight, I’ve called thirteen times and received no answer.


I’m sorry. I tried. The ring arrives before the box containing his ashes does. His passcode is the year that we got married. The call log contains my name. There are five second phone calls to a 1-800 number I don’t recognize. There are no text messages to strangers. The notes app contains reminders to pick up my ring, buy groceries, and brush his teeth. In bolded text, he’s written a reminder to be more present today.

His calendar is more of the same. Go to the pharmacy, it says. Remember to pick up your medicine. Call your therapist in the morning. He’s sitting on the seat beside me but he’s still not here. I lay my head against the steering wheel. Think about that first year. His goal was to be less of a perfectionist and mine was to write a novel. How did he hide it so well? Why did he?

January 06, 2023 18:35

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