Contemporary American Drama

           “We’re getting a divorce.”

           The silence around the table was absolute as Victor finished speaking. Eyebrows were raised, forks halfway to mouths. Six pairs of eyes were staring at Victor as he cleared his throat awkwardly, standing at one end of the table. He had started to sit down and was now hovering above his pulled-out chair.

           “What –” Sue began.

           “Now then, why –” Steve grumbled.

           “Could have seen that coming!” shouted Janice.

           “Hang on –” Nina started.

           “That was incredibly rude, Janice!” admonished Mary.

           Francine put her fork down with a clatter and all eyes turned toward her, except Victor’s, now looking toward the wall, still standing with one hand on the back of his pulled-out chair. “Fran, what –”, began Sue, but stopped as Francine shook her head, exasperated. Francine rose to her feet as a pair of heels click-clacked through the doorway behind Sue, hoisting a large paper bag.

           “Have I missed anything?” said Kate, setting the bag down as she looked around at the faces at the table, the smile slipping off her face. Kate, a friend of the family since Victor and Nina’s childhood, couldn’t keep track of anything, including the time.

           “Victor has just made an announcement,” smirked Janice into the silence that followed Kate’s question.

           “Now, Janice, really,” started Mary once more as Francine cleared her throat. Silence fell around the table once more.

           “Victor? Could we speak in private?” Francine, face furious, turned and quietly walked toward the kitchen without another word. Victor let go of his chair and followed, his steps punctuated by the thump of the released chair as it hit the floor.

“What’s going on?” Kate accepted a glass of wine from Mary. Nina turned to Janice.

           “Janice, what do you know?”

           “Why would you assume I know anything?”

           “Well you said –“

           “Janice, did you know about this? Why didn’t you say anything? Did you have something to do with this?” Mary interjected.

           “Mom, why would I have anything to do with this?” Janice turned, throwing her hands in the air.

           “Everyone, settle down. This is clearly a misunderstanding.” Steve stood from the other end of the table and refilled his glass, his plate of food half finished. He looked at Sue, who was staring down at her plate, fork hovering over a Brussel sprout. Her other hand was crumpling her napkin in her lap. She glanced up at him and they exchanged a look, missed by everyone except Kate, who had sat down next to Mary and was glancing left to right between them.

           Sue was thinking about dinner three weeks ago, when Victor and Fran had come over. The night had been crisp, and the sunset painted the sky the brilliant orange of the leaves. Sue had made dinner. Victor and Fran had brought red wine.

           Sue had looked at Steve and said, "The bread is warming in the oven. Could you get it?" Steve brought the covered rolls to the table, small bumps rolling underneath the napkin. They sat down to dinner, conversation quiet as they sipped soup. “Have you heard from Kate recently?” spoke Sue into the silence.

           Victor’s head jerked up. “No, mom, we don’t really talk anymore,” he said quickly.

           “Oh, well, I thought about inviting her tonight – “

           “Why would you do that?” he exclaimed.

           “Well, she’s just moved back, I thought she would cheer things up a bit.”

           “Mom – look, can we not –”

           “Can everyone settle down?” Steve said.

Francine stirred her soup and glanced up, “It’s okay, Victor,” she said. Victor looked at Francine, his brow furrowed. Steve glanced between Victor and Francine, placed both hands on the table before lifting himself up.

           “Why don’t we move to the sitting room?”

           “Yes, let’s do that,” agreed Sue. Chairs groaned against the wood and dishware clinked. Sue gathered up the plates and moved toward the sink, Francine following with silverware and glasses. “So, what did the doctors say?”

           “They said to wait before trying again.” Francine poured out the dregs of wine from a glass into the sink, red swirling down the drain.

           “Well, these things are always difficult.”

           Francine said nothing over the sound of the water, handed Sue another dish.

           “Are you coming into the sitting room?” Steve called.

           “Yes, nearly done.” Sue’s footsteps had echoed across the tile as they moved through the hallway.

           “Have you started planning the party yet?” Victor had asked as they came through the doorway.

           “We’re making up the invite list now.” Sue and Steve had been married for nearly thirty years, their anniversary approaching. Victor and Fran had been married for five.

           Steve glanced at his wife. Sue continued to clutch the napkin tightly in her hand. She had pierced the sprout but hadn’t brought it to her mouth. He knew what Sue was thinking about. Steve knew everything would be fine. He and his son had gone for a walk last month after the old dog was put down. Victor’s dog. Victor had been melancholy. As they walked, they talked, mostly Victor, with Steve hemming and humming in response. This was how it went with Victor and Sue. Steve was a good listener. He liked to think he was a man of few words, but worthy ones. Victor and Fran would work it out. He and Sue had settled into their marriage. Did they love each other, still?

           “Well, I’m not shocked either. My marriage didn’t take, and with the divorce rates nowadays –” Mary said.

           “No one is getting divorced,” Steve stated from the table by the door, drink in hand.

           “That’s not what Victor just said.”

           “Janice, will you please – “

           Nina sat still at the table, ignoring her Aunt Mary and Janice’s continuous squabbling. Her brother hadn’t said a word about this to her before tonight. Fran hadn’t said anything either. Nina was hurt.

           “Someone must have cheated. Why else would it be so suddenly? I saw Fran getting coffee with her friend the other day.” Janice said with a head tilt and an eyebrow raise, looking at Nina. Janice swapped out boyfriends like trends. No one had seen the latest one yet.

           “They’ve been in there a long time,” said Kate.

           “Let’s give them their space.” Steve moved back toward the table. “They’ll come back in when they’re ready.”

           “I hope they have an explanation ready,” said Janice, loudly.

           “Honestly, this is really not the time and place for this sort of thing. I never announced my divorce until after the papers were signed,” said Mary.

           “Yes, but we all knew it was coming.” Steve took a sip and looked toward his sister.

           “Excuse me – just because you two are happily married –”

           “Now really – why don’t we all sit back down and keep eating?” Sue spoke with a look at Mary and Steve.

           “I’ve lost my appetite,” said Nina, her turn to rise from the table. She walked toward the window and looked out. Five pairs of eyes watched her.

           Nina thought about her girlfriend. They had been together for two years now. They were wrapped up in each other and their graduate work, and time and their relationship had floated forward without a defined direction. Nina had always loved Fran. She had supported Fran as best she could from so far away. And they hadn’t told her anything. Fran hadn’t said anything. She felt numb, scratched at her arm, felt a chill. It was dark outside, and a fog had crept through the evening air.

           “Kate, you haven’t touched your wine. Please take some food!” said Sue. 

Kate scooped some potatoes onto her plate. “I think I may have caught a stomach bug,” she said, raising her eyebrows, “and it seems like I’ve moved back during interesting times.”

Nina looked up at her. “Yeah, it’s been years – you used to be over almost every night for dinner. What made you move back?” Nina kept accusation out of her voice, just barely.

           “I needed a change of scenery.” Kate didn’t elaborate. She had left for college over a decade ago, found a new boyfriend, moved around for jobs, and now was back after the end of a long, never-ending engagement that had finally ground itself into the dirt. She hadn’t seen Francine since the wedding. Victor and Francine had gotten married on the beach, at the edge of the waves under a clear, sparkling sky. They had laughed and danced and spilled wine, and had moved through the crowd of friends and family through the night, finding each other every time they drifted apart.  

           Six pairs of feet were at the table; six pairs of eyes looked around the room, not meeting others. A clang sounded from the kitchen; footsteps echoed across the tile.

           Francine walked back through the doorway.

           Six pairs of eyes stared at her.

           “Everything is going to be fine,” said Steve.

September 22, 2023 16:02

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