TW: swearing, drug use, sex, silly nonsense.
Filling both of their glasses with a heavy pour of their favorite red wine, Charles looked up at his wife and smiled. “Well, dear, I think we should get a divorce.”
The wine would have gone flying directly into his face if not for Martha’s quick reflexes corking her mouth with the unused cloth napkin that had sat quaintly in her lap. “What?!”
Chuckling nonchalantly and reaching out to hold her hand – Martha was too in shock to pull away – Charles said, “Oh, come on, Martha, don’t look at me like that. It can’t be that much of a shock; this is a long time coming, don’t you think? We’ve been growing apart for years.”
Mouth agape, Martha was speechless. Charles released her hand and continued pulling off small bits of his French roll and popping into his mouth, maintaining his eye contact with her as if everything were fine and dandy. “Aw, sweetie, you look so sad,” he puffed out his bottom lip; his eyebrows sulked. “I really didn’t think it would bother you.”
Martha, still unable to find words, filled her mouth by gulping down half the wine in her glass. Swiping her hand across her lips, she let her hand rest at the corner of her mouth as she caught her breath. “We’ve been married nearly twenty years, Charles, how could you think that I would not be bothered by your request for divorce?”
“I suppose, for the same reasons it did not occur to you that I would not be bothered by your blatant disregard for my requests. You’ve been very unbothered by my touch for nearly five years.” Charles’ eyebrows rose a little as he titled his glass towards his wife, a toast to the air, before taking a sip.
“We just had sex yesterday!”
“Why, of course, dear, but did you enjoy it?” Charles’ hand was on the base of his glass, spinning it in circles on the tablecloth. Martha felt a ping of guilt in her belly as she averted her eyes from her husband’s face, and then like a coin spun on its edge, a bit of surprise settled at its topple: she’d thought she’d been faking it pretty well.
Nodding, Charles winked, both in the corners of his right eye and lips, “No need to feel bad, dear. I appreciate the effort.” As he refilled their glasses, he continued, “Besides, it’s not like sex is the only thing that’s dwindled between us.”
A realization strikes. Grounding herself to her now full glass of wine, Martha braved the question. “Are you having an affair?”
A roar from deep within Charles’ chest erupted. “No, no! And maybe that’s the problem!”
Relief, then disgust settled within Martha. Then sadness. “You want to be with other women?”
Charles softened at his wife’s inflection. “No, dear, that’s not what I mean. I just want to be with someone who loves me; who wants to have fun with me; who enjoys having sex with me! And I want you to have the same. We don’t need to remain tied to the ship if it’s sinking. We’ve both changed so much, but I do still love you, Martha. And—” he pointed his finger to the ceiling, “I want to stop calling you Martha!”
They both laughed half-heartedly at that, meeting each other’s gaze.
“Marty,” Charles said coyly, narrowing his eyes directly at hers.
Dormant butterflies within Martha’s stomach flickered like a flame threatened in the wind. Martha couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt them. Or been called Marty.
Charles grinned. “Do you remember when we were teenagers and we’d ditch second period to go to the beach? Or the park? Or just anywhere away from school so we could be together?”
Martha beamed at the memory. She’d spent more time at the beach smoking cigarettes with Charlie than she did in AP Statistics. She remembered the excitement that swam alongside her teenage hormones whenever one of them was able to acquire a stolen hall pass notepad; it meant they could forge a teacher’s signature, flash it to the security guard along with a promise to bring her back a Taco Bell burrito, then scurry their way to Charlie’s old pickup truck. They’d zoom off campus, straight for the beach, blasting awful pop rap music, feeling like caged birds unleashed. They’d find a log to sit on, light up their illegally-obtained cigarettes (if either one had scored a bit of alcohol, they’d split it), and listen to the waves crash down. She’d convinced herself she was learning more about life there at the beach than she’d ever learn in a math class (she’d certainly learned a lot about anatomy and biology). But most importantly, she’d learned about Charlie.
“Do you remember when your mom called us on our way back to school, yelling, ‘Where the fuck are you two?!’ That was the first time I’d ever heard your mom curse like that! I was so scared!” Martha covered her mouth to suppress its burst, unable to determine if the warmth she felt was from the wine or from her laugher.
“She was so mad at us! And, remember when we convinced Nolan to bring an entire gallon of milk to Mr. Grogher’s class because we were stoned and wanted something to dip our cookies into!”
Her glass at her lips, Martha extended a finger out to her husband, “I remember you getting kicked out of Mr. Grogher’s class permanently, and him trying to convince me to take someone ‘respectable’ to prom.”
His chuckles softening, Charles smirked flirtatiously, “I’m so glad you didn’t listen. You remember what we did after prom, don’t you?”
Her eyes answered him above the rim of her glass.
“You always did surprise me, Marty. You were such a wild card.”
“And you were the craziest thing I’d ever seen.”
With incredibly appropriate timing, a white-sleeved arm appeared in their peripherals, as the server placed their meals down in front of them. The couple thanked her in unison and settled their eyes on their food, letting silence hover between them a moment.
“You ordered this for me,” Martha said candidly.
“I did,” Charles responded, a knife and fork already working on his steak.
“When did we become so predictable?” Martha whispered under her breath.
Charles guffawed, popping a streak bite into his mouth. “When did I start calling you Martha?”
Turning her green beans with her fork, Martha said, “Somewhere halfway between buying a house and weekly PTA meetings.” She remembered feeling so grown up when they’d signed the papers for their first home. Martha just had a more mature ring to it than Marty, and at the time, it’d been exciting and sexy and felt like a new chapter in their life was starting. But now, she realized her husband was right; she’d changed. They’d changed. They weren’t teenagers anymore, but they weren’t dead either. Martha felt old. It didn’t feel the person she was when she met Charles.
Martha searched her mind looking for that piece of herself. When was the last time she’d seen her? She went back in time: buying their house, having their first child, then their second. She’d found herself just doing what felt like the parent-thing to do: she glued herself to the kids’ preschools (sometimes coming home with literal glue all over her); she took on all the PTA projects and the Girl Scout (and Boy Scout) events; she stuck to the rigid schedules set by their kids’ weekly activities; and she’d slipped on the unsexy mom jeans every day until she eventually found herself wearing things like stockings and dresses that covered every inch of her skin (or what Charles referred to as “librarians’ clothes”), and started adhering to weekly meal plans and dedicated “sex days”.
Internally, the “Marty” inside her cringed at the thought of what she’d become, sticking a finger down her ghostly throat and gagging to display her disgust. Martha shivered externally, goosebumps rising across her aged skin.
“We aren’t who we used to be, huh?” she offered to her husband, who was wiping his lips with his napkin, his plate cleared.
Setting his napkin down, he looked at his wife and sighed. “No, dear, we aren’t.”
Martha could see the sadness hidden in her husband’s eyes. The part of him that’d eagerly requested for divorce twenty minutes ago. The part of him that wanted the two of them to go back to being the people they were when they were two teenagers in ridiculous love with each other, getting into intoxicated shenanigans and chasing down concert tickets rather than dinner reservations at restaurants where they knew each other’s exact dish order down to the way they wanted their meat cooked.
Martha threw her cloth napkin onto her uneaten lamb chop and vegetables, and sprung up from her seat. “We promised we wouldn’t do this, Charles. We promised we wouldn’t let marriage and children change us. And I say, it’s not too late for us.” Martha stormed off, leaving her husband – too full to follow her – watching her walk away, both confused and thrilled.
When Martha returned, Charles didn’t notice anything obviously different about her. She unwrapped her purse from her chair, looked at him as if he should be doing the same. “Well, are you coming or not, Charlie?”
Remembering how she used to say this to him, flashing a green hall pass in his face and luring him into their high school parking lot, he grinned. “Right behind you, Marty.” Hooking his jacket around his arm, he said, “Wait, what about the check?”
“Fuck ‘em!” She grabbed her husband’s hand, and the two strutted out of the restaurant confidently, their hearts thrumming along to the same rhythm of their teenage escapades.
The two exploded into laughter when they made it to their car, leaning their convulsing bodies against their parked Honda Pilot. “Give me your lighter,” Martha said, holding her hand out to Charles.
Like a deer in the headlights, Charles’ mouth fell open, “Uh –“
“I know you still smoke cigarettes, Charlie. You really think the kids and I don’t know?”
He offered a nervous smile and surrendered a lighter from his jacket’s inside pocket. Simultaneously, Martha produced a poorly rolled joint from within her coat pocket.
“What the hell, Martha? Where did you get that?”
“The kitchen staff at restaurants always has dope. I showed them these,” indicating to her breasts, “and I got it for free.” Lifting her hand with the joint between her fingers to the sky, she said, “Marty’s still got it, woohoo!” Then she placed it between her lips and clicked the lighter a few times before she got it to light.
The tip burned red, and instantly the smoke rose out of it, filling the air with the sweet, earthy smell of weed. Martha inhaled deeply, then pulled it out of her lips. “A puff for me,” she said, exhaling directly in her husband’s face. Then she held it up to Charles’ lips, “and a puff for you.”
When he exhaled, they both recited their old saying back to each other: “To the clouds, I’ll go with you.”
Those had been the words that had followed them from their stoner teenager years on the beach to their wedding day (though they’d had a different meaning then), and had been lost between them since then, until this moment.
When their (once again) illegally-obtained cigarette was finished, Charles threw it onto the pavement and stomped it out with his shoe. He leaned against their car, and opened his arms, indicating to Martha to fall into them. “You’ve surprised me again, dear.”
Feeling lightheaded, she anchored herself to her husband, laughing at her inebriated imbalance. If not for the ethereal courage, she might have been afraid to ask: “Do you still want to get a divorce?”
Chuckling, Charles said into the nape of her neck, “No, but we should probably see a counselor. Or book a month-long vacation.”
“I’ll check the calendar.” The couple erupted with laughter. “Maybe they have a season of Survivor for old couples who want to feel young again,” Martha joked.
Charles pulled his wife away from his chest and looked into her eyes, all laughter gone from his. “I’m sorry for asking for a divorce, dear. That was stupid of me.”
“I’m sorry for turning into an old lady. That was stupid of me.”
Charles kissed the top of her nose. “I think I know how you can make it up to me. Marty.”
Ten minutes later, the restaurant’s server came to the parking lot looking for the couple who’d dined and dashed on a nearly $200 meal. What she came across was a nearly empty parking lot. The only car left was a Honda Pilot rocking gently beneath a streetlight. The server rolled her eyes. “Fucking teenagers.”