The Fault In Their Stars

Submitted into Contest #95 in response to: Start your story with someone being presented with a dilemma.... view prompt

5 comments

American Sad Contemporary

Last night’s dirty dishes were still stacked in the sink. Not scraped. Not rinsed. Not even soaked. Just leftover food encrusted on the dinner plates they’d once gleefully picked out for their wedding registry. A happy wedding years ago—actually, decades.


Denise sighed, she didn’t have the time or inclination to deal with the mess. Mainly she wondered why her husband hadn’t cleaned up the kitchen. Ever since they’d stopped being intimate with each other, he had shouldered more and more of the household chores. Like that was compensation for not making love to her.


She’d taken to wearing more eyeliner these days, painting her long acrylic nails in bold colors, trying to find an attractive outfit in her size. Could she help it if her hair had thinned and her waist had thickened?


Like a moth to a flame, she returned to the subject right before bed. Surely he would talk to her. Surely he would want to understand her deep unhappiness. She felt she wasn’t in a relationship—she was, at best, a roommate. He sat on the edge of the bed and listened, nodding at all the right times. Reassuring her with platitudes. Hoping she’d stop circling back to the start and begin again. A broken record.


As usual, he had dutifully waited for her to come out of the bathroom before turning down the covers, pulling back the sheets. He had given her a perfunctory kiss on the lips, but it couldn’t have been any less romantic if he had been her brother. Soon, she’d sprawl out in bed, muscle memory attempting to touch him, hungry for the feel of his skin, knowing it was a fruitless search. They never really touched anymore.  


###


Andrew woke without an alarm, feeling out of place in the place that was supposed to be his marriage bed, king-sized, large enough for two, now primarily just for one. A man who worried about the most insignificant of things, he tossed and turned in bed all night. But even if he flipped and flopped like a freshly caught fish, it wouldn’t matter; the couch was his wife’s first refuge before eventually ending up in the guest room. The kids told their friends it was because of his snoring—that’s what his wife told them. However, he snored just as loudly at the beginning of their marriage. Even in the middle. Yet things were markedly different now.


Andrew wiped the sleep from his eyes, crawled into the guest bed with her, a ritual born out of necessity. She was not there. In his heart of hearts—the place he ignored to his own detriment—he knew she didn't like it when he joined her in the morning, but he continued to do it anyway.


She was once passionately on fire for him, or at least, he thought he remembered she had. But like a comet, only the faintest of a tail was left. Comets return, he would tell himself. If this one did, he wanted to be by her side.


It might be their last chance. For now? It was unsustainable. 


###


“Hey, I was wondering,” Denise said, calling her husband at lunchtime. She knew he rarely ate breakfast, preferring a later lunch and even later dinner. “I was wondering if you could pick up some seafood for dinner—”


“Tonight?” came his distracted reply. She felt he was half-listening to her. True, she had just told him a twenty-minute story about one of her co-workers, but their counselor had stressed communication. What else were they supposed to communicate about? She wanted to move—make a fresh start; he shut that down. It didn’t make financial sense. But she wanted a new house, a new home. What else did they have in common but living quarters? He was obsessed with politics and sports; however, she couldn’t care less about either.


Of course she had vented far too much to him about her job, and she even annoyed herself with constant bickering about co-workers and work-related emails. She could feel him growing sick of trying to make her happy when she just seemed to complain all the more. Why couldn’t men just listen to problems instead of trying to solve them? 


“Yeah, tonight I’d like seafood. If that’s not too much trouble.” Her tone changed. “You could get some crabs. Maybe I can finally teach you how to shell crabs properly?” An attempt at levity fell flat. “I can even make some Crab Imperial for you?” It was his favorite dish.


“Crabs are more work than they’re worth,” he said as he pictured the scene. The cleanup would be endless. He sensed her iciness on the other end. “Fine, whatever. I’ll get some crabs.” 


Denise was no longer in the mood. 


“Just forget it,” she said. “We have some frozen chicken cordon bleu or something. It doesn’t matter.”


“It’s just—” he said lamely. “I was hoping we could just order in and watch tv. This Is Us is on tonight.”


“You just want to watch tv on our anniversary?” she asked, incredulously. “Just tape it.”


“Denise, our wedding anniversary is in March.”


“The anniversary of our first date . . .”


“Technically, I don’t think the anniversary of our first date rises to that level of expectation.”


“Don’t do that.”


“Do what?” he replied, irritably.


“Don’t gaslight me,” she cried.


“Is that your go-to verb now? I can’t talk to you without gaslighting you? C’mon Denise,” he said, exasperated. “I’ll call for pizza, okay?”


“No,” she said. “It’s not okay.” 


###


Andrew wanted to talk to his wife, so he would read the news off his iPhone just to share a conversation. She was taking a shower after her evening yoga class, but he couldn’t wait until she granted him an audience.


“There was an major accident on I-4 yesterday,” 


“What are you talking about?”


Andrew, misreading his wife’s disdain as interest, continued. “A tanker truck jackknifed and slid across into oncoming traffic. The road was closed for almost twelve hours!”


“Good to know,” she responded sarcastically. “Is there anything else?” Andrew, oblivious to all the signs, continued, “Actually there is. This year's orange crop will be the best in a decade. I should have bought those orange futures. Why don’t I trust my gut?”


“I have no idea. Let me finish my shower? I’ve got things I want to do before dinner.”


Dejected, Andrew left her to herself. She seemed more interested in her new avocado facial mask than anything he could possibly say. 


###


Late into the evening while their spouses found comfort in each other's arms, both Andrew and Denise, unknowingly linked together by infidelity, walked out of their respective backdoors. Denise sat on an old wicker chair while Andrew walked the trail behind his home. 


The moon was scarcely visible, the clouds thicker, threatening rain. The stars were non-existent. With heavy hearts, both Andrew and Denise wondered how their spouses had disappeared, right before their very eyes. What had burned so bright and seemed so eternal now seemed dull, dissipating into shadows.


It was untrue that comets always returned. Eventually, after too many trips around the sun, all that was left was remnants of rock and dust, floating in the emptiness of space. 



May 25, 2021 20:58

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5 comments

Charlie Murphy
19:49 Jun 03, 2021

Great story! Happy ending! I got uncomfortable reading them bicker, but that means you show emotions very well!

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23:40 Jul 02, 2021

I agree!

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Ola Hotchpotch
09:51 Jun 02, 2021

Nice story.

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David Drew
15:10 May 26, 2021

Very good Christina. Your dialogue is very believable! one thing I've heard a lot of people talking about is to use fewer adverbs (e.g. he said, irritably). Not sure I agree, but maybe something to think about? Your style is very readable.

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Diwerne Subi
06:35 May 26, 2021

Wow! this is amazing

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