It happened slowly, like the way you wake up on weekends. You open your eyes, and you see the sunlight streaming in, and you know you really should get up because there’s grass to mow and kids to feed and a kitchen to clean... But you ignore it all and roll over and fall back asleep.
And that’s exactly what Molly did that last Saturday morning.
Sailor was crying. That’s what woke me up. I opened my eyes and looked over at Molly. It was the same way I started every other day. Her hair was mussed, her lips were chapped, and she had last night’s mascara smeared under her brown eyes. There was a time I would have found the sight beautiful – charming, even. But today all I could see were the gray streaks in her brown hair, the crow’s feet by her eyes, the dried drool on her left cheek. I used to play connect-the-dots with her freckles when we were first married, but those same freckles did nothing to enchant me this morning.
“Sailor is hungry,” I tried.
“Then feed her.”
I got up to feed Sailor.
Molly finally came into the kitchen thirty minutes later. She felt bad for snapping at me, but instead of saying “I’m sorry,” she brewed a pot coffee and poured me a cup. She poured one for herself, too, even though we both knew she wouldn’t drink it. She always took two or three sips, let it go cold, and poured the rest down the drain. I never said anything – coffee was cheap, and it made her feel better to be able to waste something.
Molly and I didn’t talk for a bit, we just sat and watched Sailor babble. She smeared syrup in her hair and laughed at her own genius.
“I think it’s bath time,” Molly said in a sing-song voice, but it didn’t sound real to me. She scooped Sailor up, knocking the syrup-covered plate off of the high chair’s table. “Oops.”
“It’s okay, I’m cleaning anyway. Everything’s sticky.”
“Sticky!” Sailor giggled.
“That’s right, sticky!” Molly said, already walking towards the bathtub. “Listen, Daniel.” She stopped in the doorway. “About this morning–”
“Don’t worry about it. Hey, would you like to go out for dinner? We can call Lindsay, I don’t think she works Saturdays.”
Molly smiled, and I saw a glimpse of the woman I fell in love with. “That would be nice.” Sailor’s one-sided conversation echoed all the way down the hall toward the bathroom.
As I cleaned syrup off of the counters and floor, I couldn’t help but think that an outsider looking in would have thought we were a perfect family. Normal, happy, dedicated. That morning, I had hope that things wouldn’t turn out the way they did with Rachel. It was the first time everything had felt good in a while. I wish I’d known it would be the last. I wish I’d known we were over long before that Saturday even began.
I thought about my dad that day. I cleaned, I mowed the lawn, and I made us grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches for lunch, and the whole time my dad was on my mind. I’d driven to his house the day Rachel left me, and we’d talked for hours. My marriage was over, just like his. I needed guidance, but I didn’t find any there. He’d told me, “You’re a Huxley, son. Ever looked up what that name means? We ain’t good at marriage. We ain’t a good place for a family to rest.”
I knew I was different from my father. For starters, I was the first Huxley man to go to college. That was where I met Rachel, and after a whirlwind romance of six months, we were married. We were young. We didn’t yet know the true price of fidelity.
Rachel wanted a career, and I wanted a family. In my mind, those didn’t fit. A mother should be home to care for her baby. I didn’t want any child of mine to grow up without a mother. When Molly and I got pregnant, she was excited. That was one of the moments I knew our marriage would be better – it had to be. I’m not a Huxley the way my father was. I’d make a new name for us, for Molly and Sailor. I couldn’t fail, not again.
After lunch, I stood in the doorway to the sun room, watching Molly play with our daughter. The sight warmed my heart. My daughter was pretending to cook burgers in her toy kitchen, and Molly was laughing. The sunlight streaming through the slats of the blinds lit the tips of Molly’s hair, and her eyes trapped the light when she met my gaze. She was beautiful, she always had been, and I felt guilty for thinking about her the way I had this morning. I smiled at my wife, and she smiled back, and everything was okay again. She was a better woman than Rachel, and I, a better man than my father. We were going to make it.
Molly and I went to a nice place for dinner – a rare treat. I didn’t like to spend money, but Molly had expensive tastes. That had been the source of many loud, door-slamming fights. But, of course, all of our fights were loud, full of passion. That’s how I knew, when we fought that night at dinner, that it would be our last. It was a quiet fight, one that showed that neither one of us cared as much as we’d let on.
She’d just ordered a third glass of wine.
“Hey, Mols, don’t you think two’s enough?” She didn’t even look at me, just smiled and nodded at the waiter. When he brought back the wine, Molly took a small sip.
“It’s a celebration, Daniel. Live a little.”
“And what are we celebrating?”
“You taking me out to dinner for the first time since Sailor was born.” There was a hint of bitterness in Molly’s voice, and she took another sip of wine.
“You know I think it’s important that you’re home with Sailor as much as possible,” I countered. “She needs time with her mother.”
“And I need time with my husband.”
There was a tiny bit of steak left on my plate. I pushed it around with my knife, cutting it into three smaller pieces. “I’m sorry. You’re right.”
Molly sighed. “I’m sorry, too. How’s your steak?”
“Dry.” I ate another bite. Two left.
“You don’t have to eat that, you know. You could have ordered something else.”
“We can’t afford that, Molly. We can barely afford dinner as it is.”
She laughed. “Then why did you take me out?” Another sip of wine, yet the level of liquid in the glass seemed unchanged. “Besides,” Molly said under her breath, “we would be able to afford it if you hadn’t made me quit my job.”
I set my fork down, incredulous. “You were just going to leave Sailor at such a young age? Just to work? You would have had to take leave, anyway, Molly, don’t be ridiculous. And I didn’t make you quit, I merely suggested it.”
“You emailed my boss, Daniel.”
Our waiter came by just as I opened my mouth to reply. “Can I get you two anything else tonight? Perhaps some dessert?” He dangled the menu in front of us.
“No, we were—”
“I’ll have the tiramisu. And a coffee, please,” Molly smiled.
“Excellent. Are you certain I can’t get you anything else, sir?”
I inhaled, pressing my lips together. “No. Thank you.” He left. “Molly, we–”
“We can’t afford it, yes, I know.” Molly sounded exasperated. She took a sip of wine and pursed her lips. “Daniel, I only want one thing. A good life for Sailor. But quitting my job is not a good way to give her that life. You know it, and I know it. Now, I don’t know if Rachel just wasn’t able to love a child and work at the same time, but I am a different person, Daniel. I can do it. I’m not her.”
My breath caught in my throat at the mention of Rachel’s name. We’ve talked about Rachel on a total of three occasions – once when Molly and I were dating, once on our wedding night, and once on the day my dad died. The conversations never did end well. I could tell Molly was jealous of Rachel, but I could never wrap my head around why. Molly was a better woman, even my father saw that.
“You can’t bring her into this, Mols. I’m married to you, not to her.”
“Not anymore, anyway.” Molly offered the waiter a wry smile as he set her coffee and tiramisu down on the table. She took one final sip of her wine and pushed the three-quarters-full glass away from her. “Bite?” I shook my head, and she ate the forkful of cake herself.
“Rachel and I got divorced because we were just too different. All we did was fight.”
I can’t fail. I can’t fail again. I’m not my father.
“Then what makes you think that you and I will make it?”
“Molly...” I whispered. She raised her eyebrows. “Don’t say that. We’ll make it. We have to. Don’t you remember what we said when we got married?” I can’t-
“Daniel.” There was one bite left of the tiramisu. She set her fork down and pushed the plate away. “We can’t save each other.”
We didn’t speak for the rest of the night. The waiter brought the check, and I slid my card into the folder without looking to see how much I’d be paying. It didn’t matter, not now.
The next day, without ever having the discussion, we drove to see a divorce lawyer, and I’d spend the rest of my life telling people my second marriage ended over lukewarm coffee, tiramisu, and one last bite of dry steak.
I was a Huxley, after all, wasn’t I?
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