Drama Contemporary

After all these years, his number is still the same.

“Do you remember when we were 17 and the school held a fair at that old abandoned factory lot at the end of Magnolia Street? That probably wasn’t very safe, but then again, times were different then, weren’t they? There was this ride—I don’t recall what it was called now, but it swooped up and down and sideways—anyway, Sally Jenkins swore it made her stomach drop and her teeth clatter, so I had to try it, but as soon as the ride attendant strapped me in, of course that’s when I realized that I didn’t actually want to be on it, but the girl had already turned her back.”

“Dawn, is everything all right?” 

The voice that comes through the other end of the line hasn’t changed at all either. It still has that crisp quality that could have only been forged by two summers of intensive speech workshops back in high school. I wrap the cord of the phone around my fingers.

I don’t know. 

“I don’t know.”

I bite my lip. He can’t see it, of course, but Jeremy had been my best friend for many years before life pulled us in two separate directions. I imagine that he can see my nervous habit as clearly from New Jersey as I can see his furrowed brow from San Francisco. 

“When I think about that day, those precious 10 seconds before the ride starts, when the girl is walking back to the control panel, I imagine willing myself to speak, telling the girl that I’ve changed my mind. That I no longer want this. That I want to get off the ride. But every time that moment comes, I just clam up. And then I hear the music start—that discordant, clown music that’s supposed to be fun—and I feel my pulse race. The ride slowly lifts, and I start to cry, but that high up, the wind just pushes my tears back, and then I just feel numb.”

I laugh but it feels hollow.

“I don’t know what’s sadder—the fact that 17-year-old me is a crybaby or that these are the thoughts of a 50-year-old.”

On the other end of the line, Jeremy remains silent. In the background, I hear a woman talking, but the words are indecipherable. I tell myself it’s coming from the TV. When he finally speaks, it breaks my heart.

“I’m sorry, Dawn.”

I’m sorry, too.

Jeremy is being summoned to take his daughter to the train station. She's going off to Brown, the same place as her older brother. She seems to be a lovely girl although I've never met her. I've only ever seen the photos online, but even with my terrible eyesight, it's clear that father and daughter have the same sunny dimpled smile and the same twinkle in their eyes when they're hamming it up for the camera.

It's hard not to see a 17-year-old or even a 50-year-old Jeremy doing the same, so I let him go, saying that I have laundry that needs to be folded.

We stay on the phone for one breath longer before I hang up. For a while, however, my hand remains on the receiver, perhaps hoping that the heat from my touch would somehow transmit everything that we left unsaid across state lines.

I don’t think I’ll call him again. 

Maybe in another life, things would have been different. Maybe I would have realized my feelings for my best friend earlier and not just before I was about to walk down the aisle. Maybe I would have even cancelled the wedding when I read his letter bearing his confession. Maybe I would have filed for a divorce after the first year. Maybe even after the 10th.

I sink down on the couch, deflated. I'm no mathematician, but even I know that this equation has too many unknown variables for it to ever be resolved.

Later that evening, I hear a car come up to the driveway. The door opens and slams shut and is followed by light-hearted whistling. It's to the tune of a long-defunct game show, and it’s out of key.

When the front door opens, I see my husband of 25 years standing before me with a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a Tiffany box in another.

“Happy anniversary, darling,” he says as he reaches to hug me. I return the embrace, pretending that I can’t smell the scent of another woman on him. I place the flowers on the table while he presents the box to me. It’s a double heart tag pendant in silver. I feel tears begin to pool in my eyes, but I push them back.

I suppose my husband loves me in his own little way. He may be careless with his affairs, but I believe that he thinks me ignorant of them. It is better this way. He takes care of me and provides for all my needs and whims. That’s a lot more than I can say for Sally Jenkins. I heard that her husband recently skipped town, leaving her with three mouths to feed and a ton of debt.

I should thank God for small mercies. I do thank God for small mercies.

I think back to the ride at the fair, about the three minutes that made my stomach drop and my teeth clatter. I remember telling myself that the ride will eventually end, that my feelings of fear and regret will eventually pass.

Some days, it works.

I take the Tiffany box with both hands and gasp loudly. Although my response is practiced, there is still a look of wonder in my husband's eyes. I see it when he thinks he has impressed me or made me incredibly happy.

Sometimes, it makes me think that things will be different tomorrow, that he'll stop having his affairs just like I'll stop pining for a future that can never be. Such fantasies never come to pass, of course, but maybe this—the ability to believe, even for just a moment, that things can change for the better—is all we can ever hope for.

And maybe, in the end, it can be enough.

“Happy anniversary, darling,” I say in return.

April 29, 2023 07:16

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