by Didi Wood
The stories are wrong: You can go home again. It’s easy. Throw yourself into your old life with a vengeance. The dishes, the dusting, the laundry – never has the house been so clean, so neat. You fold the clothes and put them away in drawers, instead of leaving them tangled in the dryer or heaped in a basket. You can do this. It’s easy. You get out the cookbooks and mark recipes with colored flags; you make shopping lists, dividing items by category; you clear out the refrigerator, and scrub the shelves and bins, and fill it again with fresh, wholesome food. And you cook. Not meals cobbled together from whatever’s in the pantry or arranged around a supermarket-roasted chicken; no, real cooking, real meals, beef stew and lasagna and split-pea soup and a chicken that you roast yourself, an organic, free-range bird with sage and butter rubbed beneath the skin. Forget how much you hate touching raw chicken. This is how it’s done. You do it. It’s easy.
You feel your man watching you, waiting for something to slip. Smile and show him the dresses you’ve marked in the bridal magazines, and ask him if he wants to serve both beef and salmon at the reception, and to which charity gifts should be directed. You’ve been dragging your feet for so long, but now that you’ve started, it’s easy, it really is. He has been so patient with you. You don’t deserve him, you know it, everyone knows it. Smile wider so they all know that you know it, too.
Go to bed early, and don’t look at the stars. Don’t listen to Chopin. Don’t think about the other man, the man behind you on the piano bench, his arms wrapped around you, hands resting atop yours, fingers roaming with yours over soft, yellowed ivory keys and then up your arms and over your shoulders, your neck, your chest. Forget the way he trembles, the way you feel it all the way to your toes, as he cups your breasts and presses against you from behind. Forget the way his breath catches when you turn at last to kiss him. Forget his forehead against yours, his breath sweet on your lips. Forget the wonder in his shadowed eyes. Forget the feeling that you’ve found where you belong. This is your life, not a fairy tale, and that’s not your home.
Stay home this time. You have a lovely new piano, an early wedding gift from your man. See how much he loves you? Make yourself play it, your fingers hammering the shiny white plastic keys. They’re slippery smooth but you will not slip. Play Mozart. Play Bach. Keep your eyes on the music, and stay within the bar lines. Smile. Smile. You can do it. It’s easy.
Didi Wood’s stories have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Night Train, Cezanne’s Carrot, Northwest Review, and other print and online publications. She is an editor at flashquake, an online journal of flash literature. She lives near Seattle.