A Leaving and a Coming

By | September 12, 2011

Submitted to NPR’s 600-word “Three Minute Fiction” (http://www.npr.org/series/105660765/three-minute-fiction)

I handed him the key as he stepped off the bus. “She’s waiting for you inside.”

He blinked in the rising sun. “How is she?”

“Like she was a week ago, I guess.” I slung the bag over my shoulder, heavier now with the shoes. “I won’t be back.”

“I didn’t want it this way. She was just – there.”

“I know.” I sighed. “Look, we should talk about this later–”

He grabbed me by the arm. “You can’t just leave like this. You tell her?”

The driver leaned at us. “You coming on?”

“Just a minute. Please.” I turned back to him. “I knew it would end like this. You did, too.”

He snorted. “The court said everything was fine. You agreed, and she did, and I did. Why is this suddenly an issue?”

“Because, dammit, it was just us – me and Janette. Just us. Then you come along, hang around at the carousel, and bam – she thinks she’s in love with you, too.”

“She was – I mean, she is in love with me. With you. With both of us.”

“But it doesn’t work out like that in real life, Jim. You can’t just share a wife like you share a screwdriver.”

“Look. I gotta go. I’ve transferred to the St. Louis office. I’ll forward my phone number.”

He narrowed his eyes. “No, you won’t. That’s another lie. Like the one you said right at the beginning, how ‘it wouldn’t really matter.’ But it did, and you weren’t man enough to tell the truth. And you stopped talking to us.”

“I stopped talking because there wasn’t anything left to say. You did all the talking to her, and she did all the listening, and I was the alternate, the Monday special, the last guy called on the team. Dammit, Jim, I was there first.”

“No one’s telling you to go, Stan.” He pulled back and put the key in his pocket. His own bag was at his feet.

The driver interrupted again. “Get on or off, mister. I gotta go.”

“Look, I can give you a ride to the airport.”

“I’d rather walk on broken glass than spend one more minute with you. I thought we were friends.”

“Friends? Friends? How the hell was that supposed to work, ‘Friends’? We were married to the same woman. We weren’t ever friends, Stan. We were alternating housemates. You were the one who left the seat up, and I was the one who put the seat down. You like your sandwiches dry, and I want them with a smear of mayonnaise. Janette showed me the list. God, you were picky.”

“I wasn’t picky. I was the way I was. You showed up and made everything — wrong.”

“She was right, you know.”

Now I dropped my bag. “What the hell do you mean, ‘she was right’?”

“She was right about you giving up. Because you’re a coward.”

I closed my eyes. “You’re right. I’m a coward. Because ten years of being mocked and scorned was easy, but now I’m a coward because I just want someone to love me, just as I am, and me only.”

I got on the bus, and spoke through the open window. “Maybe I was a coward, but I always loved her, Stan. And she knows it. Maybe she’ll end up loving you the way she loved me. But you’ll have her now, every weekend. Good luck to you.”

The bus pulled away from the curb, and a blast of cold air hit me. I was leaving, and there was no return.

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