She found the crumpled receipt in his favorite pair of jeans. Silk camisole, fishnet black, garter black, peep-toe pumps red. One hundred thirteen dollars and fifty-one cents and thank you for shopping at Minerva’s Closet. Paid in cash. August 23 at 8:42 p.m. Yesterday. His bowling league night.
She would not cry. There wasn’t time.
She still had to cut the celery, peel the cucumbers in flower shapes for the fancy platter with dip—cruddy somethings. What Martha Stewart called them. Crudités.
He called her. “Still need that bag of ice?”
“No. Not anymore.” But something in her voice betrayed her.
“Baby, what’s wrong?”
She hung up.
The milkmaid clock over the stove had her little buckets pointing to twelve and six. Too late to cancel. Her book club would be here in thirty minutes. All they did was argue. Last month, they’d read that book with “Pray” in the title, but it was about food and sex in Italy, and now Martha was threatening to drop out because it wasn’t Christian romance—
Maybe leave a note on the door? Book club cancelled today. But they’d know something was wrong, something terrible—
One hundred and thirteen dollars. Their cable bill was late. She hadn’t bought a decent bra in a year, and wore the cheap panty hose from the drug store, the kind in plastic eggs, scrimping, always scrimping. The knife shook in her hands as she wacked away at the celery and women’s faces flashed in her mind, one by one, like mug shots. Gloria, the receptionist? Sharon the church secretary? Tammy, his old flame? Divorced Tammy who worked at Piggly Wiggly, wearing a hair net, giving out food samples, telling everyone she was “back on the market” and she liked dating on the computer, it was real technical now.
Her mother’s advice, after J.D. proposed. Honey, when the bills come in, sex goes right out the window. But it hadn’t. Bills came in, yeah, but they
had relations every Saturday. J.D. was crazy about her, going on fifteen years now, with two kids.
His truck rumbled in the driveway, he must have run every redlight to get home so fast.
“I told you not to bring ice,” she said when he came into the kitchen, her head in the oven like a wicked old witch in a fairy tale.
At the power company, where he was a lineman, they just hired on a girl because the government said they had to, and the men gave her a hard time. Jokes about girls on the pole. Like she worked at a tittie bar. But he said she was a tomboy. Probably a lez.
She’d left the receipt on the counter for him.
Her head still in the oven. She could hardly breathe. She peeked, saw him pick up the receipt.
“Look here. We need to talk. I can explain.”
When a man wanted to talk, there was only one reason why.
She’d have to find work, waitressing again. Put the boys in daycare. Live in some crappy apartment. They said Tammy was on food stamps. Back on the market.
She closed the oven door. He looked like a kicked dog. “Who is she?”
“I didn’t buy this stuff for another woman—“
“Oh, I guess it’s for me then?” No birthday or anniversary for months, and he blew a hundred bucks on lingerie for her? “I’m not stupid, J.D.”
He fled to the bedroom. Was he packing a suitcase? He came back into the kitchen, sobbing.
“You don’t get to cry, okay? I do.”
“I’ve been meaning to tell you, Darla. I promise.”
He emptied his bowling bag on the counter. Red camisole, lace garters, fishnet hose. Giant red sequined pumps. The mugshots in her mind started up. Becky in the church choir! A fat, sleepy girl, her doughy plump face always fixing on J.D.
“The man I married would never buy outfits for some floozy.”
He sat down and pulled off his steel-toed boots.
“Maybe I’m not the man you thought I was,” he said in a choked voice. He slipped into the pumps, graceful as a pageant contender, rolled up his muddy pantlegs above those glittery peep-toe pumps. Stood, teetering.
“But, Darla, I’m still your husband. And I love you.”
Silence, like a held breath. The refrigerator hummed.
There was no other woman. There would be no crappy apartment, no food stamps, no computer dating. There was…this. Just this.
The doorbell rang.
“Put your things away, J.D. and go get us some ice. I got guests.”
Mindy Friddle is the author of The Garden Angel (St. Martin’s Press), selected for Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program. Her second novel, Secret Keepers (St. Martin ‘s Press), won the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction. The South Carolina Arts Commission granted Mindy a Fellowship in Prose, and she has twice won the South Carolina Fiction Prize. Recent short stories have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Phoebe. Mindy earned her M.F.A. in fiction from Warren Wilson. She lives and writes in Greenville, SC.