Spring 2010, Volume 8

Fiction by Melanie Rigney


In twenty-five years of marriage, Peter Godfrey had had breakup sex with fourteen lovers. Now, for the first time, he was the one being dumped.

He sat on the edge of Kara’s queen-sized bed late in the afternoon, watching as she buttoned her white linen shirt and briskly rolled up the sleeves to her elbows.

“Why?” he croaked for the third time.

Kara sighed for the third time, then sat down to his left.

“This,” she said, taking his hand in hers and pointing at the ring.


Two years earlier, Peter had stopped at the Silver Spur after the night shift. Someone tapped him on the shoulder. When Peter turned around, the husband of Baby Ten—or had she been Eleven?—was standing there, slamming his right fist into his left palm.

The best defense is a good offense; Peter had learned that in high school football. He rammed his right fist into the guy’s nose, pulled a ten out of his left jeans pocket, put it on the bar, and headed for the door. He was at his muddy tan pickup truck when he heard a throaty laugh.

“Nicely done,” a woman said as he turned around. “He’d been bragging for an hour about how he was going to clean somebody’s clock. You owe him money or what?”

Peter looked her up and down, the streetlight almost sending sparks off her fire engine red hair. Five-eight, maybe. Boot cut jeans she filled out just right. Some kind of green shirt. Slow, knowing smile. Late thirties, maybe five years younger than him.

“He caught me with his wife a while back,” Peter said. “Guess he never got over it.”

“Guess not.” She stepped closer to him, pulled his left hand up to her eye level. “What’d your wife say?”

“Maybe I didn’t have one then.”

The redhead laughed again. “Sure you did. Same one you have now. Same one you’ve been messing around on for twenty years.”

He wondered how she knew. “My wife ... as long as I don’t miss meals and don’t do her friends, she’s happy to have me out of the house.”

The redhead was moving in closer. She smelled good, like laundry on the line from when he was a kid, the way Joan used to smell when she bothered with perfume.

“You ask a lot of questions,” Peter said, pulling away his hand. “I’m tired. I’ve decked one guy tonight. I don’t need to deal with your husband or boyfriend or whatever.”

Red walked around to the pickup’s passenger door and stood on the running board. Her head just cleared the roof.

“Let’s go, cowboy,” she said. “You’re not that tired.” Fifteen minutes later, they were at a no-tell motel on the opposite end of town.

She told him she wrote for a magazine in the city seventy miles away. She’d just bought a funky little old house on a half acre not far away and was planning to work from there. He knew the place. Drove by it every day. Twice. It was half a mile from the factory.

They were still talking when light started coming through the open blinds. At home, Joan would be sitting at the table, dressed for her job at the library. Scrambled eggs, bacon, and cranberry juice would be sitting there too.

“I want this again, Baby,” he said as he pulled on his jeans. “And you do too. Only not here. Your place. Give me your number.”

She nodded, picking up the bedside pad and pen.

“One thing—” he began.

“You’re never going to leave your wife. That’s fine. But I’ve got one thing too.”

He nodded. Usually they wanted him to do some work around the house for them or look at their car or bring dinner the next time. That was fair.

“Don’t call me Baby. My name is Kara.”


“This?” Peter said again. “But you knew from the start I was married.”

Kara shook her head. “You’re right,” she said softly. “You were clear on that. This is because I saw you last Saturday at Costco with Sarah and Joan. They were looking at CDs, and Sarah started singing and doing a goofy dance like she was about ten years old. Joan joined in, and you stood there with your arms folded, watching them. Finally, you started in too. I’d never heard you sing.”

Peter laughed hoarsely. “So you’re dumping me because I’m a lousy singer?”

“No. I’m dumping you because you have a beautiful daughter and, believe it or not, a wife you love and who loves you.”

“Woman, if you don’t want to be with me, don’t be with me,” Peter said, almost shouting, his face growing red. “But do not lie. Joan’s never loved me. A roll in the hay after too much beer got us Sarah—and a couple lifetimes of misery.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Kara said, moving to the front door and opening it. “There’s still something there between you and Joan. It’s in both of your faces. One of you needs to humble themselves enough to make the first move. Maybe it should be you.”

“Go to hell,” he said, picking up his jacket and rushing past her, unable to see for the tears. He fired up the pickup and roared out of the driveway. Hours remained before last call at the Silver Spur. But instead, he found himself heading home. It was suppertime.


Joan Gregory liked her corn fresh.

She was in the garden, pulling four properly ripened ears from their stalks when she heard the pickup. Peter really needed to do something about that muffler. He’d had three speeding tickets in the past year, and the last thing they needed was a citation for faulty equipment.

The garden was her pride and joy, a forty-by-forty square of lettuce, tomatoes, corn, broccoli, squash, and the rest. Joan admitted it, she was prideful about the quality of her fresh produce and canned goods. She still had on display, framed, in the kitchen the six straight years of 4-H blue ribbons she won back in the day at the Virginia State Fair for her apple butter, strawberry pies, sweet corn, and tomatoes.

Joan bent to pick a few zucchini. Wouldn’t do to let them get any bigger. If she got out of work on time the next day, she’d make some chocolate zucchini cake. She added the squash to the corn in her rattan basket and straightened up slowly to her full five-feet-two. As she headed toward the house, she noticed Peter was still sitting in the truck in the carport, staring at nothing.

Six minutes later, the corn was on the table along with some steamed cod and two small dinner salads. Still no Peter. The old fool surely could work her nerve.

Joan went to the screen door and opened it.

“PEEEEEEEEEEETER,” she shouted. “Dinner’s ONNNNNNNNNNN.”

Then she came back inside and sat stiffly at the wooden kitchen table. After a couple more minutes, the door opened.

“Got to wash m’hands,” Peter mumbled, tossing his jeans jacket as he went by.

The jacket hit the floor next to Joan instead of his chair. Sighing, she picked it up to drape over his chair. That’s when she smelled it. White Linen. The same perfume she wore back in the day. The same perfume she’d been smelling in the truck for months. She couldn’t resist holding the wretched thing to her nose and inhaling, eyes closed. After a minute or two, she threw the jacket back on the floor and looked up to see Peter standing at the opposite end of the table.

“It’s been a while since you did that,” he said with what looked to be a smirk. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“Since I threw your jacket?”

“No,” he said, pointing to the table. “You bought some of that blue cheese salad dressing I really like.”

“It was,” Joan said, stopping herself before she spit out “a mistake.” If he was going to play nice, well, maybe she would too. She started over. “It was on sale.”

“Well, whatever. But I thank you. I do love that dressing.”

After a quick prayer, they ate in silence, just as they usually did. Except Peter seemed to be eating a lot slower.

“Sarah came by the library today,” Joan said finally.

“Did she?” Peter put down his silverware and looked up with a smile. “What’s new with them?”

“She wondered if we might keep Tommy week after next. She’s wanting to meet Eric in Vegas for a weekend before he ships out.”

“She doesn’t want to take Tommy along? I should think Eric would want to see him too.”

Joan laughed harshly. “No, she’s flying rather than driving. It’s a quick trip. The lovebirds want to do a little private billing and cooing, I suspect. Fool thing after six years of marriage.”

“Beautiful thing after six years of marriage if you ask me.”

“They’ll grow out of it,” Joan said. “Time and trouble have a way of making people keep their hands to themselves.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Peter said, heading for his bedroom downstairs. But then Joan, who had started loading the dishwasher, felt more than heard him turn around.

“I wondered—”

“Wondered what?”

“I wondered if you might want to take a walk tonight.”

A walk? They hadn’t taken a walk alone together since, well, she couldn’t remember when.

“I have to get schedules done for work. Need to do some wash too. I’ll need to fetch your hamper.”

“I’ll just put it by the stairs,” he said. “Don’t put yourself out. G’night, Joan.”

A couple of hours later, done with her schedules, Joan realized she had forgotten to put in the wash. Well, it was going to get later before it got earlier. She stretched and headed for the basement, carrying her pink plastic hamper. Peter’s white one was on the floor near the washer.

She sorted her clothes into three piles: lingerie, polyester blends, and cottons. She’d do the cottons that night anyway, as she wanted to wear that blue cotton skirt for the staff meeting in the morning. But there wasn’t enough to fill the washer, and Joan hated to waste water on a half-empty load. She bent down to look in Peter’s hamper to look for his khakis.

The jeans jacket was at the top of his dirty laundry.



The shredder’s high-pitched whir was so loud Peter couldn’t hear his own sobs. But he knew they were there. He could feel the catch in his throat and the heaving in his chest.

He hated Kara right then.


He had spent the past fifteen minutes shredding magazine articles he’d carefully stacked under his car manuals in the closet. They carried titles like “Ten Ways to Look Ten Pounds Thinner,” “Secrets Your Lover Won’t Tell You,” and “How to Simplify Your Beauty Regime.”

Peter didn’t need to look ten pounds thinner, had just lost his lover, and had never had a “beauty regime,” whatever that was. Why had he kept the stupid things? Dust gatherers, that’s what they were. Still, he couldn’t keep himself from running his right thumb slowly over “By Kara Lane” on the front page of each and every one.


What was it about the woman that she had gotten so deep under his skin, he wondered as he stacked up two years of birthday, Valentine’s, Sweetest Day, and “just because” cards, all of them goofy, all signed only with her big green lazy K.

He felt a little foolish, but kissed each card before he fed it into the shredder. Then he got to one that was different. Homemade, with a child’s handprint on the front. Peter's tears stopped, but the catch in his throat remained.

How had that gotten into this pile?

Slowly, he opened the card, though he knew what was inside: A kindergartner's drawing of a short, red-haired woman standing very close to a little girl with curly black hair and a red scrawl intended to be a dog. On the opposite page was a tall man with shaggy black hair being kissed by a woman with long yellow hair.

DAD, Sarah had written in crooked block letters. Happy Birthday, Joan had written in crisp, perfect letters above Sarah's.

He and Joan had been fighting about everything that spring twenty years ago, from whether to paint the living room gray or blue to whether Sarah could have a gerbil. Until he opened the card, he hadn’t thought it was a big deal that Sarah had seen him doing a tongue dance with the new next-door neighbor a few times.

Peter had let Sarah blow out the candles on his birthday cake that night and oohed and aahed over the homemade card, refusing to look at Joan. Then, while Joan put Sarah to bed, he headed out to the front porch swing, hoping to get in a smoke before World War III began.

But Joan was quiet as she came outside and sat carefully on the opposite end of the swing. In a very soft but firm voice, she said, “I told her yesterday that if I ever see the two of you within fifty feet of each other again, I will kill her.”

Peter blew the air out of his lungs in a slow whistle. “All right.”

“You and I have a big problem.”

“We have a lot of problems, Joan.” He was about to begin listing them when she shook her head.

“No, we have one big problem: the way Sarah sees us.”

Peter hated himself right then. He wanted to grab Joan in his arms and apologize and start crying and kiss her like he hadn’t for a couple of years. But instead he took another drag from his cigarette and said, “If you want a divorce, go ahead. But you won’t take Sarah with you.”

Joan gave a low laugh. “Oh, Peter Jackson Gregory. That little girl does come first with us both, and she’s the only thing between us that’s good. No, I don’t want a divorce. I want us to agree on a few things.”

“Such as?”

“No more yelling and screaming in front of her. We don’t have to be lovey-dovey, but civil anyway. I want you home for every meal you’re not working. I want us to eat together like a family, even if you and I both know we’re a sorry excuse for one. And Peter?” Joan stood up and moved to the screen door.


“Don’t ever, ever again cat around with someone who knows me. Keep this garbage out of my house.” She closed the screen door gently, so as not to wake Sarah.

By and large, he’d stuck by their bargain, he thought as he stood up the little card on his nightstand. He’d missed maybe five meals in the past twenty years, and had stayed away from Joan’s friends. Most importantly, he and Joan had never again had a fight in front of Sarah, who’d grown up to be as beautiful and loving a daughter as either of them could have hoped for.

Peter removed the shredder top and took the plastic bag of confetti to the garbage can. They were the only two women who’d ever closed doors on him, Joan and Kara. There was a certain dignity or something to them. Maybe it came along with the red hair.

But thinking about that would have to wait. He went upstairs to the kitchen to make a snack before taking a nap.

“Peter,” a folded-up piece of paper held by a refrigerator magnet read. Who else did she think was going to be here? He opened it. “I put together a snack that’s better for you than salami. Joan.”

Inside the fridge, he found a see-through container with fresh vegetables, cut up the way he liked them, next to the bottle of blue cheese dressing. He put them both on the counter, poured too much dressing on the vegetables, put the bottle back inside, and sat at the table.

Cherry tomatoes, radishes, green onions. They were good, as always. Joan was a gardener like no one else he’d ever known. She could coax anything out of that Virginia clay. It figured, he guessed; he and Joan were buying mulch and grass seed for the fall that day Kara saw them. They probably had looked happy together; who knew, maybe they even had been happy. They both liked being outdoors and physical. How they ended up as a librarian and a factory machinist, well, things just happened in life. You couldn’t help that.

Peter headed downstairs to his room. He tried to nap, but sleep wouldn’t come. What did he and Joan look like when they were together and happy? What had Kara seen?

He went back up to the living room and looked through the photo album. There it was, in their photos with Sarah when she was born, when she won that award, when she graduated high school: big smiles and gazes that proclaimed to the world that Joan and he knew for a fact their daughter had hung the moon.

There was nothing of just the two of them, looking lovey-dovey or not, other than their wedding portrait. It showed a tall, handsome man with shaggy black hair and ice-blue eyes towering over his pretty red-haired bride, who was doing her best to make her pregnant belly a little less visible.

“We were scared half out of our wits, both of us, that day,” Peter said to Calvin the calico cat. “But I know we were happy later, when Sarah was little. Maybe Joan’s got some other pictures somewhere. Maybe if I ask her… ”

He closed the album with a sigh and put it back carefully on the shelf.


BIO:  Melanie Rigney is a writer and editor who lives in Arlington, Virginia. She has more than thirty years of communications and publications experience, including five years as editor of Writer's Digest magazine.