Saturday morning. My wife Leah eats Instant Lunch for breakfast, chicken flavor in a Styrofoam cup. She never soaks the noodles long enough. I hear the crunch, the peas are pebbles. She smells of bourbon and cigarettes, and I know she got home right before I woke, but I don't say it. I wonder if he pulled his Chevy up our drive, or stayed at the end of the block like I used to, when she still lived at her parents’, when we were the ones sneaking around. I remember her mom would peek out the window of the second-floor bedroom after the door clicked, wave down the street toward me, that the house was a yellow brick bungalow just like ours, that Leah smelled then of the same, sweet-sharp tang.
Our son smacks the tray of his highchair and throws scrambled egg at me. It ricochets off my bare arm, and lands on the kitchen table with a little bounce. I pick it up, soft and crumbling, throw the egg back, and it pings him on the forehead. He giggles, flails his chubby thighs in the leg holes of the chair, and wiggles his butt up and down. Leah gives me a side-eye before she walks over to smooth his hair, wipe egg off his face. Papa shouldn’t play with food, hon-buns, she says. Kisses him on the forehead. He smiles up at her, all dimples and messy kid, and I know she’s right. I could never do this without her.
I also know who he is, our friend. My friend. I know Leah’s only getting even. When she was pregnant I did the same thing to her. Stayed out late. Didn’t say where I was going. Came home with phone numbers. I never called them, but it doesn’t matter. It was enough.
Later, Leah will nap with our boy, and I will play football down by the lake with my brother and his buddies. The wind will be cool and light, but I will come home sweaty. She will rub her eyes, tug on the front of my shirt and say, mm, man stink. She’ll carry our son to his crib, and his arms, heavy with afternoon sleep, will hang at his sides. She’ll place him on his back, and he’ll suck his thumb. Only then will she pull me to the bed, cover herself with me. We will move slowly, like we are keeping time. But for now, she taps her fingers on the table and sighs, tilts soup into her mouth. The noodles crunch.
CHELSEA VOULGARES lives in the Chicago suburbs and is the editor of the literary journal Lost Balloon. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Passages North, Cheap Pop, Midwestern Gothic, Literary Orphans, and Bust, and has been awarded grants from the Illinois Arts Council and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. You can find her online at chelseavoulgares.com or on Twitter @chelsvoulgares