Eugene Dunderforth, DDS, did not expect his wife to titter when he told her about the affair with his accountant one Sunday morning over eggs, fruit salad, bacon, and coffee.
“Oh Gene! What a joke, today of all days. And Gwen is such a nice person—maybe we should have her over for dinner. Do you think she’s a vegetarian? So many young people are, these days.”
He laughed halfheartedly, stunned by his own daring. “No, I don’t think she is,” he muttered, unfurling the newspaper that he’d crushed in his hand. It had escaped his notice that this particular Sunday in June was their wedding anniversary—thirty-two years. After he registered the date, smudged with sweat, his face relaxed into its usual expression of mild boredom. He idly wondered where he might buy his wife some flowers. Would she care if he had a bouquet wrapped up at the supermarket? He speared a piece of melon, which dripped pale green juice onto the lace tablecloth.
Mabel Whitcombe—she had, thank God, kept her name, despite the talk it had caused—caught her breath and pushed a starched napkin underneath the blossoming stain. Nothing escaped her notice, including thirty-two years’ worth of emergency root canals on Saturday nights and crown fittings after office hours. For the best patients, the ones who paid promptly, he’d assured her, waving at the quiet, inviting rooms of their four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath colonial, which Mabel tastefully updated every few years.
She considered marriage as rather like a visit to the dentist: salutary to both parties, likely painful to one, and temporary. For some years she had cultivated a faith in statistics, believing that once Eugene blundered off around seventy-six, she’d have fifteen years or so to enjoy alone the fruits of his denture placements and pain-free fillings. But as the years without orange juice and ice cream and raisins (notorious enablers of decay) had passed, it became clear that her faith—and her husband—might very well outlast her patience.
She sipped her black coffee, avoiding Eugene’s infrequent glances and watching orange-yellow egg ooze toward the edge of her plate. It was a good plate, part of a set she’d bought without consulting him. Porcelain with a thin gold band around the rim. All these years she’d been so careful not to nick them, scooping each piece out of soapy dishpans and drying them by hand. If she looked closely she might find a nest of tiny cracks, but from this distance the surface was smooth as cream. Except for the encroaching yolk.
After the day’s stock report had transfixed Eugene, she scraped up the egg with her knife’s edge and licked the blade clean, immediately chastising herself for risking damage to the plate. At least she had avoided one of his gratingly cheerful lectures on endangering her enamel.
Carolyn Oliver’s fiction has appeared in Day One, Tin House’s Open Bar, Slush Pile Magazine, matchbook, and elsewhere. A graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University, she lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found at carolynoliver.net.