rootless tree.

a short story.

i knew it was wrong.

i knew what it would mean.

but i did it anyway.

to call it cheating is too simple.

because i wasn't cheating myself out of anything.

i was treating myself.

i met her one day, in a park.

it was sunny and cool. she was walking her dog. i was walking my dog.

when we passed each other in opposite directions, she caught my eye. and as if darwin knew what i was thinking, he sniffed out her dog and started to whimper.

she spoke easily, 'hey... i think they like each other.'

she stopped and i stopped, and we let them get to know one another.

i smiled. i was without words. i became awkward, and blushing.

i didn't want to stammer. i wanted to be smooth.

it took half a minute to come up with something that wouldn't give me away.

'this is darwin. what's her name?'

she kneeled down and rubbed her dog's neck, looking up at me, squinting in the sun.

'this is gretta.'

she stood up and held out her hand. a thin red string bracelet was tied to her slight wrist, a gold rectangle dangling from it, glinting in the sun. i hated my palms for going sweaty on me, in an effort to derail my plan to make a good first impression. nervous sweaty guy is not what i was going for.

i took her hand lightly, without shaking it. we spoke at the same time in an effort to introduce ourselves, and both laughed. i was nervous. she seemed completely at ease. i liked her immediately.

'i'm david,' i said.

'hi, david,' she told me her name after that, but i was so entranced with the way she said my name through her smile that i missed it completely. she'd now told me twice, and i didn't catch it either time.

i was trying to think of a way to ask her to repeat it for a third time, but couldn't come up with one.

our pets lost interest in each other, and darwin was tugging hard on the leash.

'i guess i'm leaving now. it was nice to meet you. i'll see you around?'

she nodded and smiled, patting darwin on the head before tossing a smile over her shoulder in my direction. i only knew this because i had turned to watch her walk away from me.

about a block later, we were alone on the street.

'goddammit,' i said aloud, not really to darwin, more to myself.

i always managed to fuck things up when it counted.

we walked toward our house, but i was taking my time.

to say that i was in no rush to get home was an understatement. i'd left in an attempt to cool down. and, opening the front door, the heat was cranked to an uncomfortable level.

mina was standing in the kitchen when i stepped in, kicked off my shoes, and unhooked the leash from darwin's neck.

'you get over yourself while you were out there? your dinner is cold.'

she shoved a plate of cold food across the bar in my general direction. from the look in her eyes, she'd have been happier throwing it on the floor at my feet, hoping the broken glass would slice my feet, just to make a point.

i was at a loss for words. the woman from the park was smiling at me in my mind's eye, but i came back quickly. mina was staring me down with a significant crinkle between her eyebrows. her arms were crossed and her hands were clutching the hem of her shirt on her hips.

'you know what? i am trying. okay, david? i've been trying for a long time to let you have your space when you say that you need it. but it's not getting us any closer to being on the page we need to be on.'

she'd caught me off guard. i stammered, 'i-i'm sorry, okay, mina? shit! i just needed to cool off. i didn't mean to miss dinner.'

as the words fell out of my mouth, i thought about what i had done. we'd had an argument. i left specifically to miss dinner. and then i'd met someone. someone i intended to run into again.

i left because i didn't want to sit across from her. i didn't want to eat in silence. not when she'd be sitting across from me. i didn't have the stomach for it. i stuck the plate in the microwave and reheated my dinner. i took a bite from the bread roll, rendered rubbery. par for the course.

i sat down at the dining room table alone while she rinsed her plate. lately, she'd stopped waiting for me. she'd been eating without me.

glass clinked in the dishwasher as she fit things in snugly. she always reorganized the racks when i tried to help with the dishes. i had since stopped trying to help.

she stood at the counter, looking at me over the bar. her hands were little fists, hard pressed against the edge of the granite. the diamond caught the light and blinked at me.

'i don't want to argue,' her voice was tired and her eyes were puffy.

i talked around the mouthful of food i'd forked in at the perfect time.

'ee neifer.'

she shook her head, so slightly that if i hadn't been staring her down, i wouldn't have noticed. i know she thinks i'm unrefined. i know that it bothers her. i once overheard her tell a friend on the phone that i was her little caveman.

her arms dropped to her side, and she walked toward the bedroom.

the sun was setting. it was too early to be going to bed. we'd taken the tv out of the bedroom at her suggestion to spice up our time in bed. it meant that, more often than not, i was in the living room well past the time she went to lay down, in an effort to put my head to sleep so my body would follow suit.

i finished my food slowly, thinking about the fact that i was in no rush to go to bed. in no rush for the cold shoulder. in no rush to stare at her back. things were slow for me, lately. i was taking my time.

by the time i rinsed my plate and put the dishes into the dishwasher, she was already under the covers with her eyes closed. i knew she would undo it the next day. but better to try than to have her bitch about the dirty dishes i left in the sink.

she wasn't asleep. to her credit, she wasn't pretending to be. she was merely expressing her intention.

i missed her. i missed the old mina. the mina i married.

she was so angry all of the time. i knew a few of the ways i'd disappointed her, as a husband. and i also knew the ways that she disappointed me as my wife. but neither of us ever brought it up, unless it was the part of an argument where we started to say mean things to each other in an effort to end it.

but we were married. and to this point, neither of us took the concept of marriage lightly.

i wished i could go back and remember how it was that i made her happy. how it was that i was excited to see her everyday, not make up errands to run in an effort to spend less time taking the heat.

i didn't care that i was still in my jogging shorts and tee shirt. i climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling.

i tried to stay on my side of the bed. but i felt like that was the wrong thing to do.

i tried to put my arm around her waist. when my hand made contact, she jumped violently, and scooted her body to the edge of the bed. i rolled over, defeated.

'mina, please. what can i do to fix this? i hate this.'

'you can't do anything, david. you can't do anything.'

she switched off the light. the bed shook slightly as she cried herself to sleep.

she didn't shut down on me in the beginning. she was always shutting down on me these days.

i woke up angry, the same way i'd gone to sleep, thinking the same thoughts. how do you force someone to start again when they shut down? how do you bring them back to the beginning when things were good, and open?

mina was under a lot of stress, all the time. she worked long days, and some nights. there was a time when i would ask her about her day. but that time had come and gone. she eventually told me to stop asking, because she didn't want to think about work once she was home.

at first, it was once a week that she'd get caught late. then it was three.

there was a time when i thought she was fucking around on me. one night when she said she had to work late, i stopped for takeout and carried it to her office. i felt sick, but wore a smile. i was determined to put my mind at ease.

and when i let myself into the suite, she was at her desk, working. no one else was in the office.

and the fake smile became real.

and she was grateful.

that was one of the last things i did for her that was appreciated. one of the last good memories.

i hadn't even picked up anything for myself. i honestly expected her to not be there. i expected to eat what i'd bought. or drop it on the floor in shock when i saw someone trying to 'help' her with her work in the office late at night.

i sat with her at her desk, while she cried between bites. as horrible as it was, watching her eat slowly with a quivering chin, and as relieved as i was, i carried the conversation and made her laugh. she blew her nose every third bite.

when she finished eating, she asked where my food was. i told her i wasn't hungry. it was the first time i lied to her with ease.

she'd proven me wrong. she'd put my mind at ease.

i stopped on the way back home for my dinner. i ate alone when i got home. i hid the trash in the garbage can outside.

i was setting us up.

i followed one deceitful action with a few more.

she called when i was laying in bed to tell me that she wasn't done yet, and not to worry, that she'd be home soon. she thanked me again for dinner.

i told her goodnight.

it was the beginning of the end. i think that she saw through my gesture. because after that, things were not the same.

when i woke up in the morning, angry, still in my running clothes, she was gone. i didn't know how i'd missed her waking or getting ready or leaving.

but she was gone. i smelled her perfume, which was the last thing she did to ready herself before she walked out the door.



it was saturday. i got up and drank the cup of coffee she'd left on the burner for me.

darwin was looking at me expectantly.

'yeah, buddy. i know. gimme a minute, okay?'

he started pacing around the kitchen. he'd sit near the fridge and stare at me. walk to the door and stare at me. we had this standoff every morning. he didn't bark or whine. he knew i'd get up when i was done with the coffee, put on my shoes, and take him for his first walk of the day.

i skimmed the paper while i sipped. i couldn't concentrate on the stories. i was drinking faster than usual.

i remembered gretta's walker from yesterday. my stomach dropped.

i set my empty mug in the sink and put my shoes on. darwin panted.

then i looked down. i couldn't wear the same thing again. i walked quickly into the bedroom, grabbed another shirt, different shorts, and changed quickly.

when i got to the door, he had his leash in his mouth. i latched it, and we left.

i was wondering if i should walk a different way, the same way, or even go to the park. maybe it was best to avoid her altogether today.

after the night i had, and the way i felt upon waking, i didn't want to avoid her at all.

as we turned the corner and headed toward the park, darwin started barking - gretta. gretta and her nameless owner. he tugged me toward her.

'morning,' she said, smiling with her teeth.

it was nice to be smiled at. i didn't realize how much i'd been missing it lately.

'hey,' was all i could manage.

'think it's okay if we let them run a bit?'

'i think so.'

we bent down in unison and unlatched leashes from collars. gretta and darwin sprinted into the field in the park, and took turns chasing each other.

i leaned against the top edge of the wrought iron fence that divided the field from the playground.

she stood close to me. i smelled her warm skin and fought a smile.

'so, what are you guys doing today?' she asked, following the dogs with her gaze as they ran from end to end.

'i don't know.'

this wasn't true. i'd forgotten, was all. this would have been the perfect chance to say, 'when my wife gets home from work...'

but i didn't. instead, i put my right hand on top of my left to block her view of my ring finger.

'he calls the shots. i just do what he says.'

she laughed at my stupid joke.

mina was in the habit of rolling her eyes lately.

if you'd asked me the day before i met this woman, if i was looking to meet a woman, or wanting to meet a woman, i'd have said no. and that would have been the honest truth.

if you'd asked me the day before i met this woman if i would ever, for any reason, ever think of being unfaithful to my wife, i'd have said no. and that also would have been the truth.

but standing next to her, smiling and laughing in my direction, it changed all of that.

it was my luck that someone she knew walked by at that precise moment.

'hey, kate!'

and now i knew her name. i wasn't paying attention to their conversation, and then she was saying goodbye to me. she called gretta, who came running obediently.

i waved goodbye to the woman to whom i was forever indebted.

that morning was short lived. darwin wore himself out chasing tail. in a way, i'd done the same.

as we walked home from the park, i smiled. i couldn't help it.

as we neared the house, the smile melted away. i shouldn't be smiling.

i was already planning a way to see her again.

a couple weeks later, we'd learned a lot about each other. we'd taken to letting the dogs run around off their leashes, watching from a park bench.

she was curious - she asked a lot of questions.

sometimes the questions were light, sometimes they were flirtatious. sometimes the questions were pointed, sometimes they were weighted.

anything that she asked me, i would ask the same of her.

she worked from home. she woke up every morning and went for a walk.

so did i.

she drank too much coffee, she ate snacks in bed.

i didn't, and i wasn't allowed to.

she went for a run every night. and then took gretta for a short walk after, to cool down.

this was my in.

i was in the same habits. how i'd never seen her was beyond me. we practically lived the same life.

'we should go for a run together sometime,' i said, trying to sound casual. 'i usually run from six to seven. i've been wanting to take the new path along the river.'

'i run that path a lot. it would be nice to run it with someone,' she said, winking at me.

i was done for.

the next day, i didn't see her in the morning. but at six o'clock, we met at the beginning of the path.

it was strange to not have dogs to attend to. it was just me and her. all other focus and distraction was removed.

she was stretching when i walked up. i walked slowly, watching her. i wondered if she was doing it for me, only she didn't see me come up from behind.

as she uprighted herself, she turned and faced me.

'hey, david.'

'hi, kate. shall we?'

'i'm not going to lie, david. i run fast. think you can keep up?'

i laughed, thinking of eight things to say that were all innuendos. i settled for, 'i'll try.'

and she took off, but i didn't have a problem pacing her.

halfway through the path, the conversation slowed; we were both winded and sentences were choppy.

there was a crossbreeze grazing the river, and it was a perfect evening for a run. we slowed down to a brisk walk.

'i didn't think this through. i'm getting hungry and we still have to run all the way back.'

'there's a cafe a block from the path. we can grab a sandwich. wanna head back now?'

she stopped, and doubled over, catching her breath. she had her hands on her knees, and a bead of sweat followed her nose and dropped to the sidewalk. even her sweat got under my skin.

'alright. let's go.'

whether it was the initial slower pace or the pause that gave her the energy, i didn't know. maybe it was the sandwich waiting at the cafe, but we made it back in half the time.

i held the door for her, a bell chimed when it swung open.

we stood in the path of the air conditioning vent in front of the menu board. i was eying the pastrami, it had been a while since i'd had one.

'i'll have the pastrami,' she said, without hesitation.

a breath escaped my mouth.

'a woman after my own heart... that's what i was going to have.'

'well, maybe you should reconsider. i'll give you half of mine. get something else.'

'what else do you like, kate?' i was being forward.

she turned her head quickly in my direction. a smile crept.

'well, david, i don't see it on the menu.'

there was no margin for error - she was flirting.

after a pause, while my heart rate recovered, she said that she liked almost anything.

'i'll have the club, please.'

we fanned ourselves with printed menus while our sandwiches were made.

i pulled cash from my zipper pocket, and bought our dinner.

kate pulled cash out, but i pushed her hand back toward her pocket. the deflection was the first contact i'd had with her since the handshake that wasn't a handshake. i recoiled.

as i paid, i wondered what mina was having for dinner. another late night at the office. probably cookies from the coffee shop on the corner. she'd make a sandwich when she got home.

we drank water and swapped sandwich halves. the majority of the reason i wanted to take the path was to get farther from the house. out of my neighborhood. away from my neighbors.

i ate the club first, saving the pastrami for the end of the meal.

we were too hungry to eat slowly, and the fact that she was eating faster than i was turned me on. i dated mina for three months before she ordered something other than a salad. it used to frustrate the hell out of me.

the meal was silent.

i kicked back my chair and stretched my legs in her direction when my basket was empty.

'that?' i threw my napkin into my basket for emphasis. 'that was fantastic,'

she was wiping the corners of her mouth with the back of her hand.

through a mouthful of food, 'yeah,' and a sip of water, 'that hit the spot.'

she pushed back, and we stood up, collecting our trash.

walking back outside was an awakening.

it was dark, the streetlights were on. it was warm and humid.

'thanks for dinner, david. you didn't have to do that.'

'it was my pleasure.'

we were walking slower than we'd ever walked.

'well, i'm this way,' she threw her thumb over her shoulder.

'do you want me to walk with you? i don't mind.'

'i'm fine. thanks, though. i'll see you around.'

i thought for a second about whether it was appropriate to give her a hug, when she stepped toward me. she put her arms around my back, and squeezed me for a second. i didn't have time to register the information flooding my synapses. by the time i was raising my arms to hug her back, she was already breaking away.

'night,' she said, looking backwards over her shoulder at me.

i was glued to the sidewalk. i could not make my feet move. i watched her walk briskly away from me, caught myself staring, and turned to head home.

i don't know what i was thinking the short blocks home. there were flashes of her playing in my mind. kate stretching, kate shoveling food in her mouth, kate smiling, kate laughing, kate's pigtail swinging when she walked away from me.

i saw the two of us from the outside for a second. i must've looked like an idiot standing with my arms at my sides when she hugged me.

i wondered the rest of the way home what she thought of me.

did she know? did she sense it? did she feel it, too?

i was thinking about the ways that i could end up where she worked. or the ways she could end up where i worked.

i couldn't picture her in the house. i pictured myself in her apartment. only, i couldn't exactly ask for a cup of sugar.

as it turned out, i didn't even need a plan. there wasn't a chance for that.

mina went away for the weekend. i stayed home, trying to beat a deadline of my own. i had motivation to stay on task and finish my assignment: we were running the path again.

we met at the start.

half a mile in, a guy on rollerblades lost his balance and ran into me, full force. his momentum combined with mine made the two of us drop to the sidewalk.

'oh! david! jesus, are you okay?'

i was embarrassed, but said, 'yeah. i'm okay.'

the guy on the rollerblades hopped right up and apologized. he looked ridiculous in all those pads and that helmet, but he wasn't bleeding, so he won. the older guy was still dazed on the sidewalk. things started to hurt immediately.

i had fallen forward, but couldn't catch myself entirely. my knee and forearm scraped the asphalt of the path. when i stood up slowly and brushed myself off, i wasn't prepared for the amount of blood seeping from my knee.

she helped me up, and we doubled back the way we'd come.

'are you sure you're okay?'

'yeah, you know. it's just pride.' i was limping. i wasn't exaggerating.

she shook her head and laughed.

'come on...i'll get you cleaned up.'

i perked up as we walked toward her place.

she let us into the building, and led me down the hall. luckily there were no stairs to navigate, she lived on the first floor.

she unlocked and swung open the door, tossing her keys haphazardly onto the table just inside her door.

gretta didn't move from her napping place on the overstuffed couch in the living room. she raised her head, and put it back down, as if she wasn't interested in me at all.

'in here,' she said, walking toward the bathroom. she closed the lid on the toilet.

'sit,' she commanded.

i did as i was told.

she fished in the medicine cabinet for things you use on a man in his early middle age, who's scraped his knee.

'really, kate, this isn't necessary -'

she cut me off.

'david, i'm going to do this. sit still and try not to cry.'

she cut her eyes at me as she knelt on the tile floor, with a smile.

i pictured myself pushing her against the wall.

she put a cotton ball on the bottle of peroxide and inverted it.

'alright. ready?'

i nodded. she had no idea.

it stung. i'll admit. i bit my lip.

'son of a bitch!' as the blood started to fizzle and foam. she blew on my knee with her eyes closed.

she dabbed on some greasy ointment, very tenderly, adding a band-aid.

she barely touched me. she lightly touched each side of the band-aid to attach it to my bruising knee.

she stayed on her knee, with one leg bent under for another second, and smiled, brushing her hands.

'all better.'

she stood slowly, and stretched her hand out to me, helping me up for the second time. the palm of my hand was on fire from catching myself on the asphalt, yet i didn't flinch when she grabbed it.

'can i get you something to drink?' she offered, leading me to her kitchen. her place was not at all as i'd expected it to be, or imagined.

i knew that if i didn't leave soon, i'd start to make bad decisions.

'maybe just a little water.'

she poured two.

'ice?' she asked, opening the freezer.


i drank quickly, in one continuous gulp.

while i had my head tipped back, i didn't see her moving. she worked very quickly. she poured two scotch rocks.

the sex was incredible.

i walked home with my head down. i'd get a shower. i'd go to bed. i'd wait for mina to come home in the morning.

we pushed the boundaries. we pushed our luck. we were running together three nights a week for two months. we were warming up for the run, almost every time.

i only ran with her when mina was working late.

one night, i came home from a post-warmup run, soaked in sweat as the spring was turning to summer.

mina was sitting on the couch when i walked in.

i nearly dropped my keys on the floor.

'hey,' i said, calmly.

'hey,' she returned. there was something in her voice that told me she was onto me. but she didn't mention it.

'did you have an okay day at work today?'

'yeah. i got out earlier than i thought i would. are you hungry?' she asked. there was something in her voice that made my stomach instantly sick.

'i am. what are you thinking?'

i was avoiding her eyes, pouring a glass of water. i wasn't thirsty. i was perpetuating the image of coming in from a long run.

i needed a shower desperately.

'i'll throw something together.'

'i'm gonna grab a quick shower. do you want to go out?'

when i looked at her over the top of my glass, she was staring at the tv blankly, unresponsive.

'mina, are you okay? what happened today?'

she didn't answer.

without looking at me, she said, 'i went for a walk.'

i had to grab onto the edge of the countertop. i set my glass down carefully. how to proceed?

'good. you should do that more - clear your head. you don't get enough exercise. i think you'll find that-'

she cut me off.

'who is she, david?'

i knew the color drained from my face. i wanted to make eye contact, as if it would help her to believe what i said next.

'who, kate? we go running sometimes. i bumped into her at the park with her dog one day. darwin liked gretta. she's a runner, too. so we go on runs together sometimes.'

she didn't look away from the tv. she didn't reply.

'mina,' i said, with an urgency in my voice. i wanted her to look at me.

she didn't.

'mina... hey.'

she turned her head; puffy eyes.

'what is it? what's wrong?'

'you know exactly what's wrong, david.'

the conversation spiraled downward from there.

'i'm sorry i didn't tell you. it's not a big deal. i didn't think-'

'exactly. you didn't think. how could you do this to me?' tears followed.

'mina. come on. i didn't do anything.'

i'm a horrible liar.

she wasn't remotely convinced.

'i'm not stupid, david.'

'i don't think you're stupid.'

she turned back to the tv.

'remember that day you brought dinner to the office?'

'yeah. i do.'

'well, i know what that was about. you were checking up on me. i didn't realize it until you were leaving. you were surprised to see that i was alone and at work like i said i was.'

i shook my head. but a few seconds later, i admitted that i was checking up on her.

'late nights at the office are the oldest excuse. i'm sorry. i realized that i was wrong for thinking you would do that.'

'not as sorry as i am that i didn't think you were. the way you felt when you left that night? that is the opposite of how i'm feeling right now. i came home early to check up on you. and as i was walking down the block, you were leaving. and you were smiling, david. i know that smile. i used to see it every day when i first met you.'

i didn't say a word.

she looked back to me.

'how long has this been going on?'

i didn't know if she had followed me.

'what, the runs?'

'is that what you call it?'

'that's what it is, mina.'

she shook her head.

'how long have you been going to her apartment, david? this is not the time to lie to me. i know you're fucking her. just be honest with me. i need to know.'

'mina,' i said, desperately. i was losing ground, i was losing my cool. i had gotten sloppy and now i was busted.

'do NOT lie to me, david. how long have you been fucking her?'

i didn't want to say it. i didn't want to admit it.

'i started running with her a month ago, maybe? maybe two. i don't remember.'

'okay. how long after you started running did you start going to her place?'

'i don't know, mina.'

'stop lying. please stop lying.'

'i'm being honest with you, mina. i fell down when i was running. i told you. that was the first time i went to her place. nothing happened. she just helped me clean up.' at this rate, what's one more?

mina threw up into her hands, and ran into the bathroom.

she had packed a suitcase. i hadn't noticed it before, but now that she was in the bathroom, it stood alone, sadly, in front of the muted tv.

now i wondered how i'd missed it.

i wanted to go after her, but i was frozen. i stood, dumbfounded and paralyzed, until she walked back to the couch and grabbed the suitcase.

'fuck you, david. i hate you.' she said coolly as she walked past me and slammed the front door.

i didn't eat. i didn't sleep. for three days, i didn't sleep. i tried. but i could not. mina hadn't called. she hadn't come home.

i didn't know what to do. i didn't know what happens when your wife catches you with another woman.

i didn't know how long i was supposed to give her. i didn't know if we'd speak again. i didn't know if she would come home.

i wanted to go to her office, later at night, after everyone had left. some nights, i started walking in that direction. but i never made it. i got pretty close, one time. but i couldn't go in the front door.

every time i tried, i went right back home.

i didn't know where she went. i didn't know where she was sleeping. she hadn't taken much, so i had a feeling she'd be back.

i didn't leave the house, except to go on my failed attempts to try to talk to her. i walked darwin at off times, so i wouldn't bump into kate.

i hated myself for missing kate.

i hated that i wanted to run. i wanted to run for miles on end.

it was a full week later when i noticed that some of mina's clothes were missing. i couldn't figure out how she had gotten things without me noticing.

i waited until seven that night, and walked to her office.

i hadn't planned what i was going to say. i didn't know what to say. i didn't know what she would want to hear.

i walked into her suite. the light on her desk was on, she was sitting in front of a thick file.

i looked around. no one seemed to be there with her.

'mina?' i asked, quietly. she looked up from her paperwork, eyes wide.

'you look like shit, david.'

'i feel like shit, mina. i can't sleep. i can't eat. i need to talk to you. i don't know what i want to say. but i just need to talk to you.'

'well you picked a bad night. i'm stuck here with this case. and what makes you think i want to talk to you? don't you think i would come to you if i was ready to talk to you?'

'i don't know that either of us will ever be ready, mina. i'm just trying to tell you that i am ready. if you want to beat the shit out of me, that's okay. if you don't want to see me again, i understand. i'm sorry for coming here. i didn't know what else to do. i didn't know where to find you.'

'yeah, well, i don't know what to tell you. when i'm ready to talk to you, i'll come home.'

i nodded once, slightly, and turned to walk out.

i kept waiting for her to call me back. but she didn't. so i kept walking.

and i walked past our home. i walked past the park. i walked past kate's. i walked all the way to the end of the path. it takes five times longer when you're walking.

i sat down on a bench. and i started to cry. i couldn't remember the last time i cried. it was probably at my father's funeral.

i held my head in my hands, elbows on my knees. i saw the scar from my accident with the guy on rollerblades. i cried harder.

i was sorry.

it didn't help or change anything. but i was very, very sorry.

mina came home a week later.

i was laying in bed. i'd put the tv back in the bedroom the first night, when she left, thinking it would help me fall asleep. or that it would hypnotize me into a state of relaxation when i couldn't.

i was watching the news and i heard the deadbolt turn and click.

i threw the sheets off and walked toward the kitchen. her suitcase was by the front door.

i just stared at her. i was going to pay, that i already knew. i started paying before i did anything wrong. so i knew i was done for when she finally came home to hash things out.

she was in the kitchen. it didn't make any sense to me, but she was going through the refrigerator, throwing away things that were no longer fit to eat. darwin was at her feet.

'mina, what are you doing?'

she looked at me with the refrigerator door open.

'what does it look like i'm doing? i'm cleaning out the fridge. what are you doing?'

i walked toward her. i wanted to hug her, to hold her. i didn't know if she was going to let me.

'i was laying in bed watching the news.'

'oh. did anything else change while i was away?'

she was like a striking snake. i waited a second, then said, 'no. just that.'

i was standing next to her. she shut the refrigerator door.

'listen, david. i came home because i thought i was ready to deal with you. but now that i'm here, i just want to leave again. i don't think i'm ever going to be ready.'

'i know. i know. please. just - yell at me. anything. just tell me what you're thinking. i've missed you. and i know that we will never be the same. i just want to get this out so we can talk again.'

'david, i don't even know where to start. i can't get any of this out of my head. it's all i think about. all day every day. and all night when i can't sleep.'

'well, just start with something.'

'i don't know how to start.'

i knew that she was sitting on an arsenal. i knew that once the floodgates opened, there would be no holding back. a barrage. dare i put the chisel to the wall and tap?

'alright. well, i know that it won't mean anything. but i am sorry. and i love you. i did something that was really stupid. and i know that you might not be able to forgive me. but i don't want you to leave again.'

to lie right now was not a wise choice. but the truth was, i did want her to leave. i wanted her to leave because i thought she wanted to leave. i wanted her to leave before all of this. everything that had been between us before i met kate pointed toward mina's exit.

i felt like she didn't love me. i felt like she wasn't happy, and i felt that she wouldn't be happy with me. it was why i thought there was someone else when she started working late. but i hadn't seen kate since the day mina left me. i hadn't left the house, except for the trips to her office, i'd been letting darwin out back for the most part, i only took him on a couple walks in the beginning. the thought of seeing kate terrified me.

she didn't know where i lived. and i had to assume that she knew i was caught when i disappeared. we'd never talked about 'what would happen if', and i think we both thought we could stay how we were and get away with it. we never talked about mina when we were together. it was as if my marriage didn't exist, only she knew it to be a fact because of the ring on my finger.

she hadn't spoken yet, when i realized how lost in thought i was. i came back to the table, where i was sitting next to her. i reached for her hand. she was still wearing her wedding band, which was a relief somehow. i put my hand over hers. she didn't move.

i stared her down.

i was surprised that she wasn't crying. she was a blank slate. she probably felt numb, as i did. when you go through all of these things in your mind for days on end, for two whole weeks, there is nothing left.

finally, she spoke.

'i don't know what to do now. part of me wants to tell you it's over. and leave. and go on with our lives. and part of me wants to forgive you and try to rebuild, start over. i don't know that i will ever trust you again. and that is not something i can live with. i cannot be married to a man i do not trust. and if you said you'd never do it again, i would never believe you.'

i nodded. i didn't want to say anything.

'i do not understand how you could do this. really, i cannot comprehend it. i remember when we were dating. we talked about this. you said you'd never be in a relationship with someone who had cheated. and you said that if you ever felt the desire to cheat, you'd get out of the relationship.'

'i know.'

'part of me thinks that this is my fault, part of me thinks that i set you up to fall. i was miserable. you were miserable. i was tired. i wasn't meeting your needs. i know that.'

i didn't move a muscle. i was squirmy, but held it at bay.

'but really, david. i mean, being unhappy is one thing. fucking someone who is not your wife is something else entirely. you never talked to me about being unhappy, you never told me that you weren't getting what you needed from me. you gave up. and you went somewhere else.'

'i know. mina, it's not your fault. it just happened.'

something flashed in her eyes.

'i HATE when people say that. it just happened. fuck you, david! sex doesn't just happen. it happens because you want it to happen. it happens because you let it happen. it happens because you take actions that ensure that it will happen.'

'i didn't mean-'

'yeah. i know. you didn't mean to hurt me.'

'that's not what i was going to say. what i was going to say was that i didn't set out to do it. and it didn't happen right away. it was just friendly.'

'until it wasn't just friendly.'

'i know it doesn't make sense. i know it sounds stupid. but it's the truth. i just made a friend. and one day, some time later, it wasn't that simple anymore.'

'the thing is, i picture you with her. and the thought of letting you so much as touch me with those same hands? i cannot even fathom it. i don't know how we can continue to be married. i don't know how i can ever have sex with you again. i don't want to. not ever.'

against my better judgment, words followed that i immediately regretted.

'well, mina, would you notice any difference?'

i put my head down. i knew it was wrong. but i couldn't help it. being attacked and worn down with her words had elicited a reaction. it was involuntary.

'how dare you.' she said. her words dripped with venom. she'd spoken through her teeth.

'i'm sorry. i didn't mean it.'

'you're getting pretty good at not meaning it.'

'please keep talking.'

'i don't really know what to say. i went to a psychologist last week. twice, actually. and she kept pointing out decisions i've made. and she asked me if i wanted to save our marriage, and i told her i didn't know. she asked me why i wanted to, and i couldn't come up with an answer right away. i do love you. i am your wife. we used to have fun. we used to be fun. now i hate my job, i hate my life, and i hate my husband.'

'hate is a strong word.'

'well, it's only a hint, in regards to how i feel toward you right now. hate is putting it lightly. i'm not happy at work. i'm exhausted. my heart isn't in it any more. i just do what i have to do everyday. and there is no break for me, no relief. because i come home and you're not happy to see me. because you're too happy to see someone else instead of me.'

she had finally started to cry. we sat in silence. i stood up from my chair, and stood next to her with my hand on her shoulder.

'i don't hate you, mina. that's not why i did this. i'm sorry. i'm sorry,' and then i was crying with her. and i pulled her up to hug her. because i hoped that if nothing else, this show of affection would remind her of how we are when we're together.

she let me hug her, she even hugged me back.

i held the back of her head. i held her hair in my fingers and rubbed her head. i rested my hand in the small of her back, and pulled her toward me.

we stood there like that until she had stopped crying. she pulled away to grab a tissue, and i kissed her. it was not as short-lived as i had expected it to be. she kissed me back, but caught herself and pulled away from me.

'i want to lay down.'

'ok. whatever you want.'

i watched her walk to get the tissues and thought about how beautiful she was. how beautiful she is. she didn't deserve this. i got into bed. darwin was already in the bedroom at the foot of the bed. he always hid when we argued.

she climbed under the covers in her work clothes. i wondered if she's been sleeping like this since she left me. so much stress makes you do crazy things.

sometimes i think she only stayed with me after that night to punish me.

to make me work hard, without any payoff.

to keep me honest.

to make me feel bad.

we had a few good days. days when i told her that i loved her. when i accompanied her to her shrink's office. days when we said we would work on it, work it out.

we had bad days, too. more often than not. days when she would be fine one second, and then burst into tears. fine one second, and then beating on my chest and yelling at me.

she made my life hell after that. she didn't want me, but she didn't want to let me go, either.

she didn't want to share me with kate or anyone else, but she didn't want me for herself.

i understood why one day when she was at work. i hadn't noticed that her suitcase was gone again.

there was a knock at the door late that afternoon.

a man in a uniform handed me an envelope.

in it were the divorce papers.

i sat that night, staring them down. i had been staring at them all day, and now all night. and it was dark out, and i hadn't gotten up to turn on a light. i was still staring at them, in the dark, when i couldn't even make out the shape of the papers on the desk anymore.

without thinking, i walked to kate's apartment. it had been a few weeks.

i rang her bell, and she buzzed me in, without knowing that it was me.

i stood at her door before i knocked. i could still leave. i could still walk away and not do this.

but i couldn't make myself.

i couldn't make myself, because i had no reason not to go in.

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