by Kim Schuelke
Maggie Constance readied her next serve. A bead of sweat trailed down the left side of her face, traced her angular jawbone and dropped listlessly to the clay court. Tensing for her tying point, she sagged when her ball slammed into the net.
“Game!” her childhood friend exulted. Cheryl trotted up and patted Maggie on the elbow. “Hey, don’t be so glum! Beginners almost always lose on the serve,” she said.
They collected their balls from around the court, some hidden under chickweed tendrils creeping through the chain link fence, others jammed into the fence gaps. Standing still for a moment, Maggie stared at the ancient oaks and the dribbling brook north of the double court.
“Ritz Park is still the best, isn’t it Maggie?” Cheryl said.
“It’s quiet here. I can think.” Maggie answered.
“Well, think about this. I promised Rick I’d be home by six, and it’s almost a quarter till.”
“Everything has to end, doesn’t it?” Maggie said. “Let’s go.” Stowing their gear in the back of her car, they settled in on the black seats, and Maggie roared the engine to life. Silence filled the air between them like a wall.
“Hey,” Cheryl said, “What’s up with this? You haven’t said a word.”
Maggie’s hands answered for her, flapping upwards while her head shook.
“Hey, I’m serious.” Cheryl said.
Maggie rolled down her window, feeling a release as rain-laden air wafted into her vehicle. “Sorry. I’m just—I don’t know—preoccupied.”
“With that man of yours? He sure is a sweetie.” Cheryl said. She smiled. “But you already know that. So what’s up?”
Maggie hesitated. “Not this time,” she said, “Sorry.”
“Hey, we’ve been together our whole lives. What’s going on? Is it something awful? It wouldn’t matter, you know.”
“Thanks,” Maggie said, “But not now.” Dropping Cheryl off, Maggie wandered through the streets, finally turning into her driveway off East Pearl Street. Something was beginning to gel.
In the dark, damp hours of the next morning, it came to her. She despised it, she regretted it, but she resigned herself to it. It seeped into her brain with each sad drop of rain that assaulted the slate roof. Its thick gray fog shrouded her mind and heart just like the fog outside that shrouded the trees and flowers.
The alarm clock buzzed, jolting her back to reality. Chad stirred beside her. Would he sense something different in her? She nuzzled his stocky neck in their morning ritual. Afterward, as they lay together, Chad embraced her as though she were a porcelain doll.
“You okay?” he whispered. “Did I hurt you somehow?
“No, I’m fine.” she said.
“I’m still your favorite electrician?”
“Chad,” she stammered, “I love you.” A tear squeezed out of one eye, and left a cold trail down her cheek. “I’m sorry if I haven’t been the wife I meant to be. I’m sorry.”
“Is this another PMS thing?”
“No, I just love you so much—““I love you too, Sunshine,” he murmured into her ear, “Lighten up, okay?” He stroked her long auburn hair. “You’re just messed up with the weather change. Stay here and relax. I’ll make breakfast today.”
As Maggie finished picking at her breakfast, she heard Chad finishing up in the shower. She sipped her tea, as her guilt cemented resignation into resolve.
“I need to fix that breaker box,” Chad interrupted her thought, “What kind of idiot would put a modern kitchen on one circuit? How about coming with me?”
Maggie felt a cold chill. “Sure,” she said.
Driving to Lowe’s, Chad beat out tunes on the steering wheel. Maggie stared ahead.
“Coming?” Chad said as he parked.
Maggie turned a blank stare at him. “Sure,” she said.
As they started into the store, the clouds released a torrent of rain that was still cascading when they dashed back to the car fifteen minutes later. Creeping back onto New Castle Road, Chad rocked and Maggie stared.
“You ready?” he said, as the garage door opened. “This’ll be over in no time.” As they passed through the door into the basement, Chad passed Maggie the new circuit breaker to hold.
She stood behind him, sniffing his Polo. As he popped open the electrical box, she watched his muscles flex and stretched out her hands behind him. She wanted to embrace him, hold him tight, beg his forgiveness. If only I would have told him when I cheated, she thought, but it’s too late now. Twenty years too late.
Chad unscrewed the circuit breaker cover and laid it down. Maggie’s mouth went dry. He stood back up and peered into the box. Maggie lunged forward, just as Chad stepped aside.