She went there because she saw him in the market, his coat and his beard black, his face handsome through the rain. She hadn't been planning it. Drunk and low in her seat, she was pathetic, and he was free and commanding. Free to go home, where he could command his wife to add the vegetables sticking out of his shopping bag to the stirfry. Free to command his children to kiss him hello, to have one sit on each knee and tell him the funny or sad things that had happened to them.
His house was only around the corner, so she waited, had another drink while his wife cut up the red and yellow peppers, spanish onion, and zucchini, and added them to the pan. The smell of garlic, minced too small and added too soon, hovered. One of the children said Yuck and he said Diane, again? Do you learn? But they're all smiling. Their smiles hurt her in the bar.
After a while, she paid her bill and walked, with concentration so as not to stumble, to his house. The rain plunked into her vodkaed eyes. Her compromised vision fuzzied the image of them eating dinner through his front door with its big window, the colours of their skin and sweaters and hair bleeding. Arrogant of him, she thought again, to display his nuclear family happiness like that, his kitchen table perfectly in line with and twenty feet away from the glass in the door. Desperate people passing by were forced to watch.
The blonde child responded to her two faint knocks; he ran over and turned the knob, sticking his little face through the crack he had made.
"Hello?" he said, like he was answering the phone.
"Hi, it's Stella, do you remember who I am?"
"No. Do you want my mom?"
"No, actually, can I talk to your dad?" But he was already there, looking at her warily but opening the door all the way, the kid’s white blondeness lost under his hand.
His voice was polite, if unenthusiastic. "Hey, Stella. Come in, you’re wet." And, "Braeden, back to the table please." Braeden slid on his socks down the hardwood hallway. She was pleased to note that there were dustclumps in the corners.
"So, are you . . . ?" He wasn't committed to finishing the question.
She said, "I was just in the neighbourhood, after work. Picking up groceries." She had nothing. "Did you hear about Sandy and Thomas?"
He exhaled slowly, his mouth a small circle. "Yeah, that's rough. It's too bad, they were a great couple."
"I know. It's terrible. Terrible." The repeat, the way she said it, it was as though someone had been murdered. It was too much, and his frown verified this. The frown and the drunkenness made her start crying, suddenly, in tight gasps. The tink of baby-sized cutlery against plates was in the distance.
"Stella." He was calm, and annoyed. "I thought we were over this bullshit. This has got to stop, okay?"
"But I h-haven't been here in a-ages. Months!"
"It was last month," he said. Since when was he so big on time? He used to show up late, forget momentous occasions, bring her flowers on the wrong day.
"I guess I'm just weaning myself off you."
"For eight years? Do you know how that sounds? Do you listen to yourself? Have you stopped seeing that counsellor?"
It seemed undignified to respond to these inquiries. As though she was currently dignified.
"Look, I’m just wasted, okay? And it’s not like I stalk you and your precious fucking family or something. I was in the neighbourhood."
"Right, whatever, Stella." He was talking to her, but his attention had left her completely, his ears strained in the direction of his wife and children. The chubby dark-haired kid was on Diane’s lap, bucking into her collarbone. The blonde one climbed a chair.
In a fractured moment, she found herself on the front porch, facing the street, rain water dripping on her brain.
She had wanted so much for him to ask her to stay for dinner. Why don't you have a seat? Do you need a kleenex? Diane, can you get her a plate? There's lots of food. And there was, she saw it in the middle of the table, piled to one side of the pan, shining with oil. But it wasn’t on offer, nothing in that house was up for grabs.
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