I get tickets to an industry event through work, so I invite my husband to go. I’ve been contemplating leaving him and he’s been dating other women, so it’s a bit of an olive branch but not as hoity-toit as it sounds. We meet after work in a neighborhood closer to my office than to our house, and I suggest we go to the bookstore around the corner. He looks at me like he can’t think of anything he’d rather do less but comes along anyway. Want to go for a snack afterwards, I ask, because he’s been in AA since his last froth-at-the-mouth rage-fueled fuck-up and I don’t know what else to ply him with even though there’ll be snacks at the event. Fancy snacks and drinks my husband can’t—shouldn’t—have.
The bookstore has expanded into home-furnishing-craft-type things, and my husband spends his time contemplating those and the books in the history section. He keeps popping around the corner with fuzzy socks I can’t imagine putting on my feet and hardcovers about military strategy he thinks I’ll like, but what he really means is he likes them and wishes I’d like them too, which I don’t.
I lug a stack of paperbacks around the store until I consider what they’ll cost me, and settle on a cooking-for-one cookbook because I’m pretty sure that’s the direction I’m heading in. It’s awkward this is the only book I’m holding when he and I reconvene in line so I try to distract him with a bin of scented candles he’s been into while trying to restoke our sex-life, which has been non-existent since that one time in Mexico six months ago.
After paying, we peace out to the tapas place half a block down because my husband cashes in his snack card and the event doesn’t start for an hour. He tries to tell me about the dates he’s been on, what the other women are like, and I tell him I’m not there yet, then we sit in silence until the waitress comes over and I order spicy prawns and a glass of red wine, which instantly makes me feel like a bitch, but I’m not the alcoholic with a rage problem. He orders club soda and mushroom-something-or-other and the dish, when it arrives, reminds me of the time I ate a straw mushroom at a Thai restaurant and it resembled a testicle, both in texture and shape, and it took me a while to put my husband’s balls in my mouth again after that.
People are lined up on the street by the time we show up at the event. I catch sight of someone I work with tucked inside one of the white tents and lead my husband over to say hello. You guys are so cute together, she says after a few minutes of small talk, and I say, thanks, we’re getting separated, and she nods and says, oh, stuffs a dry pork rib into her mouth, the bone sort of protruding from her cheek as she works to tear the meat off with her teeth. That’s sort of the way it goes at our age, she says after she swallows, and I shrug, confident I’m at least five years younger than she is but also aware this year has aged me like none other.
At some point, my husband has to piss from mainlining club soda, and I join some of my co-workers on one of the balconies overlooking the stage-thing where merch is being awarded by pulling business cards out of a garbage can. My name is drawn and I push my way through suited-up men and women to claim an electric toothbrush kit which I’m obscenely excited about, it being the only thing I’ve won in my life other than a bike helmet when I was twelve. I carry the toothbrush around for the rest of the night like I’ve won a gold medal, and really, with everything else going on, winning anything is winning right now.
My husband drives us home, stops at a food truck for some tacos to sober me up. I dry brush my teeth in the passenger seat, marvel at the soft-massage of my gums, the way the tiny vibrations tickle my teeth and send a jolt down my spine that lands in my crotch, something I haven’t felt in forever. He asks after someone I work with, She was cute, he says, What was her name again, Amanda? and I say, Alison, she’s in creative, you should call her. I stare out the window at the buildings all closed up for the night, think about where people go when they’re not together, what keeps us coming back for more, pop the toothbrush in my mouth and feel it chip away at the plaque.
Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in The Forge, Hobart, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Her work has been selected for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions, and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes and founder of Trash Mag. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or on Twitter at @JenTod_.