This Trio, Fatal and Valuable

by Teri Carter
Robyn Ann Cooper stood in the kitchen of her Seattle apartment and wondered where in the world to start. It was the first Saturday in February. She’d lived here a month, but who could tell? Moving crates labeled Allied Van Lines, some stamped Fragile, remained stacked along the walls, two and three high, like giant building blocks. This morning, safe in her red flannel pajamas, Robyn felt hemmed in, as though a miniature version of herself had moved into one big, brown box.

She set the coffee to brew while, outside, the rain came harder. It splattered sidelong against the curtainless windows with the clatter of thrown marbles. Robyn picked up the phone on the half-ring.

“All settled in?” Susan said.

Robyn wished she’d been more aware, or wary, before picking up. “Just getting ready to unpack, if you can believe it.”

“I’ve lived here in Phoenix, in this same house, for two decades,” Susan said. “I don’t know how you move around so much. You even lived in France for a year and a half. I could never! What’s ‘never’ in French?”

Jamais,” Robyn said. “Never is jamais.” She poured her first cup of coffee and blew self-consciously at the rising steam. Mon Dieu. If Susan could see her she’d say, “I’ve never even tasted coffee!” one of the many nevers she constantly advertised, as if she were the Goddess of Discipline and Restraint. Had never gone to bed with her makeup on! Had never eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Had never worn blue jeans! Had never rented a car or traveled alone! Robyn listened while she prattled on. It was strange, she supposed, that they got along so well. Robyn’s friends poked fun constantly. “You’re sleeping with the enemy,” they said. “Who becomes best buddies with their fiancé’s ex-wife? You’re ten years younger than her. She’s supposed to hate your guts.”

“We’re not friends,” she’d say for the millionth time. “We get along. That’s all.” Not the truth, exactly, but she didn’t want to encourage them. Susan-the-JC Penney-Catalog-model was like a porcelain doll, but with an Arizona suntan. Robyn wanted her right where she could see her. “It’s more like healthy respect,” she told her friends.

“I don’t care what you call it,” they said. “It’s fucking weird. Strange bedfellows, and all that.”

In the deep background, as if through a closed door, Robyn could hear Susan’s birds: a pair of African Grays. April gave out her usual series of squawks and June, always more reserved, answered with some kind of high-pitched verbal response. “Your birds sure are kicking up a ruckus.”

“Who knew birds lived so long,” Susan laughed. “I was hoping you guys would take them after you got married. Or at least share custody.”

The birds were twenty-two years old, wedding gifts named for Susan’s and Mike’s commitments: engaged in April, married in June. Robyn was convinced they did not like her. “How could they not love you?” Mike would say. April could be difficult, he admitted, but not June. June was smart! Her voice mimicked Susan’s perfectly; she had an extensive vocabulary; she could even tell jokes. Robyn remained unimpressed. When she walked in the room all they did was repeat themselves. “Squawk, Sqwawk! I’m an Eagle! I’m an Eagle!” April would scream, launching her head, more like a cobra than a bird. Coy June would tip her head to the side, and say, “Awwww, such a pretty bird. Bye Bye!” The first few times, Robyn laughed, but after awhile it was like they were stuck on one line in a script, a living, breathing, broken record.

“Has it been raining every day?” Susan said. “They say it rains 300 days a year there. Hey, what’s rain?”

Pluie.

“If you get tired of the pluie, you can always move back to sunny Phoenix.”

“It’s not so bad,” Robyn lied, looking out the window over the kitchen sink. The sky was the gray of Van Gogh’s Amsterdam painting, she thought, De Ruij…-something, with its virtual avalanche of water. Robyn took one sip of her now-cold coffee and set the cup too hard in the sink. It clanked. She’d also started pulling at a red string hanging from her pajama sleeve and now she’d pulled it too far and half the hem had fallen out. Damn!

Susan settled in, detailing the comings and goings of her teenagers: Julia’s SAT prep course; Melanie’s latest slumber party. Robyn rinsed out her cup and poured a fresh one. She sipped. She listened. She thought about Mike. She’d met him two years ago, shortly after her company relocated her from St. Louis to Phoenix. He told her he was divorced and they dated for a good six months before she found out he was “technically” still married. When Robyn flew into hysterics, repeating over and over You’re fucking married!, Mike insisted she was overreacting. “You’re splitting hairs,” he said, and ran off a list of arguments about what he called “the paperwork” of divorce. “Look. I’ve lived in my own place for a year. It’s over. I just can’t introduce you to my girls yet. They aren’t ready.” So Mike kept Robyn a secret until “the paperwork” was done. As far as Susan knew, they’d only been together nine months, not two years, when they announced their engagement.

Robyn quietly opened cabinets and drawers, ready for the unpacking. Susan kept talking, but she’d moved on to the book she was reading, the latest Oprah bestseller, and Robyn feigned interest. “Victim Lit!” she wanted to yell, but instead she said words like Really! and That good, huh?! while she scanned her apartment and worried about where to put all of her books – Real Books: les amours anciens like Stendhal, Hugo, Nabakov, Melville, and the Brontes; and les maitres nouvelle like Styron and Stegner and Atwood. On Phoenix’s most scorching afternoons, she’d often sought shelter, and a break from work, in the air-conditioned, used bookstores of Old Town. Robyn now owned a decent collection of old hardcovers; their hefty presence and musty-paper odor made her home feel snug. Where in the heck would she put them? Unlike her last apartment, this one lacked shelf space, a key detail she’d overlooked in the necessary rush of signing the lease.

“You have to take him back.” Susan had found her way back to the beginning, back to Mike. “I’ve never seen him this miserable. He’s lost weight, he can’t sleep, he’s calling in sick to work. I’m worried about Michael.” Robyn bristled at the way she said Michael with such soft familiarity. “Look, I never thought I’d be divorced. And I freaked out the first time I heard how serious you two were. But then I saw that we could all get along, that we were still a family. No offense, but Michael could do a lot worse.”

Robyn sat down on a solid-looking box marked Pots and Pans. “None taken.”

“No, really, I was scared to death he’d end up dating a bunch of bimbos!” Susan laughed. Robyn did not. One night, after too much vodka, Mike confessed that he’d never been a faithful husband. Never. There had been at least a dozen women over the years. “I’m telling you this so we don’t have any secrets between us,” he’d mumbled that night, his head on the pillow next to Robyn’s, eyes closed, about to pass out. “But you’re different. I’m different with you. That’s the truth.”

Robyn snatched a box-cutter off the countertop, and with the phone lodged between her ear and shoulder, she started slicing open boxes. In the background, she could still hear the sqwawking. “I think April’s mad,” she said, ripping a strip of packing tape off the side of a box and slapping it onto the broken hem of her pajama sleeve.

“Look,” Susan said, “I don’t know what happened with you guys, but you seemed happy. That’s all I’m saying. Six weeks ago, it was Christmas Eve and we were all celebrating at my house, and now…well …just think about it. Talk to him. He can be stubborn and selfish and all those things. After all these years, believe me, I know my Michael. But it can’t hurt to talk, can it?”

Robyn leaned back hard, squatting and straining her thighs like a warrior, and dragged a china-filled box around the kitchen, thinking that her friends were right. This was too fucking weird. “Tell the girls ‘hi’ for me and that I said to be good.”

“Is that a ‘yes’?”

For the rest of the day, Robyn clawed her way through cardboard and paper. Unpacking was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. First, you laid out all the pieces that matched – everyday dishes, cups and saucers, glassware, serving bowls, cooking utensils, silverware – so you could get a good visual. Then you surveyed the space and made decisions. If done right, you could always, always find the perfect spot, the perfect fit, for everything.

It was eight o’clock and long dark by the time she quit for the day. She’d torn through the place with such fierce determination that she hadn’t even bothered to comb her hair or change her clothes. She crawled into bed. She switched off the lamp. And like an old videotape that automatically rewinds itself when it comes to the end, her mind spun back to Susan and Mike and Christmas Eve.

She peeled the tape off her sleeve, stuck it to the headboard, and went to sleep.

*              *              *

It was mid-December when Mike mentioned, in passing, that Susan had invited them over for Christmas Eve. Robyn assumed it was merely a courtesy and that, of course, they would “have other plans.” Then, on December twenty-second, Susan called Robyn at work and asked what she would like to bring. Maybe an appetizer, she suggested. Or dessert.

By the time Mike showed up at her place that night, Robyn had gone from irritated to amused. She’d just finished making dinner and was running scalding hot water into a crusty pan. Steam rose. She shut off the faucet and turned to face him. “Are you going to Susan’s on Christmas Eve?” she said. “Because she called earlier and said you should bring dessert, maybe bake a cake.”

“Of course,” he said, dropping his briefcase on the floor, loosening his tie, missing the humor entirely. “We both are. Remember? We talked about it?”

“Nooooo.”  Robyn picked up a dishtowel, folded it three times, and smoothed it into a tidy square.  “We did not talk about any such thing. Seriously.”

Mike tossed his car keys on the counter and they slid into the sink with a splash. “Shit!” he said, and before she could stop him he reached around her and shoved his hand in after them. He pulled it out just as fast. “Shit, shit, shit!”

Robyn held out of the towel. “For god’s sake, Mike. Are you kidding me with this?”

He shook out the towel and blew on his burning fingers and launched into one of his perfectly rational explanations. “Should we sit at home by ourselves? Your whole family is back east and my parents are off on a cruise. You like Susan. Trust me, you’ll love her family. Her parents and her brother are the nicest people.” Robyn waited for him to see how ridiculous this sounded, but without missing a step, he continued. “She’s told them all how great you are. They can’t wait to meet you. And to be honest, Julia and Mel are relieved that they won’t have to choose which of their divorced parents to spend Christmas with.”

And that was where he got her. Robyn’s parents had divorced when she was eight, and since then she’d dreaded all holidays and birthdays. Her parents battled hardest at Christmas, often negotiating down to the minute. “You’ll have her back here by nine and not a minute later,” her mother would say. “Nine?!” her father would argue. “Come on. It’s Christmas Eve!” Mike knew Robyn would not put his daughters through that. If their going to Susan’s on Christmas Eve would make his kids happy, how could she refuse?

He lifted his hand to her mouth. “Don’t you love me, Robyn Ann Cooper?” he said. “Make it better.” And without thinking, she kissed his fingers, one by one.

*              *              *

On Christmas Eve, Robyn found herself sitting alone on Susan’s overstuffed white sofa. She sipped a glass of champagne and surveyed the living room. Though she’d accompanied Mike to this house many times, either picking up or dropping off the girls, she had never actually been inside. Being here felt invasive, like reading a lover’s hidden journal. She’d felt it instantly, taken aback at the ease with which Mike put his key in the lock and pushed open the front door.

Robin grabbed his arm. “We should knock.”

“It’s a party,” he said. “Nobody would hear us anyway.” He pulled away and she smoothed her skirt. Then she smoothed it again, eyes to the ground, and wondered if he always entered Susan’s home this way. Unannounced. Like the man of the house. Mike stepped into the foyer and, for a moment, Robyn felt like she was being left behind on the steps. But then he reached behind his back, like an afterthought, and pulled her inside. Strangers surrounded her with hugs and handshakes. So nice to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you. The same words, over and over again. Before she knew it Mike had disappeared and Susan’s mother was handing her a fluted glass and nudging her through the crowd.

From her perch on the sofa, Robyn admired Susan’s décor; not so much her taste – too angular, too clean, to unlived in – but it was modern and fresh. It lacked clutter. Even the Christmas tree seemed understated. Over the marble fireplace hung a massive, black and white, family photo from when the girls were still small, and sprinkled carefully around the room, framed photos traced Julia and Melanie from birth to the present. The most recent snapshot, the girls in shorts and t-shirts on a beach with mom and dad smiling behind them, glared at Robyn from the table behind the sofa. She focused on Mike’s hand around Susan’s shoulder: he had pulled her in tight and her blonde head tipped just right against him.

“Are you hungry?” sixteen-year-old Julia asked, plopping down next to Robyn. “There’s tons of food in the kitchen.”

“That’s a great picture.” Robyn pointed, tried to sound casual. “Where are you guys?”

“Maui. Mom wanted to go forever and ever. She was obsessed!”

The happy family, Robyn thought, and in that same instant she felt knocked down and breathless, like a boxer in the late rounds of a fight. She thought carefully about what to say next. She picked up the picture. “Melanie’s braces are off. She looks cute, your little sister.”

“She’s a dork.”

“When were you there?”

“Last year, for Christmas break.”

“You were there for Christmas? That sounds fun,” Robyn said, purposefully misleading her, setting the picture down.

“Not actual Christmas. On our school break. We flew there on New Years Day and Mom was so mad. We wanted to be there on New Years Eve! Well, us girls did anyway, but Dad said he had plans for New Years and we could wait one day.” Julia picked up the picture and rolled her eyes. “Mel thinks she’s so hot.”

Julia rambled on. As Robyn suspected, the photo had been taken last January, about a month before Mike finally filed for divorce, back when his year-old relationship with Robyn was still a secret. She’d known, of course, about the trip. He’d told her he was taking his daughters to Hawaii. They’d been bugging him for a beach vacation and he wanted to spend time with them before the divorce. “You understand, right?” he’d said.

“Hey, kiddo,” Robyn said to Julia. “Where’s your dad?”

“Mom made him to put the birds in the garage, so he’s out there trying to calm them down. They don’t really like a lot of company. All these people make them nervous.”

“All these people make me nervous.”

“Come on. Grandma made her famous baked spaghetti, and I’m starving.” Julia stood up, grabbed Robyn by the hand, and pulled her up off the sofa. As they walked into the kitchen – all shining granite and stainless steel – Susan entered from the garage door on the opposing wall. She smoothed her lipstick with one finger. Robyn caught a glimpse of Mike as the door eased shut.

“Have you met everybody?” Susan said. “It’s chaos, I know. And I’ve been a terrible hostess.”

“We’re getting food,” Julia said, swinging Robyn’s hand back and forth, like they were schoolgirls on a playground.

“Sorry I had to steal Michael,” Susan said, pulling a clean wine glass out of the cabinet. She set it gently on the counter and poured a glass of Chardonnay. “He’s the only one who can keep April from squawking all night. She will not give it a rest. And poor, sweet June, stuck in there with her.” She turned to Julia. “Get Robyn a plate, would you, honey? I need to check on Grandma.”

“You go ahead,” Robyn said, patting Julia’s hand before letting it go. “I’m going to check on your dad.”

Robyn stepped into the three-car garage. In the space closest to the door was Susan’s silver Mercedes. In the next slot, in what she assumed had been Mike’s old parking space, her fiancé stood next to the birds. Their cage hung like an old English gibbet from two sturdy-looking hooks in the ceiling and reminded her, she thought, of Margaret Atwood’s Siren Song with its “feathery maniacs,” its fatal and valuable trio.

“Hey there stranger,” Mike said, smiling, reaching out for her.

My god he’s charming, Robyn thought, charming and handsome and smooth – magnetic – like an old-time movie star.

“Come say hello to the troublemakers,” he said. He grabbed the sides of her hips and drew her towards him. She thought of the photo, of Susan’s hair draped on his shoulder. You’re different, he’d said. I’m different with you. From behind the bars of their cage, April and June sprang to attention and, as if on cue, started their routine.

Squawk, Squawk! I’m an Eagle! I’m an Eagle!” April said.

“Awwww, such a pretty bird,” June said, tilting her head to the side, staring Robyn square in the eye.

*              *              *

Robyn left Phoenix without incident, but she felt the echo of escape, like Thumbelina on the lily pad, drifting away from the toad, off to her next adventure.

“Geez, Cooper, what’s your hurry?” her boss said. “Are the police looking for you?” But Robyn knew he was selfish enough to appreciate his own good fortune. A few months earlier he’d talked about opening a Seattle office. “Would you run it?” he’d pleaded, and Robyn had said, “I’ve been your faithful nomad for ten years. It’s time I settled down, don’t you think?”

“Oh my god. You’re not really getting married on me, are you?”

“I’m not the marrying kind.”

“If you keep making me all this money, I might marry you myself.”

“You’re already married.”

“But I love you!

Robyn kept her plans to herself and flew to Seattle for what Mike assumed was a routine business trip. She stayed the week. She found an apartment. She signed a lease. Late into the evening of January seventh, she flew back to Phoenix, and with Mike tucked in her bed, TV on, ready for sleep, told him she was moving. She had no choice. “Look, we’re not married and I either do this or find another job.” She unzipped her suitcase and sorted her dirty clothes on the bed; dry cleaning here, washables there. “Where else can I make this kind of money? Are you going to support meand Susan and the girls and those stupid birds?”

“You’re not funny,” he said, interrupted by the sound of TV gunfire. Pop Pop Pop! “What the hell’s up with you?” He grabbed the remote from the bedside table and turned down the volume. Why had she allowed him to put a TV in her bedroom? He went to bed with The History Channel every night, lulled to sleep by the whistles of dropping bombs and their subsequent explosions. Robyn imagined la tranquillité of her new Seattle bedroom. She took note of her bare bedside table, the mysterious absence of her latest treasure – a first edition, Signed Copy!, of Styron’s Sophie’s Choice – and then she spotted it, laying, like a casualty, on the floor. She picked it up.

“It’s temporary,” she said. “Nine months. A year, tops.” She bundled up her clothes and carried them into the bathroom and shut the door. If she told him the truth there was no telling what he’d do to get her to stay, to convince her she had it all wrong. She undressed, but instead of coming to bed naked, like usual, she appeared in her favorite pajamas. Mike hated the red flannel. “Not a fan,” he always said. “Not sexy.”

“One year,” she said, pulling back her side of the covers and sliding in. He stared at the TV. She turned her back to him. “You said yourself you’re in no hurry to get married.”

The next morning at her office, she filled out relocation paperwork and asked her boss to expedite it. “I found a place,” she told him. “If ReLo can arrange the movers, I’m out of here next week.”

“You know, Cooper, I was kidding before.” He pulled a pen out of his pocket and scanned the papers for where to sign. “But now I think you are running from the police. Damn, girl!”

*              *              *

One year turned into two, and on a sun-drenched, Tuesday afternoon in April, Robyn’s secretary transferred a call. “Will you marry me?” the voice said, and without missing her chance she said, “Did you say Maui me?”

“Funny,” Mike said. “You must have misunderstood me.”

“That’s you alright. Misunderstood.”

As soon as she’d left Phoenix, they’d had it out on the phone over the Maui photo. He kept calling, of course, twenty and thirty times a day at first, but her phone went unanswered, his pleading messages ignored. She’d talked to Susan once or twice, and even to his girls, but never to Mike.

“You don’t still want the ring back?” Robyn said.

“I’m in town,” Mike said, and Robyn spun her chair around and looked out the tinted plate glass as if he might be standing right there, as if he had the magical powers to rise twelve stories and hover outside her window. “I’m working on a project at Microsoft. I’ve been here every week for three months now and Susan said, ‘You’re thinking about her, you should call her’ so I’m calling.”

Mike went on, complaining about the politics at Microsoft and Julia’s applications for college and Melanie’s learning to drive. Robyn leaned back in her chair. She’d never admitted to anyone how difficult it had been to leave him. “Good riddance!” her friends said. “What took you so long?” But wrenching herself from Mike had proven far more painful than she’d expected. It was the first time she’d ever felt physically ill, for months, after a break up. Was this what addiction withdrawal felt like? Her attachment to Mike had a feral quality to it that scared her. Obsessive. Like Heathcliff’s Cathy. Like Count Dracula’s Lucy. Like Nathan’s Sophie. She’d refused his calls, not because she was so strong, but because she was struggling. Even now, his voice had a hypnotic quality that washed through her like so much adrenaline. He was here, had been here. How could she not have known?

“And then the birds died,” Mike was saying.

“What happened?”

“Egg binding.”

“What?”

“June went first,” he said. “Her eggs got bound up. Some female-thing. Pretty common, apparently. She went into shock and Susan found her laid out on the bottom of the cage. April went about a month later. Broken heart, I think. I can relate.”

“Right,” Robyn said. She changed the subject. “You’ll never believe this, but I got a dog.”

“Miss I’ll-Never-Have-A-Pet?”

“She needed me,” Robyn said. “After I was here about a year, a friend showed me this on-line rescue site and there she was. Lucy the dog. Like Dracula’s Lucy.”

“Dracula’s Lucy died before that story was even half over.”

She smiled. She’d expected that. “You know what I mean.”

“I bet you love her.”

“She’s the love of my life.”

Robyn did not tell him that Lucy had come along at her boss’s urging. “You okay, Cooper? Is it the constant rain? You’re not yourself.” It wasn’t the rain. In fact, she loved the rain. She’d never gotten used to the desert. The rain soothed her, nourished her. But he was right. She wasn’t herself. She needed a reason to go home at night, and finding Lucy had done it. The three-year old Australian Shepherd had been surrendered to a rescue group with a shattered back leg. Her owners wanted her euthanized, but instead, she got the amputation she needed and went up for adoption. Lucy changed Robyn’s life. With her three legs, she could run easier than she could walk, so Robyn took up jogging, something she’d never done. She’d always been in decent shape, but since the last time she saw Mike she’d lost about fifteen pounds and toned up. She looked good. She was strong.

Robyn told stories about Lucy. “She’s smarter than June ever was!” she said, and they laughed. And as the minutes ticked by on the backs of benign topics, Robyn tipped her chair, tugged off her high heels, and put her feet up on the corner of her desk.

She felt like she’d passed some kind of test.

“So, like I said, Susan told me I should call. She’s coming up this weekend, and we thought we’d see if you’d have dinner with us.”

Robyn sat straight up in her chair, the soles of her bare feet, damp and sticky and foreign, on her office floor. She stood up at her window, and this time pressed her forehead onto the sun-soaked glass. She scanned the crowded street below.

“Are you sitting down?” Mike said. “Susan and me, we’re getting married again.”

*              *              *

She would say no to dinner, of course. She had not said no, but she would. What nagged her was her lack of decisiveness, which lingered, like an old ghost, between them. She’d been waiting, smugly it seemed now, for him to ask her to meet him for a drink, maybe at his hotel. For this she’d been ready: That’s not a good idea, she would have said. But getting married? To Susan? Fucking married! Encore?!

For the rest of the afternoon, Robyn Ann Cooper sat at her desk and shuffled stacks of documents, first here, then there, then, eventually, back to their places, back to where they were supposed to be. She stalled.

A little before four o’clock, she shoved her feet back into her patent leather heels, packed up her briefcase and walked the six blocks home. You’re different, Mike had once said. Different from whom? she wondered. From his wife? From his previous conquests? From all women? From all mankind?! By the time she got home and took Lucy out do her business, she was boiling. She took a quick shower, and with her wet hair smelling of lavender, pulled on her favorite red pajamas with the still-drooping sleeve and poured a glass of Merlot. It wasn’t long before she found herself on the phone with a familiar voice, the tone so spot-on she could have been talking to June-the-dead-bird.

Bonjour, mon amie!” the voice said. “I had a feeling I’d hear from you. It’s weird, I know.”

“Congratulations, I guess.” Robyn sat down on the sofa and tucked her feet up under her. Her eyes scanned the rows and rows of books on the shelves. She patted the spot next to her and Lucy jumped up and laid down. She sipped her wine.

“Trust me, you’re no more surprised than me. I never thought I’d be one of those women,” she said, then added. “Jamais! See, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Hey, Michael said you got a rescue. Lucy, is it?”

“Lucy the three-legged dog.”

“He didn’t tell me the leg-part, and that’s an important piece of information, don’t you think?!” She was almost giddy. “That’s so great of you to take her in. You saved her! I bet she worships you.”

“She’d go perfect in your house,” Robyn said. “She’s white as snow.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white one.”

“Birth defect,” Robyn said, setting her wine glass on the bookshelf, pushing back Atwood’s Life Before Man and Bodily Harm and The Handmaid’s Tale to make room. She stretched her legs and turned to pet Lucy, who rolled over on her back. The dog splayed out her one her back leg to expose a pink stomach. “It’s the lack of pigment, like an albino. They call them ‘Lethal Whites.’”

“I’m happy for you,” Susan said. “What’s the phrase? Je fait plaisir?

“So there’s this elephant in the room,” Robyn heard herself saying. She’d calmed down. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was rubbing Lucy’s belly. But she’d definitely relaxed. “What’s the story about you guys getting married again?”

“Believe me, even my girls were like ‘Are you serious, Mom?!’ But, of course, they’re ecstatic. You would understand. I must say, between you and me, it was pretty romantic. He even proposed on the same day in April as the first time. Only now we’re going to Paris for our honeymoon. Paris! Not a big deal to you, Miss France, but you know I’ve been dying to go there for years. I’m taking French for Travelers class twice a week to get ready.”

“It was meant to be, I guess,” Robyn said, purposefully interrupting, needing her to stop. Just stop.

Destiné!” Susan said, and Robyn thought to herself, Un sort pire que la mort?

“So Mike mentioned dinner,” Robyn said. She floated the sentence out there, like base camp for what she really wanted to say, but nothing else came. She’d made this call with the best of intentions. She was going to tell Susan about Mike, she was, about all of his affairs, about their two-year courtship, about everything she thought this woman should know, about everything she would want to know. She wanted to scream, “Stop saying ‘Never!’ Start doing all the things you’ve never done! Sleep in your fucking makeup, for god’s sake! Drink a cup of coffee!” But then, as if through some long, dark tunnel, she heard herself saying instead, “I’m happy for you guys. Really. I’d certainly be glad to recommend a few good restaurants for when you’re here. I just can’t have dinner.”

The remainder of their exchange was short, polite, and laden with platitudes. “Au revoir!” they said. Robyn set down the phone and picked up her half-empty wine glass and eased the three Atwoods back into place. Lucy dove off the sofa and ran to the door. She barked, demanding her nightly run. Robyn shed her pajamas and put on her running clothes while Lucy paced around her in excited circles.

Outside it was almost dark, but like a true Seattle-ite, Robyn harnessed the leftover energy from the day’s unexpected sunshine and set out. She and Lucy bounded onto the downtown sidewalk and took their normal route. People stared. They always stared. They admired the dog’s lethal white fur, her graceful ability to run, full out, on only three legs.

The next morning, Robyn was waiting in her office for Mike’s call. Her secretary put him through. “Robyn Ann Cooper.”

“Hey there stranger,” he said, and she swore she could feel the grip of his hands, like a vice, on the sides of her hips.

“Where are you staying?” she said. “Maybe we could meet for a drink.”
Teri Carter’s work can be found in Columbia, The MacGuffin, Superstition Review, and other journals. She is working on her first book, A Heartland Education, a memoir about growing up in Missouri. She lives in northern California. http://tericarter.wordpress.com/

© 2010, Teri Carter