by Jacqueline Doyle
The lighting made it look like a scene in a play. Her husband was spotlighted by the halogen reading lamp next to the new Danish recliner. His bald spot looked shiny. The distance between the recliner and the sofa appeared unnaturally large, the air very still.
He’s happy, she thought to herself. How can he be happy right now?
She’d minored in theater in college. In high school she’d auditioned for the lead in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. She’d cried for days when another girl got the part. She wanted it so badly.
You’ll be okay, her husband was saying, and she tried to pay attention but her mind kept drifting. At first she thought he was joking. Of course she’d be okay. What was he talking about?
The Danish recliner, normally a gray blue, looked brighter, bluer. I hope this doesn’t turn out to be powder blue, she’d told the saleswoman at the furniture store while they compared leather swatches. I hate powder blue. She wondered who that woman was who’d had such decided opinions about colors. The color of the recliner no longer felt important.
Renie and I don’t want to disrupt your life. I’ll move out. I’ll leave most of the stuff in the house.
The reading lamp was angled so that he was brightly lit and cast a large shadow against the wall. She wanted to stand up and change the angle on the lamp, but she couldn’t move. Did he mean all the new stuff ? The lamp, the recliner, the couch, the TV? He’d told her it was the perfect family room for their retirement. You did a good job, he said.
She picked up one of the linen throw pillows and hugged it. A sort of off red. She’d liked the way the colors were all sort of off. The linen curtains too. A sort of off gray with tones of green and blue. The sage green sofa had silver undertones.
Renie and I…Her ears were roaring and she didn’t quite catch what he was saying.
Renie was married. Renie was her friend. They’d picked out the new couch together. This is your forever home, Renie had said. Go ahead and spend some money. Besides, her husband had never liked Renie. That’s what he’d always told her, anyway.
Her first experience working backstage had been exciting. Costume changes, actors rehearsing their lines, stagehands dragging furniture on and off the set, giggling and whispering, one of the boys passing around a flask with some friends. She’d helped paint the backdrops for the soda fountain scene and the church scene where George and Emily got married. In the third act, she played one of the dead townspeople in the cemetery where Emily was buried. She had only one line, but she’d written it on her palm because she was afraid she’d forget it. She hovered in the wings with butterflies in her stomach.
Her husband was swiveling slightly, back and forth, his shadow on the wall wavering. The recliner was supposed to be for her, she was the one with the bad back, but it turned out to be his favorite spot. He’d taken it over. He looked at her like he was expecting her to say something. Her chest tightened. She was finding it hard to breathe.
She’d just talked to Renie a few days ago. Renie hadn’t sounded any different. Things couldn’t have changed that fast, could they? Had Renie been lying to her? Had both of them been lying to her? For how long? Her hands were cold and she let go of the pillow and slid them under her legs. She was trembling. She needed to buy a throw blanket for the couch, but she hadn’t found just what she wanted yet.
In high school she’d worried that no one would want to marry her, that she’d never have children, but she’d had two, grown and living on the other side of the country, and she’d been married for almost thirty years. It hadn’t all been a mistake, had it?
The family room was almost finished but if she had it to do over, she’d buy a smaller couch, and she wasn’t so sure about the colors any more. Why was her husband smiling? She was one of the dead in a drama where someone else’s love story was taking center stage. This was her cue, the audience was waiting, but she couldn’t remember her lines. She was shaking with stage fright. There was nothing written on the palm of her hand.
Jacqueline Doyle’s flash fiction chapbook The Missing Girl is available from Black Lawrence Press. She is a previous contributor to Fictive Dream, with recent flash in matchbook, CRAFT, Juked, Little Fiction/Big Truths, and Pithead Chapel. Her flash has been featured in “Creative Nonfiction Sunday Short Reads” and longlisted in the “Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions.”
She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found online at www.jacquelinedoyle.com and on Twitter @doylejacq.