by Jacqueline Doyle

TACO BELL WASN’T Janelle’s first choice, but as usual, Andrew and the kids prevailed. ‘Why not the taqueria?’ she asked, but Mia said it was boring and took too long, which it wasn’t and didn’t, but she didn’t feel like arguing. She was tired of three against one democracy. Occasionally, just occasionally, Bobby was on her side, but he followed his big sister everywhere these days, and wanted what she wanted. Janelle could remember when he never left her alone, and even wanted to nap with his chubby arms wrapped around her neck, his head on her shoulder. She’d wanted more independence and now she had it, but she missed his noisy breath in her ear, the sweaty curls on his forehead, how heavy he became in her arms as he dropped off. She’d wanted more independence from Andrew too, but now that she’d glimpsed the prospect of life without him, she wasn’t so sure.

‘How about the new Mexican place on Grand Street?’ she asked. But no one seemed to hear her. The kids were squabbling over an invisible boundary line Mia had drawn down the middle of the back seat, and Andrew was intent on changing lanes, heading for the old Taco Bell near the freeway exit, which had changed its color scheme and looked weird to her, like a restaurant trying to look like Taco Bell but not really Taco Bell, which had been trying to look like a Mexican restaurant but not really a Mexican restaurant.

She studied Andrew, his hands on the wheel, his profile so familiar. Dark hair that curled behind his ears. The strong jawline she’d loved so much when they met in college, their futures wide open. He turned his head to quiet Mia and Bobby, not noticing Janelle at all.

She pulled her scrunchy off, retied her hair, rummaged in her bag for tinted lip gloss. She didn’t make much of an effort anymore, with two demanding kids, mostly wearing sweats during the day, her hair back in a pony tail. Would it have made a difference? Andrew said the relationship with the woman in Accounts Receivable was over, and maybe it was. Janelle couldn’t imagine what the two of them had in common. She’d met her at the firm’s Christmas party the year before. ‘I’m am such an admirer of your husband,’ the woman had gushed, looking at Andrew and not at Janelle. Her mascara had been smudged, her skirt too tight. A woman trying to look seductive, but not really. Janelle should have suspected something then, but she hadn’t. She still couldn’t imagine Andrew leaving her. He’d miss the kids. He’d miss her. Or would he? She didn’t know any more.

‘She’s had a hard time,’ Andrew had said, as if that was an excuse. Janelle could imagine the long earnest talks they’d had, the soulful looks. Was Andrew planning to save her? Or she was going to save Andrew, from what, Janelle didn’t know. Janelle hated the term ‘emotional affair,’ since really it was more about unconsummated sex than emotions, maybe more about insecurity than sex. So where did that leave her?

‘We’ve all had a hard time,’ Janelle had answered. ‘I’m having a hard time right now trying to cope with two kids and a cheating husband.’ ‘We didn’t do it,’ Andrew shouted. ‘You sound like you’re in the eighth grade,’ Janelle said. She couldn’t stop saying things that made it worse. No wonder he was attracted to another woman. His wife was a shrew.

She imagined herself living alone, embracing her shrewishness. A small cabin in the woods, a double bed with a quilt, an easy chair by the wood stove, the kind of stove where you could see the glow of the flames. She could feel the cat purring in her lap, smell bread baking in the oven. So peaceful. But she’d miss Mia and Bobby. She’d probably miss Andrew for all that.

When they pulled into Taco Bell the kids raced ahead of them, laughing and tumbling in the grass by the entrance. To anyone looking out the window of the restaurant they looked like a happy family—attractive thirty-something parents with two lively young kids. Maybe they were a happy family. Andrew put his hand in the small of Janelle’s back like he always did, whether to show affection or just urge her forward she wasn’t sure. ‘We’ll check out the new place the next time we go out,’ he said. So he’d heard her after all.

‘What do you want to eat?’ he asked. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Maybe I’ll try one of those ridiculous Mexican pizzas the kids love. Or just a small bean burrito to tide me over. I haven’t decided yet.’


Jacqueline Doyle’s award-winning flash chapbook The Missing Girl is available from Black Lawrence Press. Her flash have appeared in Wigleaf, trampset, Bending Genres, Tiny Molecules, and other fine zines. This will be her sixth appearance in Fictive Dream (she’s a fan), her fifth in Flash February. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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