She needs to tell Robert tonight. If she waits any longer it might seem like she’s hiding something, when really, she isn’t. It just hasn’t come up.
The bathroom is still warm and steamy from her shower, fragrant with the scent of lemon soap. She rubs away condensation on the mirror with the side of her hand and leans forward over the sink to get closer as she applies her mascara. The lighting in the bathroom could be better, a fact that she notes every day as she puts on makeup, but somehow she never gets around to doing something about it. There’s no point in spending money for a new light fixture if she’s going to move out.
She and Robert go out to dinner every Saturday, but usually not to restaurants that require reservations. Is Robert going to ask her to live with him? To marry him? She doesn’t think he’ll care that she’s divorced. But he might find it strange that she’s never once mentioned it during the six months they’ve been dating.
There are thick blobs of mascara on the brush. She should buy a better brand than Maybelline, but she’s used to it, even the way it cakes on the brush. It’s waterproof, and she might cry tonight.
She talked about her marriage a lot right after the divorce. Too much. One guy didn’t call her again after she went on about it for over an hour. She embarrassed herself on another first date by bursting into tears. Over time her summaries dwindled to a couple of sentences. “We were so young. I mean the sex was great but we didn’t have much else in common.” “We were so young. Neither of us was ready.” “We were so young. I can hardly remember him any more.” When she hit 30, she decided that made her sound too old, and her first marriage began to seem less essential to her story anyway. She stopped including it in the let’s-trade-life-stories phase of new relationships.
She screws the mascara wand shut and tosses it into her makeup basket.
All the two-sentence versions had started with a rueful shake of her head, a reference to her youth and folly. She’s 34 now, the divorce almost ten years ago, but they hadn’t been all that young. She’d been 23, Colin had been 25. Plenty of people were younger than that when they married. Plenty of those marriages lasted. Theirs ended when a friend told her she’d seen Colin holding hands with a woman at a café. When she confronted him that night, he denied it at first, but she cried and raged until he cried and admitted he was in love with someone else. Their marriage lasted a couple of years, not a year. They’d fallen in love in college, so all told it was four or five years before they broke up.
She checks her cell phone on the bathroom counter. 7:35. Plenty of time. The reservation’s for 8:15; she’ll call an Uber at 7:50. She’s dressed, a black cocktail dress from the vintage store near where she works. She hardly ever gets to wear it. Her hair’s dry—easy now that it’s short and curly. She’s been wearing it short for a few years, but she still finds herself gesturing to flip her hair over her shoulder, surprised it’s not long anymore.
She’s become suspicious of summary. Her shortcuts. Her motives for what she used to include. “The sex was great,” for example. Well it had been, but did she say that to advertise herself to new men as good in bed? “Neither of us was ready.” Did she start saying that later to suggest that she’d grown up and was ready for marriage? She’s had one semi-serious relationship, but she didn’t want to marry anyone before Robert. That is, she thinks she wants to marry him.
There’s a lot to love about Robert. He’s smart (a left brain to her right brain), responsible, attentive and caring. He satisfies her in bed. He tells funny stories, and she likes his friends. He’s got a good job in the corporate offices of an outdoor apparel company that he enjoys. He’s 36. He’s mentioned that he wants a family. If she wants to settle down and have kids, now is the time. She’s as ready as she’ll ever be.
She pats on concealer, keeping her fingers light as she smooths it under her eyes. She doesn’t mind the crow’s feet, but she hates the dark circles under her eyes. Running her fingers down her neck from her chin to the cleft between her breasts, she twists her head as she surveys herself critically in the mirror. She picks up a powdered blusher in a brown plastic case and puts it down. She doesn’t usually use it, and in brighter light it might look garish.
“We were so young. I can hardly remember him any more” might be the best version for Robert. It’s not really true, but the memories don’t hurt as they once did, and what she remembers is a jumble of fragments. The first time Colin said “I love you” (after sex, the sweat drying off their bodies, the white sheets in a tangle). They were sprawled on her double bed on a lazy summer afternoon, the ceiling fan turning above them, red curtains filtering the sunlight. The first time she said “I love you” (standing in line for the movies). He’d tucked her hair behind her ear, such a tender gesture that she’d blurted it out, “I love you,” surprising herself. Drinking coffee together in the morning on the back porch, wrapped in plaid throw blankets because it was still chilly outside. Eating tapas in a noisy restaurant, arguing about No Country for Old Men after they saw it. The way he jabbed his finger in the air when he wanted to make a point. The way they laughed when they reached a consensus, because really, they’d just been arguing for the fun of it.
Lipstick? Red would go well with the dress, but Robert likes a more natural look. She rummages through the basket on the counter and chooses Burt’s Bees tinted lip gloss instead of a lighter lipstick, even though it wears off and she’ll have to keep reapplying it. She twists the tube and applies two coats.
Robert’s not a big fan of books or movies. He’s tall—6’2” to her 5’5”, broad-shouldered, outdoorsy, and she likes the way other women check him out when they walk into a restaurant. He calls her “bean sprout” and curls around her when they sleep. He’s into hiking and camping, which she never has been, but she does like some parts of it, the intimacy of sleeping in a tent, the freshness of the air in the early morning, the sudden vista from a mountain crag after several hours of grueling ascent on a wooded trail. She likes the way Robert sets up the tent and looks out for her. She could do without the mosquitos and the discomfort of sleeping on hard ground, but she’s getting used to it.
Good enough. She slides her lips back and forth to distribute the slick lip gloss and runs her fingers through her hair so that it looks tousled.
“We were so young. We thought it would be easy.” That might be more accurate. Maybe she should have stuck it out with Colin, tried harder. She could have taken him back a few months later when the fling with the other woman was over. He wanted to try again. Was it pride that prevented her from forgiving him, or had they actually been incompatible? She’d been too immature to value what they had.
But maybe that would scare Robert off, suggesting that marriage isn’t easy. Robert is kind, transparent, the faithful type. He doesn’t like conflict. Marriage with Robert would be easier.
She hasn’t heard from Colin for years. He moved from Wisconsin to Chicago for grad school, probably somewhere else after that. She moved to San Francisco. He isn’t on Facebook. They don’t have any mutual friends left. She heard somewhere that he’d remarried, but she doubts it lasted, maybe just because she doesn’t want to believe it. She wonders whether he ever thinks of her. Does he miss her? Does she miss him, or does she just miss being so young, so certain that she had all the time in the world?
Damn. Already 7:58. How did that happen? She snatches up her cell phone and checks her reflection one last time before switching off the light as she dashes out the door. Somehow she always misses the transitional moment between having plenty of time and running late. Robert’s used to her, but she knows it annoys him, and tonight she wanted to be on time. Should she text him? But he’ll know she’s on her way.
She’ll keep it casual. Just say that the marriage to Colin was short, that they didn’t stay in touch. Robert isn’t the jealous type, or the curious type, or even very reflective. He probably won’t ask any questions about Colin at all.
No, the problem isn’t what to say to Robert. What she needs is some two-sentence version of her first marriage that she can file away and forget. Not what she comes up with tonight, not one of the first-date versions she used in her twenties either. More of a confidential memo. “We were so young. We weren’t really in love,” for example. But she remembers Colin tucking her hair behind her ear, the softness of his touch, the warmth of his gaze, the way everything around them receded in that moment, and she knows she can’t say that, not even to herself.
About the author…
Jacqueline Doyle lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her award-winning flash fiction chapbook The Missing Girl was published by Black Lawrence Press last fall. She has published fiction in Phoebe and Confrontation, creative nonfiction in The Gettysburg Review and Catamaran Literary Reader, and flash in Post Road and Wigleaf. Her work has earned six Pushcart nominations, two Finalist listings in Best Small Fictions, and four Notable Essay citations in Best American Essays.