The Wives – Tarryn Fisher

He comes over on Thursday every week. That’s my day, I’m Thursday. It’s a hopeful day, lost in the middle of the more important days; not the beginning or the end, but a stop. An appetizer to the weekend. Sometimes I wonder about the other days and if they wonder about me. That’s how women are, right? Always wondering about each other—curiosity and spite curdling together in little emotional puddles. Little good that does; if you wonder too hard, you’ll get everything wrong. I set the table for two. I’m a little buzzed as I lay out the silverware, pausing to consider the etiquette of what goes where. I run my tongue along my teeth and shake my head. I’m being silly; it’s just me and Seth tonight—an at-home date. Not that there’s anything else—we don’t do regular dates very often at the risk of being seen. Imagine that…not wanting to be seen with your husband. Or your husband not wanting to be seen with you. The vodka I sipped earlier has warmed me, made my limbs loose and careless.

I almost knock over the vase of flowers as I place a fork next to a plate: a bouquet of the palest pink roses. I chose them for their sexual innuendo because when you’re in a position like mine, being on top of your sexual game is of the utmost importance. Look at these delicate, pink petals. Do they make you think of my clit? Good! To the right of the vaginal flowers sit two white candles in silver candlestick holders. My mother once told me that under the flickering light of a candle flame, a woman can almost look ten years younger. My mother cared about those things. Every six weeks a doctor slid a needle into her forehead, pumping thirty cc’s of Botox into her dermis. She had a subscription to every glossy fashion magazine you could name and collected books on how to keep your husband. No one tries that hard to keep their husband unless they’ve already lost him. I used to think her shallow, back when my ideals were untainted by reality.

I had big plans to be anything but my mother: to be loved, to be successful, to make beautiful children. But the truth is that the heart’s desire is a mere current against the tide of nurture and nature. You can spend your whole life swimming against it and eventually you’ll get tired and the current of genes and upbringing will pull you under. I became a lot like her and a little bit like me. I roll the wheel of the lighter with my thumb and hold the flame above the wick. The lighter is a Zippo, the worn remnants of a Union Jack flag on the casing. The flickering tongue reminds me of my brief stint with smoking. To look cool, mostly—I never inhaled, but I lived to see that glowing cherry at my fingertips. My parents bought the candleholders for me as a housewarming gift after I saw them in a Tiffany’s catalog. I found them to be predictably classy.

When you’re newly married, you see a pair of candlestick holders and imagine a lifetime of roast dinners that will go along with them. Dinners much like the one we’re having tonight. My life is almost perfect. I glance out the bay window as I fold the napkins, the view of the park spread out beneath me. It’s gray outside, typical of Seattle. The view of the park is why I chose this particular unit instead of the much larger, nicer unit overlooking Elliott Bay. While most people would have chosen the view of the water, I prefer a view of people’s lives. A silver-haired couple sits on a bench, staring out at the pathway where cyclists and joggers pass every few minutes. They’re not touching, though their heads move in unison whenever someone goes by. I wonder if that will be Seth and me one day, and then my cheeks warm as I think of the others.

Imagining what the future holds proves difficult when factoring in two other women who share your husband. I set out the bottle of pinot grigio that I chose from the market earlier today. The label is boring, not something that catches the eye, but the austere-looking man who sold it to me had described its taste in great detail, rubbing his fingers together as he spoke. I can’t recall what he’d said, even though it was only a few hours ago. I’d been distracted, focused on the task of collecting ingredients. Cooking, my mother taught me, is the only good way to be a wife. Standing back, I examine my work. Overall, it’s an impressive table, but I am queen of presentation, after all. Everything is just right, the way he likes it, and thus, the way I like it. It’s not that I don’t have a personality; it’s just that everything I am is reserved for him.

As it should be. At six o’clock sharp, I hear the key turn in the lock and then the whistle of the door opening. I hear the click as it closes, and his keys hitting the table in the entryway. Seth is never late, and when you live a life as complicated as his, order is important. I smooth down the hair I so painstakingly curled and step from the kitchen into the hallway to greet him. He’s looking down at the mail in his hand, raindrops clinging to the tips of his hair. “You got the mail! Thank you.” I’m embarrassed by the enthusiasm in my voice. It’s just the mail, for God’s sake. He sets the pile down on the little marble table in the entryway, next to his keys, and smiles.

There is a tilt in my belly, heat and a flurry of excitement. I step into the breadth of him, inhaling his scent, and burying my face in his neck. It’s a nice neck, tan and wide. It holds up a very good head of hair and a face that is traditionally handsome with the tiniest bit of roguish scruff. I nestle into him. Five days is a long time to go without the man you love. In my youth, I considered love a burden. How could you get anything done when you had to consider someone else every second of the day? When I met Seth, that all went out the window. I became my mother: doting, yielding, spread-eagle emotionally and sexually. It both thrilled and revolted me.

“I missed you,” I tell him. I kiss the underside of his chin, then the tender spot beneath his ear, and then stand on my tiptoes to reach his mouth. I am thirsty for his attention and my kiss is aggressive and deep. He moans from the back of his throat, and his briefcase drops to the floor with a thud. He wraps his arms around me. “That was a nice hello,” he says. Two of his fingers play the knobs of my spine like a saxophone. He massages them gently until I squirm closer. “I’d give you a better one, but dinner is ready.” His eyes become smoky, and I silently thrill.

I turned him on in under two minutes. I want to say, Beat that, but to whom? Something uncoils in my stomach, a ribbon unrolling, unrolling. I try to catch it before it goes too far. Why do I always have to think of them? The key to making this work is not thinking of them. “What did you make?” He unravels the scarf from his neck and loops it around mine, pulling me close and kissing me once more. His voice is warm against my cold trance, and I push my feelings aside, determined not to ruin our night together. “Smells good.” I smile and sashay into the dining room—a little hip to go with his dinner. I pause in the doorway to note his reaction to the table. “You make everything beautiful.

” He reaches for me, his strong, tanned hands tracked with veins, but I dance away, teasing. Behind him, the window is rinsed with rain. I glance over his shoulder— the couple on the bench are gone. What did they go home to? Chinese takeout…canned soup…? I move on to the kitchen, making sure Seth’s eyes are on me. Experience has taught me that you can drag a man’s eyes if you move the right way. “A rack of lamb,” I call over my shoulder. “Couscous…” He plucks the bottle of wine from the table, holding it by the neck and tilting it down to study the label. “This is a good wine.” Seth is not supposed to drink wine; he doesn’t with the others. Religious reasons.

He makes an exception for me and I chalk it up to another one of my small victories. I have lured him into deep red, merlots and crisp chardonnays. We’ve kissed, and laughed, and fucked drunk. Only with me; he hasn’t done that with them. Silly, I know. I chose this life and it’s not about competing, it’s about providing, but one can’t help but keep a tally when other women are involved. When I return from the kitchen with dinner clutched between two dishtowels, he has poured the wine and is staring out the window while he sips. Beneath the twelfth-floor window, the city hums her nightly rhythm. A busy street cuts a path in front of the park. To the right of the park and just out of view is the Sound, dotted with sailboats and ferries in the summer, and masked with fog in the winter.

From our bedroom window, you can see it—a wide expanse of standing and falling water. The perfect Seattle view. “I don’t care about dinner,” he says. “I want you now.” His voice is commanding; Seth leaves little room for questions. It’s a trait that has served him well in all areas of his life. I set the platters on the table, my appetite for one thing gone and replaced by another. I watch as he blows out the candles, never taking his eyes from me, and then I walk to the bedroom, reaching around and unzipping my dress as I go. I do it slowly so he can watch, peeling off the layer of silk. I feel him behind me: the large presence, the warmth, the anticipation of what’s to come.

My perfect dinner cools on the table, the fat of the lamb congealing around the edges of the serving dish in oranges and creams as I slip out of the dress and bend at the waist, letting my hands sink into the bed. I’m wrist-deep in the down comforter when his fingers graze my hips and hook in the elastic waist of my panties. He pulls them down, and when they flutter around my ankles, I kick free of them. The tink of metal and then the zzzweeep of his belt. He doesn’t undress—there’s just the muted sound of his pants falling to his ankles. After, I warm our dinner in the microwave, wrapped in my robe. There is a throbbing between my legs, a trickle of semen on my thigh; I am sore in the best possible way. I carry his plate to where he is lying shirtless on the couch, one arm thrown over his head—an image of exhaustion. I cannot remove the grin from my lips, though I try. It’s a break in my usual facade, this grinning like a schoolgirl.

“You’re beautiful,” he says when he sees me. His voice is gruff like it always is postsex. “You felt so good.” He reaches up to rub my thigh as he takes his plate. “Do you remember that vacation we talked about taking? Where do you want to go?” This is the essence of postcoital conversation with Seth: he likes to talk about the future after he comes. Do I remember? Of course I remember. I rearrange my face so that it looks surprised. He’s been promising a vacation for a year. Just the two of us. My heart beats faster.

I’ve been waiting for this. I didn’t want to push it since he’s been so busy, but here it is—my year. I’ve imagined all the places we can go. I’ve narrowed it down to a beach. White sands and lapis lazuli water, long walks along the water’s edge holding hands in public. In public. “I was thinking somewhere warm,” I say. I don’t make eye contact—I don’t want him to see how eager I am to have him to myself. I am needy, and jealous, and petty. I let my robe fall open as I bend to set his wine on the coffee table.

He reaches inside and cups my breast like I knew he would. He is predictable in some ways. “Turks and Caicos?” he suggests. “Trinidad?” Yes and yes! Lowering myself into the armchair that faces the sofa, I cross my legs so that my robe slips open and reveals my thigh. “You choose,” I say. “You’ve been more places than I have.” I know he likes that, to make the decisions. And what do I care where we go? So long as I get him for a week, uninterrupted, unshared. For that week, he will be only mine. A fantasy.

Now comes the time I both dread and live for. “Seth, tell me about your week.” He sets his plate down and rubs the tips of his fingers together. They are glistening from the grease of the meat. I want to go over and put his fingers in my mouth, suck them clean. “Monday is sick, the baby…” “Oh, no,” I say. “She’s still in her first trimester, so it will be that way for a few more weeks.” He nods, a small smile playing on his lips. “She’s very excited, despite the sickness. I bought her one of those baby name books.

She highlights the names she likes and then we look through them when I see her.” I feel a spike of jealousy and push it aside immediately. This is the highlight of my week, hearing about the others. I don’t want to ruin it with petty feelings. “That’s so exciting,” I say. “Does she want a boy or a girl?” He laughs as he walks over to the kitchen to set his plate in the sink. I hear the water running and then the lid of the trash can as he throws his paper towel away. “She wants a boy. With dark hair, like mine. But I think whatever we have will have blond hair, like hers.

” I picture Monday in my mind—long, pin-straight blond hair, a surfer’s tan. She’s lean and muscular with perfect white teeth. She laughs a lot—mostly at the things he says—and is youthfully in love. He told me once that she is twenty-five but looks like a college girl. Normally, I’d judge a man for that, the cliché way men want younger women, but it isn’t true of him. Seth likes the connection. “You’ll let me know as soon as you know what you’re having?” “It’s a ways off, but yes.” He smiles, the corner of his mouth moving up. “We have a doctor’s appointment next week. I’ll have to head straight over on Monday morning.

” He winks at me and I am not skilled enough to hide my flush. My legs are crossed and my foot bounces up and down as warmth fills my belly. He has the same effect on me now as he had on the first day we met. “Can I make you a drink?” I ask, standing up. I walk over to the bar and hit Play on the stereo. Of course he wants a drink, he always wants a drink on the evenings when we’re together. He told me that he secretly keeps a bottle of scotch at the office now, and I mentally gloat at my bad influence. Tom Waits begins to sing and I reach for the decanter of vodka. I used to ask about Tuesday, but Seth is more hesitant to talk about her. I’ve always chalked it up to her being in a position of authority as first wife.

The first wife, the first woman he loved. It’s daunting in a way to know I’m only his second choice. I’ve consoled myself with that fact that I am Seth’s legal wife, that even though they’re still together, he had to divorce her to marry me. I don’t like Tuesday. She’s selfish; her career takes the most dominant role in her life—the space I reserve for Seth. And while I disapprove, I can’t entirely blame her, either. He’s gone five days of the week. We have one rotating day that we take turns with, but it’s our job to fill the week with things that aren’t him: stupid things for me—pottery making, romance novels and Netflix; but for Tuesday, it’s her career. I root around in the pocket of my robe, searching for my ChapStick. We have entire lives outside of our marriage.

It’s the only way to stay sane. Pizza for dinner again? I used to ask. He’d admitted to me once that Tuesday was a takeoutordering girl rather than a cooking girl. Always so judgmental about other people’s cooking skills, he’d tease. I set up two glasses and fill them with ice. I can hear Seth moving behind me, getting up from the couch. The soda bottle hisses as I twist off the cap and top off the glasses. Before I’m finished making our drinks, he’s behind me, kissing my neck. I dip my head to the side to give him better access. He takes his drink from me and walks over to the window while I sit.

I look over from my spot on the couch, my glass sweaty against my palm. Seth lowers himself next to me on the couch, setting his drink on the coffee table. He reaches to rub my neck while he laughs. His eyes are dancing, flirtatious. I fell in love with those eyes and the way they always seemed to be laughing. I lift one corner of my mouth in a smile and lean back into him, enjoying the solid feel of his body against my back. His fingers trail up and down my arm. What’s left to discuss? I want to make sure I’m familiar with all areas of his life. “The business…?” “Alex…” He pauses. I watch as he runs the pad of his thumb across his bottom lip, a habit I’m endeared to.

What has he done now? “I caught him in another lie,” he says. Alex is Seth’s business partner; they started the company together. For as long as I can remember, Alex has been the face of the business: meeting with clients and securing the jobs, while Seth is the one who manages the actual building of the homes, dealing with things like the contractors and inspections. Seth has told me that the very first time they butted heads was over the name of the company: Alex wanted his last name to be incorporated into the name of the business, while Seth wanted it to include the Pacific Northwest. They’d fought it out and settled on Emerald City Development. Over the last years their attention to detail and sheer beauty of the homes they build has secured them several high-profile clients. I have never met Alex; he doesn’t know I exist. He thinks Seth’s wife is Tuesday. When Seth and Tuesday were first married, they’d go on vacations with Alex and his wife—once to Hawaii and another time on a ski holiday to Banff. I’ve seen Alex in photos.

He’s an inch shorter than his wife, Barbara, who is a former Miss Utah. Squat and balding, he has a close-lipped smugness about him. There are so many people I haven’t met. Seth’s parents, for example, and his childhood friends. As second wife, I may never have the chance. “Oh?” I say. “What’s up?” My existence is exhausting, all of the games I play. This is a woman’s curse. Be direct, but not too direct. Be strong, but not too strong.

Ask questions, but not too many. I take a sip of my drink and sit on the couch next to him. “Do you enjoy this?” he asks. “It’s sort of strange, you asking about—” “I enjoy you.” I smile. “Knowing your world, what you feel and experience when you aren’t with me.” It’s true, isn’t it? I love my husband, but I’m not the only one. There are others. My only power is my knowledge. I can thwart, one-up, fuck his brains out and feign an aloof detached interest, all with a few well-timed questions.

Seth sighs, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. “Let’s go to bed,” he says. I study his face. For tonight, he’s done talking about them. He holds out a hand to help me up and I take it, letting him pull me to my feet. We make love this time, kissing deeply as I wrap my legs around him. I shouldn’t wonder, but I do. How does a man love so many women? A different woman almost every other day. And where do I fall in the category of favor? He falls asleep quickly, but I do not. Thursday is the day I don’t sleep.

TWO On Friday morning, Seth leaves before I wake up. I tossed and turned until four and then must have fallen into a deep sleep, because I didn’t hear him when he left. Sometimes I feel like a girl who wakes up alone in bed after a one-night stand, him sneaking out before she can ask his name. I always lie in bed longer on Fridays and stare at the dent in his pillow until the sun shines right through the window and into my eyes. But the sun has yet to curl her fingers over the horizon, and I stare at that dent like it’s giving me life. Mornings are hard. In a normal marriage, you wake up beside a person, validate your life with their sleep-soaked body. There are routines and schedules, and they get boring, but they are a comfort, as well. I do not have the comfort of normalcy: a snoring husband whom I kick during the night, or toothpaste glued to the sink that I scrub away in frustration. Seth can’t be felt in the fibers of this home, and most days that makes my heart heavy.

He’s barely here and then he’s gone, off to another woman’s bed while mine grows cold. I glance at my phone, apprehension making curlicues in my belly. I don’t like to text him. I imagine he is flooded with texts every day from the others, but this morning I have the urge to reach for my phone and text him: I miss you. He knows, surely he knows. When you don’t see your husband for five days out of the week he must know that you miss him. But I don’t reach for my phone, and I don’t text him. Resolutely, I throw my legs over the side of the bed and slide my feet into my slippers instead, my toes curling into the soft fleece inside. The slippers are part of my routine, my reach for normalcy. I walk to the kitchen, glancing out of the window at the city below.

There is a snake of red brake lights down 99 as commuters wait their turn at the light. Wipers swish back and forth, clearing windshields of the mist-like rain. I wonder if Seth is among them, but no, he takes 5 away from here. Away from me. I open the fridge and pull out a glass bottle of Coke, setting it on the counter. I dig around the silverware drawer for the bottle opener, cursing when a toothpick slides underneath my fingernail. I stick the finger in my mouth as I loosen the cap off the bottle with my free hand. I only keep one bottle of Coke in the fridge, and I hide the rest underneath the sink behind the watering can. Each time I drink the bottle, I replace it. That way, it looks like the same bottle of Coke has been sitting there forever.

There is no one to fool but myself. And perhaps I don’t want Seth to know that I drink Coke for breakfast. He would tease me and I don’t mind his teasing, but soda for breakfast is not something you want people to know. When I was a little girl, I was the only one of my friends who liked to play with Barbie. At ten, they’d already moved on to makeup kits and MTV, asking their parents for clothes for Christmas instead of the new Barbie camper van. I was terribly ashamed of my love of Barbie dolls—especially after they made such a big deal out of it, calling me a baby. In one of the saddest moments of my young life, I packed away my Barbie dolls, retiring them to a box in my closet. I cried myself to sleep that night, not wanting to part with something I loved so much but knowing the teasing I’d take for it if I didn’t. When my mother found the box a few weeks later while packing laundry away, she’d questioned me about it. I tearfully told her the truth.

I was too old for Barbie and it was time to move on. You can play with them in secret. No one has to know. You don’t have to give up something you love just because other people disapprove, she said. Secrets: I’m good at having them and keeping them. I see that he made himself toast before he left. The remnants of bread crumbs litter the counter, and a knife lies in the sink, slick with butter. I chastise myself for not getting up early to make him something. Next week, I tell myself. Next week I’ll be better, I’ll feed my husband breakfast.

I’ll be one of those wives who delivers sex and sustenance three times a day. Anxiety grips my stomach and I wonder if Monday and Tuesday get up to make him breakfast. Have I been slacking all this time? Does he think of me as neglectful because I stayed in bed? I clean up the crumbs, swiping them into my hand and then angrily shaking them into the sink, and then I carry my Coke to the living room. The bottle is cold in my palm and I sip, thinking of all the ways I could be better. When I wake up, some time has gone by, the light has changed. I sit up and see the bottle of Coke turned on its side, a brown stain seeping into the carpet around it. “Shit,” I say aloud, standing up. I must have dozed off holding the bottle. That’s what I get for lying awake all night, staring at the ceiling. I rush to grab a rag and stain solution to clean the carpet and drop to my knees, scrubbing furiously.

The Coke has dried into the knotted beige rug, a sticky caramel. I am angry about something, I realize as tears roll down my face. The drips join the stain on the carpet and I scrub harder. When the carpet is clean, I fall back on my haunches and close my eyes. What has happened to me? How have I become this docile person, living for Thursdays and the love of a man who divides himself so thinly among three women? If you’d told nineteen-year-old me that this would be my life, she’d have laughed in your face. The day he found me was five years ago, next week. I was studying in a coffee shop, my final nursing exam looming ahead of me, a wall I didn’t feel ready to climb. I’d not slept in two days, and I was at the point where I was drinking coffee like it was water just to stay awake. Half-delirious, I swayed in my armchair as Seth sat down next to me. I remember being irritated by his presence.

There were five open armchairs to choose from; why take the one right next to me? He was handsome: glossy black hair and turquoise eyes, well-slept, well-groomed and well-spoken. He’d asked if I was studying to be a nurse and I’d snapped my answer, only to apologize a moment later for my rudeness. He’d waved away my apology and asked if he could quiz me. A laugh burst from between my lips until I realized he was serious. “You want to spend your Friday night quizzing a half-dead nursing student?” I’d asked him. “Sure,” he’d said, eyes glowing with humor. “I figure if I get in your good graces, you won’t say no when I ask you to have dinner with me.” I remember frowning at him, wondering if it was a joke. Like his buddies had sent him over to humiliate the sad girl in the corner. He was too handsome.

His type never bothered with girls like me. While I certainly wasn’t ugly, I was on the plain side. My mother always said I got the brains and my sister, Torrence, got the beauty. “Are you being serious?” I’d asked. I suddenly felt self-conscious about my limp ponytail and lack of mascara. “Only if you like Mexican,” he’d said. “I can’t fall for a girl who doesn’t like Mexican.” “I don’t like Mexican,” I told him, and he’d grabbed at his heart like he was in pain. I’d laughed at the sight of him—a too-handsome man pretending to have a heart attack in a coffee shop. “Just kidding.

What sort of messed-up human doesn’t like Mexican?” Against my better judgment and despite my insanely busy schedule, I’d agreed to meet him for dinner the following week. A girl had to eat, after all. When I pulled up to the restaurant in my beat- up little Ford, I’d half expected him not to be there. But as soon as I stepped out of the car, I spotted him waiting by the entrance, just out of reach of the rain, droplets spotting the shoulders of his trench coat.


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