My Lovely Wife Page 2

I do not finish drinking it until much later, when we are in the dark and the only light is from my phone. We type back and forth, making fun of ourselves and the fact that we do not know each other.

I ask:

Favorite color?

Lime green.

Ice cream?

Bubble gum.

Bubble gum? The blue stuff?


Who says that?

What’s your favorite?

French vanilla. Pizza topping?


We’re done here.

Are we?

Wait, are we still talking about pizza?

We are not talking about pizza.

Afterward, she dozes off first. I think about leaving, then about staying, and the idea bounces around so long I doze off.

When I wake up, it’s still dark. I slip out of the bed without waking Petra. She is sleeping facedown, one leg askew and her hair spread out on the pillow. I cannot decide if I really like her or not, so I don’t decide at all. I do not have to.

On the nightstand, her earrings. They are made of colored glass, a swirl of blue shades, and they look like her eyes. After getting dressed, I slip the earrings into my pocket. I take them to remind myself not to do this again. I almost believe it will work.

I walk toward the front door without looking back.

“Are you really deaf?”

She says it out loud, to my back.

I hear her because I am not deaf.

And I keep moving.

I pretend I don’t hear her, go straight to the door and shut it behind me, then continue until I am out of her building, down the block, and around the corner. It is only then that I stop and wonder how she figured it out. I must have slipped.



My name is not Tobias. I use that name only when I want someone to remember me. In this case, the bartender. I introduced myself and typed out my name when I first walked in and ordered a drink. He will remember me. He will remember that Tobias is the deaf man who left the bar with a woman he just met. The name was for his benefit, not Petra’s. She will remember me anyway, because how many deaf guys could she have slept with?

And if I hadn’t made a mistake, I would have been an odd footnote in her sexual history. But now she will remember me as the “fake deaf guy” or the “possibly fake deaf guy.”

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I slipped twice. Maybe I froze when she asked if I was deaf. It’s possible, because that’s what people do when they hear something unexpected. And if I did, she probably saw it. She probably knows I lied.

On the drive back home, everything is uncomfortable. My car seat feels scratchy, and it hurts my back. Everything on the radio is too loud, almost like everyone is screeching. But I can’t blame that all on Petra. I have been irritable for a while now.

At home, all is quiet. My wife, Millicent, is still in bed. I have been married to her for fifteen years, and she does not call me Tobias. We have two kids; Rory is fourteen, and Jenna is one year younger.

Our bedroom is dark, but I can just about see the shape of Millicent under the bedcovers. I take off my shoes and tiptoe toward the bathroom.


Millicent sounds wide-awake.

I half turn and see the shadow of her propped up on an elbow.

There it is again. The choice. From Millicent, a rarity.

“No,” I say.


“She isn’t right.”

The air between us freezes. It doesn’t thaw until Millicent exhales and lays her head back down.


* * *


• • •

She gets up before I do. By the time I walk into the kitchen, Millicent is organizing breakfast, school lunches, the day, our lives.

I know should tell her about Petra. Not about the sex—I wouldn’t tell my wife about that. But I should tell her that I made a mistake and that Petra is right for us. I should do it because it’s a risk to leave Petra out there.

Instead, I say nothing.

Millicent looks at me, her disappointment hitting like a physical force. Her eyes are green, many shades of green, and they look like camouflage.

They are nothing like Petra’s. Millicent and Petra have nothing in common, except they’ve both slept with me. Or some version of me.

The kids tumble down the stairs, already yelling at each other, fighting over who said what about so-and-so at school yesterday. They are dressed and ready for school, just as I am dressed for work in my tennis whites. I am not and never have been an accountant.

While my kids are in school and my wife is selling houses, I am outside on the court, in the sun, teaching people how to play tennis. Most of my clients are middle-aged and out of shape, with too much money and time. Occasionally, I am hired by parents who believe their child is a prodigy, a champion, a future role model. So far, they have all been wrong.

But before I can leave to teach anyone anything, Millicent makes us all sit together for at least five minutes. She calls it breakfast.

Jenna rolls her eyes, taps her feet, anxious to get her phone back. No phones are allowed at the table. Rory is calmer than his sister. He makes the most of our five minutes by eating as much as possible, then stuffing his pockets with whatever doesn’t fit in his mouth.

Millicent sits across from me, a cup of coffee perched at her lips. She is dressed for work in a skirt, blouse, and heels, and her red hair is pulled back. The morning sun makes it look like copper. We are the same age, but she looks better—always has. She is the woman I should not have been able to get.

My daughter taps my arm in a pattern, like the beat to a song, and she continues until I pay attention to her. Jenna does not look like her mother. Her eyes, her hair, and the shape of her face come from me, and sometimes this makes me sad. Other times not.

“Dad, can you take me to get new shoes today?” she says. She is smiling, because she knows I will say yes.

“Yes,” I say.

Millicent kicks me under the table. “Those shoes are a month old,” she says to Jenna.

“But they’re too tight now.”

Not even my wife can argue with that.

Rory asks if he can go play his video game for a few minutes before school.

“No,” Millicent says.

He looks at me. I should say no, but now I can’t, not after I said yes to his sister. He knows this, because Rory is the smart one. He is also the one who looks like Millicent.

“Go ahead,” I say.

He races off.

Millicent slams down her coffee cup.

Jenna picks up her phone.

We are done with breakfast.

Before getting up from the table, Millicent glares at me. She looks exactly like my wife and, at the same time, nothing like her.


* * *


• • •

I first saw Millicent in an airport. I was twenty-two and on my way back from Cambodia, where I had spent the summer with three friends. We got high every day and drunk every night, and we never shaved. I left the country as a clean-cut kid from the suburbs and returned as a shaggy, bearded man with a deep tan and some great stories. None compare to Millicent.

I was on a layover, my first back in the country. I went through customs and was heading to the domestic terminal when I saw her. Millicent was sitting in at an empty gate area, alone, with her feet propped up on her suitcase. She was staring out of the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the tarmac. Her red hair was knotted into a loose bun, and she was wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. I stopped to watch her as she watched the planes.

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