Alice sits cross legged on the hardwood floor and lays out another game of solitaire. It is already dark outside. November is like that. The night drops earlier and earlier. The air is cooler; leaves start to turn. If she looks to the side, she can see her reflection in the sliding glass door that leads out to the pool. It makes her feel like she is being watched. She tries to see beyond her reflection, out into the night, but she only sees herself staring back. She bends back over the cards.
Lately, she can play for hours, losing track of time. Winning a game goes unnoticed. She will simply gather the cards up into a pile, swiftly arrange them and shuffle. Deal them out again. Alice likes the rhythm of the shuffling, the sound of the cards as they fall into order in her hands. Sometimes she realizes that she has shuffled the cards at least a dozen times and forgotten to lay them out. The movement distracts her.
Tonight, though, she cannot be distracted. Something that had been lingering just at the edge of her mind touches her on the back of her shoulder, brushes the small of her back, whispers against her ear. She picks up the phone and searches for his number. Dials it. He answers.
She hadn’t expected him to answer. She hesitates.
“It’s you,” he says. She can’t tell anything from his voice. Is he pleased that it’s her? Surprised?
“I shouldn’t have called.”
“But you did.”
“Yes,” she says. “I didn’t think you’d be home. You said you were going out of town.”
“I changed my mind.”
“Ah.” Alice says, as if that explained everything.
“So, if you thought I would be gone, why did you call?”
“Honestly? I thought I’d get your voicemail. I wanted to hear your voice.” Alice swears softly under her breath and rolls her eyes at her reflection. So stupid, she thinks. So pathetic. She needs to learn how to lie, how to think fast on her feet, cover her tracks. Her reflection stares back at her.
“Hmm,” he says, and his voice resonates through the phone. It’s true, she thinks. She loves the sound of his voice. It’s deep and comes from a secret place inside of him, a place so very male. This man is all male. He is so different from her husband, who is small and wiry. Her husband moves quickly. If she were to stumble, he would be right there, at her elbow, before she even knew she was going to fall. This man moves slowly. He would watch her fall. She has never noticed other men since getting married. Not really. Not the way she notices this one. This is dangerous, she thinks.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“Painting. I had an idea.”
“Ah,” she says again. He’s an artist. A beautiful artist. His work is thick paint and bold brush strokes. He would never paint her, she thinks.
“And what are you doing?”
She looks at her reflection, frowning. She thinks of her husband. How much she loves him. How true that is. She shakes her head. “I don’t know.”
“Well,” he asks, “what is your husband doing?”
“He’s on a night shoot.”
“So,” – and she can hear everything in his voice, his arrogance, his humor, his thinking he has her all figured out – “he’s out for the night and you’re bored.”
“No,” she says. “I’m not bored.”
He is silent for a moment. “Don’t come over here,” he says. “Stay at home. Wait for him to come back. You’re not the type of girl who can have an affair. I know. I’ve had affairs with lots of married women. They always go back to their husbands. It’s understood from the beginning. That’s what they are supposed to do. But you. You’re different. You won’t know how to go back. And whatever you’re looking for, you won’t find it here.”
Alice doesn’t answer. She holds the phone to her ear as she gets up and goes over to the sliding glass door. The door is heavy and yet slides easily open. She walks out onto the deck. The first cool breeze of fall swirls through the trees overhead. The water in the pool ripples gently. It’s a November evening, already dark, and for the rest of her life she will feel restless on nights like these, like anything could happen.
“Well,” he finally asks, “are you coming?”
Alice looks back through the glass into the house. From outside, she can see everything so clearly, the cards, abandoned mid-game, in disarray on the floor of the living room, and behind that the black leather Wassily chairs that her husband loves, but she finds too uncomfortable to sit in, lined up just so facing the black leather sofa, a glass coffee table between them.
Alice raises her phone and the screen lights up. She can see that the man is still on the line. She clears her throat.
Kathryn Atwood grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and graduated from Cornell with an English degree. She lives in the Hollywood Hills, and if she hangs out far enough over her balcony, just to the point where she thinks she might fall, she can see the “OOD” of the Hollywood sign. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Sycamore Review and Chautauqua, and one of her stories was long-listed for Smokelong Quarterly‘s Award for Flash Fiction.