Six Months by Del Lobo

It’s Sunday night and Phillip and I are having our usual glass of wine before dinner. Ever since our last son left home for university, this has been our habit. I glance at the china plate with cheese and crackers but don’t reach for any. Phil goes over to the Victrola and puts on a Miles Davis record. Our second son Arlan gifted him the suitcase-style record-player last Christmas, and he can’t stop bragging about it to anyone who wants to listen, about the amazing qualities of an old brand instrument, completely renewed, Bluetooth and wireless. Thank goodness it’s my turn to cook because I can busy myself in the kitchen and when he offers to help me, I decline, nicely of course.

“Why don’t you catch up on the news, darling?” I fill up his half-empty glass from the bottle of Chardonnay and am walking into the kitchen when I hear him say.

“Pfffttt …  It’s just gonna be about cry baby Donny or the spiking cases of COVID in the US.”

“Watch something on Netflix,” I tell him and wish he would stop talking so I could think. I rattle some pots, a broad hint that I am busying myself with the cooking. Oh good, silence. I lean against the sink as a wave of pain shoots through my lower abdomen, making me want to double over, but thankfully the pain leaves as quickly as it arrives like a disappointed thief.

As I rinse the asparagus in the strainer, I think about when I should broach the subject with Phil. It’s going to drive him mad—he doesn’t take bad news calmly. I’m remembering the time James, our eldest, got suspended from school for smoking a joint. (His excuse was that he was “off” school property.) Well, you’d think he’d got a girl pregnant, or stolen a car, the way Phil reacted upon learning this news. “It’s only for a week and I can homeschool him,” I had told him. But he accused James of trying to kill him, clutching his chest as if he was having a heart attack and not the heartburn he was prone to. Phil is dramatic like that and I’m not ready for it—not yet.

The salmon is on the stove-top grill, the wild rice boiling, and I am draining the asparagus when Phil walks in. I can smell his breath as he nuzzles my neck.

 “Mmmm … something smells good.”

I groan and turn to face him. We have an agreement to surprise each other with the dinner. “What are you doing in here?”

“Promise, I had my eyes closed all the time,” he says. “But something fishy is going on here.” He twirls a few strands of my hair, something he does when he’s trying to pacify me. “I forgot to tell you that I’m off to a funeral on Tuesday—I’ll need my dark suit cleaned.”

I pick up my glass of wine and gulp. “Oh?”

“Do you remember me telling you Jeremy Stone was sick? Then when he sees my puzzled face, he adds, “Remember? Bede and Associates?” 

That was many moons ago. Phil and Jeremy were pals in law school and managed to land jobs with the same firm. How could I forget? Phil was selfish in those days, only thinking of himself, leaving me to fend for myself with one child, then two and when our third son came along, I remember the ultimatum I gave him. “Shape up, or ship out.” I never for once thought that he would concede, but he had. “How can I forget?” I say. “Sorry to hear.”

“Yeah, prostate cancer,” Phil tells me. “He fought it till the end.”

“Family?” I reach for the Wedgewood plates from the cupboard. I can never see the sense in locking away good china and saving it for only good occasions. Isn’t every day good?

“An estranged wife, a daughter—also a lawyer—and a son who manages a mine in Northern Alberta.” Phil helps to set the table. “Jer was proud of them all. Well, maybe not Nancy,” he says, opening the fridge to get another bottle of wine. “No one could be proud of a wife who ran off with his best friend.” Suddenly silence occupies the kitchen like a thick fog.

I know what Phil’s thinking about. That stupid summer when the boys were at camp and he went to Vancouver to visit his mother. I was on a week’s vacation from the travel agency I worked for and spent it in Quebec City with my sister Rose who was newly divorced and her best friend Vail. We stayed at the Chateau Frontenac and toured the city, hiked up Mont Sainte-Anne from where we had a terrific view of the St. Lawrence River, and ate crepes for breakfast every single morning. We usually dined at the Chateau but since Rose was intent on celebrating her divorce, one night we went to an improv club where I met a Frenchman and fell in love. Nothing happened but I couldn’t help wishing it had. When I returned to Toronto, my married life wasn’t the same and Phil sensed it. When he confronted me, I confessed, feeling regret and guilt ooze out of me like some infectious pus. I thought he would go mad as he did with the boys when they did something wrong. But he didn’t—at least not in the way I expected him to.

We became awkward with each other, and slept in separate rooms for the rest of that summer. Then, at the insistence of my divorced sister Rose, we got counseling. Once the boys were older, I went back to school and got a Masters in Fine Art. Phil became a partner in his firm. We went on vacations as a family, but something had shifted in our relationship. Still, there was never talk or any inclination toward ending the marriage. 

Phil clears his throat. “This is the last bottle of wine.” He holds up another bottle of chardonnay. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He gets his coat on, grabs a mask, and leaves for the liquor store on Spadina. 

“See you soon,” I croak, as I flip the grill cover and see if the fish is almost done. It shouldn’t take him long, I muse on my way out of the kitchen. 

I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. My eyes look tired and a little droopy. I step on the scales. I’ve lost another two pounds in the last week. Phil hasn’t noticed. 

It’s not clear to me when the next shift in our relationship took place, but I am grateful that it did. That long-ago incident will never disappear from our lives, but it doesn’t loom over us like it once did. With the boys absent, sometimes we carry on like newlyweds on our honeymoon. But now, another obstacle has arrived, and I am going to have to come clean with Phil. This time he may get mad, or he may surprise me and stay calm. I have no idea. I will just take it one day at a time—Six months is a long time.

 Del Lobo studies Creative Writing at the University Guelph. Her short fiction and memoir has appeared in Canadian Stories and an anthology titled Constellations.