Happy Now by Claire Taylor

He says it meant nothing, but the image won’t disappear.

His face pressed to the wet between her legs.

How was it? Don’t tell me. Yes, tell me. No, don’t.

Maybe the three of them—bad idea. But maybe?

She would have preferred something cliche. He, her professor. She, their nanny. Instead, he met her online.

In like a chat room? she asks, lost in time. No, a dating site. A dating site? A dating site. A dating site. She repeats it over and over. Word salad.

Had he really grown so lonely?

It was just an experiment, he says, and she pulls the baking soda and vinegar from the cabinet, slams them down on the counter. Here you go, Science Man. Have at it.

It rains for two days. She wonders, did she orgasm? Did she at least have a good time ruining their lives? Please don’t do this to yourself, he tells her. She Googles: how to slit a chicken’s throat.

She will not tell their child what he’s done. She is not so horrible as that. Still, the child can sense something. She wants to be held more than usual. Wants to snuggle on a lap. Wants an extra song at bedtime. Wants all of this from him and not from her. She thinks, et tu?

He is trying too hard to appear exasperated by the attention. Stop being so smug, she tells him and he sighs.

I can never win with you, can I?

Oh, I didn’t realize you were playing a game.

She will make him suffer her mood for another few weeks. Perhaps a month. Her friend says to go find a snack of her own, let him see how it feels. But she doesn’t want to shave her legs. She’s only been wearing sweatpants. Barely washing her hair. Piling it on top of her head in a greasy, messy bun like she’s trying to prove a point, though one she seems to be making in his favor.

What if I let him go out, fuck these young women, then he can come home and tell me about it while I masturbate. Is that a decent sex life?

Her friend says, actually that sounds kind of great.

On Valentine’s Day he gives her a pair of ruby earrings. They are too expensive to not wear them out of spite. Too bad. She loves to do things out of spite.

She gets him a day planner. To keep track of all your important dates, she writes on the card. Was she funny? That’s the question she should have asked. Did she make you laugh?

He wants to know if she’ll ever forgive him.

Remember the time we were supposed to meet at Tommy’s Place?

Tommy’s Place? The little dive bar that’s been closed for a decade? He doesn’t remember.

She does.

Maybe they need therapy.

Maybe they need a time machine.

She is closer to fifty than she is to thirty. She is closer to one hundred than she is to the Korean War.

I feel like all of history is behind us, he said one time in college when they got ridiculously stoned. That’s so sad, she’d told him, though that’s exactly what history means.

What if we forget the whole thing, he suggests.

What if we become fabulously wealthy?

Why not both?

In the end, she lets it go. For the good of the family, she lies. Because of her forgiving nature, no one believes. In truth, she is thankful for him. Falling on the sword. Shouldering the blame. Finally giving her unhappiness an excuse.

The week before she decides he can stay, she makes him pack up his things. To test it out. To see. Is it better here without his books? His knickknacks? His clothes taking up half the closet?

Do you remember the house on Ashbrook? He is folding his clothes into a suitcase, reminiscing. We were so happy then.

We were? she wonders.

We can be that happy again.

Yes, she says. Maybe we can.

CLAIRE TAYLOR — Claire is a writer in Baltimore, MD. She serves as an In House Agent for Versification Publishing, and a reader for Capsule Stories. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and has received nominations for Pushcart and Best American Short Stories. In addition to writing for adults, Claire is the creator of Little Thoughts, a monthly print and digital newsletter of original writing for kids. Find Claire online at clairemtaylor.com and Twitter @ClaireM_Taylor.

Art by CATHY NAUGHTON — Cathy (she/her) is a left-handed leo from Ireland. She is a graduate of University College Cork and the University of Edinburgh, and now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with her partner and their cat, Beamish. Her essays, poetry and digital art have been published in print and online publications. She plans to finally quit biting her nails in the near future. Find her on Twitter @cathylyst.