Maggie was a widow of seven years, and every Sunday, her husband's brother, Dick, dropped in to keep her company and play cards. She would fix a pot of spaghetti, Dick's favorite, while he drank beer and told her about his week. He worked at the same mine where his brother had been killed, so he was careful with the details.
After a few plates of spaghetti, they would clean the table and put the dishes in to soak. Then Dick would open a few more bottles of beer, and the two of them would play Rummy. Maggie took her time looking for runs while Dick talked and let her win. As it got late, she would fold her hand and tell him she was ready for bed. They would say goodbye, and Dick would leave with the beer they hadn't drunk.
When he arrived one Sunday, he found Maggie cooking chili. She was pacing about the kitchen, pulling spices from the shelf above the stove and emptying canned tomatoes into the pot. She looked pretty and more alive than he'd seen her in a while. Without a word, he took his seat at the table and opened a beer for himself.
I forgot, she said. She was shaking some salt into the soup. I went to the store today, and I forgot.
What? Dick said. He took a drink and leaned forward. What was that?
I went to the store today, she said, like I do every Sunday. I went in there, and I meant to pick up some tomatoes and pasta for your dinner. I had a list and everything.
Lists are good, Dick said. I use lists all the time. Very forgetful.
And I pushed my cart, aisle to aisle, she said. She took a long wooden spoon from a drawer and stirred the pot. And I watched myself do it. Watched myself grab the beans and the peppers. I knew what I was doing.
Of course you did, Dick said. He settle back then and had himself a drink. You wanted a change. Change isn't such a bad thing.
Steam was rising from the pot then, and she took a potholder and waved it off. I went in the back and grabbed the whiskey, she said. Even made sure it was the right kind.
Dick looked over the table and saw the bottle of whiskey. He finished his beer and got a small glass from the cabinet and made himself a drink with a splash of water. It's a very good label, he said. Probably my favorite.
And I almost got into the checkout when I remembered, she said. I thought to myself, He likes a little bit of cheese on top. Just a little sprinkling of cheese.
Dick sipped his whiskey and water and nodded. You know me, he said.
Maggie didn't speak much then and focused on the cooking. Dick drank and told her some stories about the mine. When the chili was finished, she ladled a bowl for Dick and watched while he ate.
It wasn't until they'd loaded the sink that she said, Isn't that crazy?
Isn't what crazy? Dick said, scraping his bowl with a pad.
To do something like that, she said.
Like what? Dick said. Like wanting something different for a change? People do it every day. He was done with his bowl then and was holding his whiskey and water in one hand and had the other on the small of Maggie's back.
Making up someone's favorite meal like that, she said. Going to all that trouble and all.
Wait, Dick said.
Going into a store and buying the fixings, she said. Cooking all day for someone who isn't gonna walk through the door.
Dick put his whiskey and water down and looked at her.
I forgot he was gone, Maggie said. How does something like that happen?
Dick said he didn't know and helped her finish scrubbing the pots and pans.
Afterward he dealt a couple of hands of rummy, but he could tell Maggie wasn't interested. She held her cards so loosely they slipped out of her fingers and onto the table. No matter how hard he tried to lose, Dick won every time. He was about the deal again when the phone rang. It was his mother, Maggie's mother-in-law.
Maggie left her cards behind and walked into the other room with the phone. She talked loud enough that Dick could hear her talking about the chili and his brother. Dick slapped his cards on the table and took his drink into the living room, where he couldn't hear anymore.
The house hadn't changed at all. Every last thing was still in its place, as if it were stuck in time. His brother's recliner stayed put next to the television, and all of the magazines in the rack were the same ones he'd been reading the night before the accident. His reading glasses sat on top of them. On a mat next to the door were his brother's boots, still caked with crumbling white mud. Pictures of him and Maggie lined the walls.
Dick walked around with his drink and looked at the pictures again. He'd seen them all before, many times over, but he couldn't bother Maggie by turning on the TV and there wasn't anything else to do. There were pictures of Maggie and his brother when they were younger, one of the two of them dancing and another of them hiking through a redwood forest.
His brother looked so much like him that Dick could hardly stand it. Sometimes it was like looking at himself. And there he was, his arm around Maggie's shoulders and drawing her closer. Planting his lips right there on her cheek. The only difference was in their chins. His brother had a nicely rounded chin that seemed to stretch his face just the smallest bit while Dick had a square jaw that filled out and cut across at a right angle.
There was one picture he always looked at more than the rest. It was of his brother shaving in the bathroom. His cheeks were covered in shaving cream, and Maggie was standing to his side, her lips painted dark red. She had that chin of his in her fingers and she looked happier than anyone he'd ever seen before.
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JARED YATES SEXTON is assistant professor of creative writing at Georgia Southern University and serves as managing editor of BULL. His work has been featured in publications around the world, including PANK Magazine, Hobart, NANO Fiction, The Emerson Review, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and The Million Writers Award, and was a finalist for the New American Fiction Prize. His first collection of stories, An End to All Things, was published in 2012 by Atticus Books.