They called their friends to see if they wanted to get together for dinner. The wife said she couldn’t. Her husband left her that afternoon. He wrote a note that read, I’m not hurt. I’ve just left you. I still deserve to be happy.
“They can’t get together,” Natalie said. “Jerry left her.”
“What?” Sam said.
“He left her a note. Debbie came home from work. She put her stuff on the kitchen table—this is how she explained it to me—and there’s this note. He just said that he left her and that he still deserved to be happy.”
Sam said, “I’m confused. You mean to say that he left left. Like, he took off? What about his stuff?”
Natalie sat down at her own kitchen table as if she had just got off the phone with a doctor who revealed unfavorable test results. She put her head in her hands and closed her eyes.
Sam stood up.
“Well, I’ll just call him. That’s all. He’ll talk to me.”
“Don’t bother,” Natalie said. “Don’t even bother. She called everyone before I called her. She was going to call us. No one has gotten through to him. He’s not answering. She thinks he went to Chicago.”
Sam sat back down. There was a child, a young girl, two years old— Maggie. What was Debbie going to do, they asked each other. It didn’t make sense. Who does that? Not the kind of people they knew, although you heard about it all the time.
• • •
They went out to dinner to a pizza place. On the short drive through their small town, they didn’t speak. Everyone was preparing for Christmas, and the storefronts were clotted with large red bows, green wreaths, lights—a small town striving to feel older and farther east in the country than it was.
At the restaurant, they ordered a pitcher of beer and a pizza, and then they were quiet.
“I know I don’t have to ask this,” Natalie said. “But you didn’t know anything about this, right? I mean, he didn’t say anything to you about this?”
Sam could’ve chosen to be offended by this. But he felt complicit, implicated in the act by his gender, and so instead just said, “No.”
“I believe you,” she said, and took a sip of her beer. She cupped the ice-cold glass, drawing her palm along its side. Children ran past their booth, converging in the corner, seeming to greet each other and discuss important things. Natalie watched the hockey game on the TV above the bar.
“What did she say?” Sam asked.
“She was in shock, of course. Total shock. I think I still am, too. She just kept saying, ‘My whole thing is how there’s no warning. That’s my whole thing.’ We’re going to have to go over there tomorrow.”
“Do you think that’s okay? Maybe it’s too early.” “Sam, c’mon.”
“It just seems like it might be too early. Maybe she’ll want to be with her mom or something. Her parents. I honestly—I just can’t get my head around this,” Sam said. He finished his one beer and poured himself another.
She shook her head in agreement. There seemed little to justify it. Debbie and Jerry were the couple whose failure cast doubt on everything. Once, Natalie and Sam asked them if they wanted to catch a movie during the week, a Tuesday night, but Jerry explained they had a salsa dancing class. Salsa dancing! You knew what kind of couple that was. It said something. They joked around with each other often and were still affectionate, and Jerry told Sam that they screwed at least twice a week, a lot during Debbie’s second trimester, and then surprisingly even more often after the kid. “Absolutely begging for it,” Jerry had explained.
As far as the rest of it—what could they say? He didn’t hit her, he didn’t drink, he had a good job, she had a good job, she didn’t drink, no drugs, didn’t hit him, their kid seemed healthy and happy inasmuch as a little child could.
Natalie made a face as a goal was scored on their city’s team.
“I’ll tell you what. I’m betting he comes back. That’s just me,” Sam said, taking a sip of his beer. “Call me crazy. I’m sure he’ll come back.”
Natalie shook her head.
“It really didn’t sound like that, Sam.”
“Well, I mean, I understand that Debbie’s in a bad place right now, but she’s not psychic. She can’t know.”
The waitress came by and asked if they wanted another pitcher before the pizza came, and Natalie said no and Sam said, “Why not?”
A man at the table next to them, a father of one of the kids playing in the corner said, “We still need our silverware and she hasn’t gotten her Coke yet.” He reached over for the red pepper flakes and, as if forgiving his own rudeness, waved his hand at the waitress and said, “All that with a please and thank you.”
“What I’m trying to say here,” Sam said, “is that if he’s going to do something so crazy—beyond crazy, insane, really—then he might reverse himself just as quickly. He could be next door at Bobby’s right now—” Bobby’s was the local tavern—“just cooling off, telling himself what a mistake he made.”
“Perhaps,” she said. “But I seriously doubt it. I don’t think you quite understand what’s happened here.”
READ THE REST OF THIS STORY IN VOL 49.2
PETER LEVINE is the author of the story collection The Appearance of a Hero: The Tom Mahoney Stories. His work has appeared in journals such as The Missouri Review and The Southern Review. One of his stories was listed as a distinguished story in The Best American Short Stories 2015. He lives in Washington, DC.