Contingency Plan by Wrenn Montgomery
The pasta is sticking again. I’ve been stirring it absentmindedly, not paying attention. Letting the noodles gather at the bottom, going through the motions and not caring what gets left behind. Sort of like my marriage.
The door clicks and I know he’s home.
He’ll come kiss me on the cheek, I’ll keep stirring.
He’ll ask how my day was, still stirring, round and round and round.
He’ll hang up his coat and keys, the noodles sticking to the bottom.
He’ll grab his phone and close himself in the bathroom for thirty minutes, burning to the bottom of the pot.
Another hidden conversation. Another dinner ruined.
I first learned of my husband’s affair when I smelled perfume on his shirt. That’s a lie. I knew long before the perfume. Deep down, way down, I knew. But things tend to stay hidden from your consciousness if you just keep pushing them down, and that’s what I did. Push and push and push. Until I smelled the perfume on his dress shirt.
It was a sweet, floral scent. Something I’d imagine a kindergarten teacher wearing.
And I’m no kindergarten teacher.
I’d been throwing a load in the washer in the twenty minutes I had to spare between yoga class and my nine o’clock meeting with a bride to discuss her floral arrangements. Hurrying, distractedly running around and grabbing things as I went through our small one-bedroom apartment, not a care in the world. As soon as I picked it up, it felt wrong. The white, expensive material felt foreign in my hands as the scent invaded my nostrils.
I dropped it on instinct. Not wanting to acknowledge it. If I didn’t pick it up and smell it again, if I didn’t get confirmation, it didn’t exist.
Except it did then... And it still does.
And tonight, over burned pasta, I’ll tell the man who I thought was the love of my life that I’m leaving in three hours on a red eye back to South Carolina. The years I’ve spent in New York have served their purpose, but it’s time to do what we all do when we need to lick our wounds.
My bags are packed and sitting in the closet. I quit my job today. I’ve been slowly distancing myself for weeks, waiting for the right moment.
But there is no right moment to grieve the life you thought you’d have. Or to begin to build the one that you deserve.
I try to keep my body from tensing up. This is it, the moment I’ve been planning for months. Subconsciously or not.
“In here,” I call back, but he knows I’m in the kitchen. Just like I am most nights that we’re not going out for some social event or another.
I think him calling out is his way of appeasing his guilt. Look like the attentive husband twenty-four-seven, and no one can accuse you of cheating. Right?
The spaghetti slaps the side of the plate as I pile it on. I’m careless. At this point, I have to be.
It’s the only way I’ll get out of this with my heart intact.
“How was your day, babe?” He leans down and kisses my forehead, taking his plate from me.
Now or never.
“I quit my job today,” I say, nonchalantly.
He startles. “Why? That’s your dream job.”
Dream job, dream life … it never turns out as planned, does it?
“I need a change,” I say, shrugging and bringing my own plate over to the table.
“What sort of change?” He looks nervous, and he should be.
The smile on my lips is cold, and I don’t even feel like myself right now. I’ve always had the ability to shut off and shut down, but this is a new level for me. I’m almost enjoying drawing it out. It feels like … revenge. Or as revengeful as I’ll ever be, because I could never do to him what he’s done to me. It’s just not my character.
“All of it. I’m changing all of it.”
The fork pauses halfway to his mouth. “What do you mean?”
He sets the fork down then, seeming to lose his appetite.
“You know…” There’s a question at the end of his words. His eyebrows furrow together.
“Do I need to spell it out?” I ask, sighing. When the blank look on his face turns green, I give a sarcastic laugh and roll my eyes. “I know about her. I know about the affair. I know about the credit card you’ve been charging it all to. I know all of it. I also know my new divorce attorney’s name, and I know the seat number for my spot on a plane that leaves in three hours.”
He’s silent for a beat, and I raise my eyebrows at him in a dare. Please try to tell me I’m wrong. That I’ve misunderstood. I have facts and data to back it all up. I’ve spent months building my case, making sure I couldn’t be wrong about what my husband was doing behind my back.
The lights click on and he must realize he can’t talk his way out of this. “Let me just explain—”
“There’s nothing to explain, Greene.” He flinches then, at my nickname for him sounding so bitter on my tongue.
Good. I hope he hears it echoing through his mind over and over, every time he fucks her.
His shoulders sag in defeat. “You’re going back? To South Carolina?” he asks, a trace of disgust apparent on his face.
“I am,” I say, ready to defend my home. The one I couldn’t get away from quickly enough. The one I have only returned to a few times out of necessity in the seven years I’ve been gone.
“You’ll be back,” he says, almost smugly. “When you remember how much you hate it there in Podunk USA, you’ll run back to the city on the first flight. I’ll end it with her, I swear. We’re so good together, Willa. I just fucked up. But I’ll fix it, I promise you. Go take your vacation home and clear your head, but then come back to me when you’re through. I’ll be waiting for you.”
I laugh then. It’s an evil, condescending laugh, full of pity, like a villain straight out of a Disney movie.
I don’t recognize myself in this moment, but I’m going home to the one place where I know I can get back to who I am.