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Today's Story by Christina Doka

"Why won’t you come back to me? Why won’t you leave that house and him and be with me?"


“Should we dance?”

“I’d rather not.”

“Do you want a drink?”

“You know I don’t drink.”

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“Not so much.”

“Are you happy?”

“Of course.”

Oscar poked his fork at the carefully crafted food on the white porcelain dinner plate in front of him. The warm, fluffy mashed potatoes lined the edge of the plate, decorated with a butter toffee drizzle and sitting snugly next to a medley of meat in the center – chicken, turkey, and ham – with the fat sliced from the edges, as Oscar had requested.

Perfect. Oscar wanted the night to proceed as smoothly as the chef had acquiesced to his request. He’d been anticipating the date for nearly a year and he could still remember, in vivid detail, the night he made the reservation, after he and Caroline had walked together holding hands on the Highline, the ring on her finger glinting in the soft lights scattered amid the foliage. As soon as she fell asleep that night, he’d searched online for the restaurant’s phone number and then called up. When the woman had asked for his name for the reservation, he’d had to shake the image of Caroline’s pink toenails, peeping out of her cute blue sandals, from his mind before he could respond.

“Are you sure you aren’t hungry?”

“I told you, I didn’t want to come here,” she replied.

“But my dear–”

“Please, Oscar. You know how I feel about your use of that term.”

Oscar closed his mouth with an audible snap and went back to stabbing his fork into his food. He picked up a slice of chicken, opened his mouth, and then put it back down onto the plate. The same with the turkey. The same with the lean, impeccably sliced ham. Every once in a while he would glance up, his eyes lingering on the silk shawl draped over her shoulders, the bright red sheen on her pursed lips.

“Caroline,” he started again. “This is the best restaurant in Manhattan, and the most expensive. What about it doesn’t please you?”

Her fingers drummed against the white tablecloth.


“It just makes me uncomfortable.”

“What does?”

“This.” She waved her hand around in the space between them.

“What? The food? The dancing? The music?  The rich décor? I thought you liked places like this; I set up this date because I thought it would make you happy.”

“I do like places like this, Oscar.”

“Then what is it, for Christ’s sake?”

Her eyes glittered like sapphires.

“I’m sorry,” Oscar mumbled, “I know. I know. I should watch my language. But in all seriousness, what is it?”

“Just this.”

Oscar nearly pressed the issue, but shoved a slice of turkey in his mouth instead. It tasted like cardboard, or what he would imagine cardboard would taste like. It tasted like the Eucharist on Easter Sunday.

“Caroline, are you sure you’re happy?”

“Of course,” she answered, with the same sweet smile she gave him whenever he asked that question. She laid her hand atop his and he noticed proudly that the diamonds still glistened in the candlelight. He sighed. It probably wasn’t even because he’d done a good job picking out the stone, or the money he’d spent on the stupid rock; he’d bet Caroline only wore those rings when she saw him.

“You don’t seem happy,” Oscar muttered, shoving another slice of turkey into his mouth. He didn’t really taste that one, either.

Caroline took a sip of water, leaving a bright red lipstick stain n the glass. She patted her mouth lightly with a white linen napkin, the gloss lingering on the material like a scab on the knee. And still, after all of that, her pouty lips still seemed evenly coated, without any smear or loss of color. Oscar clung to the memory of her mouth, the way her lips would part slowly in her sleep, almost reluctantly. He never wanted to forget.

“I am, Oscar, I am,” she said. “You know that I love you. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t have married you. You’re the only man I love, the only man I could ever love.”

“Sometimes I wonder,” he replied.

Her grip on his tightened; her thumb stroked the back of his hand.

“You can doubt anything about me,” she said, “But never doubt that I love you. I’ll eat, if that’s what you want. You went through all of this trouble, after all.”

“No,” he said, “It’s alright. It’s my fault, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have sprung this date on you. I should have told you not to eat beforehand, or maybe I should have let you order for yourself. It’s just… I used to know you. I could predict which food you’d want every place we went. I knew just how you’d react to surprises. Now, I feel like I don’t know you at all.”

“I think you know me better than anyone.”

“I think I know who you used to be,” he corrected.

“I haven’t changed, Oscar. I’m still the same person I was when we first got married. I think you just see me differently now, that’s all. Since… well, let’s not talk about it. Let bygones be bygones, as they say.”

“What I’m trying to say, is that I want to make this marriage real again.” He slid some potatoes onto the tip of his fork. “I want you to move back in with me. Get out of that hole in the wall in Brooklyn where you’re living now.”

Caroline’s red lips drew together in a line, her only reaction.

“That hole in the wall is my home,” she said softly. “I won’t leave it.”

“You mean you won’t leave him.” He slid the potatoes back off the fork with more force than necessary, sending them spinning off of the plate and onto the tabletop.

“Leave him out of this. He has nothing to do with this discussion.”

“He has everything to do with this discussion. He’s the reason this marriage fell apart in the first place. When I found out that you went to him that night…” He shook his head, unable to continue.

“To talk, Oscar! I went to him to talk, because I couldn’t talk to you. I was scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Of this.” She waved her hand vaguely in the air between them.

“Of us?”

“Of life.”

“Oh come on, Caroline. Let’s not beat around the bush anymore. For the last five months, all we’ve done is avoid the issue, put things off, leave it all for some rainy day. I’m try to believe you when you say there’s nothing between you and Jack. I’m trying to give you space until you’re ready. But I’m tired, already. Let’s just speak plainly, and tell each other the truth for once.”

Caroline stared at him, one slim, perfectly trimmed eyebrow raised slightly.

“My dear –“


“My dear,” he persisted, “I–”

“I’m not joking, Oscar.” Her voice was low. “If you use that word one more time, I am going to walk out of here right now. You know I love you, but that word is one thing I cannot tolerate.”

“Why? What are you scared of?”

“I just don’t like it.”

“Fine,” he sighed. “But we have to talk about Jack.”


Oscar dropped his fork in surprise at the emotion in her voice. In their year of marriage, he’d heard her voice tinged with tons of inflections – love, jealousy, anger, fear, happiness, desire, passion. But never had he heard the note of despair that had just slipped out from between her lips.

“There’s something you’re not telling me.”

She began drumming her fingers on the tabletop again.

“Tell me, Caroline.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

“Stop hiding things from me. You’re my wife.”

“I’m not hiding anything.”

“Yes, you are.”

“Oscar, I–”

“Tell me the truth, Caroline. Please, just this once. Here, this one time, and you’ll never have to repeat the words again. Do you love me?”

“Yes! Yes, I love you!”

“Then why won’t you come back to me? Why won’t you leave that house and him and be with me? I’m not going to stop waiting for you. We were happy, once. We were so happy. I’ve never been that happy.”

“Neither have I,” she answered.

“I love you.”

“I love you too,” she said. “I do want to be with you. I want it more than anything in the world. But I’m afraid.”

“Just tell me what you’re afraid of,” he demanded.

“Please.” Her thumb stroked the back of his hand. “Please.”

“Tell me!”

“I can’t!”

“You must!”

“Why? Leave it alone, Oscar. Just leave it alone.”

He poked his fork into his perfectly sliced slab of ham and lifted the meat to his mouth. As he did, his elbow slipped on a fold in the tablecloth and knocked into his knife, sending it clattering to the floor. He bent down to pick it up, his eyes lingering on Caroline’s black, high-heeled pumps.

“Are you hungry?”

“You know, I think that I might be.”

“Do you want a drink?”

“Water, please. I feel parched.

Oscar signaled over the waiter.

“Should we dance?”

He pointed at Caroline’s glass and motioned for another.

“Perhaps a little later.”

The waiter returned with a new glass, brimming with perfectly cubed ice.

“My dear–”

Caroline didn’t correct him, merely sipped at the water, and waited for the question she knew he would ask. She wiped her lips with the white linen napkin, leaving behind red marks in the spots where her lips had been. Oscar pretended that the cloth was his skin. He never wanted to forget the how soft that mouth could be.

“Do you still paint your toenails pink?”

Her lips remembered what it felt like to smile.


Christina Doka recently graduated from New York University with a B.A. in Journalism and Politics. I’m planning to start She self-published a poetry book titled, “An Unfamiliar Ache,” and has been published in The Prose Poem Project Journal, as well as amNewYork newspaper and The Daily News.


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