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Today's Story by Ruth Schiffmann

Dan had determined that he would not lie again.

Easy Lies

Dan McGregor had been telling the easy lies for years. Dinner was great, Honey. I’ll mow the lawn tomorrow. You look as beautiful today as the day we met. Perhaps the miles of lies he’d laid over their twenty years together had paved the way, perhaps the promotion he’d been looked over for was enough to throw him off kilter, perhaps it was just another Friday night and he couldn’t stand the thought of a dinner of over-cooked cubed steak, string beans, diagonally cut, and rice pilaf, or watching his wife cut the gristle from the meat and heap it in a pile on the edge of her plate. Maybe it was dreading the questions his wife fired at him in rapid succession as he tried to read the mail. How was your day? Anything interesting happen at the factory? Are you hungry? No matter the psychology of why, unplanned, unrehearsed, and unexpectedly, Dan McGregor went home one Friday night, unlaced his boots, threw off his cap, ran his fingers over the smooth skin of his scalp and made a decision.

“Is that you, Honey? How was your day? Are you hungry?”

Dan sat in his recliner, smelled the juices from the steak as his wife cooked the flavor out of it, and realized that he and that damned steak had a lot in common.

His wife set the table, served the green beans, salt and peppered the dry slab of meat that landed on his plate with a kerplunk. She then set to work dissecting the meat from the gristle. “This looks good, doesn’t it?” she asked, taking a bite.

But Dan was silent.

“Honey? Is something wrong?”

No reply. For moments ago, Dan had determined that he would not lie again. His intention at the outset was not to give up speaking altogether, but rather, just to abandon the lies, which had become so much work to maintain. As the meal went on, he waited for something he could answer in truth. He was surprised on several counts. Not only did the entire meal pass without conversation, but also, his wife was not very much disturbed by it. Although dinner lacked flavor and originality, he could bear it as long as he didn’t have to pretend that it was a five-star effort. Likewise, his wife’s questions didn’t grate nearly as sharply against his nerves, knowing he didn’t intend to meet them with an answer.

After dinner, his wife cleaned up and he retired to his recliner and cycled through channels on the television. By the time she joined him in the living room he was comfortably on his way to that haze between sleep and consciousness where everything drifted from aggravation to white noise. He vaguely remembered hearing the light switches around him clicked off and his wife asking, “Are you coming to bed?” But there he remained, silent in the comforts of his brown, plush La-Z-Boy.

In the morning, instead of his wife’s incessant rattling, what do you want for breakfast? Coffee or Tea? Travel cup or Thermos? What time will you be home for dinner? He heard only hot air blowing through the heat registers and the hum of the refrigerator. He brought his chair upright and looked out the window. The driveway was empty. His comfort had been so great, that he had not only slept through the night, but also through his wife’s rising, and readying for work. He had the house to himself and felt a twinge of excitement. Instead of the instant oatmeal that his wife routinely placed before him, he searched the cupboards and settled on an unconventional breakfast of cola and pretzels. He contemplated going to the factory, but instead, opted to play hooky. Something he hadn’t done since his days as a bachelor. Instead of work blues, he pulled on jeans and a sweater and even second-guessed the ball cap, without which, even most of his friends wouldn’t recognize him.

After that first evening, his wife no longer greeted him with questions. In fact, she didn’t greet him at all and after the third day, didn’t even look his way as he entered the house. New aromas filled the kitchen, not dried out steak but fresh strawberry salad with spinach and vinaigrette dressing one day, lasagna with garlic parmesan bread the next. Each night, his wife ate alone, cleared her place, and left the remaining food on the table for Dan. On several accounts he caught himself nearly commenting on the crispness of the salad or the sharpness of the garlicky tomatoes before realizing that no one was listening. His wife was busy, two rooms away, changing her clothes and applying a fresh coat of makeup before leaving for unknown destinations. There was no hint of animosity in their new routine, no undercurrents of silent feuding or cold shouldering, just a quiet ease as they circled through the house in their own orbits.

After nearly two and a half weeks, it dawned on Dan that all he’d heard of his wife’s voice in over fourteen days was a barely audible song that she had taken to humming as she breezed through the house. He tried, on several occasions to place it, but with no success.

After that first day playing hooky, Dan returned to work resigned to the fact that he was meant for his job and it was meant for him. Given the day of freedom he hadn’t known what to do with it, beyond springing for a beer with his lunch at the neighborhood 99. He certainly couldn’t put his standing at the factory in jeopardy by pulling such a stunt again.

Mornings, instead of waking to the smell of brewing coffee, the back door closing became his wake up call. In silence he showered, dressed and headed for work without any nagging reminders, any questions, or any coffee.

As the days wore on, he often found himself lowering the volume on the television as he imagined his wife speaking to him. But each time he was mistaken and quickly restored the volume to its former level.

One afternoon he arrived home to find the driveway looking like a county fair parking lot: crammed and overflowing onto the lawn. He circled twice, taking the scene in, before parking at the neighbor’s.

Strangers straggled through his kitchen and into the living room. They balanced small plates in one hand as they mingled. “Hey, come on in,” some idiot invited Dan into his own home. “I’m Charlie. Marianne’s cooking partner.”

“Cooking partner?” Dan lifted his cap and scratched his head.

“At the community school,” Charlie explained. “You’re wife and I’ve been cooking up a storm together these past few weeks.”

“Really?” Was all Dan said as pictures dropped like curtains in front of his eyes: his wife and this bozo, humming that tune together, cooking up dinner and who knows what else.

The next night, although his wife didn’t welcome him home, the aroma of onions did. Dan sat in his La-Z-boy and waited for his wife to finish. He considered joining her, telling her how much he’d enjoyed her cooking lately. As he thought about the conversation they might have, he almost longed for it. But the newly forged status quo had already become a deep rut, and he didn’t have the energy to work his way out of it tonight.

Before long, she cleared her things, humming that flighty little tune and making her way to the bedroom to change. Dan served up a plate of Pumpkin-Peanut Risotto and marveled at how the Parmesan complimented the pumpkin. Enraptured by the satisfying crunch of toasted peanuts atop the creamy sauce he barely noticed his wife as she hummed her way out the door. To think it was he who instigated this change with his silent protests. He patted himself on the back, wondering why he hadn’t taken a stand sooner. As he reached for a slice of toasted ciabatta bread, the melody swam through his thoughts. Da-da-da piano, yes, that’s it. A fifties feel. And the words seemed to buoy to the surface. “Summer sun.” Something light, whimsical, satirical even. “Summer fun,” Yes, that’s it. He filled another fork with risotto and visualized the singer now: young lady in a pretty dress. What was her name? He reached for the lyrics, could almost touch them as he mopped up the creamy sauce with his bread. “We’ll drive to the shore, where there’s seagulls galore.” He was humming now. That’s it! “To poison winged vermin at the beach.” The words finally came. What a strange thing for her to be humming these past weeks.

“We’ll do them in by the flock,
with peanuts laced with hemlock.”

He took another bite, the satisfying crunch of peanuts between his molars as the line came to him in earnest. He stopped and stared at the elaborate meal before him and almost choked as he yearned for a nice, dry slab of steak.


Ruth Schiffmann enjoys writing for many different audiences. More than a hundred and fifty of her stories, articles, essays and poems have been appeared in publications both online and in print. To read more of her work, visit www.RuthSchiffmann.com or follow her blog at http://outonalimbshywritergoessocial.blogspot.com

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