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My X

Story by Molly Giles (Read author interview) September 19, 2016

Art by Alexander C. Kafka

My X never finishes his sentences. He’ll start off with a “Did you see…” and then stop. When we first met, I thought it was charming. I’d prompt him. “Did I see what, darling?” Silence. After we were married, less charmed, I’d jump in with my own offerings: “Did I see the full moon last night, did I see the red dog, did I see the fat man in drag?” I was never right. My X would listen, correct me, and disappear. He could, literally, disappear, an act that should have made us money. “I think I’ll go….” he’d say, and I’d chip in with a hopeful, “…to the store?” only to hear him say “….to India.” One minute he’d be standing next to me and the next minute he’d be in a cab heading out to some seaport or in bed asleep or in the garden watering the roses he claimed I never took care of. At the end, in the lawyer’s office, when I admitted that I never knew where he went, what he did, or whom he did it with, he shook his head sadly and said that was because I could not read his mind. “She’s so…” he said to the lawyer.

“…exhausted,” the lawyer and I said together.

“…impatient,” he said.

It was true. And why not. Years had rushed by and I still didn’t know him. In fact, that was what he often said to me: You’ll never know how much I love you he’d say, and then, not unkindly, he’d laugh.

After the divorce there were sightings. A friend saw him in an art museum trying on silk scarves. My sister saw him pass her on the bridge in a silver Jaguar. A neighbor heard him talking Farsi with an Iranian rug dealer. We decided he either worked for the CIA or the FBI or the DEA or all three of them. Just last week, five years after our divorce, I bumped into him in a bookstore; he was standing in a corner reading the obituaries in The New York Times out loud to himself. He was dressed in surfer shorts and a hoodie. He had grown a mustache and had a pair of mirrored sunglasses on.

“Hi,” I said.

He looked up, unsurprised. “Oh hi,” he answered. “How are…”

“I’m fine,” I said.

“…the roses?”

I took a deep breath. He looked thin and raggedy. It occurred to me he might be homeless.

“I’m having the Witherspoons over for lunch on Sunday,” I said. “Our old neighbors. Would you like to come?”

“Do they still have their two…”

“Poodles? Yes.”

“…-timing son-in-law living with them?”

“Lunch is at noon,” I said. “And I never slept with their son-in-law if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“How do you know…”

“What you’re thinking?”

“…whether he’s still living with them or not.”

“Noon,” I repeated.

I was shaking when I left.

Sunday came and of course no X. The Witherspoons and I had barbecue and gin and tonics and had just settled into the living room to watch the U.S. Open when the poodles started barking and the son-in-law said, “There’s a man in your backyard.” I shrugged his hand off my thigh and stood up. My X was in the garden watering the roses. It was as if no time had passed. I went out to him.

“Did you see…” he said.

“No,” I said. “I didn’t. Hand me that hose please.”

He handed me the hose and I aimed the nozzle straight at him and the blast was so strong it knocked him butt down and his fake mustache flew off. For a second I exulted. Then because I’m an idiot I dropped the hose and went to help him up but he tripped me and I fell down hard beside him as the water spiraled fast and cold over both of us. He wrapped his arms around me and rocked us back and forth on the grass, laughing, and I felt his old male strength and smelled his sour green apple smell and for a second I was almost happy again. By the time I pushed him off and shook myself and stood, of course, nothing was left but a trail of damp footsteps in the grass, a thread from his hoodie snagged on the gate, tire marks on the curb. I ran out to the street as his bike rounded the corner, took my shoe off, threw it, missed. The last thing I heard was his voice, faint on the wind. “Don’t worry dear, it’s not…”

“Funny,” I shouted.

“Over,” he said, and disappeared.

About the Author

Molly Giles is the author of four award-winning story collections and a novel. She has recent and forthcoming fictions in Bellevue Literary Journal, Foglifter, Juked, West Marin Review, Willow Springs, and Zyzzyva.

About the Artist

Alexander C. Kafka is a journalist, photographer, and composer in Bethesda, Maryland. He created the cover image for Lost Addresses: New and Selected Poems by Diann Blakely (Salmon Poetry, 2017). His work has also been published at All Things Fashion DC, BuzzFeed, Fast Company, Juked, Vice, The Washington Post, The Writing Disorder, and many other periodicals. He has been on the documentation team for the Washington Folk Festival at Glen Echo and is a contributing concert photographer for DMNDR. Kafka studied fine-art figure photography with Missy Loewe at the Washington School of Photography and portrait photography with Sora DeVore at Glen Echo Photoworks.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Three
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