I study the shape of her open mouth as she says it. The cringe of her nose and upward pull of cheeks. The word on her lips as if: we are longtime friends, girlfriends even, who share secrets, know each other’s birthdays, our children’s middle names. I hear the elongation of the syllables on her tongue—hard—
Impossible not to enunciate. She knows his shirts, the style and colors, the way he likes them crisp with those small plastic things in the collars. What do they call them? Collar stays? They slip into a tiny pocket in the collar to keep it flat and stiff. She knows his measurements. She’s hemmed at least ten pairs of pants he’s ordered from the Eddie Bauer catalogue. She knows about our son killed in a car accident. She sent us a card and flowers as soon as she heard. She knows that our younger son will soon start high school and that I commute to my job. She knows when I’m off or starting back for the semester. Details I’ve (and sometimes he’s) shared over the fifteen years of our marriage when I’ve (and more often he’s) brought clothes to be dry-cleaned or pressed or when he needs his pants shortened or I need the occasional hemming or a waistband on a skirt let out. Mostly his clothes.
After almost a year, I bring her the pair of navy-blue slacks wadded up in the trunk of my car. I’ve been meaning to take them to be dry-cleaned. I bought them on a whim when I was in Atlanta the year before giving a talk. Wore them only once. I suspect now they’re too tight. She greets me as I hand her the pants. Long time no see. How you doing? She smiles. The lump in my throat grows. How’s Craig? Niko? She calls them by name, not by noun. I’m sure you’ve heard. We’re separated. Divorcing. He’s got another woman. I say it fast, the way a person says fine but doesn’t really mean it. He never said a thing! Her voice bigger, bothered. She doesn’t ask a thing. Not why or when. Betrayal! She says it twice. Thick with sharp Korean accent. The word stabs the stuffy, dead air.Another customer enters.
In my car, I exhale the heavy smell of solvents. My head falls onto the hot steering wheel.
Sharp, precise. The word. Betrayal.
In her mouth.