{Written for Alameda Shorts: May 2018: Theme: Fix}

Dan took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He picked up his soda and poked around at the ice with his straw, waiting for his wife to look at him instead of the busser.

He watched her eyes follow the fit young man as he moved from table to table, clearing plates and glasses and side-stepping the servers who, in turn, side-stepped him.

It was a dance, as all things are, and as he watched her watching, he decided to try again.

He snaked his hand across the table to place it warmly on hers with a concession. “I am happy you drove across the city to have lunch with me.”

She blinked. She looked at his hand, then looked at him. He searched for warmth or entreaty, or even frustration, but her eyes were empty. It was very far from what he’d expected.

He cleared his throat and squeezed her hand gently. It was a gesture, a reassurance. He was okay. It was okay, or it would be. She could fix this.

And yet, he felt apologetic. “I know this place is far from your office, but I have a meeting nearby …”

“It’s fine.” She said.

He withdrew a little. Why was she being so cold?

“Please tell me you’re with me on this,” he said, uncertainty creeping into his voice. “You agree, right? Don’t you think we’d be happier, you’d be happer … I mean, I’m being honest. You want me to be honest, right?”

He watched a flicker of something unfamiliar cross her face. What was he doing wrong? Honesty was more important than anything to her. It was everything.

“Just be honest with me,” she had said at the beginning, and he had always done his part.

But the truth can be hard to hear, and maybe that’s why he felt bad.

Dammit, she said she wanted to save the marriage. Isn’t that why she was here—at this table, in this city, at this new life they were fighting for?

He chewed his lip.

She stared at her plate.

He said, “I’m not asking for much. A little more effort. Show me I matter.”

She almost frowned. It wasn’t much, but it was a sign she was listening, so he went on.

“I think we’ve both been doing a great job putting things behind us. Now we need to work on making things better.”

She started to speak, but he knew what she was thinking and said it for her. “I know, I know, I’ve said this before. At this same restaurant. Probably at this same table. Right? But that’s my point. You say you’re trying, but nothing ever changes.”

He watched his point settle across her features, but it didn’t seem to land the right way.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said in a rush. “I see you trying, I do. You say you’re going to the gym, I don’t know if you are, but you say you are…” he cleared his throat again.

Did he really know what she was doing?

He squinted at her silence.

This was the part where she normally protested and told him exactly what she was doing at the gym and how much progress she’d made and how much weight she’d lost and then they’d sidestep over into a conversation he could really get into, about exercise and working out more and then they could talk about food and nutrition, and finally get to what she should be eating.

Where were her promises to do better?

If she lost the weight from the last baby, he would know that she was being honest, too. Honest about wanting to spend time together. Honest about wanting to make him happy.

If he knew for sure that she was putting him first, he’d be happy, he just knew it. And he’d be good. If only she could prove this past year was more than a temporary fix.

He didn’t like to bring up the past, but obviously, she could use a reminder.

“I can’t survive hurting you again,” he said. “Not like that.”

She twitched.

He pounced.

“I’m still not happy. But I’m not giving up on you. Think how happy you’d be if you could wear cute things again. We could go out more. And, and, think of all the things we could do together… And if the house was clean every day you wouldn’t have to catch up on the weekend—just a few hours a night, after work when the kids are in bed and the baby’s asleep …”

He paused.

He had told her all this before.

He had been honest.

This was how she could fix the marriage.

He reached out again to wrap his hands around hers. “Think how happy we would be if you lost those last ten pounds and we could start the day in a spotless house. I would definitely stay home more. And there’d be no need for me to be with anyone else again.”

He was working hard to put the smile back on her face. Somewhere between ordering their food and eating, it had slipped under the table and was now lost in the crowded dining room.

She flushed, and he realized people were listening. Let them. Maybe this was good for her. Maybe she’d hate this feeling enough to do something about it.

It was her turn to take a deep breath. As she exhaled, her eyes traveled with the busser again on his current lap around the room. She followed the progress of a server who dropped off a check at one table and paused at another to take orders.

She made eye contact with a woman eating alone, who didn’t blink or look away. When she finally turned her attention back to Dan, she said

“I’m sorry.”

A smiled tugged at the corners of his mouth, but she went on.

“I have no fucks left to give. You ate them all. You swallowed them whole the last time we were here.”

She took back her hand, stood up, and left.