Alex Higley


My wife tells me she’s been think­ing of a man she used to know. She actu­al­ly uses the word “boy,” but I react at first as if she’s said “man.” We are eat­ing lunch out­side at a fast-casu­al Mexican restau­rant in Phoenix, where we live. It’s a new­er part of town. This restau­rant is not yet a true chain, there are only three in metro Phoenix, but every­thing about the place is pared, repeat­able, set for a buy­out. When the obvi­ous com­par­isons arise, it seems the restaurant’s defense is that they do only tacos– region­al­ly authen­tic con­struc­tions, make and bot­tle their own hot sauce, and sell no soda. One of the three shirt designs for sale at this loca­tion reads: “Water and beer. Coffee’s next door.” I like the shirt, maybe because it con­fus­es me, but would nev­er buy it. In the park­ing lot near where we’re eat­ing are pairs and clus­ters of busi­ness peo­ple and radi­ant young moth­ers and loud teenagers with unbe­liev­able vehicles.

I’ve been with my wife since we were in col­lege and heard all her sto­ries, but because she’s said “boy” and didn’t give a name, I’m think­ing this is a per­son from her dis­tant past. From a time that pre­dates most of the sto­ries she tells. She says, yes, “dis­tant, or, just from when I was kid,” and because we are both only thir­ty-one years old, I see her point. My wife repeats the word “dis­tant” and squints at me, her face is in the sun and she has pushed the scraps of her taco lunch away from her. She’s freck­led enough so you’d notice and is wear­ing den­im over­alls with a con­fi­dence that would make you think she’s a painter. That this is down time for her and she’ll be return­ing with­in the hour to her can­vas, a large work in progress. But, she’s not a painter. I have the day off from work and my wife makes her own hours. She owns and oper­ates a pho­to por­trait stu­dio with her sis­ter. It’s why we moved here. This is my wife’s sec­ond career, her first being social work when we lived in Chicago, doing cog­ni­tive test­ing on the chil­dren who were in the agency’s home­less to hous­ing tran­si­tion pro­gram. We moved to Phoenix four months ago and are still catch­ing on. Sunsets, dri­ving, rock lawns, meals out­side in February.

My wife says this boy she’s been think­ing of is a part of her online bank­ing login. I try not to react, but I can see in my wife’s face that I have already giv­en myself away. I glance towards the park­ing lot and watch a woman in a sports bra slam her car door com­plete­ly with­out affect. I’d bet the sports bra woman’s kitchen is immac­u­late. I think about the blue cold sur­faces she might main­tain because I’m not sure how I’d like to con­tin­ue in the con­ver­sa­tion I’m present­ly in. I’m capa­ble of being sim­ple­mind­ed enough when it comes to my wife that this kind of talk can both­er me. Talk of others.

I pull what remains of my wife’s lunch to my side of the table and when she doesn’t stop me, I eat. The basket’s aro­ma has flat­tened, but is still won­der­ful­ly of lime and roast chick­en. Before, in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions, con­cerns over por­tion con­trol have been voiced and I’ve been cau­tioned. Today, I’m allowed to keep eat­ing with­out com­ment. She does not appear to take any notice as I fin­ish her meal, though I am cer­tain this is not the case. As if the con­cept would be for­eign, she says, “To get into the account there’s two secu­ri­ty ques­tions. When I set it up I gave answers for ten or so basic ques­tions, and the two ques­tions I’m asked dur­ing each login come from this group, ran­dom­ly. It’s pos­si­ble I answered only four set­up ques­tions ini­tial­ly, or three, and, if that’s the case, the fact that I’m always asked, ‘What was the name of your child­hood best friend? (If your answer is a date, use form mmd­dyy),’ would make a lot more sense. Trevor was his name. Still is, presumably.”

On the joint account the answer to that ques­tion is ‘Marcy,’” I say.

There’s more than one right answer,” she says, and I can’t argue with that. My wife tells me a lit­tle about Trevor. She brings the backs of her hands down her cheeks, ges­tur­ing, and says, “skin­ny Slavic face.” Her ges­ture and the word “Slavic” make me think of a long-beard­ed old man, but I do not repeat “Slavic” back to her ques­tion­ing­ly. I lis­ten and try to pic­ture a lanky kid, tough, with an accent, new to the desert like me. She says that Trevor’s par­ents were first gen­er­a­tion immi­grants from the Czech Republic and moved to Mesa, where my wife is from, in the eight­ies in order for Trevor, their first child, to be born in the United States. I tell her it’s strange to think of her as a girl not know­ing the con­cept of “first gen­er­a­tion immi­grants,” then lat­er learn­ing and apply­ing the term. My wife does not think this is strange at all and con­tin­ues. Now that I know Trevor was born and raised in Arizona I try and erase an Eastern European accent from my under­stand­ing of him, but can’t. Trevor, she says, played “trav­el base­ball” as a boy, but got a girl preg­nant towards the end of high school and end­ed up mov­ing to where her fam­i­ly was from in Nevada. I don’t see any rela­tion­ship between “trav­el base­ball” and an unplanned preg­nan­cy. It seems my wife believes Trevor’s promis­ing ath­let­ic future was negat­ed. It also seems to me that she’s shown her hand. She’s con­sid­ered alter­nate lives for Trevor. Maybe, still does. I watch my wife adjust an over­all strap and she says, “Boulder City, Nevada, specifically.”

As best I can see it, the out­side under­stand­ing of why we moved to Arizona was so my wife could switch careers, so we could save mon­ey, and so we could, pos­si­bly, start to think about hav­ing a baby. I don’t want a baby. My wife knows it and has always known it, and has main­tained that she is con­tent with me sole­ly being “open to the pos­si­bil­i­ty that I could change my mind,” which I am. My job allowed for a lat­er­al trans­fer at the same salary with­out much dif­fi­cul­ty. I’m a mid­dle man­ag­er at an art sup­ply store chain. I’ll work there until I don’t want to any­more, and then I’ll do some­thing else. The career switch for my wife, that was a real rea­son to move, sav­ing mon­ey too. Both those under­stand­ings from the remain­ing par­ents and friends and now ex-cowork­ers are valid. Her sis­ter is near­by, her moth­er too. About kids, the deci­sion will, I believe, be tak­en away from me at some point and there will be a child. That is not immi­nent though. What is immi­nent is that my wife is think­ing of a man she used to know and I am both­ered. I believe this is a good sign.


Alex Higley has been pub­lished in PANK, Hobart, Burrow Press Review, and else­where. He con­tributed text to Alec Soth’s “The Frank Album.” A grad­u­ate of the Northwestern University MFA pro­gram, he is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a sto­ry collection.