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.