Gently, Dr. Sukimoto suggests it is time for Sharon to get her affairs in order. Dr. Sukimoto is her favorite oncologist. The flaps of hair on either side of his face remind her of the soft ears of a beagle. When he says these words, Sharon, whose dissertation chair a dozen years ago complained she had an undisciplined mind, has an errant thought. She imagines not a will, but a daisy chain of names. Bob, Hollis, Pete, Teddy: the men with whom she had affairs when she was with George.
Bob, the first, she met at a symposium. She still occasionally sees Bob, most recently at The Society for Early American Historians conference in Houston. Last September, before her diagnosis. She couldn’t tell if it were the passage of time or the evaporation of lust that made her notice, then, that Bob had no jawline—his chin puddled into his neck.
All Sharon can picture of Hollis is his black-and-white cat, splotched like a Jersey cow, and the finicky way he chopped mint for mojitos.
Pete still makes her cringe: he is the one she hopes George will never find out about. Even after she is dead, she imagines her ghost would tug ephemeral ghost-hair in mortification, were George ever to learn that she had slept with his college roommate.
Teddy is no secret. Teddy finally blew up her marriage, due to Sharon’s besottedness, and her weariness by then with subterfuge. Secrets make you sick: perhaps her tumor germinated in those precursor trial affairs.
Now, Teddy wants nothing to do with her. He batted away her Facebook friend request. Pete sends Christmas cards. Bob bought her an Old Fashioned at that conference.
Only George has stayed close: loyal George, defending Sharon even at her most egregious. In their tail-end days, she heard him on the phone, snapping at his mother: “That’s not fair. Sharon has always been honest.” That made Sharon, aware of how false an assessment this was, tiptoe out the house.
George used to call Sharon the opposite of a hypochondriac, refusing to go to doctors, and look how circumstances have proven him right. “It’s time to get your affairs in order” means, more than anything else, letting George know. Finally giving him the silver pocket watch that has sat in her nightstand drawer for the past five years. Sharon had bought it for George’s thirty-fifth birthday, but when October rolled around, he was moving out, and it seemed too extravagant a present for a soon-to-be ex-husband. It is past time to tell him her news, so when Sharon gets home, she calls George and invites him over for a drink.
When George arrives at her place the next day, he has his two-and-a-half year old son in tow: little George, called Geo. Sharon thinks the nickname ridiculous. It makes the kid sound like a character in The Matrix.
“Sorry,” George says. “Patty had a thing.”
Sharon watches the boy drip popsicle onto the kitchen floor she once shared with George, then looks out the bay window. A scrim of fog muffles Twin Peaks in shredded tissue. It occurs to her that this is her last cold, damp summer in San Francisco. Sharon is sure Patty sent Geo along with his father as a way of affixing onto George a “mine” label. George started dating Patty weeks after their divorce was finalized; by then Sharon had already split with Teddy. How wispy most relationships are: they burn away like fog.
George lifts Geo onto one of the suede bar stools that, seven years ago, he picked out. Geo spins, kicking the cabinets of Sharon’s kitchen island to launch himself into rotation. The cabinets are painted white. But who cares? Minding scuffmarks involves investment in the future.
“Careful,” George says to Geo. He begins explaining why Patty saddled him with childcare, but Sharon raises a hand.
“Wait,” she says, and George, who has known her since they were twenty and knows better than anyone in the world the tone of voice Sharon uses to deliver bad news, complies. Superimposed on George’s forty-year-old face, Sharon sees the man she married fifteen years ago, standing at the end of a threadbare aisle. He had looked, like now, anxious; most likely she did too. Then they each took a deep breath and exhaled. This alignment of their nerves, fifty feet apart, made Sharon smile and proceed.
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the English Department at Mills College. Her fiction is published or forthcoming in Arroyo Literary Review, Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Breakwater Review, Broad!, Cleaver, Corium Magazine, Crack the Spine, descant, The East Bay Review, Fiction Southeast, 580 Split, The Gettysburg Review, Gravel, Hobart, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, Jellyfish Review, JMWW, Literary Orphans, Moon City Review, New South, New World Writing, Oakland Review, Parcel, River City, Sixfold, SNReview, Squalorly, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Word Riot. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books.