This morning, the doctor’s nose twitched along, trapped in a web of spider veins, as he used jargon and acronyms. As he said cancer of the breast, instead of just saying breast cancer. As you sat there, wearing that damned hospital gown, and silently cursed him. When he left and the nurse came clacking in, you didn’t want to talk to her, but she did. And with her fake eyelashes, her fake nails, her neck tattoo of a swallow swooping toward an earlobe so naked and so vulnerable you were forced to avert your eyes, your anger was wrenched away.
Now you’re sitting across from your husband at El Sabro’s, waiting for the server to return with your drinks. Outside the window, the setting sun smolders the horizon and you ask your husband why he keeps checking his phone.
His eyebrows rise and he smiles. With his thick dark curls, the dimples on his cheeks, he looks like a kid caught with his hand in a cookie jar. Guilty, he says, holding up his phone, then turning it off. He places it face down on the table. Just seeing who we play tomorrow, he says, reaching for a tortilla chip. You check your mental calendar; tomorrow is softball. Sunday, marathon training. Monday, tennis.
As he scoops up salsa, you squint across at him, trying to imagine how he’d respond if you told him right now.
It’s good. But it’s not Cabo good, he says, rolling his eyes at his own joke.
The two of you are celebrating an anniversary of sorts. Last year he surprised you. Somehow planned everything, the plane tickets, the resort, without you knowing.
You remember that first afternoon of your trip. The two of you were lounging on the beach underneath an umbrella that you had rented for 200 Pesos, which seemed like a lot, or nothing at all. You weren’t sure. And it didn’t matter because you were happy with your half-finished book, your half-finished Corona.
It was all of ten minutes before your husband popped up from his towel. He was restless, scanning the beach. A group of kids was tossing a frisbee; giggling as the wind grabbed hold, and sent it tumbling through the air. Down the way, a line of red and green flags flapping in the breeze led to a man near the shore holding a sign advertising jet skis.
Go, you told him, nodding toward the man. Kissing your cheek, he grabbed his wallet and you watched as your husband bounded away.
The waitress arrives with your margaritas, salt for him, and red Tajin around the rim for you. She drops a votive into a glass globe. One slender wrist crosses your field of vision and she lights the candle.
What?, your husband mouths to you.
But you don’t respond. You’re thinking about the hospital, thinking about the nurse. Husbands, she had said, handing you a pamphlet, are six times more likely to leave when their spouse has a life-threatening illness.
Richie Zaborowske is a dad, librarian, and author from the Midwest. He puts a contemporary twist on traditional library offerings; his monthly Short Story Night packs the local brewery and features trivia, comedy, and author interviews. His writing appears in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Brevity, The Los Angeles Review, HAD, X‑R-A‑Y Lit, Identity Theory, Jet Fuel Review, and others.