The Thing

by Jim Mentink

Sitting at his desk, the whirring buzz of stink bugs sounding like tiny fighter planes, as they flew in their erratic pattern toward the track lighting he had affixed to the ceiling directly in front of him, he signed the divorce papers.

Why not? They were living like disgruntled roommates by then and had nearly forgotten what it was that drew one another to the other. Nearly, but not completely.

For her, it was his ability to make a joke in nearly any situation, as well as his talent for grilling varied meats to perfection. Later, she would think he was a wonderful father, joking with the children and making sure they had plenty of adventures.

For him, it was her alabaster skin and elfin eyes; her beautiful singing voice and the way she kept her body fit.

But those things seemed trivial as the marriage began to dissolve. He spent less time at the grill, held less desire to engage the children in adventure as he faced numerous job losses and sunk deeper into a depression. She gained twenty-six pounds and hardly had it in her to sing anymore, and when she did it was not beautiful.

After the birth of their second child, they drifted apart. He found himself occasionally engaging in after work drinks with friends and she was constantly shopping, though seldom bought anything.

Their communication lacked anything meaningful, their lovemaking staled, their commitment to making their marriage work waning so dramatically they both agreed there was little else to do but dissolve their union.

That’s what they told themselves and each other, anyway.

In truth, it was other people that lured them away, though the other never knew it. For him, he created female friendships everywhere he worked. These were legitimate friendships where the women were sometimes in committed relationships, sometimes not, but all having in common the fact they didn’t find him attractive. He was just the married guy they were friends with. Truth told, he found most of them very appealing. One of them, she was married to a Harley Davidson dealer and they had one baby, he was nearly intoxicated by. She would greet him with a wide smile and touch his arm sometimes – weren’t those signs? He never saw her outside of work, never tried to, but told himself that maybe someday they would be together, held that hope in his heart because he felt rejected at home.

For his wife, it was an online affair with a Literature professor in Poland. They met in an online forum about books where he was the moderator. Eventually, that forum led to private messages, where she eventually told him his English was so perfect and his admission that, though he taught in Poland, he was British. In their messages, she eventually confessed that her marriage felt like it was falling apart and, initially, he provided support through what he termed ‘a very weighty trial’. He later remarked that her default photo was cute, which led to her confiding that his picture was ruggedly handsome. And within two weeks of that discussion, alone in the house with the computer, she engaged in a webcam chat with him.

They found this so enticing and fun, they set up dates to do that again and, in time, clothes came off and promises made and she found herself embroiled in a tender thing.

Her husband never knew, and she wouldn’t tell her lawyer, either.

Now he carried the papers to his wife, who was stepping out of the bathroom in her silk robe.

“Do we turn these in somewhere?” he asked.

“I’m trying to get dressed. I’m meeting a friend for dinner.”

“You showered for a friend?”

“I needed one. I’m working out again. Exercising.”

“Who’s watching the children?”

She paused in the hall, cinching her robe as if preventing him to see something he hadn’t seen a thousand times before.

“I assumed you would. Are you going to be here?”

He sighed. “I am. But I wanted to watch the NBA Finals. Game one is tonight.”

“Ephraim will watch it with you. You can just give Lacey a book or tablet. She’ll be fine.”

“I’m not sticking our daughter on a device that’s going to fry her uterus.”

“You’ll think of something.”

He followed her into the bedroom, watched her slip out of her robe and put on her underpants and bra. “What?”

He shook his head. “I wish I still felt that thing. When you did that.”

“This morning neither of us had regrets. You signed the forms. I mean…”

“It’s not regrets.”

“You said, ‘I wish I still…’ and so on. That’s a regret.”

“Jesus, this is painful.”

She looked at his reflection as she faced the mirror, buttoning her shirt. “Nobody said it wouldn’t be.”

Jim Mentink’s publication history includes short fiction with Bending Genres, Pangyrus Literary Magazine, Mono, and New World Writing. Additionally, he had the privilege of being invited to a workshop at the Writers in Paradise conference in 2019, and was granted art residencies with Hewnoaks (2015) and Wildacres (2019). Jim is a current member of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance.