Amir doesn’t comprehend the concept of moving on. He is parked across the street from Jackie’s house. She spots him through the kitchen window when she is loading the dishwasher with breakfast plates. As soon as Steve leaves with the kids, Jackie, still in her slippers, runs to Amir’s car and taps his window. He slides down the glass, regarding her with tragic eyes.
“Amir, what the hell are you doing?”
“Get in,” he says.
Sighing, Jackie complies. The floor is littered with water bottles and Starbucks cups, still belted in their cardboard sleeves. The Amir she has known for the past five years was fastidious —he appeared to part his hair with a ruler. The man is coming undone.
“What?” she says — the why-are-you-bugging-me voice she uses with Stella and Miles, and increasingly now, with Steve.
“It’s still happening.” When Jackie doesn’t respond, Amir says, “They’re still screwing each other.”
Certain events force recognition that humans are mere animals: physical crises like childbirth, messy and explosive, but also emotional crises that pump adrenalin, race the heart, and make Jackie at this moment think of her hypothalamus, overdriving.
“Amir, you’re being paranoid.”
“Oh? Was I paranoid before?”
Jackie feels as sullen as Stella being dragged to the birthday party of someone she has deemed uncool. This is not the pairing she would choose, huddling with Amir in his cluttered car.
Though Jackie has known Amir since the girls were in second grade and Stella and Annabel first found each other, she has not, until recent weeks, known him well. He was always courteous, stroking his small, silky moustache. But she far preferred his wife Margaret, funny and harsh. Now, Jackie misses Margaret, though since January she has seen Margaret as her mortal enemy.
Mortal enemy — what a cartoon thought. A sign that merely sitting in Amir’s car is fucking with her brain.
“Amir, you need to stop obsessing,” Jackie says. “It’s over.”
He shakes his head. “It’s not, and I can prove it.”
She envisions Amir at her door three months ago, wild eyed, holding his sheaf of printed emails. She should have shut the door in his face.
Last year, when her computer was attacked by a virus, Steve asked her why the hell she had clicked that link. Didn’t she understand phishing schemes? Jackie couldn’t explain the impulse. Bluebeard’s wife with the key in her hand: maybe one person in ten would turn away some acquaintance at the door, waving papers.
Though hadn’t she made a subconscious decision prior to that, to repress? Steve did a couple of weird things — came home late, claimed to be at the office when Jackie knew otherwise. She opened her mouth to say, “But Beatrice called an hour ago to say —” and then stopped. Capitulation to another animal instinct.
“Amir, I have a book for you to read. It might help.”
Her therapist recommended it, this book for how to get over an affair. People’s responses to infidelity are gendered, it claims. Cheating men defend themselves by saying the affair was only sex, women by saying it was love. Betrayed men are more likely to walk away, to regard their marriage as forever besmirched. Women are more likely to see themselves as contributing to their partners straying. Jackie feels mortified by how gender-normative her own reactions are. When she reads the book in public, she hides the cover as if it were porn.
Amir’s eyes swim. “There is no help,” he says.
It might be easier to try what some people do, according to that affair book: pick up and move. Never see this family again. Though hardly fair to Stella and Annabel, best friends for five years. Why should they suffer because Stella’s father fucked Annabel’s mother, and Annabel’s father consequently lost his mind?
“Let’s be adults,” is Jackie’s mantra, though at times she would rather be a wolf and leap at a throat, Steve’s or Margaret’s. Or Amir’s, with his obsessive need to spy and confer. Circumstances necessitate interactions with him — there is no way she will allow Steve to drop Stella off at Annabel’s, ever again. Damn Margaret, for saddling Jackie with her unbalanced husband.
Three months ago Jackie allowed Amir into her house, with his trembling hands and his email print-outs. Now she wants to hand him something instead. That book, and advice: moving on does not mean forgiving. It means designing a strategic plan. Just yesterday Jackie rearranged her schedule so she doesn’t need to be at work until 10:00. She can do the school drop-offs if circumstances warrant. If Steve can’t after all keep away from Margaret. Or if Jackie decides screw it, she’s moved on from moving on.
Sometimes she studies Stella and Annabel watching a YouTube video, and Annabel’s eyes, dark brown like her father’s but bulging and hyper-thyroidal like her mother’s, produce an animal reflex in Jackie. A desire to be done. Not just with the drama but with the marinating of eggplant, the pairing of socks, the spousing. Plan ahead, dude, Jackie thinks, and places her hand on Amir’s hunched shoulder.
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the English Department at Mills College. Her novel THE LIGHT SOURCE is forthcoming from 7.13 Books. 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, Monkeybicycle, Moon City Review, New South, New World Writing, Oakland Review, Parcel, River City, Sixfold, SNReview, Squalorly, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Word Riot.
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