Perfection: A short story by Sara O’Connor
I wrote this story for a Fiction class in my MFA program. I was told to tell a story in 500 words or less. Enjoy.
She is standing in front of the kitchen sink, dish in one hand, towel in the other, staring out the small picture window at her prized tulips.
He comes in through the back door, barely making a noise except for the click clack of his wingtips against the cherry wood floors. He drops his keys in a glass dish sitting on a table just inside their immaculate living room. Everything in its place, just as it was before he left. Perfect. She is perfect.
She is still standing in front of the window, dish in one hand, towel in the other when he comes up behind her. His hand rests gently on her shoulder and she jumps, just a little, but enough.
He attempts to sooth her nerves with a soft kiss on the back of her head, breathing in the scent of lemons with a hint of tea rose.
“I didn’t hear you.” She doesn’t turn around.
“Where were you just now?”
“Just thinking. Have you seen the tulips? They’re spectacular.” She sets down the plate.
He reaches around and takes the dish towel from her hand. “Can we talk?”
“Certainly darling.” She turns toward him, smiles, but it never reaches her sad eyes. “Dinner should ready soon. Help me set the table, will you?”
Her full ruby lips are painted to match her nails and the elegantly quaffed auburn hair that twirls and winds around her ears sits just above her shoulders. Everything about her is perfect.
She walks to the tall hutch that stands guard at the dining room table, hands him two perfectly folded silk napkins from a drawer and he places them on the table next to the family china.
“I’m leaving.” His voice is gentle but strong.
He looks at the table, unwilling to see the pain in her eyes. “I can’t live like this anymore. It’s not fair to you…or me.”
They are standing on opposite sides of the table, motionless. She stares at him, unable to look away from the stranger standing in front of her. The man she married 20 years ago. The man she loves more than anything in the world. “I know.” Is all she says.
“I found them. The letters.”
His eyes flash to hers, filled with fear, sorrow, shame. “When?”
“A month ago.”
“But you said nothing.”
“I know. Because I love you.”
“And I you, just not the way you deserve.”
She wipes the single tear that runs along the edge of her nostril, before it reaches her ruby lips. “I know.”
“Sweetheart.” He moves toward her and she steps back.
“Don’t.” Her hand goes up. Still calm, she picks up one of the napkins and returns it to the drawer where she got it. “You should go.”
“But -” His posture melts into a slack. He is lost, overcome by remorse. “I’ll get my things.” He moves toward the staircase, but pauses, his back to her. “I love you Margie. Truly.”
“I know. But you love him more.”
He nods his head and continues up the stairs.