A winner of the 2012 Downtown Eastside Writers’ Jamboree Writing Contest.
She lifts the receiver to her ear. Her hand feels slippery, but her mouth is dry. The buzz of the dial tone seems to pick up the buzz at the back of her head, obliterating the carefully invented and rehearsed explanation. No air in her lungs to push out the words anyway. The phone clatters back into its cradle. It wasn’t the first time. At the cottage she was ironing the kids’ shorts and T-shirts. They were out with their mom—shopping or something—so nobody else was around. He had strolled through the kitchen. Into the bathroom. Closed the door. Two or three beats. Opened the door and walked back down the hall to the bedroom. All with his bathrobe hanging open. Wearing nothing but skin underneath. Nothing said. No eye contact. Passing, barely an arm’s reach, nothing but the ironing board between them.
The first time she pretended nothing had happened. Maybe nothing had. Maybe it had just been her imagination. Or a moment of careless nonchalance on his part. Just one time. Less than a minute.
But what had happened this past weekend was not carelessness. When he called her up the stairs from the kitchen, he was crossing the hall from the bathroom to the bedroom. With his bathrobe hanging open. Wearing nothing but skin underneath. He’d sat down on the bed, feet apart, robe falling along the outside of each leg, and asked her to bring him a towel.
I’m sorry Mr. Bellman, I can’t right now. I’ve got something boiling on the stove and Mrs. Bellman will be home any minute now with the kids wanting their supper.
I can’t go back there. She picks up the phone again.
Mrs. Bellman? It’s Cindy. I’m sorry to give you such short notice, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to come on the weekends any more. I’m just getting too far behind in my schoolwork—I have a term paper due next week and I’ll have to work on it all this weekend to get it in on time. I’m really sorry…
The voice on the phone is cold. It says, Well, we were thinking of letting you go anyway.
She never told her parents. She never told anybody. Weekends for a very long time had an undertow of slippery, dark danger that she could never quite put her finger on.