The Third Step

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
I remember the third step up to your apartment creaked really badly. I’d always skip it- I didn’t want anything- not even a wooden step- to know where I was going. As if it would only count that I was there- there were I wasn’t supposed to be- if I made a noise. That's how I rationalized it, anyways. If the stairs didn’t know, then no one could. Obviously, this did not work out.

I remember the first time I saw you- you slipped your ring off into your wallet. I guess you thought I didn’t see it- because you came up to me and introduced yourself with confidence- David- 35- Single. It was like the bar was a dating app. I was only just 24 but I’d known men like you for a long time. And so I entertained you. I didn’t really feel bad. I didn’t love, or even really care, for you. I didn’t see you often- only when you came into town on business. But you rented that apartment the day after you met me- and you barely worked. I figured I was using you- for a comfortable apartment, for good dinners, for fun, and you were using me- for whatever it was men like you needed. Sex, company, someone to not question you. I knew she was the only one who was losing anything. But fuck it, I thought. This city is expensive and you looked pretty good in the bar lights.

I already knew who you were going out of town for. Who you would spend holidays with. Whose lipstick I found in the glovebox of your car. You thought you were playing me so well with your elaborate excuses and sneakiness- but you weren’t smart. You fumbled it on the first move, for fucks sake- and it was just a matter of time until someone else found out, too.

But you paid for my drinks and your apartment was nice and close to my work, so I didn’t stop. I made excuses. I didn’t really care. I figured if not me, he’d find some other woman to slip his ring into his wallet for. I did think about her sometimes, when he’d hide his phone or speak to her in hushed voices in the bathroom when he thought I was asleep. But it is a mean, tough world - I didn’t know her, so I didn’t care.

And then that day. A particularly lavish dinner, after starters and main courses and dessert- where you’re so satisfied and full you enter that blissful sleepy state. You were in the bathroom and I decided to get a closer look at your ring. It wasn’t for any reason in particular- really. If I hadn’t lost my handbag that had my favourite book, I would have much rather found entertainment in that. If our dinner neighbours weren’t boring and old and silent, I would have rather eavesdropped. If you didn’t finish off that sixth whisky of the night, maybe you wouldn’t have spent so much of it relieving yourself in the bathroom. The perfect mixture of boredom and sleepiness and satisfaction.

And then there, as soon as the wallet opened, was the ultrasound. I didn’t know what I was seeing at first. The mashy picture of black and white splotches didn’t register. But then all at once, it did.

I called it there. I obviously wasn’t worried about entering a relationship with a man who was married- but I called it at the baby. I had some morals, atleast.

And then he came- a few years later- and to me, he was everything. Within a few years we were married, and a few later, our little son was born. Everything was so, so perfect.

But after those perfect, pretty 22 years we spent together, something changed. It's ironic, in a sense, because I never would have noticed the telltale signs of a mistress myself if, at one point, I hadn’t been that woman. And so I grabbed at him, held him close and to that the more he kicked. And so, in my desperate attempt to keep him - I slipped a photo of us- around the time our son was born, into his wallet. I figured in my desperate, maddened mind that karma would save me- that the woman who he now loved would have done what I did. I did not know.

A few days later a young woman knocked on my door around midnight- pulling me out of my dreams which were now my only happiness- the only place where he still loved me.

She smiled when I opened the door. Something about the way she was lookin at me, and the way that she looked, made it all click at once.

“I don’t know if you ever heard, or cared, but she knew. She knew the whole time. And it broke her. You- with your callousness- with your selfishness- with your indifference- you killed her. I grew up with no mom because of you. She could never move on. Not after the man she loved more than anything could only love you. You may have left when I became apparent- but I want you to know that I do not care that he has a son. I’ve known all along, anyways. Maybe I would care- if I hadn’t been broken at such a young age because of my mothers death.”

I felt my cheeks burn red and thunderous sobs left my mouth as she walked away. She stops, suddenly. “By the way, don’t change the roses. I love them. He’s sending the divorce papers tomorrow. Everything will be ours.”

I might have had morals not to get involved with a man who had kids all those years back- but this bitch didn’t. And I knew, at once, if I hadn’t ruined her at so young, she would have. And the karma that I thought I so carefully avoided by skipping that third step slapped me harder than anything ever has before.