Back in November of 2012, New Millennium Writings awarded me first prize in their Short-Short Fiction contest. This story is part of my book of stories, yet to be published. Here is the story that won first prize:
Don’t smoke for the first hour of the day. Not in the house, and never with your first cup of coffee. These are absolutely hard and fast rules to live by. During the first hour, you could easily drink five cups of coffee and smoke three or four cigarettes before your eyelids open and your husband is already whispering into the phone. Think about something else, say skin and clothes that smell like lilacs, a shower with herbal shampoo. Afterwards, do not go outside for your first smoke of the day, or check the clock and see you’ve only managed to expend thirty minutes. Spend the next thirty eating breakfast and not listening to your husband’s conversations on the phone. Remember, ten cigarettes a day is your goal and you do not wish to smoke five of them before 9 am. This may be difficult as you are used to smoking two packs a day, but think of the money you will save and of not irritating your husband the new ex-smoker who, though whispering into the ear of someone not you, suddenly claims he’s allergic to your smoke.
Count your cigarettes throughout the day, and take a sleeping pill before bedtime. This will help you sleep and also curb your craving for a fix of nicotine when you awaken in the middle of the night and discover your husband has left the bed for the too-short-for-his-legs couch. Decide this means he prefers this discomfort to lying next to you. Decide later if you are overreacting.
Remind yourself daily that your goal is ten cigarettes a day, or twenty should your husband get drunk and start flirting with your friends. First consider all you and he have been through together, and toss back a beer. Consider all the beers he’s tossed back over the years and consider the years you always believed he was faithful to you.
Resist the urge to go through his jeans pockets, coat pockets, car. Resist all manner of snooping, even those times you have access to his wallet and the intriguing trail of calls you find in his cell phone. Never call any of the unknown numbers you find in his cell phone, nor should you write them down and check them later at switchboard.com.
Never, ever read his email before you read your own.
Remember, if you choose to live with a cheating man you do so knowing this is certainly better than living without him. In your addiction-laden mind, living without him would be like giving up all your cigarettes instead of living inside a few rules of limitation.
Get a hobby or join a “Partners without Borders “ support group. It will take your mind off your troubles and perhaps create better ones. At your support group, for instance, you might meet a twenty-something woman with startling green eyes and slicked back hair, whose thickly lashed eyes bore into you as she asks for your number.
Resolve to forget about the young woman with startling green eyes who invites you to sit on the back of her Harley and drive you to the lake to watch the sunset. Go to the library and look up books on sexual behavior that don’t necessarily explain what you need to know about your boyish woman-on-a-Harley attraction. Just set your resolve on not driving to the beach with this woman or any other woman; for that matter, set your resolve on not leaving your husband, unless of course your husband leaves you first.
When the boyish bike babe takes you for a ride along the lake, just pretend she’s another friend. If she makes you laugh until your sides ache and your heart beats wildly inside your chest as you sit on her bike and clutch her around the waist, remember: friend.
Resist the temptation to kiss your new friend on her very kissable lips. Think of your husband’s kissable lips and resist imagining what the friend’s lovely lips would feel like on your skin. Brush aside your thoughts, everyone has a fantasy life, yours is just more highly evolved. In particular, ignore that fact that she has told you how much she wants you. Ignore all of her attempts at seduction; especially ignore the pulsing sensation between your legs when you just speak to her on the phone.
Now is the perfect time to remember how it feels to be in your husband’s arms when he wants you. Remember this is why you are outside smoking in the sleeting rain, and not on the couch under a cozy blanket fantasizing about your friend and what you might wish to do with her should your clothes accidentally come off under a blanket on the sand.
Your ease with smoking outdoors could come in handy down the road. Particularly when the acrid odor of booze and smoke lingers on your husband’s clothes as he removes them, indicating for certain he hasn’t been with you. At this point, you have permission to go outside for a smoke in the middle of the night and consider ripping up your list of rules to live by and making new ones.
Under the new rules, when your husband comes into the room where you are speaking quietly into the phone to your new friend, don’t hang up. She might be telling you she thinks about you all the time. She might be telling you, or is about to tell you, that she thinks she loves you. Say that you can not speak freely now. Say this in code, and as the possible hot conversation grows cold, light up a cigarette right there in the room and remain calm, for while a great self-righteous noise emanates from your husband, who is waving at the smoke and pretending to gasp for air, you might readily agree to any rule if he would please just shut the fuck up.