By: Dinah Cox
My old friend Eleanor was getting a divorce. A long time ago, before they were married, I lived with Eleanor and Stan and a bunch of other people in a four-bedroom house owned by the college Eleanor and I attended. Stan was much older, old enough to be considered scandalous, and we kept it under wraps he was living there at all. But he was gentle, the kind of man who played the acoustic guitar and volunteered to cook. These days, they lived in the mountains with their two sons, in a cabin heated only by a wood burning stove. I was dying to know what had precipitated their divorce.
“What happened to Stan?” I said. We were in a bookstore, in the weirdo section, the two of us keeping company with healing aromas and and Dr. Weil and crystals and mushrooms and shit. Eleanor was always a big believer in this or that. I was a doubter. The clash between her made-up mysticism and my unwelcome mockery was, in my mind, one of the most enjoyable parts of our friendship.
“Stan suffers from multiple addictions,” she said. I thought multiple must have meant more than two. Probably he drank a lot and smoked pot and looked at pornography most of the time when he wasn’t at work. Gambling seemed out of character, not to mention strangely anachronistic as addictions went. Maybe he wanted to have too much sex or did something extra-weird like buy too many bongo drums or drink too much cough medicine or make out with strangers in bathroom stalls. Or maybe he took pills. But I’ll admit to disliking the language of addiction and 12-step programs; it seemed a bit pedestrian for someone as adventurous as Eleanor. I wanted to know what he’d done to her.
“When did you know?” I said. “Describe the exact moment.”
“We were working in the garden,” she said, “And he fell asleep under a tree.”
“Yeah,” I said. I could imagine the scene: a row of seedlings waiting to be planted, the boys off catching frogs in the creek, Eleanor up to her elbows in loose tree roots and dirt. His indifference, her loneliness, the boys being boys.
“You ought to buy this,” I said, pointing to a display copy of Stuff Your Pillows with Human Hair. “Just kidding.”
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said, and, in a flash, I remembered something that had happened years ago, when we all lived together in the college-owned house. One of our housemates, a six-foot-something woman from Buffalo, brought home a pizza and didn’t share it with the rest of us. “You’re a big eater,” Stan had said to her. “Bun in the oven?” And at that moment, I’d watched as Eleanor looked at him and said silently I do not love you I cannot love you I will not love you. She had the same look now, only brighter, and more full of ease.
Dinah Cox's first book, Remarkable: Stories won the fourth annual BOA Short Fiction Prize and is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2016. Her stories appear in StoryQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Salt Hill, Zone 3, Beloit Fiction Journal, J Journal, and elsewhere. She teaches in the English Department at Oklahoma State University where she's also an associate editor at Cimarron Review.