Each time she’d ended their marriage for good.
by Regan Wolfrom
She was standing by the flat-top stove, Hector’s phone in her hand. He’d forgotten to change last week’s passcode. A mistake he’d made a dozen times before.
Each time she’d ended their marriage for good.
He knew what was coming. He didn’t stop it.
“How many mistresses do you have?” she asked.
He was sorry. Every time. In every replay.
It had always felt raw.
How could being unfaithful hurt the one who’d done it?
“It doesn’t matter. I love you.”
He’d always had time to duck.
He never did.
The hardcover edition of Stephen King’s The Stand slammed into his right cheek, a thousand pages breaking into three uneven chunks before slapping down on the floor.
“Get out,” she said.
And reset the app his brother had made.
Hector cancelled Netflix and HBO to save money.
He took on a second phone. No bells and whistles. Probably a good thing.
He knew he was lucky, to get a thousand new chances at his thirties after ten more years of experience. If only his life past age thirty-six had been more than overtime at work and high definition porn…
The extra phone bought him an extra month, long enough to spend Katja’s seventh birthday as the respected patriarch of a family of four, not as a broken man calling his daughter from a cigarette-soaked room at the Flamingo Motel.
Eventually the end came, as it always did, this time when he made an off-color joke to straightlaced Steph that he’d actually meant for fun-time Maria.
There’s no room to be sloppy, now that everyone’s on Facebook.
Angie met him at the door that time, and after some measured words in the living room it was a dusty copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses that she threw at his head.
God, that woman loved her hardbacks.
That’s what you get for getting caught.
Hector reset the app again, knowing his brother was wrong. Knowing that he was making progress.
It was the new penguins at the zoo that brought him down the next time. He’d asked Zara, the short-skirted waitress who liked to stick fake flowers in her hair, to come along on his trip with the kids. She’d been young and dumb enough to say yes.
Katja drew a half dozen pictures that night before dinner, her trip to the zoo with Daddy, and in each one beside the iron fence and assorted wildlife there was a woman with long dark hair and a yellow flower.
Angie hadn’t needed to ask; she knew, and Hector was spared the expected assault, only because the kids were in the room.
She tried not to cry and she asked him to go, and he took advantage of that quiet moment to brush aside her short blond hair and kiss her one last time on the neck.
She bristled, but she didn’t stop him.
Sometimes it was hard to remember the real story, the do-overs clouding his memory. But Hector remembered well enough that Angie had left in 2013, or rather, that was when she’d told him to pack up his shit and leave everything of value behind.
Back then he’d felt free for a little while, until he realized that he’d left most of himself back at the house, and that no woman worth having would want the sobbing mess that he was well on his way to becoming.
“I’m not a homewrecker,” fun-time Maria had told him. “Go find a way to work it out.”
“I’m just not feeling it,” straitlaced Steph had said when he’d asked if she wanted a roommate. “It’s just not fun anymore… you know?”
Zara hadn’t even bothered answering his texts; she wasn’t ready for anything real.
“You can’t keep doing this,” his brother said. “This isn’t real.”
He was shaking his head in judgement as always, sitting high on his pleather recliner like he was presiding over an obscenity trial.
Hector countered, leaning back even more on the matching brown sofa, taking effort to show he didn’t care.
“I’ll get it right someday,” Hector said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
“The house always wins.”
“We don’t know that for sure.”
“You’re hopeless,” his brother said. “But I’ll help you anyway. I’ve written a new app. I’ve changed the rules… to give you a fighting chance.”
“I want it to be like real.”
“Just try it.”
Hector nodded. He put on his glasses and the earpiece.
His brother tapped it in.
Hector’s world went dark for a second, and then he was back at home on Fleet Street with a can of Coke Zero and that episode of Archer with the cancer drug rampage.
He’d still do his best to get it right; he wouldn’t screw it up just to see what kind of changes his brother had put in.
If he played things well enough, he wouldn’t need the extra bump.
When Angie found his second phone, she didn’t demand his passcode or scream at him for an explanation. She just told him to be more careful.
“Don’t let the kids find this,” she said. “Katja’s getting old enough to know when something’s off.”
Hector stared blankly at his wife, wondering how long it would be before the knives came out. Or the ten-pound books.
“You’ll be late for work,” she said. “The kids aren’t even dressed yet and I’ve got a call with Boston in fifteen minutes. At least pretend to be a decent father.”
Hector pocketed his second phone.
Then he took a deep breath and reset the app.
Angie was standing by the flat-top stove. She spoke flatly as she held up his phone. She threw the cookbook squarely at Hector’s right cheek.
Angie would never forgive him. As long as she kept catching him, she’d keep launching a hardback and tossing him out on his ass.
That was who she was.
Hector smiled to himself as he reset the app again.