His Other Wife

by Kathleen

Alison didn’t remember most movies she and Sean watched, whether at the multiplex or on Netflix. Sean remembered the plot and music, all the taglines, who had starred, and who directed.

Alison remembered real life conversations. She remembered people’s names and faces after casual introductions on the street: friends of friends. She remembered not just women’s outfits, but men’s shirts, hair color and/or balding patterns. Smiles? She never forgot smiles, although she often judged them too quickly. Cold or warm, mean or kind, the result of too much dentistry or not enough.

So for years when she couldn’t remember which actresses had starred and which were “supporting,” she would joke, “Guess you better ask your other wife.”

“Why don’t we have any bourbon?” Sean swore that hot toddies cured impending colds and flu.

“You took it over to your other wife’s place last weekend.”

Alison was always asking him how many other kids he had, and how much money his other wife earned, because how was it possible that Sean and Alison never went anywhere or bought anything, but sank deeper into debt every month?

The first Wednesday night in January, however, Alison wasn’t asking Sean anything. Not why he needed to shower before coming to bed; not why for several weeks now he lavished her with sexual favors and attention as if desperate…to compensate for something.

While he toweled dry and rubbed expensive new creams into his face and hair, Alison wrapped herself naked inside the heavy top blanket. She wiggled to its edge, and keeping her hands flat by her hips, pinched the fabric. She wound the wool around herself, turning until she lay propped on her side of the bed, as tight and tapered at the ends as a home-rolled cigarette.

She breathed quietly, a body ready for disposal, though he might want some rope.

“What’s this?” He tried to tug her loose but her fingers clung to the edge. “You’re making a statement?”

“Not until you do.” Alison’s voice sounded muffled to her.

“I have to go first?”

“Now, later, whenever you want.” Even through layers of blanket, her voice reached right through him. “But yeah, Sean, you talk first.”


Bosco said...

This is great, Kathleen! So evocative, in so few words. And so unusual..."All he needed was some rope." I'm reading Patricia Highsmith right now, and this reminded me a bit of her.

kathleenmaher said...

Bosco, Thanks. It's awfully rare when anyone comments on my fiction. It's altogether historic if my blog provokes eight remarks, and four of those are mine.

The rope indicated how she felt more than a genuine fear (for me.) Your reading is equally valid, though. That's why I'm always saying--and saying--that fiction needs readers to complete the work.

Swubird said...


This was interesting. It definitely made me want to turn the page, although I was a little worried. Tension builds very slowly. Well written - a real grabber.

Have a nice day.

Paul Burman said...

'that fiction needs readers to complete the work.'

So very true, but how well you express it. I imagine I'll be using that in a forthcoming Literature class!

I enjoyed 'His Other Wife' too. Thanks

kathleenmaher said...

Paul and swubird (even if you thought I was Mike):
Truly, thanks for commenting. I take my little theory about needing readers seriously.
Any art requires an educated audience. And if it's art at all, good, bad, medium rare, it must include those judging it.
A teacher might want to examine the relationship at length, Paul.

Swubird said...


My ever so humble apology. If you ever stop by my site, please feel free to call me anything that comes into your mind.

I did like your post.

Have a very nice day.

Mike French said...

Kathleen - you managed to open the top of my head yesterday and drop in your little story; it walked around all morning prodding my mind with the power of the scene.

Well written as well - I love an author/writer/ (er ... well see the last post) who can master the rhythum and tone of the prose.

Julian Barnes says of writing

"don't do it unless you love language and narrative and form"

you tick all 3 boxes Kathleen!

Stella said...

I really liked how you made a distinction between the different types of memories as part of the characterization. And I also liked the minimal but pinpointed descriptions.

Patiently awaiting the next installment!

kathleenmaher said...

swubird, I should have added that being mistaken for Mike was a compliment. Was my writing really so crisp, almost sharp-edged, that it read like Mike French's? Two, more general but still issue: did I toss off a little domestic scene that read as if a man wrote it, even though my point of view was primarily the wife's?
Mike: Thanks so much. That goes far beyond inviting the reader's participation--the idea that the piece will play in someone's head like a musical hook. My favorite writers do it to me often, though. I think I'd recognize the threesome in Julian Barnes' "Talking It Over" and again in "Love, Ect." anywhere. And thank you, Stella. No next installment here, however. I write serials on my blog. I'm going for random snapshots here, showing enough character, mood, and situation to suggest a story outline. Laying it out reminded me of Mike's communal stories, where writers add 250 words or so.