Gary Carter – The Joke

I watch the excruciating pain open up her face like a raw, heaving wound. Tears were already running down her blotched cheeks, but this shape-shifting turns a woman I have known for almost twenty years into a repulsive beast that I barely recognize. She weaves her fingers through her hair, uncombed and damp, and yanks on it so hard I expect clumps to pull free.

“I’ve known for about six months he was having an affair,” she says, her voice ragged, her pale blue eyes locking mine. “I thought I could deal with it, that it would just run its course, go away and leave us alone.”

I remain silent, waiting on her.

Her eyes slide sideways, and she says, “I didn’t even care who it was, that doesn’t matter. Whoever she is, she was just someone for him to stick his dick in. That’s what I knew, and that’s what I knew he would say when I finally couldn’t stand it any longer.”

“Is that what he said?” I ask, noticing the sweat staining her shirt.

She chokes a half-laugh, half-sob. “That’s exactly what the bastard did, not even capable of a good lie.”

“So you did confront him.”.

The return of her eyes, now suddenly dry and hard, makes me uncomfortable, a little afraid.

“Yes, finally, early this morning, before dawn, I slapped his face while he was asleep, scared the shit out of him. Jumped on top of him, grabbed handfuls of his precious hair and told him I would yank it out by the roots if he didn’t tell me the truth. And, of course, he couldn’t get it out fast enough, all about what a mistake it was, how he didn’t know how he let it happen, how this woman had come after him, chased him, and he’d liked it. How once it started, he didn’t really like it or her, but she wouldn’t let him stop, threatened to make an anonymous call, let me in on the fun. He was scared of her, he says, thought she was crazy.”

She’s panting harshly when she stops, her skin even redder. My cell phone dances around again on the counter, but I ignore it. I’m not sure what to say, what she wants or needs me to say.

Then she laughs. “He says it’s over, that the joke’s on her or is gonna be on her, that he’s getting away from her. That he wants me to give him another chance.”

“Are you?”

She becomes very still. Then she laughs again, louder and harder. “You know, I had thought about it, but just now I realized that I don’t want him any more, can’t trust him, don’t need him. Fuck him. Let the other bitch have him.”

She rocks up quickly, knocking her chair over in the process. “Yeah, fuck him,” she says. “I’ve got better things to do.”

Before I can say anything else or stop her, she lurches through the back door, leaving me sitting at the kitchen table wondering what just happened. I stub out my cigarette, swirl my now-cold coffee. Reaching over, I pick up my phone and check the calls missed. One is from my husband; the other is from him. And a text that says: Joke’s on you.

And then my own raw, heaving wound festers and bleeds.