top of page
Jill stunned Mike with that after a month of meeting a couple of times a week at the Barkley Motor Lodge off Highway 71. The words had pierced him like bullets, and for the longest time he lay in bed, silent, immobile.
Finally when she asked him what was wrong, he just kept repeating, “You’re married. You’re married.”
She stared at him and shrugged.
“Why didn’t you mention this earlier?” he asked. “And why tell me now?”
All she said was, “I thought you should know.”
Moments later he sat up and the sheet slid down. Jill’s breasts seemed like a second pair of eyes, almost accusing him. But of what? She reached over and grasped his hand and told him that her husband was in the hospital, he’d been there for weeks. “He won’t be coming home,” she said.
Mike got it. A terminal case. So it didn’t matter. At least that must have been how she saw it. But she didn’t seem to get how he was reacting, abruptly quiet and distant, having lost the vigor and enthusiasm he’d demonstrated in bed only minutes earlier. Avoiding her eyes, he blurted out that he’d forgotten about an important office meeting and needed to get back. She didn’t question him, thank God, since he didn’t have a story ready about the fictional meeting. She just said, as they dressed hurriedly, that she had Friday and this weekend free. They could meet and be together for three whole days. He lied again and told her he needed to check with his ex-wife. He couldn’t remember if this was his weekend to take the girls, though he’d had them last weekend.
All the way home he brooded over her revelation. He kept wondering what had prompted it and why she had brought it up in the middle of lovemaking. Had she experienced a sudden rush of guilt about cheating on her husband? Had she in fact been thinking of him the whole time they’d been together? Maybe it was her way of breaking things off with him.
He remembered when they had first met during happy hour at O’Hara’s. No wedding ring. He had checked. He’d been divorced more than a year before taking his off. Once he had stepped back into the dating arena he’d always been careful about the women he approached. No one from the office. None of those college coeds who hung out at O’Hara’s. And never, never anyone married. He’d always been faithful to Marsha during their marriage, not once straying. He didn’t like the idea of suddenly being an adulterer. He felt guilty enough about the divorce and what he imagined it was doing to his daughters.
He began wondering about Jill’s husband and his illness. Did he have cancer? Heart disease? It could have been almost anything. In his mind he saw the guy as a patient man, someone basically honorable and trustworthy. A regular Joe. So Mike began thinking of him as Joe. He imagined Joe as having a long history of health problems and maybe Jill had gotten fed up with this. An extended hospital stay would offer her the perfect opportunity to spread her wings. But what if Joe wasn’t a terminal patient after all? She had lied about being married. She might have lied about the man’s condition as well. What if he was just undergoing tests for something complicated but an ailment that could be treated and cured?
Clearly Jill was the one who couldn’t be trusted. Who was to say that she hadn’t been meeting other men all along, even during her affair with Mike? She could have had a whole string of lovers. Hadn’t she once mistakenly called him Mark?
He began to consider following her after their next rendezvous. He’d trail her to the hospital and discover in which wing Joe was dying, or if he was dying at all. He might even go undercover. Mike pictured himself snatching a clean hospital gown and pretending to be just another patient, settling into the hospital routine, shuffling the halls while clenching one of those mobile patient monitors, maybe an oxygen tube puffing under his nose. He and Joe might even meet. They’d have coffee or get together in Joe’s room to play cards or watch Wheel of Fortune. They’d discover common interests, talk about favorite baseball teams and players. He grew to like the idea of becoming a kind of phantom patient, convincing the nursing staff that he belonged there, adjusting to the hospital food, the omnipresent chiming of medical technology, the acrid odor of sterility, and the emptiness of days on end, broken only by a code blue as modern medicine fumbled with mortality.
Maybe a room eventually would open up for him and he could relax in his own hospital bed. One day he might even be there resting when Joe popped in. Wearing street clothes, Joe would smile and announce he’d been officially discharged and just wanted to say goodbye. Beside him a woman would be grasping his arm and he would say, “Hey, Jill, I want you to meet my good friend Mike.”
Jerry Jerman lives and writes in Norman, Oklahoma. His fiction has appeared in Prairie Schooner, 50-Word Stories, 101-words, Ariel Chart, Flash Fiction Magazine, and (forthcoming) Blue Lake Review and his nonfiction in Oklahoma Humanities and other periodicals.
bottom of page