The woman I met that night at the bar later became my wife. Then a little over a year ago my ex-
wife. That night we were drinking on the patio and she asked to bum a cigarette. She stayed after
I lit it. You couldn’t smoke indoors. This was July. Heat sticking around after sunset. The moon
was out. Our faces shimmered blue with a thin film of sweat.
We hadn’t talked long before she asked about family. If I had siblings.
“Yes,” I said. “For a brief time I had been a brother.” I added, “He died when I was
young. He was younger.”
In most cases I would have just said No. I wanted this woman’s sympathy.
And it was there. Jesus, her face.
I figured she might have one of two reactions I’d grown used to: Either she would give an
awkward apology or just stand there, silent and uncomfortable.
Kristen had neither of those reactions. I liked her instantly.
She took a drag and exhaled from the corner of her mouth, fanned the smoke away.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She held eye contact with me. “That’s horrible.”
“It was,” I said. “I mean it is.”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” she said, “what happened?”
Here’s where I set us up for failure. I lied.
“There was this fire,” I said.
I left out everything. How I was with him in that old, rundown shed. How he’d been the
one to find the lighter fluid. How I’d been the one to strike the match.
It made for a very short story.
One night years later after Kristen and I were married, we were arguing. I don’t
remember what we were arguing about. By this point we argued a lot. She said she didn’t want to hurt all the time. “Hurt?” I said. “You don’t know what it means to really hurt.” The truth about
my brother’s death came flying out of my mouth. Kristen looked at the ground for a few seconds.
“That’s awful,” she said. “But what’s more awful is at this point I don’t care. I might have cared
back then. But then again, I might not have come home with you in the first place had I known
you were carrying around all this baggage.”
All of this—the bar, my marriage, the divorce—seems like a lifetime ago. Kristen and I
haven’t spoken since we split. I don’t go out much anymore. Sometimes though, my friends
think it’ll do me some good to go out. To get out, is what they mean. Like last Friday my buddy
Rod got me out. We went to Vorshay’s and it was packed. When it was my turn to buy a round, I
squeezed myself up against the bar. I stood next to a woman while I waited for one of the
bartenders to notice me. The woman’s drink was empty, except for two ice cubes resting at the
bottom. She brought her glass to her lips and tapped the bottom. The cubes slid into her mouth
and she crunched them down with quick, little bites.
“God, I know,” she said. “It’s horrible for your teeth.”
She smiled. I told her she had a good smile.
We got to talking. She seemed nice. Her name was Devon.
At one point she asked if I was married. The thought crossed my mind to tell her that I
I was out. I was in a good mood. I wasn’t looking for sympathy. So at the cost of honesty,
I thought it best to keep things simple.
I told her, “No.” I said, “Never.”
She smiled again. Jesus, I thought. That smile.
She asked what I was drinking.
Nicholas Claro is an MFA candidate in fiction at WSU and currently serves on the editorial board of Nimrod International Journal as a fiction reader. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Boudin (The McNeese Review online), X-R-A-Y, and others. His short story “A Few Things Before Coffee” was an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s 2018 Very Short Fiction contest.