Just the three of us: me and the clock and the hum of the damned refrigerator. I can feel that morning static building all around me, the pressure of imminent dawn splitting atoms of blackness. At this point, it's not even worth going to bed. I can't run on three hours of sleep. I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway.

I'm smoking, and I don't smoke. The street outside looks faked, the yellow pools of streetlight surreal without cars to make waves. My table is as empty as it was a second ago. I'm tempted to get up for coffee, beer, top ramen, something to let my wringing hands loose upon besides each other. But I've been saying that all night.

He's the only one who would call here at 1am. Cursing his name, I stumbled, hostile, to the phone just before the machine could catch it. I wasn't expecting her voice, the same I'd had my number blocked to avoid. Married men are every bit the trouble they're cracked up to be.

He started out fine and fascinating. Not this one, I told myself. This one's different. This one, when he's says they're splitting up, means that the garage she never visits him in has been surreptitiously packed up, that he won't miss interrupting her in her sewing nook. But they're never as close to yours as you think, when they have another set of arms to fall back into.

It was never that Nabokov-tacky stereotype, just accidental. It built over the course of a sales counter in a chain bookstore revised a hundred times. Initially, the menial labour was endearing, in an innocent, boy down the block cum slacker savant way. I'd never have guessed he did it to feed other mouths, or that he split his off-hours between two other jobs.

You can make so many excuses in light of desperation. People with adject terror in their eyes seem to have more depth. The lower classes seem to have secrets about jug wine poetry and empty belly beauty that can only be experienced vicariously, unless one is willing to hike up one's petticoats and slum it with them.

She didn't have the voice of the hyper-domestic Jerry Springer tragedy I'd pictured. For a moment, our silence was a battle, a quantification of respective emotional strength (though she'd had all day to deal with it). Then it was a private obmutescence, and we recovered to find each other still there with grudging empathy.

"I just wish it hadn't been today," she sighed, words rubbed all raw, like a housewife stepped out on the porch in curlers for the morning paper.

There was nothing I could say to that. It wasn't my place. And I had to admit I didn't know. I didn't have to raise kids alone or maintain a mortgage with a welfare check.

"Anyway," she sounded tired. "I thought you should know, regardless of.. what you were to him."

"How," in fear, I choked on the beginning, "How did you find out? About me."

"Oh, I've known for months."

"Why didn't you call before now, put a stop to it?"

"It wasn't working out. And I just didn't have the energy to be angry. He's done it before.

"Some things about people never change, you know? Love isn't about fixing people."

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