By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: The smell of home cooking made his mouth water.
Kyle parked his car and turned off the engine but didn’t get out. Not right away. Instead, he adjusted his sunglasses and tried to look casual. Just a guy sitting in the lot of a public park after a day of work. Nothing to see here.
He’d spotted the park adjacent to the residential neighborhood on his first night in town. That night he couldn’t get away from the conference for his customary walk; the welcome dinner and drinks afterward went longer than usual. After a second day of engaging with other business professionals, he needed to stretch his legs and let his brain run around a bit.
Two children pumped their legs on the swings. Kyle watched them for a few minutes. Their shrieks of delight came to him through the glass of the car at a muted level. It reminded him of being home.
“Push harder, Daddy!”
“If I push any harder, you’re gonna go flying into the sky.”
“Then I’ll be a bird! Come on!”
He swallowed hard and got out of the car. After making sure he’d pressed the right button on the key fob to lock the rental, he turned away from the park. His kids were no longer young enough to be pushed on swings. They were no longer young enough to want him around much at all.
With a shake of his head, as if he could knock the intense longing for his children loose, he turned and set off for the neighborhood.
Sunlight slanted toward him. His most favorite time of day. In the late fall and early winter months, sometimes he’d spot families through windows sitting down to meals or trotting through their houses to whatever kept them busy late into the date. Deep winter was the worst. Most people kept their blinds and shutters closed to protect against the cold. Still Kyle walked.
It only took five houses for him to catch the first whiff this time. He didn’t know what he smelled, but its aroma drew him to the dark blue house with the white shutters. He stopped on the sidewalk and took out his cell phone. Muting the sound, he put it to his ear and angled his head down a little. Anyone who looked out of the house would think he’d stopped to take a call. Just a regular guy, out for a walk, pausing for a moment to answer a question.
The smell of home cooking made his mouth water, and behind the sunglasses he closed his eyes tight.
“I’m done, Kyle. I’m done with all of it. With you and this crappy life.”
“I saw the credit card statements, Claire. I saw the hotel charges. What’s his name?”
“What do you care? You’re not around enough to pay attention to me. Why would you pay attention to this?”
“I’m working every single day for us, Claire! For us!”
“Right. Sure.” A scoff. “Do you honestly expect me to believe that you travel all these weeks in the year and you don’t go out and get some for yourself?”
Even now, a year later, the memory of the words still made his chest so tight he had to cough to get his breath back. Despite how Claire wanted to justify her own affairs, he had remained faithful. He was kind of old fashioned that way. You make a promise, you keep it. On his wedding day, he’d made a whole list of them and kept every single one.
Years earlier she’d been so proud when he got the promotion. Senior vice president of the division of one of the largest investment firms in the country. At the time, when the company had thrown a party to celebrate, Claire had sidled up to him and pressed herself against his arm. She’d whispered flirty things in his ear as flashbulbs caught them grinning at one another and the other party goers. For months afterward, when they looked at the pictures, they would share a laugh.
The new position came with plenty of perks, which Claire pounced on. It also came with a desk full of extra responsibilities: longer meetings. Training junior members of the team. Reaching out in international efforts. And more travel.
She’d been fine with it—at least, she said so—for the first two years. It wasn’t until the third year that her smile got tighter. By the end of year four, their conversations consisted of necessary information only. In the middle of year five, when he couldn’t deny anymore what the mysterious charges on their platinum Visa meant, he confronted her. And she’d thrown it right back in his face.
For the sake of the kids, he kept the divorce simple and straightforward. In truth, a part of him still loved Claire. Not the Claire who’d cheated on him, but the Claire he’d married. He didn’t know the woman sitting across from him at the final divorce proceedings.
After, he increased his travel and found it helped. He missed the kids but not much else from his old life. Except one thing: homecooked meals. On every trip he took now, he walked the sidewalks of residential areas hoping that putting enough miles on his shoes would help him move away from the words Claire had flung at him with such callousness.
His eyes stung, and it surprised him. Normally Kyle didn’t let his emotions get the better of him like this. He opened his eyes, put his phone back in his pocket, and went back to the car. His suite at the hotel had a huge desk. Plenty of space to spread out the files he’d brought with him and still have room left over for the room service he’d order.