Looking through the glass with his face pressed against the window, fog rising from his whiskered top lip he could barely make out what he was watching. The rain was thick, the head of the window insufficient to keep the drops off the visor of his cap, and however desperately he wanted to use the cuff of his sleeve to wipe the water away, he thought he had better not. It was cold. What had been promised, spring eternal, had fallen short this season. The weather off the water would not relent and the deep cold Gulf of Maine, blew across the dooryards of the village keeping June in its wake.
It was late and again, he had not called home. He expected a cold reception, supper would have been put away, and slippers on her her feet. That’s why he did it. That’s why he stopped outside of the house to look inside. He told himself that if he had an idea of where she was or what she was doing he would find a way to slip in, quietly, without too much kerfuffle. He hated to rock that boat. That warm light in the kitchen confused him. It was her custom to keep the lights low in the evening, like an opium den he often complained, but tonight the lights were on. She was standing with her back to him at the sink laughing and holding a glass of wine, but she was not the focus of his attention. He was looking past her at the man leaning on the counter.
They were drinking wine in his kitchen well past dark. There were no pots on the stove, no plates on the table, the dog and the children were settled in, and the lights all over the house were on and bright. He backed away from the window and watched the figures through the speckling of drops that stuck to the glass. Crossing his arms at his chest he waited. What was this? He raised his right hand to his mouth, his elbow still tucked in tight, and wiped the coarseness of his chin grabbing at the tops of his cheeks. A deep breath gathered in his lungs and coughed twice before taking his first step toward the front door. He pulled out the mass of jingling keys only to find a sliver of light, the door a jar, and he placed his hand on the knob. He pushed the door open and clopped in stamping his feet on the rug.
He half expected that she would be startled by his presence, maybe even shocked to be found, but as she turned to him he recognized that smile and it was him who was startled. The man in his kitchen was no one he knew and he seemed out of place in this part of Maine. Dressed for the weather, but clean from head to toe and relaxed- relaxed drinking wine in his kitchen.
“Hi. ” she said her voice loosing some of the charm he had noticed from the dooryard. “I didn’t make any supper tonight, sorry. There are some leftovers in the fridge. We have some red sauce and I can boil some water for pasta. This is John, he’s from my yoga class. My car was acting up and he offered to follow me home.” She looked over at the man and started to remember herself. “He asked to use the bathroom and noticed my wine collection when he was walking through the living room.”
John was standing the same way that the man had been standing while peering through the glass into his own kitchen, his arms crossed, but in his right hand there was a glass he was holding close to his lips. John said nothing to the man when he walked into the house, instead he stood there looking at the man’s wife with a glinted smile around his worn eyes. When his mouth opened what John said nearly floored the man. It was because he could hear the glee in John’s words and it made his stomach turn, “We were just playing,” John said looking to the man’s wife. ” I had the same bottle of wine in my car that you had in your cabinet here and I couldn’t help but noticing that. It seemed impossible not to open it.”
“Impossible not to open it? What does that mean?” the man stammered. “Playing? Playing at what?” He felt his head crook back on his shoulders and his neck thickened. John spoke without a moment to spare. The man could feel heat welling up in his throat.
“Please, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing going on here that you don’t see. Your wife explained to me that the bottles in the cabinet are bottles that she has been collecting and I just thought it uncanny that I had picked up the same bottle before yoga tonight. I couldn’t help myself. Your wife is a funny woman. I’ve never had a chance to speak with her before tonight and we got carried away laughing. She is really playful, before tonight I thought she was a klutzy mess, but its not that. She just rushes around.” John looked over at the man’s wife who by now, was rustling through pots and blushed at hearing John’s words. “Here,” he said to her, “let me help you.”
Playful was not a word the man would have associated with his wife. She was a buzz kill. Chatty, always on the go, an organizer, she joined every cause she could find, and she was a good mother. She did everything she was suppose to do and hardly complained. That wine collection was always an enigma to him. He didn’t drink wine and she didn’t have the time to- SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, the sound of the water from the faucet filling the pot filled the room and his thoughts returned to his empty stomach. Over the sound of the whirring of the water he could still hear those smiles and that began to bug him. He walked through the house to disrobe before he ate, he was annoyed that his wife had interrupted his evening with this stranger and he could not wait until he was gone. He closed the door to the bathroom firmly making sure not to slam it, but also making sure it was heard as a formal protest to the night.
In the kitchen, his wife told this stranger that he should go. She thanked him for his aid, for his kindness in following her home, and most especially for sharing his wine and laughter with her. She put the glasses in the sink and walked him to the door. He smiled widely as he walked out the door into the night that had now assembled into a curtain of mist. He put his hands in his pockets and turned to her. He stood there on the stones. “Playful.” he said as he turned away and off into the night, the fog enveloped his likeness and then he was gone.
When the man returned to the kitchen the lights were low except for the light that came from the fire on the stove. His wife stood there with her back to him.