Onward, to the Earth’s Core!

Steve Gergley

 

The only thing Chris remembered about his old field goal kicker, Mike Jameson, was that he used to wear two button-up Hawaiian shirts at the same time. One right over the other. The outside one he’d always leave open, like you see guys at the beach wearing, but instead of a t-shirt or a muscle shirt underneath, he’d always have the second Hawaiian shirt there, this one buttoned up. That was back in high school. Before today Chris hadn’t seen or thought about Mike Jameson in at least ten years, but then Jan came home from the supermarket and told him she saw Mike Jameson in the snack aisle, dumping hundreds of PowerBars into his cart. Apparently he needed them for the journey he was about to go on, a journey he just had to tell her all about. It worried Chris that she was talking about this instead of why it’d taken her almost two hours to drive five minutes to Value King and pick up a few groceries, but he didn’t say anything about that. He was trying his best to rebuild trust, exercise patience, and let go of resentments, just like Dr. Silverman had said.

“That was the exact word he used, journey,” Jan said as she fluttered around the kitchen, putting the groceries away. Her gold-brown hair looked a little frizzed and flat, and her face and neck glowed with that warm flush of blood she used to get years ago after sex, back when the earth seemed to shift each time they touched each other, back before she started getting it from her boss over at Topine Dental, the soft spoken, kid-loving giant, Dr. Fred. From here she tugged open the fridge with a squeak of sucking air and slid a container of cherry tomatoes inside. “It’s actually kind of interesting when you think about it, trying to dig to the center of the earth with hand tools. It’s silly and impossible in reality, but as performance art, it’s actually pretty . . . inspiring.”

“I guess,” Chris said with a shrug, his eyes moving on their own, searching Jan’s person for some clue or subconscious tell that would reveal whether or not she’d started fucking Dr. Fred again, or worse, Mike Jameson. “So what kind of PowerBars did he get,” he asked, testing her, no longer trying to convince himself he was doing anything else. After admitting to the affair three months ago, Jan had signed the two of them up for couples therapy with Dr. Rachel Silverman. Around that time Chris started reading about interrogation techniques online during his lunch breaks at the bank. That way, he was able to turn the whole thing into a game. At least that was something he knew how to deal with, like being down by three in the fourth quarter with two minutes to play. In those games all he had to do was get the ball to the fifteen yard line and let Jameson do the rest. In this one he just needed to nail down specific details, take note of the answer, and then ask the question again later, in a different way. Consistency, repetition, internal logic. By playing this game he could pretend his wife’s affair was something that had nothing to do with him, just like he used to do with the numbers on the scoreboard ten years ago, under the lights on Friday nights.

With the groceries put away, Jan turned to the sink and started washing her hands, the water crashing from the faucet as a cylinder of white fuzz. Then she turned her head away from the noise and answered his question at last.

“Chocolate. Only chocolate. He said that cookies and cream has always been his favorite kind, but apparently that’s just a fringe flavor that Value King doesn’t carry in bulk, like they do the chocolate.”

Chris nodded, absorbing the important bits of information from her answer. Got chocolate. Cookies and cream his favorite. Fringe flavor not carried in bulk. All good bits to be shuffled and reused later.

Now she showed him her back and tore a single sheet off the roll of paper towels standing beside the sink. Always a single sheet, never more. Precision, a trait valued by both his wife and the dental profession at large, was a skill he never possessed as a quarterback. Size and arm strength were the only assets he brought into the huddle, genetic gifts from his parents he never had to earn. Watching her there he realized that this is what you learn when you start paying attention to the edges of the picture, to the little nuggets of information that dance along the fringes of life, to the small things that expose the truth of the stories we tell each other.

From here Chris studied the suspension-bridge outline of Jan’s bra pressing through the back of her shirt, but it wasn’t hooked right. The top clasp was joined to the bottom hook.

Moments later Jan spun around and pressed her toes to the foot pedal of the garbage can. Slowly the steel eyelid opened, and in went the damp paper towel. A water-soft rectangle folded neatly in half.

“He’s live streaming the whole thing on YouTube starting at five tonight. Since it’s my day off, I thought we could check it out. Should be pretty interesting, to see how far he actually gets.”

“Yeah,” he said, his mind making calculations, trying to figure out the logistics of how and when she might have started fucking Mike Jameson. “Can’t wait to see all the confused people commenting about his mountain of peanut butter PowerBars.”

Jan squeezed his shoulder playfully as she glided past, the earthy musk of her summer sweat blurring the thoughts in his head.

“It’s chocolate, babe, but nice try. Peanut butter’s just a fringe flavor that Value King doesn’t carry in bulk, remember?”

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Steve Gergley is a writer and runner based in Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in A-Minor, After the Pause, Barren Magazine, Maudlin House, Pithead Chapel, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music.