Fiction: Listen To Me

“I swear the subway knows you’re in a rush. ‘Sensors have detected harried passenger. Activate broken train signal.’” Jennifer dropped her coat on the chair, then glanced at the monitors, the I.V. drip, the half-full urine bag. Then she kissed her father’s unshaven head. “What happened to his earring?”

“If you’d been here every day,” Kara said, “you’d know the nurses took it out weeks ago.”

Peter hoped this wouldn’t become another fight. He’d seen too many from his hospital bed.

“Mom texted me earlier.” Kara contained her anger. “She’ll be late.”

Peter cleared his throat. The deep, raspy sound seemed to draw his daughters’ attention. This would be the only time he could tell them, before their mother came, before — god forbid — it happened again, here in the hospital.

“Jen. Kara. Listen. I have something to tell you.” He watched their faces, making sure he still had their attention. “I know this is coming from left field. And no. I’m not a Soviet spy.” Peter tried to smile. “Remember the stories Mom told you, about when we were first dating, about that Columbian girl I was going out with at the same time I was going with your Mom? Remember Mom said I broke it off with that girl before we were married?” He stopped, took in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. “That’s true, kinda.”

They looked at their smartphones. Peter thought they were shielding themselves from what might be coming next.

“When I was teaching at Queens College, I saw her again. She walked into one of those big lectures I did in the summers. At the end she came to the podium to introduce herself. I knew exactly who she was, even though it had been over thirty years.

“She was auditing the course. No grade. Thank god. Talk about a conflict of interest. Anyway, we met a few times outside of the class, at the cafeteria. Public place. Safe.

Peter wondered if he should continue. Jennifer and Kara looked at him. He sensed they were torn, unsure if listening was tantamount to condoning. But it gnawed inside. He had to get it out.

“The last day of class was a scorcher. I think it hit 90 degrees. I didn’t expect her to be at that class. After I got the last of the exam booklets, I headed to my office. I had a week to grade them but I figured, why wait, do it now. I left the door open. Guess who walked in.

They kept glancing at their phones. He kept talking.

“You don’t need the details. It happened. More than once.” Peter expected the lecture. Men think they can do whatever the hell they want and women will always forgive them. He’d heard it many times. Thankfully, they spared him. In fact, they were silent, which was worse.

“She was here, early this morning. She must have called the department, wondering why a substitute was teaching my courses. They must have told her where I was. When she walked in, I tried to tell her not to visit again.

Jennifer looked up from her phone, stared at her father’s face, softly touched his head, and felt beads of sweat.

Peter’s eyes began to water. “If she shows up again, you need to stop her, because if your Mom recognizes her, nearly forty years of marriage will be shattered.” His lips quivered. “I thought the truth would set me free. That’s bullshit. I’m terrified that the truth will walk through that door.”

“Kara, did you notice his face?” Jennifer said. “It’s so expressive, as if he’s been telling us a story.”

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