Tanya spent many of her Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market. These hours were meant to be her “alone time,” away from constant responsibilities, but more often than not, she still had shit to knock off her list. The market was better than the grocery store, outside, more alive, more like an event than a chore.
She lifted her tote bag to test the weight, and thought she didn’t need anything else. But a basket of bell peppers caught her eye. The colors and curves were alluring, magazine-glossy. She walked over to them and clipped her shoulder against a man as he stood up and turned after kneeling to place an empty basket underneath the folding table.
“I’m so sorry,” Tanya said, instinctively touching his forearm as he turned.
“It’s alr—holy shit, Tanya?”
It took her a few seconds to recognize him.
He lifted his ballcap back on his head and wiped sweat from his brow onto the back of his hand. He stood up straight and hooked his other arm around her shoulder for a hug.
“How long has it been?”
“Seven years,” she said.
Graham smiled the same smile she didn’t know she remembered.
“That was quick. Did you miss me?”
“I’m just good at math.”
“Always have been.”
They’d been seatmates in high school calculus by virtue of their close last names. Most of the time, Tanya listened to the lessons in earnest while Graham made quiet snorts and animal noises, trying to get her to laugh. They shared exaggerated weekend plans while they took out their books and notebooks on Friday mornings. But they both noticed their mutual, lingering eye contact, the smiles, the glances as their teacher scribbled properties on the overhead projector.
Graham’s girlfriend at the time was fantastically jealous, so their “friendship” was limited to the classroom, eye contact in the hallways.
They had each other’s home phone numbers, exchanged early in the school year, the teacher’s insistence that the students had someone to call for help and misplaced homework assignments. Tanya’s father knocked on her door one evening in late spring.
She took the phone from the kitchen into the bathroom.
“Tanya, I’m drunk. Just gotta let you know upfront.”
“Are you okay?”
“I wish I was single.”
“Should’ve asked you out right away. Coulda woulda shoulda.”
The line went dead.
She resisted the temptation to call him back over the weekend, to talk to him sober, to see if his drunken proclamation was true. Instead, she played the brief exchange over and over in her head, and sat nervously in her seat Monday morning, waiting for him to appear.
He yawned as he sat down, and playfully punched her arm.
“Shit. If being hungover was a superpower, I’d be fightin’ crime.”
“You called me Friday night.”
He stared at his desk.
“I know. I know.”
“I’m sorry, Tanya. I fucked up.”
The teacher walked in and told everyone to settle down. As he talked about the upcoming final exam, Graham reached and squeezed Tanya’s hand.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered again.
She pulled her hand away and focused on the blackboard, deeply engaged in the numbers to keep herself from crying.
A couple weeks later, they hugged during graduation, made halfhearted assurances they’d keep in touch, then didn’t see each other again. He joined the Navy, shipping off to Great Lakes and then San Diego; she earned an Associate’s Degree right before she was pregnant and married.
“How long have you been farming?” she asked.
He quietly looked around the tables, as if the answer was among the remaining okra, beets, and tomatoes.
“Oh this ain’t mine. Just helping out my cousin here and there. He’s the regular Farmer Brown.”
She gripped the strap of her tote bag and shifted it back. “Are you still in the Navy?”
He laughed. “Oh no, ma’am. Did my time, didn’t want to stay soggy. I’m all over the place now. Odd jobs and shit. Should be getting my plumber’s license soon.”
He certainly looked the part of someone who worked with his hands, in the outdoors. His cap was well-loved and gray with years of sweat. His forearms were bronzed. The scruff on his face, though not long, but wasn’t trimmed or well-kempt—an afterthought.
He tapped her wedding ring.
“Congratulations. How long you been hitched?”
“Always struck me as the kind of girl.”
She frowned and shook her head. “What the hell does that mean?”
His eyes went wide. He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Don’t mean a thing. You remember me. Don’t always say what I mean.”
“Ain’t that the fucking truth.”
Someone waved to him from the hatch of a nearby van.
“Damn, we need to start breaking things up. Here.” He pulled his wallet out and pressed a damp business card into her palm.
“You need any plumbing help, you call me. I’m cheap because I ain’t certified yet. You don’t work for the state, I hope.”
“Good, good. Imma keep ‘em off my ass as long as I can. Tanya, it was so good to see you.”
They hugged once more.
Tanya walked away, then turned from a distance and watched him load milk crates into the van.
“Did you have fun?”
It was Cal’s default question, whenever she left the house for more than half an hour, and her default response was always “yes.” She set the bag of vegetables on the counter. Maggie bolted toward her and clung to her leg. She hoisted her up.
“What are you wearing, honey?”
Cal smiled. Maggie giggled and stretched her new t-shirt down.
Be Careful Boys. My Daddy Isn’t Afraid of Going to Jail.
Tanya forced a smile.
“Bought it online,” Cal said, rubbing the small of Tanya’s back. “Couldn’t resist.”
She said nothing, and gently set Maggie down, who then ran back to her blocks in the living room.
She knew it was pointless to say anything: she’d tell Cal the shirt was offensive, he’d counter with a half-assed remark about how serious she was all the time, that she couldn’t take a joke. She’d explain how the shirt was an insult to Maggie too. The implication that she’d never have a boyfriend because of her Down Syndrome, not to mention she was only five. But Tanya knew the argument would go nowhere. Despite her husband’s outward jocularity, he was secretly crestfallen that he didn’t have a boy, a normal boy, a child to swing a Little League bat, a depository for his stockpile of dating tips when the boy became a teenager.
When Cal slid his hand along her stomach at night, pressed himself against her and groaned into her ear, she thought about the birth control pills she kept hidden in an old purse in a dusty box in the deepest recess of their closet. Cal desperately wanted another child, but Tanya couldn’t bear the thought, petrified about bringing another child into the fucked up world, about the toll it would take on her. She loved Maggie deeply, but the hours, the stress, the doctor’s appointments, the maze of her daughter’s various medications; adding a newborn to that was out of the question. But she played along with Cal, rubbed his shoulders when she got her period, told him they’d keep trying.
Their Sunday dinner was almost entirely culled from her trip to the farmer’s market. Lettuce and kale, tomatoes, goat cheese, and a slightly overpriced bottle of vinaigrette. She coaxed dripping slices of beets into Maggie’s distrustful mouth while Cal scrolled through baseball scores on his phone. He occasionally glanced up, offering a “there you go” or a “who’s a good sport?” when the girl swallowed down a vegetable.
“What do you have planned this week?” he asked.
As if he didn’t know. Bathtimes, dishes, laundry, shopping. Deleting horribly patronizing “inspirational” Facebook messages from her mother-in-law, messages that implied God chose her to care for Maggie. But this wasn’t what he wanted to hear; he wanted enthusiasm, the constant reassurance his wife wasn’t overwhelmed.
“Who knows? Maybe Caitlin and I will grab lunch this week.”
She hadn’t seen Caitlin in several months, but she was a distant enough friend to use as a conversation piece. The last time they’d met for lunch, Caitlin told her single life stories of late bar nights and different men, while Tanya struggled with Maggie. It had been a sweltering hot day, neither one of them in a particularly good mood, and Caitlin waited with feigned patience as Tanya tried to calm her daughter down, to minimize the pouts and wails, while the other diner patrons made no attempt to avert their eyes of the spectacle. By the time the half-eaten lunch was over, by the time Caitlin lied and said they’d do it again soon, by the time Tanya got Maggie in her carseat and the air conditioning going and the girl fell asleep, she openly wept on her drive home.
Just the memory made her throat catch. Cal pulled Maggie from her chair and took her upstairs for her bath. Tanya cleared and wiped the dishes, loaded the dishwasher, and decided the faint drip of the sink faucet was enough to warrant a call.
The next morning, Maggie sat in front of the television, watching her cartoons, while Cal threw together his lunch, grabbed his keys, tied his work boots. Tanya leaned against the dishwasher and sipped her coffee.
“Have a good day, babe,” he said, kissing the top of her head.
He stepped into the living room and ruffled Maggie’s bedhead.
“You be a good girl, kiddo.”
“Bye bye Daddy bye bye.”
Tanya was always shocked when Cal left, the quiet that filled the house, broken only by the muted cartoon voices on the TV. She reached into her purse and found the business card and her cell.
“Graham, it’s Tanya.”
“Hey again. How are you?”
“I’m good. Not sure if you specialize in annoyances or disasters, but my kitchen faucet is dripping and I don’t want to spend $200 for someone to turn a wrench.”
“Roger. What’s your address? I can be there in the hour.”
She gave it to him. Her heart raced.
By the time he pulled his truck into the driveway, she’d made peace with herself. She met him at the door.
He nodded. “So are we talking a small drip or something bigger?”
She extended her arm. “Come in and see.”
Maggie crouched by the living room threshold.
“Hey there. What’s your name, honey?”
Graham held his hand out. “I’m Graham.”
Maggie gave him her usual greeting, gripping his hand in hers and dangling like he was a vine.
“Honey, baby, don’t pull on Mr. Graham like that.” Tanya rushed over and pried her fingers loose.
Graham laughed. “Please, that’s nothing. My nephews damn near punch me in the face when they see me.”
He walked into the kitchen and set his tool bag on the floor. He stared at the sink with more deep thought than he’d ever shown in calculus, and tried both faucets, testing the pressure. Tanya stood behind him, gripping her hands together.
“Oh, this’ll be easy. I think you just have a loose washer.”
“Do you want some coffee?”
Her hands shook as she poured him a mug. “Black?”
He met her eyes and grinned. “Couldn’t help it. Black is fine.”
He took a sip, set the cup on the counter, and pulled out channel locks and a wrench from the bag. Tanya slipped into the living room and knelt next to Maggie.
“Are you hungry, baby? Do you need to go potty?”
Maggie shook her head from side to side, not taking her eyes off the screen.
“I need you to sit here and be quiet, okay? You can watch as much TV as you want.”
Maggie clapped her hands. Tanya and Cal had mutually agreed to limit her screen time, but Tanya used it as a bargaining chip when Cal wasn’t home. As long as Maggie had her juice and her chair, she’d sit in front of the television all day if she could. Tanya kissed her forehead and went back into the kitchen.
Within minutes, Graham had dismantled the left faucet, tightened it, and had everything back together with barely a trace of dirt on the floor.
Tanya leaned back against the counter.
“Do you still drink like you did in high school?”
He zipped up his tool bag and laughed. “I ain’t afraid of the bottle.”
“Do you still call girls up and play with their emotions?” She winked.
“Why you gotta bring up old shit? And no, I just send text messages now.”
She watched his big fingers gently slide around the bottom of the coffee mug, like he was cradling a baby bird.
“What does your husband do?”
She came forward and kissed him.
She wrapped her arms around his neck.
“I don’t—shit—what about…?”
She felt him, immediately hard against her thigh. She put a finger to his lips.
“Don’t worry. Don’t ask any questions.”
His ballcap fell off his head, into the sink. He hoisted her up onto the counter.
“Jesus Christ, Tanya.”
“Fuck me, Graham.”
“She’s fine. She won’t come in here.”
“Please stop,” she whispered, squeezing her fingers into his shoulders. She reached down, unzipped his pants, and freed him. He put his hands on the cabinets behind her head and gasped as she stroked him, slid her underwear to the side, and pulled him closer.
She shrieked into his mouth, muting a sound that would have echoed throughout the house. Graham kept his eyes open, thrusted, and slipped his hands up her t-shirt.
He obliged. Their mouths served as silencers. Tanya wasn’t particularly loud during sex anyway, but had they been completely alone, she would’ve let loose, put on a show. Instead, she inhaled sharply, in bursts, and came. He wasn’t far behind.
He locked eyes with her and stepped back, pulling up his pants as she slid off the counter, fixing her shirt and underwear. He wanted to say something, to acknowledge what had happened, but she crossed her arms, smiling. He reached behind her and pulled his ballcap from the sink.
“Your faucet is fixed.”
“Thank you. Maybe the toilet chain will need fixing tomorrow.”
She’d often imagined sex with other men, and wondered if she could ever pull it off; not the sex, but the aftermath, the hiding, the smiling, fresh face of nothing amiss when Cal came home. When he walked in the door that night, she braced herself, expecting him to notice, to see a look in her eyes that had never been there before, to feel a change in the atmosphere. Instead, he kissed her once on the mouth, asked how her day was, and sat in his chair in front of the TV. Maggie curled onto his lap. The same sequence as always.
Once Cal left the next morning, she called Graham.
“Are you busy?”
“Well, my aunt has a loose pipe. Gotta drive into Carencro. Not sure how long it’ll take.”
Tanya checked the time on the stove clock. 8:30. “Maggie takes her nap from 2:00 until 3:30. Are you heading to your aunt’s now?”
“Yep, just on my way.”
“Can you come over afterwards?”
Silence. Tanya waited. She sat down at the kitchen table and dug a fingernail into the wood. She heard Graham clear his throat.
“Yeah, I’ll stop by on my way back.”
“Good. Call or text if you’re delayed.”
She hung up. There was too much time. She got up, walked to the living room.
“Maggie, let’s go play on your swing. Let’s get your shoes on.”
The girl loved the small swing set. The morning wasn’t nearly as humid as it had been lately. Tanya pushed, the chains on the swing creaked like a drawing bridge, and Maggie squealed in pure delight, higher and higher, almost coughing in laughter, and Tanya couldn’t help but laugh along with her.
“Momma I fly, Momma I fly!”
They went back inside. Tanya poured her a bowl of dry Cheerios. She agreed to one hour of television. The clock ticked toward 2:00.
She gave Maggie a bath, made the rubber duck bounce on the surface with dramatic quackings. Maggie splashed the bubbles and clapped her hands. Tanya kissed her forehead.
“I love you, baby girl.”
“I love Momma.”
The fresh air, the swinging, the food, the television, the bath, and now the clean clothes. Maggie’s head drooped as Tanya picked her up and placed her in bed. She turned on the fan. Maggie was fast asleep.
Tanya ran into her bedroom. She put on another coat of deodorant and popped a couple Altoids. She almost jumped at the soft knock at the front door.
Graham kissed her first, just as the door closed.
“Upstairs,” she said.
At the foot of the bed, she pushed him onto his back and climbed on top of him, kissing his neck. He slid his hands onto her ass as she unbuttoned his work shirt, kissing down his chest to his stomach. She straddled him, pulling her tank top up and off as he reached up her skirt.
They lasted longer than the previous morning. Once they’d both come, Tanya, flushed and sweaty, collapsed to his side. He stared at the ceiling fan.
“Can we talk, Tanya?”
“What’s the deal?”
She propped herself up next to him.
“We just fucked. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“I mean, what, is this going to be an everyday thing?”
“It can be. Or almost everyday, if you want to be realistic.”
He pointed toward the door. “Lots of stuff outside there.”
“You let me worry about everything.”
“Graham. No questions. I don’t want to hear his name. We can talk about news or the weather. If you’re having a guilt trip, we’ll stop. If you want to keep doing this, you promise me you won’t ask any questions about my life right now.”
He stared at her.
“So I just come in, then go out.”
“I like you,” she said. “But we need to keep this simple.”
“I get it.”
She ran her fingernails up and down his chest and kissed him slowly. She wanted nothing more than for their sessions to be isolated moments. No past, just the present, and she didn’t want to contend with the future. Her own frankness shocked her, but the last thing she needed was for Graham to get in touch with his teenage self, to think he had another chance to atone, to walk in one day and suggest they run away together.
Their third time wasn’t until the following week. Cal took an unexpected three-day weekend. Graham had other farmer’s market set-ups in Lafayette and Breaux Bridge. She went to her Saturday market, knowing he wouldn’t be there, but still hoped, constantly looking for the familiar ballcap and forearms.
Tanya felt the creep of logistics and reality as she waited for Monday. Which one of them would give in to boredom, conscience, or the fatal suggestion of their trysts being something more? Her own insistence on simplicity, her worries about Graham’s wants beyond sex; these were the ideas she had herself, the scary truths she simply had to keep at bay. The thoughts wouldn’t leave her head as Cal left for work on Monday, and when Graham wrapped his hands around her waist, pulling her up for a kiss as soon as he walked inside the house.
Deep down, Tanya felt pathetic that being on top was her current definition of a wild new position, same as the last time, but, with her hands on Graham’s chest, his eyes almost in an angry glare, her pushing onto him, it felt astonishing, daring, and just plain dirty. She couldn’t remember the last time she and Cal had fucked in the daylight, either.
She pulled herself off him and rolled onto her side of the bed. Graham stretched his legs up.
“Christ. Wish I still smoked.”
Tanya rested her head on the pillow. “God, you’re right. That sounds so good right now.”
“Maybe I’ll bring a pack next time. Don’t think either one of us is worried about bad habits.”
He ran his fingers along her forearm. She smiled, kissed him and closed her eyes.
She sat upright in a panic. Graham wasn’t in the bed. She fumbled for her phone in the tangle of bedsheets; she’d only been asleep for an hour. Maggie’s giggles wafted from down the stairs. Grabbing her robe, she stumbled out of the room and ran down the stairs.
Graham was sitting with his legs crossed. Maggie rolled a ball toward him, and laughed at his exaggerated attempts to catch it. He rolled it back to her.
“What’s going on?”
He looked up and smiled. “You fell asleep.”
“I know, but what are you doing?”
“She woke up. I heard her mumbling in her room. I brought her down and gave her some juice.”
“Why didn’t you just wake me up?”
“It’s no big deal. You looked comfortable. Maggie and I handled it, didn’t we?”
The girl grabbed the ball, waddled over to Graham, and gently bopped him on the head. He crossed his eyes, stuck out his tongue, and “died.” Maggie jumped up and down.
Tanya’s hands shook. Seeing Graham and Maggie in front of her was fuzzy, disembodied, like a scene she couldn’t follow, a surreal splice into an otherwise straightforward movie.
“I think you should go.”
“I will, I will. We’re just having fun.”
“No, you need to go now.”
He stood up.
She motioned for him. He stepped around Maggie and walked toward her.
“What’s wrong?” he asked again.
She looked at him. Her lips twitched. She gestured toward her daughter.
“You don’t get to do this.”
He shook his head.
“You’re making a big deal out of nothing. She was awake. I was just trying to help you out.”
“You don’t get to do this,” she repeated.
He leaned against the wall and tied his boots. He stopped, then stood up straight.
She opened the front door. Her hands shook even more. It was midday, there was nothing stopping a neighbor from walking by, or Cal pulling up on his lunch break. The sun was bright. The early afternoon was humid. Nothing had changed. Nothing would change.
Graham stood on the threshold. Trying not to cry, Tanya gently pushed his back, to get him over the hump, to distance him even an inch farther from her home.
“Go, Graham. Please. Just go.”
Shaking his head, he stepped down the staircase toward his truck. Tanya leaned against the doorframe and couldn’t tell if she wanted him to turn and say something, come carry her back to bed, or just leave without a word.
He got in the truck and looked out the window as he backed up. He pulled away down the street.
Tanya felt Maggie wrap her arms around her leg. She stroked the girl’s curls and closed her eyes.