A Townhouse of Cards

It was sunny the day Dylan’s life changed. Across the horizon thunderheads piled up over the trees in the park that bordered Dylan and Lily’s quaint little townhouse. Once this home oozed hope, promise and giddy excitement. It was now quickly becoming a cage.

It was a weekday, the last week of the school year when the days all become half as long but seem to children to take twice as long to go by. Dylan had spent the day at home with Jack, their 4 year old. Benji, their 9 year old who was just finishing up the 3rd grade, had just gotten off the school bus and was hanging out down the street with some friends.

Lily pulled in from work, walked into the house and unloaded a pile of stuff at the foot of the little table next to the front door.

“Where’s Benji?”, she asked.

“Down the street”, Dylan replied as he tried to lean in and give her a quick kiss. She pulled away quickly, annoyed.

“I’m gonna run down there and talk to Stacy”, she said. Dylan would’ve preferred that they snuggled into their big puffy couch with a cup of coffee and Ellen.

Lily left, leaving Dylan and Jack alone and bored. Jack, the precocious and jealous-of-his-big-brother 4 year old that he was, was never one to take lightly the fact that everyone was out playing and having fun and cried that he wanted to go too.

Dylan was bored as well and since it was gorgeous out, for as long as those threatening clouds stayed on the horizon anyway, he decided to take the family to the water ice stand at the bottom of the street. He figured he’d grab Jack, then walk down the street and pick up the rest of his family and whoever else wanted to come.

As he stood at the front door taking inventory of his pocket’s contents — keys, check; phone, check; Jack, check — he realized he had no cash, and not being able to remember if the water ice stand took cards, he thought he’d see if his wife’s pile of junk contained any cash.

Among clothes and shoes and old coffee cups, and next to her purse was a little blue cloth satchel that he’d never seen. He didn’ pay it any mind, other than to push it aside to check her wallet for some cash. But when he did, it’s contents tumbled out onto the floor. It contained 10 condoms.

Dylan’s heart threatened to beat it’s way right up and out of his throat. He swallowed hard. His palms oozed a chilly sweat. He stood there, ghostly pale and shaking. He hadn’t needed to use condoms since Jack was born. He had gotten fixed after Lily went through a difficult pregnancy.

He quickly changed the plans and got Jack occupied in his play room. He sat on their front step trying to contemplate what he was going to say. He kept looking down at the condoms hoping that eventually he’d realize that his mind was playing tricks on him and that they were really candy, balloons, or anything else besides what they were, proof that the life he thought he had was, at worst over, and at best, drastically different than it was the day before.

A minute later Lily came bounding up the street, giddy and nearly skipping. How had he missed it for so long? All the gym time, the new clothes, the sudden realization that all of her underwear was old and ratty and needed to be replaced. The newfound attention to her personal grooming habits. He had started to wonder, but always pushed the thought out of his head. She’d never do that to the family, he thought. It was just recently that he really thought that maybe she was up to something, when she started using the passcode lock on her iPhone. Even with that he figured maybe it was nothing, or maybe it was flirty talk, but she’d never fuck someone else, would she? Could she? He’d played around on the Internet, enjoyed porn as much — or a bit more — than the next guy. He even visited a chat site a couple of times, but he could never fuck someone else.

She walked up. Dylan swallowed hard.

“Lily I think we have to talk”, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d used her name.

“About what”, she answered as nonchalantly as if he were about to tell her to buy him shaving cream the next time she went shopping.

“Upstairs, I don’t want Jack to hear”. Now he could tell that she knew something was up. Did she remember that the bag of condoms was there? Was she wishing she could pause time to go check? Were the wheels in her head starting to work on the lie she’d try to pull of.

As they arrived in their bedroom, Dylan momentarily thought about how differently he now felt about this room, before pulling a condom from his pocket, holding it up and asking, “what the fuck is this?”. He tried to control his emotions and was trying not to yell or curse, however he wasn’t able to put that “fuck” back in before he heard it falling off of his tongue and landing, lingering stuck in the thick air between them.