The open-layout kitchen was in the middle of the house, and of course there was no way to avoid it. He asked her not to pass through it. Not to come down and investigate. At one point he asked her to stay in the bedroom, close the door, and not smell anything. This was unfair, ridiculous, counterproductive, and afterward he opened the bottle of sparkling rose, poured her a glass, and brought it to her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I just wanted it to be special. To be a surprise.” 

“It’s something,” she said. And then she stopped herself. “I appreciate the effort.” 

He didn’t like hearing about effort. He wanted to pull it off—a dinner like the ones they used to enjoy at the fancy restaurant in Minneapolis when they lived there. But they had talked in the bedroom longer than he had planned, and so by the time he arrived back downstairs, the beurre blanc had overboiled the pot and somehow one of the two grouper filets was missing. 

“The sonofabitch dog,” he said out loud. He knew his wife couldn’t hear him. He knew the sonofabitch dog couldn’t either, old as it was. It impressed him as much as it angered him to know that the dog had somehow gotten paw or snout onto the counter and snagged one of the two entrees. The dog would die soon, he knew, which they were both prepared for. But he was not prepared for telling his wife he would not want another. Not ever. He was prepared for kids. But kids were not like dogs. 

When their son died, very early, it hit her hard that it didn’t seem to hit him hard. He wanted other children he had said at some point, probably too early. He wanted that child, too, he quickly clarified. 

He went upstairs again. With nothing. He said nothing and kissed her. He did not like leaving her alone like that. Again.

This was all supposed to be part of a romantic evening. An anniversary. A happy one. They each remembered the date they found out they were pregnant. They remembered the birthday, and the day their little boy died. 

They hadn’t started trying again. But they hadn’t been protecting themselves, either. Sometimes it was hard for him to touch her because she felt like one long, tall wound. “I want you to be here, present with me,” she’d said once, while they were in the middle of things. To which he’d said, “Okay.” 

He split the remaining grouper filet in two. He would use it as the appetizer and move the gnocchi to the main course. He ran his knife up under the skin of the fish. He’d gotten good at this, especially after she’d bought him the fileting knife from some artisanal metal shop in Kentucky near where she used to buy her Bourbon when she visited her mother there. Off came the whole skin, with just a minimal amount of cleaning left to do. He held the skin of the fish up in the light like a pelt, as though he were a man who had just killed a wild animal, a man living in a world in which there were no grocery stores and no beurres blanc, where the death of children was still a sad but endurable occurrence. 

He loved her, but he also suspected this may be their last anniversary. He didn’t think it was fair. If their marriage was going to end, he thought, one of them ought to be responsible for it. Somebody ought to have cheated. Sinned. Gambled away more than half of their shared life savings. 

He had dressed up in shirt and tie for their dinner—under his apron—and was sweating and wishing he was handsomer. Maybe if he were handsomer, he thought, it would be easy for him to snag another woman for a night. Then he could bed her, discard her, and confess it all to his wife. That would make for a clean break at least. She wouldn’t have to think of the child they’d lost when she talked about her divorce. And he could feel like a man—a bad man—but a man again. 

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