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Last To Know

by Karen Karlitz


Karen's work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Miranda Literary Journal, Long Story Short, The Miami Herald, Beverly Hills 90210, Brentwood News, and the recent anthology, Freckles to Wrinkles, among others. One of her stories was a finalist for the Third Glass Woman Prize, and another included in the 2007-2008 edition of The Best of the Foliate Oak. Currently she is submitting her first novel for publication, and working on a short fiction collection.

          Emily and Martin were married less than a year when they decided to buy a house. The apartment building they lived in near the ocean would soon be converted to condos, but Martin viewed condo ownership the same as being in business with strangers. Athletic as well as wary of realtors, each weekend he rollerbladed through his neighborhood in search of an interesting property. Before long he found a small, neglected, one-story bungalow two blocks off Abbott Kinney and a ten-minute walk to the beach. On first inspection, Emily was grim; this house did not fit her idea of home. But Martin enthusiastically explained his restoration plans, and Emily and Martin became the proud owners of their new, albeit homely, home. 

Emily liked living in her little house in Venice Beach. As frequently happens, the pair found temporary happiness in home remodeling. Focusing on one room at a time, each received a make-over, good taste compensating for what they could not yet afford. Six months after they began, interior renovations were well along. The exterior, however, remained the same as the day Martin first skated upon it. All work had stopped. Except for when the lights were on in the evening, the house looked unlived in and, in a sense it was. For even though pretty Emily and successful Martin’s marriage was often emulated and envied, three years after they first met they still didn’t know one another. This was because both harbored secrets, secrets of the most serious kind, secrets that led to packs of lies.

The truth was that although Emily rejoiced each time she took a Kate Spade Gramercy Park-patterned cup out of her top-of-the-line dishwasher and placed it back in its appointed spot in her new cabinet, a part of her was as forlorn as if she dropped it on her newly tiled kitchen floor. Her secret was a simple one; she had married Martin by default. Emily was in love with David, a friend of hers at work. But before she could get up the courage to attempt to bring their relationship to another level, in one of life’s cruel ironies, David winked at Emily’s friend Jane on match.com and Jane winked back. Their  first date at Starbucks catapulted to full fledged romance the following night during three courses at Il Sole; six months later they were married.

Soon after their wedding, Emily met Martin on a much needed Hawaiian vacation. They got along reasonably well and Martin looked handsome in a suit. He also shared her passion for the clean lines of mid-century modern and made a good living. She assumed marriage to him would shut the door on David, and that now they could enjoy dinner parties, movies and occasional weekends away as a foursome. Emily chose to believe marriage would bring her closer to Martin and weed out all or at least most of the fantasies about David that surely no married woman should have. She was wrong. Too many nights sleep was impossible because Emily couldn’t get David out of her mind. Employing twisted logic, she took this as a sign that she and David were meant to be together, that a cosmic mistake had occurred to keep them apart. She carried on with buying gourmet cheeses and excellent wines. She kept perfect closets and perfect drawers. And she continued preparing perfect breakfasts, lunches and dinners for Martin, until the day came—and she knew it would--when she would never do anything for him again.

During a Saturday night dinner hosted at their house Emily watched for cracks in David and Jane’s marriage. Her good fortune came sooner than anticipated. Both couples had finished a meal of halibut with artichokes and spinach quiche Emily made entirely from scratch. The two men were in the kitchen doing the dishes while Emily and Jane finished off a bottle of pinot grigio in the living room. Jane moved close to Emily on the sofa.

“I’ve got to talk to you,” Jane whispered, obviously distressed.

“What’s the matter?”

“It’s David. He’s not the person I thought I married.”

 “Is anyone ever really?”

“Probably not, but believe me, we’re in trouble. He comes home late every night, and he’s even stopped bothering to make excuses. I don’t know what to do.”

“Stay calm. It’ll pass. All marriages have their ups and downs as clichéd as that may sound.”

“We haven’t had sex in almost a year.”

It took Emily all the control she could muster not to show how pleased she was. As Jane’s friend she did feel somewhat guilty but Jane was not her top priority and anyway, she had loved David first. “I’m sure that happens far more often than most people admit,” Emily said, not believing that at all.

“I’ll ride it out. Maybe you’re right.”

But a month later David left Jane. He didn’t offer much in the way of an explanation, but did let her stay in their condo while they decided what steps to take next. Emily was ecstatic. With nothing but the thoughts in her head to go on, she believed David left Jane to be with her. In her mind there could be no other reason. Soon he would contact her and they would breeze through life together, leaving their spouses behind. Every time the phone rang she ran to answer it. A few times it was David, but he was calling to speak to Martin. Emily was dumbfounded. It couldn’t be possible that he left Jane and wasn’t going to be with her. Her fantasies had clouded her reality.

Emily was so thoroughly occupied in thinking about David, she neglected to see that for all intrinsic purposes Martin had left her as well. He came in late from work each night and crept quietly into bed so as not to wake her. Actually Emily was relieved.

Her sexual fantasies had come to be all that she needed. Then one Saturday morning Emily got what she thought she wanted; Martin told her he was leaving. 

“I’m so sorry, Emily,” he said. His face was pale, his voice low. He looked down at the glossy oak planks splashed with sunshine.

This was Emily’s final sign. She was free now to pursue David. She couldn’t wait for Martin to pack some of his things and leave the house. Standing in the kitchen impatiently drumming her fingers on the granite counter, at last she heard the front door slam. Her heart beat furiously as she dialed David’s cell phone. She had no idea what she would say when he answered. She was certain, however, he would know why she was calling.

“Martin?” he said.

“No, David. It’s me. Emily.”

“Oh, hi.”

Emily hesitated.

“Bad connection?” he asked.

“No, no. I thought you’d want to know…Martin left me.”

“I know.”

“But it only just happened.”

“I’m sorry, Emily. No one plans these things.”

“It’s the way it’s supposed to be. We can be together now.”

“What did you say?”

“We can be together now. Isn’t that what you want?”

             “Haven’t you spoken to Jane? I told her everything last week.” But Emily had avoided Jane since her separation from David.

“What are you saying?”

“Me and Martin, Emily. This is about me and Martin.”

Emily’s fantasy careened to an end. The phone slipped out of her hand and hit the floor chipping a pale yellow Mexican tile. Martin, she discovered, had a secret too.

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