WISHFUL THINKING - REGINA CLARKE
Brenner called himself a private detective and he was suited to the job, as indifferent a man as Moira had ever met. Still, she needed to have a check run on Martin, and fast. Better to get it over with and if she didn’t like Brenner’s personality, it hardly mattered.
Once upon a time, she thought, as she left the investigator’s office, the world had seemed such a nice place. But not for a long time, she sighed. She was beginning to understand the desire for revenge with every broken promise Martin made, every lie, every caressing gesture made to her after he’d been with some other woman he’d found here or there.
He was home when she got back from seeing Brenner, puttering in his greenhouse, for all the world like a loyal, cheerful husband. He walked into the living room from outside when he heard her slam the door.
“Hey, Moira, what’s the problem, door get in your way?” His smile, she was sorry to realize, still made her heart turn over. It’s worked with all those other women, too, she thought. He wore the same tailored shirt and gray tie that he always did, at work or at home. She remembered how happy he had been to find twelve ties the same color on sale at Barbour’s.
“Tea?” she asked him. “And watch your feet, they’re all wet.”
“Oh, sorry, forgot,” he said, sending her a sweet smile. “Just watered up the begonias—I don’t think this new heater I got is working right. Has a short, maybe. It was ninety degrees in there, should’ve been just sixty-five. Henry said he could replace it when the next supply comes in a couple of weeks. He’s at the store now. I think I’ll just go remind him to save one for me.”
Yes, Moira thought, you go see Henry—or maybe it’s Henrietta? Carefully she made the tea the right way, not the way Martin did it, slopping a tea bag into some half-boiled water. Rinse the cup first in the hot water, put in the milk, pour a full boil, steep the tea three minutes to brew it just right.
“You British with your tea,” he’d say every time, teasing her. “Teabag does just as well.”
No, it doesn’t, she’d say to herself each time as she handed him the cup in silence, like now.
After he left, Moira went out to the greenhouse. Dappled early evening light filtered through its glass. She imagined Brenner on Martin’s tail, wasn’t that the way they described it? The idea of getting the first report excited her.
The greenhouse was so well organized. She saw the chart on the wall that Martin used to care for the plants on a rotating schedule. He was a creature of habit, no question about that. It was also very hot. Some of the geraniums he’d set out were faded and the ferns were brown at the edges. That had to be so annoying for him. But he hadn’t dismantled the new heater. Thrifty, he was. He’d use it until he got the replacement, of that she could be sure.
Two days later she pressed the fourth-floor button in the elevator to Brenner’s office. She felt a lurching in her heart, a sudden pounding, her hands sweating.
Brenner looked up from the egg salad sandwich he was eating. Bits of egg were caught on his upper lip and mayonnaise dripped onto the newspaper he was reading. With a cautious expression he wiped his mouth and motioned for her to sit down.
“Well?” Moira said, expectantly.
Brenner pulled a manila folder toward him, pushing aside the remains of his lunch.
“After work he goes every day to a garden nursery, talks to the owner. There are the photos,” he said, laying them in front of her. “Yesterday he went to his club, around five, but not all the way in, just to the lobby, explaining to some guys why he’d missed watching a game with them. Then he went home, as you know. This morning he went to his office as usual.”
“So what are you doing here—why aren’t you following him?” Moira wanted to scream it out but kept her voice even.
“I’ll be there at five, when he leaves.” Brenner was looking at her oddly.
“How do you know he hasn’t left now, skipped out a few hours?”
Brenner looked away from her out the window that let in dusty light. He didn’t want her to see the irritation he felt. The money was good. He turned back to Moira with a smooth expression on his face.
“Okay, from now on I’ll eat lunch in his parking lot. That work for you?”
Three more days passed and the reports were all the same. Every day Martin was where he said he’d be.
Maybe he knows he’s being followed, Moira suggested to Brenner. But Brenner was so nondescript she couldn’t imagine Martin noticing him for any reason. And she had been careful to show nothing but courtesy and affection whenever Martin was around her, even though it brought bile to her throat.
Brenner finally suggested they give it up. He had other cases waiting. “A guy’s fooling around,” he said, “he doesn’t wait this long to do it. I hate to say it, but nothing’s going on. Trust me.”
She left feeling intense disappointment and bewilderment. What could that mean? This was the third investigator she’d hired in as many years. Always the same results. What, what, what could it mean?
As the answer came to her, she shuddered involuntarily. It means, Moira, she said to herself, that Martin is a very boring man. She’d never imagined the possibility. She went over in her mind all the signs she’d thought she had detected. But she’d been wrong. There'd been no lies, no affairs. He’d been doing what he always said he was, for all the years they’d been married. He was just a nice, boring man. She wanted to cry. She couldn’t live with someone like that. She’d rather die first. Or maybe...
She tried to let go of the thought that came to mind.
What I need, she thought, is a good cup of tea. In the kitchen she put the kettle on and waited for the water to come to a proper, full boil, watching the gas fire so it wouldn't scorch the porcelain finish. And then she remembered the defective propane heater. Martin would come home from his office where he’d been all day just like he said, and he’d go out to the greenhouse wearing his tailored shirt and gray tie and switch the heater on at seven o’clock just as he did every single night. She could count on it. Dear, dear Martin.