A husband and wife sit at the dinner table. They’re picking at their chicken à la king with far too many peas. Their plates swarm with them. She tries to get a bite of the rice underneath but still gets a mouthful of them. He was distracted while pouring the frozen peas into the sauce, thinking about his coworker’s eyes. They were the same shade of green. Before he knew it, he poured over four cups full. He didn’t try to get the excess out. He thought if he screwed up their dinner, she would yell at him, start a fight, and then it would be easier for him to tell her about the affair, to tell her he was in love with somebody else. She doesn’t say anything, though. She knows telling him about her cancer diagnosis that afternoon will upset him enough.
“Sorry about the peas,” he says.
“It’s fine.” She keeps on eating. Vegetables are supposed to be good for people who are sick, she thinks. Maybe if she eats enough of them, they’ll fill her insides and surround the cancer, suffocating it in a green, chewed up paste leaving no room for growth, no way to kill her. Then there wouldn’t be a need to tell him about the diagnosis, and they could go on living their lives together. But it was already killing her.
Thinking about his wife hurts. He feels his words forming in his chest, and they crush his lungs with their weight, making his heartbeat heavy and slow—the heart that doesn’t belong to her anymore. He hates himself for feeling this way. She didn’t do anything wrong—nothing to deserve what he is doing to her. Sometimes love fades and erupts somewhere else. He was surprised when it happened. The spark he felt when he saw his coworker’s green eyes on him came from thin air. It’s a spark he doesn’t feel with her anymore no matter how hard he tries. And he did.
He drinks a beer to numb his mind, to get it to stop racing so he can spit the words out already. She takes a sip of water to wash down the pureed mush that she hopes will kill the uncontrollable mass of cells—the part of her body that is betraying her.
“I had a doctor’s appointment today,” she says. But as soon as she does, she wants the words to climb back into her throat. She doesn’t know what she wants to do yet or if she even wants treatment. She’s stage four and doesn’t want to die bald and unable to do anything for herself. Just thinking about chemo makes her nauseous, and she knows he’d want her to fight it.
“How’d it go?”
“Good.” She lies and stabs a piece of chicken on the end of her knife and eats it off the tip. It feels good for her to do something dangerous, to risk cutting her lips. “How was work?”
“Good,” he says, regretting how he fucked his coworker in her car at the far end of the parking lot during lunch that day. He shouldn’t have done it. Not on the day he was going to tell his wife. He will have to tell her on a different day when he wasn’t thinking of green eyes and betrayal. Tomorrow will be better. Any other day would be better. He gets a forkful of chicken à la king that has a mushroom in it.
“I’m full,” she says.
They put their leftovers in a Tupperware container and shove it in the fridge. He does dishes while she sits on the couch, scrolling through screen after screen of movies and television shows. It feels good to watch them go by, like an endless waterfall of entertainment. She can taste a pea stuck between one of her teeth, but she can’t wiggle it out with her tongue. After a while, she holds her thumb on the down button and watches the pictures all go by, eyes unfocused on any one thing. The speakers click with every title that goes by in a metronome’s rhythm.
He watches the water rise in the sink. The dirty pan, utensils, and plates disappear under a growing plume of soap suds. The water overflows into the other side of the sink, cascading over the stainless-steel rim like a stream at first, then like a big, beautiful ocean over a cliff. The bubbles float on the surface like icebergs before falling and churning in the other sink. He still watches as they both fill and steam rises in front of him from the water filled with food particles. As the water spills out onto the floor, a pea floats to the surface before being pulled over the edge.
It’s just the skin of a pea between her teeth. She can feel it flap back and forth with the tip of her tongue. She sits there and wiggles her tongue, staring blankly at the screen when he appears in the doorway.
“I’m having an affair,” he says. The words fall from his mouth like the water running over the counter and onto the floor.
She can’t hear the water, but his words echo in her ears while hers echo in her mind. She lifts her finger from the remote and the television goes silent.
“I have cancer.” There, she thinks, now it’s out there. “Do you love her?”
“Yes.” He answers, listening to the running water.
“How bad is it?”
“I’m dying,” she answers.
They both want to yell at each other, but neither can do it. Instead, he comes into the living room and she moves over for him to sit beside her. They embrace each other in the silence, tears filling their eyes.
In the quiet, she can hear the water running in the kitchen.
“Did you turn the water off?”
“No,” he says, “I don’t think I did.”
They get up off the couch and return to the kitchen. He walks through the puddles on the floor, soaking his socks, and turns off the faucet. She does the same to get the mop out of the closet by the front door. He sees the mop in her hand and goes to get some towels. Together, wordlessly, they gather up the soggy bits of chicken, mushrooms, rice, and peas. Together, they clean the mess they’ve made.