Playing the Part by Corey Ginsberg

“You always have to play the part, don’t you?” she slurs at his image in the bathroom mirror with her third-glass-of-wine inflection.

“Maybe I do.” He adjusts the cufflinks on his sky-blue shirt, the cufflinks she likes to remind him cost nearly half as much as her wedding ring. “Maybe we both do.”

They’re late as usual—about to cross the line from fashionably tardy to awkward-entrance-unavoidable-stares-fake-apology late. Not that she cares; it’s just another one of his work things, another wine-and-cheese-wasn’t-it-a-beautiful-day-today-not-a-cloud-in-the-sky cocktail hour that will end with the inevitable promise of dinner parties and weekend trips to the mountains for skiing that won’t ever happen. It will end like they all end—with a car ride of switched radio stations, speeding through yellow lights, and the endless stream of half-smoked cigarettes flung into the puckering black night. It will end with his side of the bed and her side of the bed, with a perfectly-timed tugging match for the comforter, with a parade of hours on the red face of the alarm clock stepping rhythmically toward dawn.

He’s pacing, glancing at his watch as she puts on mascara. But her earrings don’t look right with the paisley pattern on her skirt. She takes a hearty swig of wine and searches through her jewelry box for a better match. Maybe the silver hoops. Or diamond studs.

“I’m going downstairs to warm up the car.”

“Be right there.” As his dress shoes clomp down the stairs, she lights a cigarette and studies her reflection. It’s the skirt that’s wrong, not the earrings. After a long drag, she rests the cigarette on the edge of the dresser and heads into the closet. So many patterned prints hanging along the back wall—nearly a dozen that match her shoes.

She lies on the shag carpet beneath the weight of too many decisions, staring up at a row of blouses and sweaters that hang in a perfect line along the back wall. The car engine rumbles its hideous reprise from the silence while her skirt collects wrinkles. She stares up at the shirt sleeves—slender fabric tubes—and imagines they’re telescopes showing her the view of a world millions of light years away.