Closet Prude
By Wayne Scheer

I always thought Gina was more my ex-wife's friend than mine, so after Linda and I separated I didn't contact her, not wanting to put her in the position of having to take sides. I figured I'd do better to just start over. I knew it would be difficult, but that was to be expected when a twenty-year marriage ends.

Still, it felt good hearing Gina's voice when I picked up the phone. It had been a few months since I moved into my new condo in downtown Atlanta overlooking Piedmont Park. I had grown tired of staring out my window at couples or sitting alone and watching old movies at night. I knew I needed to get out, but overcoming inertia is difficult, especially since I was feeling so sorry for myself. So, when Gina invited me to her house for dinner, I accepted without even thinking about my decision to start anew. It was just so damn good hearing a familiar voice.

"I'll make a spaghetti dinner, like in the old days," she said.

I think it's the only thing Gina cooked. I remember whenever she invited Linda and me to her place, she'd always make spaghetti with sausage and peppers, a spinach and anchovy salad and garlic bread. For dessert, she'd serve pistachio ice cream.

This night the meal was exactly the same except the spinach salad had bacon crumbled into it instead of anchovy.

"I never really liked anchovies," I told her. "Linda loved them, especially on pizza or salad. She'd even put anchovies on grilled cheese sandwiches, so I got used to them."

"I know," Gina said. "But now you don't need to eat them if you don't want to."

I thought about the two tins of anchovies I picked up at Publix the first time I went shopping to stock the cupboards at the new condo. I guess I bought them out of habit, or maybe a subconscious desire to hold onto the past a little longer, even if it wasn't very good.

Anyway, we ate our meal, drank a good, dry Merlot I brought because I knew she liked a dry red, and listened to nostalgic, sad songs. An old James Taylor CD played. Then Joni Mitchell serenaded us. "I wish I had a river," she sang. "I could skate away on."

At first, we made the kind of talk that didn't quite qualify as small talk, more like tiny talk. It was awkward for me being without Linda. I hadn't realized how much I had depended upon her to keep conversation going.

But Gina never had patience for polite chitchat. It didn't take her long to break through the awkward chatter to say she had spoken to Linda only once since I moved out, and Clyde, a friend of Linda's from work who was now Linda's lover, moved in. Apparently, they had words about Clyde. Gina never learned the art of keeping her opinions to herself. Instead, she told Linda right out she thought Clyde was a loser and that she needed to spend time getting used to being single.

"Fucking him is fine," is what she told me she said. "But don't let him move in."

She didn't tell me exactly what Linda said, but I can imagine. Linda, I'm sure, has convinced herself she loves Clyde. Sometimes I think the reason she married me in the first place was because she felt guilty we had become lovers so quickly, long before we became friends.

I don't want to give the wrong impression of Linda. She's a good woman and although it still hurts to think of her with another man, I'm not really angry with her. My friends at work say I should be.

They say, "Frank, it's all right being angry," as if I need their permission.

I tell them, "I'm plenty angry at Clyde." They don't know, but I even hit him in the face one evening as I was moving the last of my stuff out of the house. He just waltzed in using his own key, saw me standing there and walked to the refrigerator for a beer. Without thinking, I spun him around and punched him in the nose. Unfortunately, I'm not much of a fighter. I realized after I hit him I hadn't tightened my fist, so it was more a slap than a punch. He was so surprised he just walked out the door.

He took the beer with him, though.