Swanton, OH

His Wife was No Angel - Flash Fiction Set in Swanton, Ohio

Tracy Stengel

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After ten years of marriage, Paul had hoped his four-bedroom farmhouse in Swanton, Ohio would be filled with children by now.

“Someday,” Angel would coo. “Once we’re ready to settle down.”

“Settle down?” Paul would say. “I’ve never been riled up.”

Angel would burst into a fit of giggles and playfully pull on his shirt collar, drawing him into a passionate kiss. “You’re so uptight! Life’s too short not to live it to the fullest!”

Now, Paul sat in his make-shift office in one of the spare rooms, thumbing through papers. His chiseled jaw tensed as he began grinding his teeth. He knew she’d never be happy in a small town like Swanton. Angel always wanted bigger and better.

He reread dozens of love letters, each more fervent than the last. When he finished, he returned them to their original envelopes and stacked them in chronological order. The most recent one lay on the top. It was eight years old. It seemed like eighty since Angel bothered to keep up the pretense of being a devoted wife.

He opened the small, fireproof lockbox in the bottom drawer of his desk. After wrapping Angel’s missives with a leather cord, he placed them neatly inside, ignoring the thick envelope at the bottom.

He wasn’t going to open that one. He’d read it once and that was enough. The words were burnt into his memory and he carried them with him daily, chewing on them like licorice. They tasted like hope. Someday things would get better. He just needed to be patient with her.

He shut the lid on what he thought of as his ‘box of dreams’ and sighed.

Maybe someday.

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It was time to go. His neighbors, Gary and Linda, had invited him over for a bonfire. It’s what people in rural communities like Swanton, Ohio did on the weekends.

Dressed in a white T-shirt and Levi’s, he made his way down his dusty driveway. He brought along a six-pack cooler and his favorite red flannel shirt in case it got cold after sunset. He gave the foreclosure sign staked by his mailbox a swift kick before crossing the dirt road.

He could smell burning wood and hear laughter as he wound his way into Gary and Linda’s backyard.

“Hey, buddy!” Gary said, standing to give Paul a hearty slap on the back.

“Grab a seat,” Linda said, pointing to two empty lawn chairs.

Paul dragged one of them to the leeward side of the fire. He didn’t want smoke blowing in his face.

“Angel isn’t coming?” Linda chirped, the frown on her face was exaggerated.

Paul guessed by their glassy eyes they’d been drinking for hours.

“Nah, she called this afternoon. She decided to stay a couple more days. I guess she and the girls are having fun.”

Gary and Linda exchanged worried glances.

After an awkward silence, Gary said, “So, ya gonna have a beer with us, man?

“Sure, I brought a couple with me.” Paul unzipped his cooler. There were two beers and four sodas. He cracked a beer and stared at the fire.

“Where is she this time?” Linda blurted, her eyebrows lowering.

“West Virginia.”

Linda waggled the index and middle fingers of both hands and did air quotes. “With the girls?”

Gary elbowed her. “Don’t start, Linda.”

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Linda pushed Gary away. “Why not? I’m sick of tiptoeing around Angel! We’ve been Paul’s friend since high school and I’m tired of seeing him made a fool of!”

Gary moaned and ran fingers through his hair. “Oh, here we go! I knew we should have eaten dinner.”

Paul shrugged. “It’s fine. I know Linda’s just worried, that’s all.” He eyed them both. “I’m a big boy, I’ll be fine.”

“She’s eating you alive,” Linda groused. “Not to mention what she’s done to your bank account. How much did this little get-away cost? And what does she have to get away from? She doesn’t have a job!”

Paul drew a circle in the ground with his foot. “She wants to get away from me. Obviously.”

Gary mumbled some curse words.

“You treat her like a queen! What more could she want?” Linda wasn’t letting it go. “She goes on more ‘girl trips’ than anyone I’ve ever seen.” She was back to using air quotes.

Paul finished his beer and threw it on Gary and Linda’s aluminum pile. He pulled out a soda. After an hour or so, he’d drink the second beer. No reason to get carried away.

“She gets bored, Linda. You know how she is. She’s a daredevil. Always has been. I thought I’d be enough for her. I was wrong. She says I’m not exciting. What am I supposed to do? I don’t want to suffocate her.”

“I would,” Gary grumbled.

Paul gave him a warning look and Gary buried his face in his beer can.

“What’s in West Virginia? Another bungee jump? Sky diving?”

Paul shook his head. “White water rafting. She wants to stay to do a little rock climbing.”

“Do you even know these friends she’s with? Have you even met them?” Linda persisted.

Paul looked up at the rising moon. “Not really. I’ve seen pictures. She meets them online. Some women’s adventurers’ group or something. I get tired of asking.”

Linda wound the top of her lap blanket around her fist. “Unbelievable! Does she not realize you two are losing your house and who knows what else because of her constant thrill seeking? The diving trip to Cozumel had to cost a pretty penny.”

“That’s enough, Linda!” Gary warned. “Their finances are none of our business.” He turned to Paul, “You’re like family to us, you know. If you ever need a loan –”

Paul put up his hand. “I can handle it. A high school math teacher doesn’t make a killing, but I’ll find a way to get by. Angel doesn’t want kids anymore, anyway. That house is way too big. I should’ve never bought it.”

Paul studied his fingernails to avoid their pitying looks. Then, he stood up. “I need to get going. It’s getting late. Thanks for having me over.” He patted them both on the shoulder and headed home.

The next morning, a somber policeman showed up at his door.

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Paul wasn’t surprised, he’d been waiting for something like this to happen.

He took the news with a stoic acceptance. Back in his office, he made the call to Angel’s parents. They would help him make the arrangements.

He took the lockbox out of the drawer. He untied the leather cord and threw Angel’s love letters across the room as if he were spreading her ashes. Then, he lifted out the envelope at the bottom.

Angel always made fun of him for being fascinated with math. So boring!

He was a man of order, numbers, and odds.

This time, the odds played out in his favor.

He smoothed out the folded papers.

Angel had made fun of him for insisting on it. She had called him a worry-wort. Said it was something her stodgy father would do.

He looked at the five-million-dollar life insurance policy and laughed.

Like Angel said, life’s too short.

Now, he planned to live it to the fullest.

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI
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