I like the dark.
I like pretending it’s perpetually night, so I don’t feel so bad for hiding out in the stale hotel room and speaking to no one but the staff delivering my twice daily room service. I lower my eyes when I pass the mirror. I don’t want to see my limp hair or sallow skin. I don’t want to believe this is my life now, however temporary it may be.
My dreams are scented with the sweet smell of clementines. I can still feel the pebbles grind into my feet as I run.
The morning of Peter’s 43rd birthday I made the clementine cheesecake he’d requested. I pressed out crust made from spicy ginger cookies and sweet cream butter. I mixed and tasted, dipping a finger here, there. I felt when Peter tasted this he’d taste me. It had become a sort of tradition in our marriage. He often asked for his favorite dessert, made from the fruit I was named for. I used to hate my name, but he’d helped me to appreciate it over the years.
When the cheesecake had cooled, I placed it atop a cake stand and left for my shift at the bookstore. I’d be back in five hours to share a slice with Peter, if he could wait that long.
My shift at the bookstore ended early and when I returned home Peter’s car was already in the driveway. Stepping through the back door I kicked off my shoes and saw the cheesecake was already cut. I saw a plate, dirty with crumbs, and two forks. Two. I almost called his name but stopped my words.
The whole house felt as though it was underwater, sort of heavy and silent. Instinct drove me to the living room.
There I found Peter tangled in the limbs of a naked woman.
I backed away with a choke and the woman looked over, mid-moan. I registered shock first on her pretty face, then a sort of smirk. I WON, it said. I ran, grabbing my bag, my keys and flew down the driveway with no shoes. I couldn’t even cry, just drove for hours until I ended up at a hotel. My feet were dirty and cold and the hotel staff side-eyed me but said nothing.
My neighbor from across the street, a woman named Della, met me at the hotel with a bag of my belongings after I called in a favor. She never cared much for Peter, she told me with a sniff. I only grimaced in return. Hearing his name was like being impaled with a dull instrument. I didn’t pick up my phone when he called all that day. Or the next.
On day four I call my kind neighbor once more.
“Della,” I ask before she can finish her hello, “Can I borrow your kitchen?”
Once there I also borrow her mixer, measuring cups and pans. I at least bought all my own ingredients. I whip the creamy batter around hard in the metal mixing bowl. The batter is rather close to the color of the woman’s hair. That woman, the one who was screwing my husband. I look away, up into Della’s face, furrowed in concern.
“What are you doing, Clementine?” Della asks, her thin lips pulled in tight. I’d managed a hotel shower this morning, but only just. I know I look wild-eyed.
I say sweetly, “Just baking therapy.” I pour the batter into two pans.
“That’s good, Hon,” she pats me on the shoulder, gives me a hint of a smile, and then climbs the stairs for bed as my own face falls. I wonder if she knows my motives are not pure. My mission is set; my decision is made. Yet I feel nothing.
In the wee hours of morning, I cross the street, cradling a cheesecake in my hands. I don’t have a single second of hesitation. This is all I can do.
I punch in the key code of Peter’s car and open the door. Everything is clean, and tidy. Expensive leather seats in perfect condition. It’s too sterile, something that always bothered me about Peter and his car. A car should have a little bit of mess. But Peter hates mess, he hates disorder. And for that reason, and to make him hurt as much as I know how, I tip over the cheesecake. I massage it into the crevices of the curves of the seats, up onto the dash, around the steering wheel. It coats my hands and fingernails. I rub it all over, until I think it is enough. It could never really be enough.
Then I close the door lightly with my hip and walk back to Della’s house. I wash my hands, then light one of her cigarettes and smoke out the window above her sink, the way she herself does. I smoke slow and still feel nothing. When the clock says 6:30am, I know Peter is awake, already in the shower. I make myself a cup of coffee and cut a slice out of the second cheesecake. That one is all mine.
I sit at the kitchen table and open the blinds just a little and drink my coffee black. And I wait.
When my husband comes out of our house in his suit, his briefcase in hand, my feelings finally check back in. I want to laugh but I’m afraid I might cry instead. He falters as he gets close to his car, his eyebrows furrow. Then he drops his briefcase and, I assume, curses. Curses me. For who else would vandalize his precious car with symbolic dessert but his jilted wife?
I tip my mug and take another gulp of coffee. Then I cut into my waiting slice with a steady fork. And as my husband stomps and talks frantically on his cell, I eat bite after bite. And when he starts to clean, with rolled-up sleeves, I continue to eat this fragrant cheesecake. And even though I know it should taste sweet, in some ways, it suddenly seems bitter. I’ll never make it again.
Amanda Linsmeier has been a writer for more years than not. In 2012 she placed as a runner-up in the WOW! Women on Writing Flash Fiction Spring Contest for her short story “Rousseau,” then again in the WOW! 2013 Winter Contest for her story “Running.” She writes from home and enjoys being a member of two writing groups and a book club. Amanda works part-time at her local library as a book page, and brings home more books than she has time to read. She graduated with an Associates Degree through the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc in 2012 and hopes to continue her education someday with a major in Creative Writing and minor in Women’s Studies. She lives in the countryside of Wisconsin with her husband and two children.