Getting the Message

by Ray Morrison

After she has left her apartment to go to The Flaming Wok to pick up their carryout, he ambles into the kitchen for a beer. He looks about the room and it dawns on him that it is the first time he's been alone in her place. In the past three months, since he has been coming there, he has become comfortable already, but their time has been spent mostly in the bedroom.

She is a doctor, a surgeon, and her kitchen reflects an orderly precision he assumes she brings to her work. The stainless steel pots and pans that hang in a row, in descending order of size, gleam under bright fluorescents. When he opens the refrigerator, there is a puff of cool, citrus-scented air across his face and arms, and he notes that the refrigerator's contents—jars of relish and mayonnaise and olives, storage containers with carefully saved leftovers, a carton of 2% milk—appear thoughtfully arranged for easy retrieval. Four bottles of Corona are lined up like soldiers along the top shelf. He grabs the second one from the left, and the gap it leaves seems glaring.

Her phone rings, startling him, and he closes the refrigerator door. He wonders if she is calling him with some question about his food order—was it steamed rice or fried?—so he walks back into the living room toward the phone. Just as it rings for the third time, he reaches for it, but stops. No, he thi