by Kathy Fish

He’s retired now, but his wife still works. He’s settled into a routine, waking up and pouring a Dr. Pepper and sipping it while his old dog limps around the back yard and sniffs and poops. He likes the murder shows and Judge Judy and sports. He has three women he talks to online, all in different time zones. One is a former student, a nurse. One is a history professor he met on Facebook. The third is the mom of one of his daughter’s friends who’d moved to California. He writes to them from different email accounts and never addresses them by name. There are things he’s learned the hard way.

Afternoons, he settles on the couch in his boxer shorts and writes to the woman of the day. They are all crazy in love with him. He knows they just want a little goddamned romance. He calls them sweetheart. He tells them they’re beautiful and sexy. Eventually, he asks for photos. Eventually, he gets them to understand what kind of photos. The professor takes the longest to catch on, but that’s part of the challenge. He likes getting them to do things they’ve never done before.

He sends them photos of himself. Sometimes he fucks up and sends the same photo twice. The former student and youngest of the three finds this endearing. She never suspects, never questions anything. Some days she’s his favorite, but some days she pisses him off. There is such a thing as being too easy.

When he craves a little drama he’ll turn suddenly aloof. He’ll be too busy to chat on their scheduled day. He might casually drop the name of another woman. They’ll ask, what’s wrong? What did I do?

One day he writes to the woman in California. He opens with his usual: Hi gorgeous. Though it’s their scheduled time, she takes a full six minutes to reply. He sets his laptop aside and goes to the kitchen. He fixes a tuna salad sandwich with tomato and extra mayo. He sprinkles it with salt and pepper. He opens a beer. He settles back on the couch and after seven minutes have passed he clicks and reads. Her note is rather terse. She says, Sorry, sorry. She says, Busy day. She says, I’m having lunch with Rick. Chat tomorrow?

Rick is a “writer.” In his headshot, he’s standing on a moor gazing directly into the setting sun, his scarf and his luxurious hair blowing behind him. Oh right, Rick the Insufferable, he types, but deletes it. He types a few more things and deletes them too. Finally he says sure, even though it means cancelling on the history professor.

That night, he tosses and turns until his wife banishes him to the hide-a- bed. He opens his laptop in the dark. The woman in California may still be awake. He types: I love you, I love you. He types: You’re the One. This time he may even mean it.