“What?” Maggie turned and saw a slender gray-haired man walking up her driveway. His appearance was vaguely familiar like he was SUPPOSED to be there, but still completely random, out of place. “No,” she answered. “I’m good.”
“I came back to help you clean out that garage mess I left you with.”
Ah, now she knew. It was the most recent Ex. Just like him, too. All that remained of the junk that had once filled the extra-wide double garage was a four foot pile of debris in the middle of the driveway that she could move around with a broom. And what was this junk? Jack’s stuff; boxes of old, moldy magazines. Dozens of broken bicycles — neatly arranged — that might be parts “someday.” Boxes of clothes he might wear. You name it, it was there, bought second or third hand at yard sales, swap meets, thrift shops, and put away meticulously and FOREVER. “This is all that’s left and that stuff there,” she pointed at a couple of bags of old clothes she was going to put in her truck and take to the Goodwill. “They’re going to the Goodwill.”
“I’ll take them for you,” he said. “Then I’ll take you to In’n’Out for dinner.”
“What are you here for?” He’e been gone for nearly three years. His sudden appearance was startling, surreal and yet, expected. He had never been on time for anything, not even their first date some fifteen years earlier.
“I’ll tell you at dinner. OK?” He picked up the two bags and carried them to his car, calling over his shoulder. “Don’t do anything with that mess in the drive way. Leave it for me.”
The Goodwill was only a few blocks away. Maggie finished sweeping up the pile in the driveway and decided to wait and see what happened. Jack COULD come back — though in their married years he had often NOT come back — and finish the job. Twenty minutes later, he returned and she noticed his car was a rental. Of course. She remembered he lived in Maryland now or another one of those mid-Atlantic states she’d learned about in fourth grade geography.
“Let me sack that up for you, Maggie.”
Maggie grinned in bewilderment.
“Why don’t you go get cleaned up while I do this, and we’ll go get a burger,” said Jack.
Maggie nodded and went inside, washed and changed her shirt, wondering if they’d sit inside or go through the drive thru. What was going ON? Jack called through the screen door, “Can I come in and clean up?”
That sounded so strange. He used to live here. “Yeah, come on in. I think you know where everything is,” she answered. The screen door squeaked open and shut.
“The place looks good. You haven’t changed it much.”
Maggie thought, “And what would I use to change it? All the MONEY I’m making from my three part-time jobs?” She brushed it off and said, “Why tamper with perfection, right?”
At In’n’Out, they found a booth. “Tell me what you want — I think I remember — but maybe it’s changed,” said Jack. “I’ll go order.”
“Cheeseburger, ketchup and mustard only, fries and a diet Coke.”
“I knew it! See? I remember. Be right back.”
“OK,” thought Maggie, “this is bizarre.”
Jack came back, they talked about Maryland, his new wife, his job, all that, their number was called and Jack came back with the food. Instead of putting ketchup in the little paper cups that made it so much easier, Jack had about a dozen ketchup packets strewn on his tray. Maggie wondered. Had his OCD gone into remission, or? But no. Jack opened a ketchup packet, carefully tearing off one corner, and began squeezing ketchup onto the length of a French fry. Nothing had changed. As she ate her burger, and listened to him talk, she watched this odd little drama play out over and over, with each fry Jack ate. It was maddening — and surreal.
“Here’s why I’m here,” he said.
“Finally,” Maggie thought. The question was about to be answered.
“When we were together, I cheated on you. I mean a LOT. Like seven times.”
Maggie listened. Her biggest surprise was that she was surprised. She really had had no idea. The last years of their marriage had been bewildering and alienated, but Jack?
“I’ve been in counselling,” he went on. “I really want my marriage to work, and I learned at church that I have a problem. I’m in a twelve step program now.”
Maggie just looked at him. Three years had passed since he had left. It had taken three years to clean out that garage.
“I have to make amends to the people I’ve hurt.”
“I don’t think you really hurt me,” she said, her voice seeming to come from a remote corner of the restaurant. Jack continued carefully squeezing lines of ketchup on his fries.
“It had to have hurt you,” he said.
“I didn’t know. I think it hurts me now. I was OK not knowing. I think these ‘amends’ are for you, not for me. Now I know something hurtful I didn’t know before. I know you betrayed me. Multiple times.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry for all of it.”
“OK.” She piled all the paper left from dinner into the basket where her burger had been and got ready to leave.
“You done?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” she said.