My husband says it twice “All things come to an end” as he stows our egg-spotted breakfast plates in the dishwasher. “Now, who the fuck said that? I ask, retrieving the dishes for a rinse. My husband has started trying to win arguments or make a point by quoting someone, as if he doesn’t have a mind of his own. Then I remind myself that he doesn’t have a mind of his own, not totally, not any more. His smooth forehead and blandly alert expression also tell me that whatever I’ve been explaining is going to “end”—our daughter’s fraught marriage—isn’t actually all that engaging.
But I want him engaged. I remind him that our daughter is divorcing a man we never liked, who when invited to dinner, insisted on sampling every dish with the same spoon, and peering a little too long at the wine labels. I lament how the divorce is taking forever because he won’t agree to a fair amount of child support for their children. “Our grandchildren,” I say. “Your grandchildren.”
“So when are Luke and Jessie coming for another chess lesson?” my husband asks.
“They are coming over for dinner this Sunday,” I say. I am pathetically grateful that he remembers he is teaching them chess. Though the last time they visited we couldn’t find the chess set. I’ll buy a new one tomorrow.
What has come to an end is conversation. We used to talk at breakfast, then on the phone from our respective offices at least once a day, at six solemnly choosing our evening cocktail, always at dinner, often in bed around our increasingly diminished love life, our love still thriving on discussions of the news or whatever we’re reading, or writing—my essays for a political blog, his juried decisions for scientific journals. Our daughter’s woes that have come to an early end for him alone.
As he stows more dishes in the dishwasher, I feel like crying out: I know something that won’t end. This. That you are stowing the dirty dishes all wrong, that you have forgotten our conspiratorial loathing for our son-in-law, that the chess set might never turn up, that there is only increasing chaos ahead for both of us. And then I think that tragically the chaos too will end.
Pamela Painter is the award-winning author of five story collections, and co-author of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Five Points, ELJ, Matter Press, Michigan Quarterly Review, 100wordstory.org, New Flash Fiction Review, Ploughshares, SmokeLongQuarterly, and Vestal Review, among others, and in numerous anthologies such as Sudden Fiction, Flash Fiction, Microfiction and New Micro. Painter’s stories have been presented on National Public Radio, on the YouTube channel, CRONOGEO, and have been staged by WordTheatre in Los Angeles, London and New York. Painter’s recent collection is Fabrications: New and Selected Stories from Johns Hopkins University Press. Painter is a Founding Donor of the Flash Fiction Archive, established in 2020 at the Harry Ransom Center, Univ. of Texas, Austin.