Better Half – A short story

Lining up pencils made her feel better. It made her think
of that old adage, lining up all of one’s ducks in a row. She
only had twelve pencils, so it wasn’t like she was being
obsessive about it. She had kept that in check for some time
now. It was just when she was feeling particularly vulnerable
and needed to think things through that she resorted to
pencils.

Burt had told her that she had the best part of him. He wasn’t
leaving the relationship because there was something wrong
with her; but he no longer had the energy to keep up with
her.

“My other half…” he had smiled and spread his hands. “She
can’t make it without me. She doesn’t have my better half
though. You have the best part of me,” he said, kissing her
one last time.

She had not cried. She thought that over the years, her tears
had dried up. She was a wasteland. A desert. There was nothing
left. He had taken that. Still, she loved him.

She moved the pencils around the table and started over again,
by placing them in the green and yellow pencil cup, then
laying one down, facing her horizonally. Took another out,
then decided to put a cup at the other end of the table, just
in case they decided to start rolling.

That had happened once when she had more than three packs
lined up. Thirty six number two pencils had rolled off the
other side of the table.

Sixteen years she had waited. Through his two children’s
graduation, his wife’s illness, her recovery. Now the children
were gone, his wife in fine health, he had the secret nest egg
built up. Bye, bye Honey. You have my better half.

What that meant she didn’t know. What was his better half?

He had seen her move from a vibrant, educated thirty-six year
old, who wanted children, to someone who waited. She did her
job well.

Well enough that it had become too late for children. Too late
to recover a professional career she had put on hold. Too late
to re-marry.

She pulled a fourth pencil from the cup and lined it up with
the other three. Saw that the eraser wasn’t exact and gave a
slight nudge to the flat graphite end. She made sure all the
black stamped ‘No.2s’ faced upward in the same direction. The
line looked perfect.

She heard a car pull up in the driveway, idle for a few
moments and then quiet. Feeling better with the perfect line
of four, she snatched them from the table and placed them back
into the pencil cup.

A door creaked open and she heard the scuff of his shoes on
concrete. The door slammed closed. She moved from her seat at
the kitchen table and into the well-lit living room where they
had spent many fun evenings. Watching videos, their favorite
shows, dancing to slow music. Talking about life.

His better half seemed to her to be that time when he knew
exactly what he wanted and it was her. He couldn’t stand to be
away from her, calling almost every hour when he was away.
Even when he was at home, he would call as his wife slept,
telling her he wished he could be with her right then. That
one day, they would never have to worry about this again.

That was his better half. That more considerate part of him.
The part that thought about things and consequences.

She opened the door before he could knock. There on the porch
in the bright light of day he almost appeared despairing,
regretful.

True, he was not the best looking man around. Now that she saw
him clearly, certainly not worth waiting sixteen years for.
But that was in retrospect. We’re never completely clear in
matters of the heart when we’re directly involved. It takes
time away from the situation to acquire that clarity.

He moved as if to step over the threshold, then paused. “Why
don’t you tell me what this is about? I really don’t have
time…”

She stood aside, gave a conciliatory smile. “Come in Burt. I
wanted to discuss a few things with you before we completely
sever our ties.”

He brushed past her, still in his office suit. A brief whiff
of ‘Night Musk’ assaulted her, but she continued to smile,
closed the door behind him.

“Would you like a drink before we begin?”

He nodded, “Scotch?”

Moving to the bar across the room, she invited him to sit. “Go
ahead and sit Burt. This is your place. In fact, that’s what I
wanted to talk to you about.”

He moved to his usual chair. “You didn’t sound so friendly on
the phone. Threatening to talk to Cheryl? What the hell is
that about?”

She poured his drink and herself a glass of soda. Once they
were both seated with their drinks, she explained. “Well, you
seemed to think that we had no more business. But this place
is in both our names, don’t forget.”

He nodded. “Yeah. I should of thought about that.” He waved
his hand, as if to indicate everything within sight. “You can
have it all. I don’t want anything. It’s really all yours.” He
smiled slyly. “You certainly earned it.”

She remained quiet. Watching, saw that he had drained his
drink and appeared to look just a bit drowsy. “So, umm, are
there pa– papers?”

Sweating, he wiped his forehead. “Is it getting warm in here?”
Loosening his tie, “Man, It’s warm in here.”

He sat up, dropped his glass on the carpet and looked at it
dumbly. “What the–”

“It’s okay Burt. You’re going to be fine. I just slipped you a
bit of an anesthetic.”

“Huh?” He brought his gaze up to her face, a slow, lazy
realization dawned. “What did–” Then it was gone and he sat
back in the chair.

She watched as he slowly came around. He had been out three
hours and she had performed the procedure perfectly. Despite
time away from her professional career, she still had the
touch. She was still a good surgeon.

He groaned loudly, as if in pain and she moved to his side,
her mask and scrubs removed.

“Burt,” she said softly and watched as he opened his eyes.

Slowly, slowly, he focused on her. “What’s– Oh god. What–”

“Shhh. It’s okay,” she soothed.

Attempting to lift his head, she put her hand on his forehead.
Bent down and gave him a tender kiss. “Don’t worry, I’ve only
removed the worst part of you. I’m sending that to Cheryl.”

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