I was raised to be modest, but you really have to know how I look. I have wavy, chestnuty hair to my shoulders, a knobby little nose that I hate but Johnny loves, eyes a sort of agate green, and a turndown at the corners of my weirdly wide mouth. My body’s fit from pilates and two–step, and Johnny says I look nice in jeans, which is nice to hear at age thirty–eight. I take pilates mainly for him.
Johnny knocked me head over boots when we met swing dancing twelve years ago, country swing. Johnny steps lightly and feels the music, and it flows out of him and into me and back into him in a circuit of warmth like when we make love. We danced all night, and again the next day — and at the end of the week, I tossed every picture of my old favorite beau. I married Johnny before the year’s end.
My man has never been cruel to me, ever, and I give him every breath that I take. He tells me, “Without you, hon, I’d be dead.”
I know that’s not so, there’s no quit in Johnny. We’ve had hard times, but got through them together. It’s just his way to give credit to others. He’s a true Texas gent. Not the bad old kind who’d open doors for you in public then whack you at home, but a modern gentleman — loving, sweet, and courteous, but respectful of my worth as a woman. Every night I thank my stars.
But there’s a part of Johnny I never can get to, a part he keeps locked up in a box. I say that poetically, but there’s a real box, too. It’s in the garage, inside a drawer full of odds and ends of hardware, inside a rutted old metal lockbox you’d never think of opening, wrapped in a red cloth: a beautiful little cherry–wood box with mother–of–pearl inlay that Johnny made himself, he’s a wizard with wood. It was sweet of Johnny to keep it so hidden, but that’s how things go. One day you need hardware to hang your anniversary picture, you mistake a lockbox for a box of fasteners — the devil maybe gives you a nudge, because who would lock up a bunch of nails and screws — and you find the key and there it is, inside the box inside the box. A picture of her. The One, his friends called her, when their lips were loose from tequila and beer. The Wild One, they said, and their laughter hid stories. The one not like me. The one not nearly as good as me, they assured me, good men that they are.
I sucked in my breath and studied her face, framed by chestnuty hair. Agate–green eyes, a knobby little nose, a weirdly wide mouth turned down at the edges.
I put the picture back in the box, wrapped the box back up in the cloth, put it back in the lockbox and closed the drawer.
I put the moment in a lockbox, too — never, ever, ever to open.
JON SIDELL wrote the flash–fiction collection The Roadkill Collection (Big Table Publishing, 2014) and the long–story collection Family Happiness (2016). He curates the San Francisco–based reading series Rolling Writers.