John Dermot Woods

Benvereen was undoubtedly a family man. But he had lost something along the way. He made a pledge to the most ethereal and wispy clouds, in hope that whatever was lost would be found. He still loved his wife, but he wasn’t sure that that kind of emotion was the correct kind of emotion in the current decade. When he wasn’t praying, he kept his eyes fixed on the ground, not far beyond the tips of his toes, expecting that an answer soon would be there. He became well-acquainted with the town’s highways and driveways, the walks hollow and dense, the covered lanes and exposed alleys. He’d sometimes flip a shiny bit into the fountain and hope that it’d settle the right way up.

He’d worked at The Sip Shop (No Bites For Over 50 Years!, the sign boasted) since he’d ever had a job. That made his face well-recognized around town. So it was quite unlikely that his wife didn’t know he worked there, especially on the day that she strolled in with Slim Goodbody. Benvereen knew that she wasn’t there to see him; at least her record showed that she didn’t visit her husband at work. They sat right down in his section. Benvereen looked to his crew chief for a respite and was offered no such thing. Your table, she snapped. He set to it and took their orders. To this day, Benvereen still considers that table often, and he still is not sure if his wife recognized him. At the end of the night, he didn’t expect a tip and he didn’t get one.

Benvereen reacted to the incident. He began to make his own friends. He took up dancing on the side. Although many swore it was his true vocation, he refused to consider it more than a distraction. But he knew he was good and he suspected that soon his wife would catch wind of his beautiful, restless shoes. You dance with such vigor, his instructors told him. Your feet are filled with such wonderful spite, his colleagues added.

Finally, they had a recital. Benvereen left tickets at the door. He saw the whole staff of The Sip Shop clamoring for the first row. But the footlights blinded him beyond that; the rest of the theater was an empty black cavern. He never knew if his wife sat in the dark and watched him dance – on that memorable night. And he never dared ask.

Hobby soon turned intolerable for Benvereen and he returned to living life only through substantive channels, like his trade. He sold his shin guards for half of their market value and exchanged his stockpile of balsawood for a new apron. He was home every night in time for dinner, usually with fresh bread. Often his wife would be there too. It was at the dinner table that he learned she was working too: refurbishing the old Canal District. This struck him as interesting; her work was very similar to his. He told her to be careful of dragonflies – and he meant it sincerely.

What Benvereen saw at The Sip Shop that particular night, now many years past: his wife enjoying drinkable yogurt cocktails with Slim Goodbody. Slim Goodbody’s face, famously inscrutable, revealed nothing of what the man was feeling, but Benvereen’s wife was content. Benvereen had seen greater joy in her eyes, but such peace, he didn’t know if he recognized. While they waited for their drinks, Benvereen served them a small plate of complimentary Saltines, belying The Sip Shop’s slogan. Slim Goodbody pushed the plate across the table, and as his wife accepted a cracker. Benvereen thought he saw their fingers almost touch.

John Dermot Woods lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is a professor of English at Nassau Community College on Long Island. He also edits the quarterly arts journal Action Yes and organizes the online reading series Apostrophe Cast. His stories and comics have appeared in The Indiana Review, American Letters & Commentary, 3rd Bed, Salt Hill, The Pebble Lake Review and several other journals