From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

A Different Kind of “Trashy Secret”

Let your love be stronger than your hate or anger. Learn the wisdom of compromise, for it is better to bend a little than to break.

H. G. Wells

It was one of those stupid fights a couple has after five years of mostly blissful marriage. I had just come home from another long day at work. Of course, as we were a modern married couple, my wife had only arrived home a couple of minutes before me, after HER long day at work.

“Hey, babe,” I said cheerily, dropping my keys and wallet off on the wicker table in the foyer.

“Don’t you ‘hey, babe’ me,” she grunted over a load of laundry she’d just started.

Puzzled, I looked at her for a minute, just before the fireworks started, it turns out. She was still in her fashionable work outfit, tailored slacks, silk blouse, crested blazer. Her hair was pulled back and stray wisps from the long day spilled over her beautiful face. Even after five years, catching her in moments like this one still took my breath away. If she only knew how—

“Don’t you stand there in front of me with that ‘innocent dreamer’ look of yours, either,” she said, advancing on me with a handful of colorful plastic. “Would you mind explaining . . . these?” she finished with a flourish, opening her clenched fist to reveal several candy bar wrappers, no doubt left behind in the load of my khaki work pants she was slipping into the washing machine.

I smiled for a minute, hoping my still-boyish charm might soften her concern.

“That’s it?” she asked instead, slamming the candy wrappers down next to my wallet and keys. “You’re just going to stand there and smile while your arteries clog by the minute?”

The upscale publishing company I worked for had recently offered blood tests to all of its employees. When my results came in, my wife and I were both surprised to see my cholesterol levels so high. Since then, she’d been urging me to eat better.

Snickers and Baby Ruths were definitely not on her list.

“Fine,” she spat, deserting her load of laundry and grabbing her purse and keys off the wicker table instead. “If you don’t want to be around to enjoy our twilight years together, then I don’t know why you ever married me in the first place.”

Embarrassment at getting caught, frustration from a long day at work and the “mother hen” tones of her afternoon “scolding” suddenly combined to raise the hackles on my neck.

“Me either,” I spat pettily, just before she slammed the door in my face.

Minutes later, of course, I felt the first twinge of post-flare-up guilt and quickly finished her load of laundry and began tidying up the house to make myself feel better.

Noticing a bulging trash bag in the middle of the kitchen floor, I caught my wife’s not-so-subtle hint and headed out the front door for the quick trek to the apartment complex Dumpster.

On the way past the deserted tennis courts, a faulty seam in the dollar-store trash bag stretched to its limit and split right in two. Cursing myself for making such a cheap purchase, I began stuffing the scattered coffee grounds and banana peels back into the remaining half of the bag.

I stopped when I noticed the glaring labels of products we’d never bought before and that looked completely unfamiliar. Fat-free cheese slice wrappers hastily rewrapped around regular, oily slices of cheese. Low-fat sour cream containers still mostly full. Healthy Choice cereal boxes full of regular raisin bran and Apple Jacks. A coffee can claiming it contained “Half the caffeine of regular brands” still full of rich-smelling, regular coffee. “Lite” lunchmeat and dessert wrappers. Low-fat potato chip bags in which the chips had been replaced by regular, greasy Ruffles!

No wonder things had been tasting differently lately! She’d been switching healthy products out with my usual, fattening ones! But when did she find the time? In between our hectic schedules and long workdays, I could only imagine her getting up half an hour early each morning and stealthily replacing my usual chocolate chip cookies with dietetic ones by moonlight. The socks on her always-cold feet padding around the darkened kitchen floor while I slept two rooms away snoring peacefully, none the wiser.

Maybe she really did want me around for the rest of her life, after all.

Gathering up the devious garbage, I made two trips and dumped all of her “evidence.” Then I washed my hands, grabbed my wallet and keys, and drove to the one place I knew I’d find her: the deserted movie theater near our apartment complex.

Once a week she called from her office and asked if I wanted to see a twilight movie with her after work. And once a week I declined, claiming some fictional last-minute meeting or looming deadline. The fact was I liked my movies at night, where crowds swelled, laughter roared, popcorn flowed and everyone had a good time.

Twilight shows were for little kids and old folks. Not to mention one lonely wife who was quietly begging her husband for a little weekday romance . . .

I parked next to her car in the empty parking lot and bought a ticket to the first chick-flick I saw. Out of habit, I headed straight for the concession stand.

Balancing a diet soda, licorice and a huge bag of popcorn, I found her in the third theater I tried, watching exactly the kind of blaring action-adventure movie she never let me rent in the video store!

Creeping up behind her, I sat down with a flourish. She looked startled to see me, but not just because I’d snuck up on her.

“What are you doing here?” she smiled, our fight quickly forgotten. “You never come to the movies with me after work.”

“I missed you,” I said honestly, not telling her about the garbage bag discovery. “I’m sorry I blew up at you. . . . I’m just—”

“We’re both tired,” she finished for me, reading my mind. “And you shouldn’t be such a sneak and . . . I shouldn’t be such a nag.”

I held her face in my hands in that darkened theater and told her, “No . . . you should.”

She smiled warmly until she saw the bag of popcorn resting gently on my armrest. “Honey,” I explained, “I didn’t get any butter on it. And look, it says these Twizzlers are ‘low fat.’”

She looked surprised, if not exactly happy. “Well,” she grunted, holding my hand as yet another car chase played out across the giant screen in front of us, “that’s a start, I guess.”

Not really, I said to myself, still amazed at how much effort she’d made to keep me healthy and how much she loved me. It was more like a new beginning.

Rusty Fischer

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