Ethel Rohan

The waitress brings Elizabeth a glass of water with lemon. She wants red wine. It’s too early for wine. She returns to her book—The English Patient, which only adds to her longing—and waits.

He arrives at the restaurant dressed in a yellow raincoat. She checks the sky; it won’t rain for hours yet. If he can look like that then she can have wine. She signals the waitress. He places his keys on the white tablecloth, and gives her that disapproving look. Her gaze jumps to his germ-laden keys, and back to him. His face is milky pale and eyes cold. She recalls him sucking her nipples, and looks away. He doesn’t remove his raincoat, yellow as mustard.

Beyond the window, an Alsatian as big as a baby bear is tied by its leash to the bus-stop pole. The dog sniffs passersby and whimpers low in its throat. She returns her attention to her lunch guest. He’s come straight from the Botanic Gardens where he tends the tropical plants and he smells of earth and green. His fingernails are caked with dirt. Once, they made love inside the Gardens’ greenhouse, secreted inside the forest of potted plants. It takes all her strength not to tell him to remove his coat and go wash his hands.

They discuss the sale of the holiday cottage, the only thing they legally share. It is white-washed and covered in green moss and is the only place that’s ever felt like home; she wishes she could afford to buy him out. His dirty fingernail pushes his lemon-rind into his soda. She winces. The previous night, mosquitoes feasted on the backs of her legs and she struggles not to scratch, not to order another glass of syrupy, plum-flavored wine.

He sucks on his lemon rind. They met at a friend’s fortieth birthday bash, a casino on a boat in the bay. She beat him at poker with a Queen of Hearts. Outside, a woman appears next to the Alsatian, feeding it from a greasy brown paper bag. The dog’s tail thumps the ground like a jump-rope, its eyelids drooping with pleasure. They ended when she found out about his affair with some skeletal twenty-nothing intern at the Gardens.

When the waitress returns to take their lunch order, she asks for the check.

“I can’t do this,” she tells him.

The waitress brings the check on a white plate with three tiny chocolate chip cookies. His dirty hand paws all three. Down the back of the nursery is his tools trunk—if he still keeps it there—and inside is a manicure set she gave him, used on him. Once, she thought she could die for him.

She pays, and hurries into her coat. He’s still sitting, chewing.

“Call me,” he says. “Let’s get this finished.”

The bells of a nearby church ring out for noon, their peals echoing like a gong. Overhead the storm clouds gather. Used to be, she’d think that meant something too.

Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Ethel Rohan received her MFA in fiction from Mills College, California. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from such journals as elimae, PANK, DOGZPLOT, Storyglossia, Word Riot, mud luscious, Ghoti Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, The Los Angeles Review, and (So New) Necessary Fiction, among many others. Her blog is Straight From The Heart In My Hip. E-mail: ethelrohan[at]

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