"En Garde" by Mary Claire King

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

Walking through Melinda’s apartment, Alice decided the bathroom would be the best place to hold a private conversation. The apartment occupied the top floor of an old French building and had once been a succession of servants’ quarters. Melinda’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Bertrand, had spent two years converting it into an arty open space with low ceilings and mansard cubby-holes for bedrooms.

"Hold on," Alice whispered to her husband on the phone as she walked down the hall.

Her youngest son, Jonathan, jumped out from one of the kid’s rooms, thrusting a toy sword at her.

En garde,” he yelled.

The shiny hood of his knight costume fell against his face as he lunged, covering the gnarled burn scar on his cheek. He appeared whole for a moment. Alice reflected that this was how he would be if she had been more attentive that night three years ago.

She covered the phone with her hand and whispered, “You look great.”

Across the hall, her older son emerged from the girls’ room wearing a Jedi outfit and brandishing a lightsaber.

"It's too early to get dressed up," Alice said, still covering the phone. "We're leaving for the picnic soon."

Thomas rolled his eyes and stomped back into the room where the kids were trying on costumes for the Halloween party. Jonathan dutifully followed his big brother.

Alice closed the bathroom door and sat on the floor, scooting near the sink, away from the thick mass of sour-smelling bathrobes that hung from a row of knobs. The shelves beneath the sink were coated in a white sheen of dust and soap scum, all but one crammed with perfumes, lotions, and bronzers. The empty shelf was where Bertrand used to keep his things.

"Sorry about that," Alice said into the phone. "What were you saying?"

"I don't understand why you need to spend all day Saturday with Melinda." Alice usually didn’t notice Xavier’s French accent, but it came out when he was annoyed.

"She's my best friend. She still needs someone to keep her company on weekends; they're difficult."