It was the most important word in their lives. They chewed it like gum.
“Fye-delity,” he said. “Loyalty. Like Fido, the dog. Here, Fye-delity! C’mon boy!”
“Stay, Fye-delity,” she said. “Good girl.”
They were sitting at a picnic table outside the community college where they met in freshman English.
“Fidelity. I wonder where it comes from,” he said.
“Isn’t there an insurance company? Fidelity?”
“Hi-fidelity. That’s what my father called his stereo.”
They never googled words. They preferred their own definitions, pronunciations, etymologies.
“It sounds like a Christmas word. Fidelity Navidad.”
“Fee-dell. Fee-dellity Castro.”
They made a plan.
After graduation they went to work, she at the hospital and he at an IT company. A year later they had a small wedding and a honeymoon in Asheville.
They rented a brick house in an old neighborhood of brick houses. At night they ate hamburgers or hot dogs or spaghetti. Once a week they ordered pizza. After dinner they watched TV. On Saturdays they went for long drives and ate at lunch counters in towns named Zebulon, Louisburg, and Wendell. On Sundays they went to church and afterwards, in the fall, cheered for their fantasy football teams.
They had friends and two cats, but only each other as lovers.
They spent their seventh year scratching each other in places that didn’t itch.
“Right here?” he would say, sneaking up behind her and digging his fingers into the tenderness of her side.
She twisted and laughed. “Stop it! I don’t itch.”
“Neither do I,” he said. “Seven years, no itch.”
“Fidelity,” they said in unison.
The next year they turned thirty. They had good jobs and insurance and money in the bank.
That was the plan.
And so they began trying to have the baby.
They tried for weeks. Months. Years.
The tried prayer and counseling. Organic food. Expensive medical intervention.
They considered other options, including the kindness of adoption, but rejected them as not being faithful to the plan.
By forty they were deeply in debt. They told each other that their happiness would not come from a child. It would not come from work or friends or fantasy football.
“Fidelity,” she said, slowly and properly.
“Yup. Fidelity,” he said.
His lover was a downtown restaurant owner who periodically needed IT help.
Her lover was a dermatologist who had a large suite at the hospital.
Neither the restaurant owner nor the dermatologist liked to chew words.
After the divorce, they followed each other, secretly, online. Photos of second weddings at the beach. Trips to the mountains and vineyards. Big dogs frolicking in big yards. Step-children and step-children’s children.
They followed each other, each wondering if the other one did, weekly, and sometimes daily, for decades. They followed each other until she read his death notice one Christmas Eve.
Their new spouses never suspected.
teaches in Raleigh, North Carolina, and he and his wife, the writer Maureen Sherbondy, live in Durham. His poetry and fiction are published in The American Journal of Poetry, Baltimore Review, Best New Poets, Broad River Review, Connecticut River Review, KYSO Flash, New Ohio Review, Poetry East, and Rattle.
Critical Thinking, short fiction (1,160 words) by Barry Peters in
Baltimore Review (Summer 2018)
How Miriam Became a Poet, micro-fiction in KYSO Flash
(Issue 10, Fall 2018)
Fingers, flash fiction in KYSO Flash (Issue 10,
“Fingers” is among 100 personal favorites on
Clare’s List, selected from among a thousand works published
in KYSO Flash over the course of six years.