When the bloom is off the rose and your spouse invites you to a romantic  

dinneralonethat should be a red flag, a bloody red flag. 

Infidelis by Ben Josef

The photo he handed her was an old Polaroid, the kind that, due to its rudimentary chemical processing, gave the person in the picture a kind of hazy green aura, with bright red eyes like a rat.

And up from the past, via a forgotten photograph, Annette’s own bright red eyes stared back her, her face flushed and giddy, her mouth halfway down the shaft of some guy’s cock. By the blurred, knuckled hand giving a cropped-out thumbs up she knew that it was Reid, one of Jonathan’s coworkers back when he was still at Rydon-Wellers, before he moved on to sixty-hour-weeks and a six-figure salary. Two years back. At an office party. How cliché.

She should have been expecting this. She knew it would happen, eventually. Maybe not this particular indiscretion, but one of them.

But not tonight. Their four year anniversary. She’d made reservations at Bella Monica, and it was a bit weird when Jonathan said he’d cancelled, that they’d be staying in tonight, Jonathan playing chef for the evening. The strange part: he didn’t seem enthusiastic about it.

Now she knew why. 

The picture bored into her, burned her face, but she didn’t look up, at him. Annette knew she was wrong, that she was a piece of shit, but she still loved him, maybe more as a friend the last few years, but still, she never meant for it to come out this way.

“Listen, Jon—“

“Who else?”

Fuck. This was it. She tried to think. Should she fess up to the whole damn stable, or try to play it off as a one time thing? She hesitated, which she shouldn’t have done because it gave Jonathan his answer.

“Christ, Annette. How many?” he asked, his face slack and wounded.

He looked broken and Annette felt like she was going to throw up. If the second circle of Hell existed, she knew she’d shored up a lot of beachfront property in her name.

Before she could speak he said, “You know what? I don’t want to know. One was enough. I’ve already made up my mind.”

“Jonathan, wait,” she said. Annette couldn’t be sure if she sounded sincere, because she couldn’t be sure if she was. Maybe this was for the best. She obviously wasn’t good at this wife business. A quick divorce. A few months as the scorned whore. The Scarlett Letter. All that.

And when Jonathan reached into his jacket pocket, she was sure he would pull out the papers, drafted and ready. Jonathan never procrastinated.

So when he pulled out the stubby .38 revolver, a knot constricted in her throat and her whole body went tense. That’s when she noticed it. How had she not noticed it? Jonathan was wearing gloves. Big yellow dishwashing gloves.

The blood fell from her cheeks and splashed down hard in her gut.

“Jonathan, what are you doing?” She was scared now.

Her husband didn’t say a word, reached back into his back pocket and pulled out a folded letter. 

“This is my living will. Got it done this morning. Only took fifteen minutes, if you can believe it…”

“Please, baby, whatever you’re thinking—“

“It’s legally binding, too. What it says is, basically, if I die, everything I have will be left to you. Everything in the accounts. Checking. Savings. All of it”

“I don’t understand, baby. You’re scaring me. Please put the gun away. Can’t we just talk?”

Jonathan continued on as if she hadn’t said a word.

“The only catch is, you only get the money if I die. Not if we get divorced.”

Annette sat dumbfounded. None of what he said made sense. Why did he have the gun? She tried to think of the words that would make him listen to her, come back from whatever ledge he was leading them to, when before she could open her mouth, Jonathan leapt across the table and grabbed her hands, pushing the butt of the revolver into them, twisting her fingers around the trigger.

She screamed and pushed back, knocking over the chair and tripping back into the wall. Jonathan stood over her, leveling the .38 at her arms’ feeble attempt to block the bullet.

“Look at me,” he said. His voice was a void. A blank canvass.

She looked at him. His cheeks were wet and on fire. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a second piece of paper and threw it down to her.

“Read it after,” he said and walked over to his cell phone, punched the screen three times with his yellow rubber fingers, hit a second button which amplified the sound so that Annette could hear the voice that came out and said, “9-11, what is the nature of your emergency?”, and set it down before facing her again.

She didn’t understand.

Jonathan raised the gun to his own head, gripping the thing as awkwardly and unnaturally as possible, settled the barrel flat against his temple and whispered in a tone so soft it barely registered, “I loved you,” it said, “and you did this to me.”

He pulled the trigger. Every pink and bloody bit of memories and personality and potential went flying across the room, painting the kitchen sink and the side of the fridge an abstract art piece in monochrome. The gun dropped from his unorthodox hold and fumbled across the linoleum floor.

Annette couldn’t breathe. The operator on the phone was shouting something indecipherable into the ether. The picture of Reid—she didn’t even remember his last name—sat next to the cell, along with the will.

Looking down at her trembling hands she saw the fluttering, final note.

Read it after, he’d said.

She opened the letter. She choked. It was only four words long, but it was all he needed to punish her. To get back at her.


Ben Josef was born in Germany before being transplanted to the American South where he was raised on poverty, disappointment, and Rock n’ Roll. He produces music, writes fiction sometimes, and unlike his father has never been convicted of robbing a bank. Twice. He lives in Arkansas with his partner Savannah and their five cats.