“After the Divorce” by Laura Morris

After the divorce, Rita kept the house and half the furniture. He took their savings and loaded the rest of the furniture on a U-Haul while she was at work. When she returned, she saw her mistake: the house was too big for just one. When it had been the two of them, they could pretend they’d fill the third and fourth bedrooms with kids. They could invite a passel of friends for dinner parties at their massive dining room table. The master bath’s two sinks were necessary, even if there was no counter space for her makeup and hair supplies, which her husband had called junk and shoved under the sink. Without him, the second sink collected dust, the bedrooms served as reminders of a family she would no longer have, and the dining room table was too big for solo dinners. 

Walking through her neighborhood, she admired small houses that had been built for people who worked in the textile mills early in the previous century: boxy with two bedrooms, one tiny bathroom. Houses that would require her to sell her dining room table and use part of the guest room for storage. Cozy houses where the life she now had would be enough.

For weeks, she passed For Sale signs and dreamed of the life she could live in those houses: solitary dinners in her tiny dining room, nights sitting in an overly full living room stuffed with loveseats and bookshelves, a cat on her lap. She’d always wanted a cat. He’d been allergic. In these houses, she would have a cat. 

When the yellow house on the corner went on the market, Rita said to hell with it and called the number on the sign. The realtor said, “It has a lot of promise,” but Rita knew promise meant work. The kitchen was forty years out of date, the bathroom sink was cracked, and the floors needed to be refinished. The divorce had exhausted her—she needed a house she could step inside and call home. 

The one thing she loved in that house was the dining room table: a tiny square with just enough room for two to eat. She found it online but knew her dining room would dwarf it, make it feel absurd rather than cute. 

When she got home, she turned off the heat registers in the third and fourth bedrooms and closed the doors. Then, she placed rolled towels at the base of the doors so no cold air could seep in. Already, the house felt cozier. 

The next week, she viewed a pink house across town. It was beautiful: two bedrooms, a living room with a picture window that overlooked a park. The problem was the mother-in-law house in the backyard with another bedroom, another kitchen, another everything. Rita would have to find something to do with that space too. Its very existence would annoy her.

When she got home, she posted the dining room suit to an online yard sale site and asked way too little. It sold within the hour and was gone within two. The room echoed without the furniture, and Rita wondered if she could turn the room into something else, an office maybe, but that would require her to work in it. The problem was almost as bad as the granny suite: space she felt required to fill. 

Two days later, the realtor called about a cottage across the street from an elementary school. The house itself was perfect: two small bedrooms with decent sized closets, a kitchen with a breakfast nook, a bathtub made for soaking. But they visited when school was letting out, and Rita heard the crows of children and couldn’t stand to be so close to the reminder of a family her husband had cheated her out of. Again and again, he’d sworn they’d try for kids soon. Always soon. Until he’d packed up and left, and she couldn’t stand to hear the kids she wouldn’t have, so she said no to this house too. 

When she got home, the dining room felt smaller than it had, like it could fit that tiny table she’d seen in the yellow house. She pulled up the online listing, checked the dimensions, knew it would be too small but said screw it. She ordered it anyway. 

That night, she noticed where the bedroom doors had been was drywalled. She ran her hand over their absence, but there were no indentations, no hints of what had been. Now, the cavernous quality of the upstairs hallway was gone. Instead, the two lone bedrooms sat across the hall from one another, the bathroom nestled in between. There, the second sink was gone. Now, her makeup and hair supplies were arrayed across the long vanity.

In the morning, the new drywall was covered with a painting she didn’t remember buying: sunflowers, her favorite. Her husband had called them weeds, wouldn’t buy them for her, insisted on roses, said they were better. She touched the flowers with her fingertips, liked how the yellow brightened the space.

Downstairs, the cute table had already arrived and was set up in the dining room. It fit perfectly. She was sitting at it drinking her coffee when the realtor called. “I found the perfect place,” she said. 

A black and white cat jumped in Rita’s lap and kneaded her thighs. She told the realtor she already had the perfect place and scratched under the cat’s neck until the sweet thing purred.

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