Bryna Peebles Cofrin-Shaw


My wife’s friend—​my friend too, she reminded me—​was coming over to conduct some nude drawings. Maybe conduct isn’t the word. She was coming over to look at my wife naked, for a while, and I was told it didn’t matter if I was around or not. I had errands to run. It was a Sunday, after all; I’d be in and out, in and out. Tate was her name. Like the museum? I’d asked her once. Tate had shrugged, like maybe she hadn’t even heard of it. Strange, because she was an artist. An upscale furniture maker, doing wooden sculptures on the side. Well, first Tate would draw, taking stock from all directions. Then, back in her studio maybe, she’d carve. Someday soon a dead log would take the shape of my wife, knotted breasts and rings cinching through her soft belly. Fine, that’d be fine.

Tate was standing outside the front door, looking down at her phone, when I stepped out to take Andy for a walk. Flustered, you might say.

“Oh hey, Jake. I’m a few minutes early.”

“No problem, how are you? Good to see you.”

“You too. And well! I’m well.”

“And Sandy?”

“She’s good! Yeah, real good. You two should come over for dinner once it gets warm enough to sit on the new porch.”

“It’s done?”

“It’s done.”

Maybe it was the circumstance, her bag being full of tools to draw the image of my naked wife. There was an awkwardness to it. Tate and Sandy have come over for dinner plenty of times. This was different. I told her to go right in and quit standing outside like a Jehovah’s Witness. I said I’d see her in a few.

When I came back from walking Andy, my wife was naked. She was sitting on the dark blue rug with her legs kicked out to the left and her hand reaching down on the right. Her white bathrobe lay beneath her like a picnic blanket. I thought about the first time I took all her clothes off outside. Two striped towels formed a blanket over the tall grass. I had a vision of little black spiders climbing onto us the second I entered her. I couldn’t get rid of the thought. When I finally finished it was like a school opening its doors to summer. All that brainpower, trying so hard not to think about those little black spiders with my wife’s legs tight around my hips.

Tate arranged her pencils. The square of white was empty in front of her. My wife looked up at me without moving her head.

“Did Andy do his business?”

“Shat all over the Greggorys’ lawn.”

The dog was barely trained, still a pup. We never used phrases like “do his business.” This was strange coming out of my wife’s mouth, like she’d aged twenty years in front of me. The light from the southern windows fell over her in pinstripes. I wanted to cup the little fall of her belly in my palm.

“Well, I’m off to the grocery store,” I said. “Do you want me to take Andy with me so he doesn’t bother you? Not too hot out there, I can just roll down the windows for him.” My wife is very nervous about dogs in hot cars. It was only May, but I wanted her to know I was thinking about this—always thinking about it, like her.

“He can stay, it’s no problem,” said Tate. I hadn’t been asking Tate, but I nodded. Okay.

I ran into two of my students at the grocery store. It’s a small town, so it happens more than you’d think.

“Looks like you gals have a big night planned,” I said, eyeing their boxes of brownie mix.

“Just a regular Sunday-night Marlon Brando marathon,” said Erica. I let out a big fake laugh. We’d just finished Heart of Darkness the week before, and I’d made them watch Apocalypse Now for Friday’s class. You think you’re doing a nice thing, letting 15-year-olds watch a movie for class, but they hated it. Talked the whole period. Every time the camera panned to Marlon’s blank face one of them would jump in to narrate his thoughts. About drove me nuts.

“Funny,” I said to Erica. Erica was one of the good ones. Some teenagers just know how to keep up their end of the conversation with adults. It’s refreshing—rare, too. You don’t think about that unless you’re a high school teacher. Her friend Eleanor, also my student, wouldn’t look me in the eye.

“Well,” I said, “gotta get back to”—and then I held up the box of Sudafed in my hand—“the lab.” It was a joke; it just came out. Like, the meth lab. I shouldn’t have said it. Erica smirked, like she got the joke. I wished she hadn’t.

“Anyhow, I’ll see you girls tomorrow,” I said, and we all parted, thank God. I had vegetables and cheese to pick up, too; I should have grabbed a basket.

On the way home I thought: I really shouldn’t have made that joke. High school teachers have certainly been fired for less. If it came up at school the next day, I could mention my sinus infection, say something about meeting Scott over at the high school, preparing our classrooms, etc. Scott teaches chemistry in a laboratory classroom and we’re good friends; we eat lunch together most days. Scott is older and softer and balder than me, a dis