Her house was on a dead end street, but the developers prefer the term “cul de sac.” It was just before noon, and as we drove up the sun beat the house into a wavy mirage. Through my tearing eyes I saw a bland little ranch house, covered in pale green vinyl siding. The front yard held one dead sapling, failed due to the scorching heat and poor soil of western Nebraska, and a tricycle. The real estate agent babbled incessantly about the school district, the water quality, proximity to shopping, and the professional caliber of the neighbors. We parked in front and rang the bell.

The door was tugged open by a tow-headed four-year-old. He stood aside politely and a cheery female voice called for us to come inside.

The agent, a whirlwind of a woman, led the way, talking all the while. My wife, a sweet but spineless girl, followed meekly, having already succumbed to the sales technique known as "over-stimulation." I stepped inside last, and as I had been trained to do at the academy, I waited for my eyes to adjust.
The house within was all prairie. Not the prairie as biologists see it, teeming with life, but rather the prairie as seen by passing motorists. A vast plain of monotonous tan, waving past the windows in a blur. Even the tyke who answered the door had disappeared in it, though I could hear his black cowboy boots clomping on linoleum somewhere.

The owner of the voice was making standard womanly apologies regarding the state of the house, saying, “I just haven’t gotten to the vacuuming yet.” Vacuumed or not, it appeared clean enough for surgery. The sun shining through the dining room window created a dazzling glare on the glass tabletop, and the kitchen gleamed like a commercial for a cleaning product was secretly being shot there.

“This,” I thought, “this is how a house should be.” I was too consumed by the indoctrination given me by good men of military mindset to realize that this house was all wrong. What passes for clean in a family home would never do in a barracks, but I had just left the barracks, and so this arid space felt like home. I know much more transpired, but it is only relevant that we came to purchase the house. My wife liked the price, the oak trim, the ceiling fixtures, and the fenced backyard. I liked the sterility, and I loved the woman who made it.

She was of petite stature and vivacious demeanor. Her small body fairly glowed with energy, and standing next to her made one feel lazy. In the months that followed, she struck up a friendship with my wife - a most unlikely pairing. The hummingbird befriends the tortoise only under the rarest of conditions.

I had nothing in common with her husband – save for the sitting-induced health problems that both of our careers had in store for us - though couples activities were planned and executed by the ladies. The women did not realize that the state trooper is the natural predator of the long haul trucker, and that placing the two of us in close proximity would be like trying to raise mice and snakes in the same cage. They roamed the highways, cheating time, and we acted as time’s agents, making them give every little stretch of roadway its due. In the end, this “friendship” would prove to be the death of both our careers, as he is no longer a trucker, and I no longer hunt them.

It happened one day nearing Christmas. We had planned a shopping excursion to the local mall, to find gifts for our spouses. We took the overly expensive car her husband had grown hemorrhoids trying to afford for her. It was a shiny burgundy, purchased because it came near her hair color, and it sported a very impressive sound system, and plenty of snap under the hood. After shopping, she was a bit peckish and I can always eat, so lunch was the plan.

She always insisted that I drive. At the time I thought it was a cute throwback to her 1950’s style Nebraska upbringing, but I later came to realize that it was simply a way of insuring that anything that ever happened on the road couldn’t possibly be her fault, even if she had your cock in her mouth at the
time. Since I wished to impress her with my obscure cop knowledge, I insisted that we go to Arby’s for potato cakes.

Now there are four basic food groups recognized by law enforcement officers the world over: the caffeine group, comprised of coffees, teas, and pops; the tobacco group, including cigarettes and the various types of chew; the grilled patty group, which is infrequently expanded to include fried fish fillets; and, naturally, the fried pastry group, which also covers cookies. While fried potatoes are not one of these groups, they are seen as an important nutrient for cops, akin to vitamins, and I considered myself something of a fried potato expert. My vegetarian diet and my occupation had collided to create a useless database of which fast food joints had the best form of fried potatoes, be they crinkle cuts, wedges, or curlies. In my humble opinion, the Arby’s potato cake is the pinnacle of fried potato products, being the purest synergy of potato and fry vat possible.

As we sat in the drive through, I told her about the crunchy golden goodness of which we were about to partake. At some point in that conversation it occurred to me that she had ceased to listen. She was turned toward me, her face a caricature of comprehension, but in her eyes there was a waiting. I suddenly knew that an opening had just appeared. The breach hung there between us, waiting to be filled or to collapse under its own weight.

I leaned forward and pressed my lips to hers. Our sunglasses clashed together, and we both tilted our heads to try to clear them. I had been going for something polite – lips closed and slightly moistened – while she had been prepared for a more intimate kiss, and met me with her lips parted and wet. We both reacted quickly, and as she closed her lips to accommodate my lead, I parted mine to accept her invitation. In short, we looked rather like tropical fish sparring over a prime nesting site, but we managed to kiss.

I sat back in my seat, and smiled. Past lovers have said that it was that smile that got them into my bed. If I stand in front of a mirror for practice, and try to recall the moment that I heard her saying “yes” to my intimate proposal, I only see a wolfish gloat. It must look different to women; or perhaps the pressure of those moments wrings from me a truer smile.

Here I laid out the finest smile I could muster, filled with hints about the tantric techniques I had read up on and reeking of indecent promises. She drew in a shaky breath and licked her lips as if to speak.
“That’ll be four-thirty-six.” The voice came from the pick-up window behind me. We both smiled, and I dug the money out of my wallet.

We ate our potato cakes in relative silence. Relative, because there was plenty of conversation, just none that mattered. We each kept our own counsel on the path we had just started down, as though talking could damage it somehow. It later occurred to me that even though I felt no guilt or remorse, at that moment, for the first time in six and a half years of union, I had been unfaithful to the tortoise.


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