Our marriage counselor says we need to fight. But Allie is too anxious to fight, and I’m too mild-mannered.

These are the stories we tell ourselves, at least.

“It’s important,” the marriage counselor says. “If fighting is outside your comfort zone, you can role play. Just like you would if you were trying to be romantic. You can even fight in public if that would make it more enticing.”

I recall the time long ago when Allie got frisky at an outdoor concert. There’s an exhibitionist streak somewhere inside her—buried deep, perhaps, but alive.



A few days later we are at dinner. It’s Thursday night. Date night. Although date night could be any night, since we don’t have kids.

Not having kids was intentional. Neither of us felt we had the love to give. Again, Allie was too anxious. Again, I was too mild-mannered. Which is another way of saying too loveless.

Date night is excruciating. As the appetizers arrive, I notice that Allie has her fists balled up. Our marriage isn’t working. She knows it, and she can’t take it. I know it, but I can take it.

In my plainest voice, I ask her how her salad is. She stands up and throws her glass of red wine in my face. “You’re just like your father!” she screams.

“My father died before we met,” I say, puzzled.

“And whose fault is that?” she says.

She storms out, leaving me with a bloody stain on my fresh gingham shirt.



At the movies, Allie calls me “feckless” and throws her popcorn at me. At a hockey game, she calls me a “lousy lay,” an idiom that got retired decades ago, and unloads her soda in my lap. At the festival grounds where she once got frisky during a concert, she says I’m a “tyrant” and leaves me with the lion’s share of a picnic dinner.

I’m always left alone to finish our food, finish our night. I wonder if I should follow her.

Should I shout back? Should I give her a piece of my mind?

I never do.



Finally, one Thursday night, I decide I’ll join in the performance. I take her to a fashionable new restaurant. It’s open-concept, so it has a large “audience.”

Allie looks sleepy. Her hair is frayed.

I order the salmon entree, biting my lip. When it arrives, I grip the fish in my hand and cry, “You are absolutely horrible!” Then I throw the fish at her face.

But I say these words with surprising vehemence. And the fish hits her with a room-stopping thwack. A sprig of dill clings to her face.

Allie bursts into tears and runs to the restroom. Our waiter comes over and escorts me out. I explain that everything is fine, that I’ll wait for Allie. He says, “Your date is over, sir.”



The restaurant is on a busy road. A crowd loiters outside, hoping to get a last-minute table.

I park myself across the street and wait for Allie to come out. Surely she’ll appreciate what I did for her, for our marriage.

But she doesn’t come out.

Toward the end of the night, I see her emerge at last. She’s quite tipsy. Our waiter has her arm in his. A cab pulls up, and I watch her get in.

Then a city bus steams in front, blocking my view. When it’s gone, the cab is gone, Allie is gone, the waiter is gone. I wonder if he got in the cab with her. I assume that he did. In any case, Allie doesn’t come home.



Nobody ever asks me what my job is. Maybe my face is too boring. Maybe people think that a man with a boring face will have a boring job.

Nobody wants to hear the details of a boring job.

And yet I write biographies of world leaders: Chamberlain, de Gaulle, Gandhi. My last name, if it matters to anyone, is Churchill. It ought to matter.



I’ve always wanted to have ancestors who would tell me what to do. A rough Irishman with a leathery face. A stout German with a simple, but unshakable worldview. But I only had a father, and he was mostly absent, and he died when I was a teenager.

And so I read about Winston Churchill.



Our divorce is finalized before long. I call up our marriage counselor to tell him we no longer require his services, but his line is disconnected. When I look him up online, I find out that he was never licensed.

How did we get his name? I can’t remember.



I see Allie a couple years later through the window of a cafe. She is chatting with a man who looks much younger than either of us. She still looks anxious.

Her right hand cups his face, and she pats him roughly on the cheek.

Or is it a slap? Or is it a love slap?

The rain starts to come down. I open my umbrella and shuffle off to the library to pore through the letters of Dwight Eisenhower. At closing time, they have to kick me out of the building.



I would like to apologize for my July 12th review of Gwendolyn’s Diner. The truth is, it doesn’t deserve one star. The eggs were not “apocalyptically runny.” They were only a little runny. Some people like their eggs that way. I shouldn’t have used such incendiary language.

By the same token, I shouldn’t have called the waffles “so tough a war orphan would bat them away.” I was born in a warzone. My parents escaped by the grace of God. This was a regretful attempt at humor on my part, and I apologize.

The truth is, I was having a hell of a morning when I walked into Gwendolyn’s Diner. My then-wife, who is still my wife, my now-wife, but has felt for some time like a then-relation, had informed me through a lawyerly intermediary that she was extending her nine-month stay on the West Coast. In point of fact, she was relocating. She referred to a man named Adam twice in her letter. What’s more, my parents, whom I had taken into my home so that I could care for them as they aged, whom I had set up in my cozy, succulent-appointed basement, had requested that I switch bedrooms with them. They would get the primary one, with its mahogany four-poster and chandelier. I would be quartered down below. In point of fact, I would have to come upstairs to use the toilet. “Just makes more sense,” said my mother, “seeing as Sheila’s gone.”

And so I ordered a king’s breakfast at Gwendolyn’s, but received runny eggs, tough waffles. I could detect ketchup in the “hot sauce.” The truth is, Gwendolyn had been serving me breakfast in her diner for years, and I hadn’t bothered to review it, or even to consider whether it counted as food one might review. Yet a vengeful something-or-other had surged up in me that morning. Of course, Gwendolyn and I had our own special history. Though twenty-two years my senior, she had once instructed me in the bedroom—decades ago, when she was my Latin tutor, clubbing my mouth with her police-like breasts and ordering me to—well, I dare not say. Gwendolyn will be seventy soon. She has a full plate of grandchildren. Decades ago, her eggs were firmer, her waffles moist.

The truth is, Gwendolyn had no impact on my life’s trajectory. Nobody did. Just the winds. The truth is, I’m a paper airplane, and I have no idea how I got here. But that’s not true, and everyone reading this article knows it. My wife’s family runs this newspaper. They are, yes, yes, that loathsome family whose name we don’t speak. This paper ran stories about lobstermen for eons before getting swallowed up by their syndicate and pivoting to lies and catecholamines. I campaigned for this food critic job, and Sheila’s father gave it to me with a shrug. It was just money, paltry money at that.

In point of fact, her father beat me black and blue on his tennis court when I told him about my nights with Gwendolyn. His daughter and I had been dating for a few months by then, but she was peckish with her body. I spat my blood in his face at midcourt as I described exactly what Gwendolyn had taught me and how godly it felt to have her slippery legs on my face—and the truth is, that tussle with her father was the one time Sheila respected me, and from that one squirt of respect I birthed a whole marriage, plus whatever alimony will arrive in the mail next year.

In our house, I did all the cooking: rabbit, duck, cornish game hen. Puny, defenseless animals. The one time Sheila cooked, she made a giant platter of root vegetables. They came out of the oven looking like castrated organs. In point of fact, her brother was a chef and she resented that we were both better in the kitchen than she was. Any skill of mine she resented. She hired people with more sharpened skills to defeat me at my own game while she watched with hooded eyes.

We fucked one time in the rain, in the sloppy muck of her father’s tennis court. That was the other time she respected me. Two times total, that’s the truth. Beyond that, I was a limp presence. Even for Gwendolyn, who knew I was worthless but still found the charity to impound my face with her buttocks, even for her I was limp. “You’re a masochist,” she said to me once. “You may as well know that about yourself, so you’re not surprised later in life.” When I ventured that it was more nuanced than that, she ordered me to be silent. So I stamped her diner with one star while clicking on the worst news the world had to offer. Revenge is rarely justified but always motivated—I read that once. Sheila should have left long ago. My parents should sell my house. The end’s in the beginning.

I write this retraction, my final submission for the paper, from a boat sailing into the North Atlantic. Gwendolyn’s Diner doesn’t deserve one star. It deserves two. The truth is, the service is fine, and the coffee arrives hot at the table. It steams up my glasses, wilts my mustache. One time, Gwendolyn poured the coffee right in my lap, a reminder of our past intimacy. As we plunge into open waters, I feel nothing but gratitude toward my old tutor. In point of fact, five stars. Five stars for Gwendolyn’s Diner.



About the Author

David Yourdon is a writer based in Canada. His stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, HAD, Peatsmoke Journal, Bending Genres, Emerge Journal, and Rejection Letters; his last story appeared in the 2022 Wigleaf Top 50 Longlist.


Photo by Kristina Gadeikyte on Unsplash