A follow up to Kern, Baby, Kern by Alexa Lash – a writer, editor, and on-the-spot poet. Former Floridian and resident Bostonian, she has written for the Seminole Chronicle, Momslikeme, and the Central Florida Future, and is currently studying Publishing at Emerson College. Featured illustration by Anton Voytenkov. Article illustrations: Noir series by Cristiano Siqueira.

I knew he was cheating, but I needed proof, pages of it—image-heavy, graphic, legs and arms waxed together like old pages. I was all blues then, my kindled romance pressed out by the unproved knowledge that he was unfaithful, mystery slipped within a history section.

So I hired a private eye, Dewey. He had a system, an organized way with words, providing translations of situations in simpler terms. He processed information like colors, acquired and cataloged in secret. Best-reviewed spy in the books.

“Babe, I think you’re right. He’s a first-edition liar.” Dewey nodded his cap down, a feather lodged in his headband.

I felt offset; my knees buckled, my body sliding slipcase down, down. When annotated, our love seemed wonderful. But maybe I had overprinted my memories with smiles and satisfaction. Maybe we’d signed the kill fee on our happiness long ago.

“Are you sure?”

If I could just reprint this moment, watch the ink drip into the nooks of P’s and L’s and other letters, maybe, I wouldn’t feel so hurt. By then, I’d been married almost ten years. My hair had tinted from black to a darker gray, evidence I was growing older. We hadn’t even had children yet, leafing through our lives, jacketed only by work.

Pub and Marriage: A Noir Short Story in Publishing Terms

“Don’t worry ‘bout it. Your boy is all gloss, no vellum.”

My heart leaped from my chest like a pop-up book. My actions, mechanical, I grabbed for the folder on Dewey’s desk.

“Don’t—”

My face went monochromatic, ghost-pale. The images weighed on me, published evidence of relationship infringement. My love, my heart, a subsidiary to the photos of him and her—my marriage, fiction.

Dewey watched my face accordion-fold, my confidence run through a shredder.

“Your boy’s wholesale. Just dump the guy.”

My head pounded, reams of paper dropping heavy on my soul. “But it isn’t that simple.” I could still envision it, every dot-per-inch of her curved form, the golden ratio of women backlisting me from my husband.

I thought of the contract, our signatures there, looped and happy; the promises we’d made, now a frontispiece exposed to the world like something dirty.

“At least you know.”

My face smoothed to a calmer gaze, laminated only by momentary tears. I’d confront him, end this. The final draft of marriage, him circled and removed, the letters L O V E whited out.

“But, honey, I didn’t do it.” His response coded in my memory, as if written in large print.

Maybe what I’d seen was false, a misprint. It happened. He could write a letter of apology. He could write a retraction.

“Oh, but you did. Page proofs, sweetie. Our marriage, all errors.”

I showed him the images. His bulk shrouding her tinier margins, watermarking my heart with an X. Pictures of them entwined, spiral-bound in kisses and pauses as slim as commas. Pictures of them saddle-stitched together beneath sheets. Our sheets, now rags representative of a mock-up of the institution of marriage.

He just stared. I tried to read his face, but couldn’t. The turn of his mouth, the crease of his eyes, for once, became illegible before me, subscripted, size-4 font.

“Aren’t you going to say something?”

He quieted then, a library quiet. I knew I’d made the upper case, then; he’d turned his face away from me and raised his hands as if surrendering. He wasn’t denying it. And eventually, he’d sign the papers, revealing the realism, crushing the fantasy of our affection like a stack of books falling from the highest shelf.

“I guess not.”

I could sense my rights revert, the tray of my heart fill up with letter blocks. I was finally free.