An excerpt from

Short Stuff: New English Stories from Quebec
by Edited by Claude Lalumière

"What About Us"

by Connie Barnes Rose

When Lou and Bonnie disappeared into the quaking aspens we were at a birthday bonfire at the beach. As is the custom, the birthday boy was tossed into the water, and then someone said, "Hey, where did Lou disappear to?"

"We saw him talking to Bonnie."

"Maybe they went to get more wood."


We figured they had slipped into the darkness to smoke a joint away from the kids. A dark night it was, too. Since there was no moon, the stars dangled like crystals.

Those who found Lou and Bonnie should have read the signs. Like there was no hint of pot, and back in the firelight their faces looked pretty red.

A few days later we began to worry. It was during the end of summer Band Jam. When Lou wasn't playing mandolin, he was sitting at Bonnie's table. When Lou was playing mandolin he stared at Bonnie, who smiled the whole damned time.

Someone shouted, "When is Karen coming back?"

"Not soon enough."

Lou's wife, Karen, was off training in Hotel Management. Bonnie's Ben had just left for South Carolina with his rig loaded with blueberries.

We took it upon ourselves to help our friends. We would handle it very delicately. Those of us closest to Karen and Lou (four kids, survivors of twenty years together) would tackle Lou. Those of us who had always known Bonnie and Ben (married forever, two teenage boys) would reason with Bonnie.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"We're just good friends."

"We're all good friends. How much better friends do you need to be?"

We found ourselves in a very awkward position. Like the time Karen phoned looking for Lou.

"Lou? He was just here."

"Oh good. I couldn't reach him at home, and the kids had no clue."

We all felt guilty but decided it was right not to raise suspicions over what might just be a crush. Who among us hadn't had those? Besides, Lou really had been here. True, that was over three hours ago, but we weren't the police. We wished Ben and Karen would hurry up and come home.

There was another complication. What was supposed to be only a few of us who knew about the situation had grown. Some of us were losing sleep with worry and had felt a need to confide in others. Now there were phone calls happening all over town.

"What's the latest on, you know?"

"I saw them at the video store. Acting like they'd just bumped into each other."


"I just heard something weird about Bonnie and Lou. Is it true?"

"Uh, well, I guess I can tell you. You won't say anything."

"Of course not. You know that."

Any hopes that nothing truly serious was going on were dashed when we caught Lou and Bonnie out behind the tavern being serious indeed. Some of us took Lou by the arm and some of us Bonnie, and we hauled them into the light of the parking lot.

"Is this a midlife crisis? Because you're acting like kids."

"And speaking of kids, have you even thought about yours?"

"Do you know how horrible this is for us?"

It was quite simple, they said. They were soulmates. Yes, of course they loved Karen and Ben, too, but they couldn't stop this any more than one can stop the tide. Try harder, we advised them.

When Karen came back, right away she knew something was wrong. Lou seemed so distant. We admitted he had seemed pretty stressed. Anything interesting happen while she was away? Not really. Pretty boring, really. We looked at each other. Who would she kill first? Him? Her? Or us?

Then things seemed to settle down. Bonnie left town to visit her mom, and Karen said she and Lou were enjoying each other's company for the first time in months.

Summer was over. One of us went back to the city where she lives when she isn't here. She phoned at least once a week just to see how everyone was. All we had to report was that there was a concern over a Visa bill from a motel in the next town where Lou and Bonnie had been spotted last month. We were debating whether or not to stake out her mailbox before she got to it. Why? Because we were hoping the affair was over. We thought the big lesson to learn here was that a marriage is fragile and sometimes needs a little help from friends. Right?

Wrong. Karen dropped in one night. Had we seen Lou? He hadn't come home for supper. Had she tried him at work? He's a mail carrier, she reminded us. We felt like idiots. Of course, Bonnie had returned yesterday.

"Someone has to tell her," said our friend in the city.

"Easy for you to say. But how do you tell someone that her husband is having an affair and that her friends have known for weeks?"

"Tricky," she agreed. "By the way, I knew nothing about it, right?"

As it turned out, Lou told Karen. Some of it, at least. He took her for Chinese food and said he wanted out. When she showed up in tears, we asked if he had told her why. She nodded. Apparently he'd wanted out for a very long time, but hadn't had the nerve to say.

Someone handed Karen a beer.

"That's it? You didn't wonder why he has the nerve now?"

"You mean another woman? That was my first question, but he said no."

Now we had to tell her. So we did. No-one mentioned the Visa bill, but we confessed to knowing about this mess all along. We made it clear that we were on Karen's side. And poor Ben's, too.

Ben had barely jumped down from his truck when Bonnie told him about her and Lou. We held our breaths, wondering what Ben might do. But all he did was march over to Karen's house with a bottle of Kahlua, and they stayed under a blanket until dawn.

"You're joking!" screamed our friend when she phoned from the city. "Karen and Ben? This is too much! What about Lou and Bonnie?"

"They'll find out soon enough."

We felt that everyone should know. It seemed only fair to their kids. Hell, even our own kids were traumatized by the news.

Yes, it has been quite confusing for everyone, seeing Lou's car in Bonnie's driveway and Ben's truck parked in front of Karen's house. They've even traded around some of the kids. The worst is that they all seem to tingle with an energy none of us have felt in years. We imagine they have their moments of grief or guilt, but they insist this is the best thing to have ever happened. This whole thing makes our own marriages seem like an awful lot of work.