One morning the woman’s run takes her past an elementary school during drop-off. On either side of the street in front of the school women and men in neon yellow vests stalk. They wield stop signs on sticks, like enormous lollipops. As the woman approaches the curb, the nearest crossing guard, a long-limbed man in Ronald McDonald shoes, walks out to the middle of the street, holds up his sign. Traffic bows to him. He smiles at the woman and says, “Good Morning.” She smiles and says, “Good Morning” back. The rest of her run, the woman feels happy. The stopping of traffic, the smile, the good morning: they are the kindest things anyone has done for her all week.
When she returns home, she tells her husband about the crossing guard.
Her husband says, “He has to do that. It’s his job.”
“He has to stop traffic,” she says, “but he doesn’t have to be so nice about it.”
Her husband says, “How do you know he doesn’t have to be nice about it?”
She says, “Even if he’s supposed to be nice about it, the niceness was genuine.”
Her husband says, “But doesn’t his being nice because he’s supposed to be nice diminish the so-called kindness?”
The woman’s husband leans against the kitchen counter, oblivious to the mess behind him. There’s the sponge on the counter, despite that she’s asked him hundreds of times not to leave the sponge on the counter. Ditto with the glob of peanut butter that will sit there past noon. Ditto with the glass her husband drank kefir from and then set down to get crusty rather than quickly rinse and put in the dishwasher.
“Aren’t we supposed to be nice to each other?” she says.
“What?” he says. He refills his coffee, spilling dregs onto the counter.
“Didn’t we make vows to be nice to each other?” she says.
After a beat, he squints and says, “That’s completely different.”
“Different how?” she says.
Her husband laughs. He continues to laugh as he dips a knife into the peanut butter jar, as he licks the peanut butter off that knife. As, before he disappears into his home office, he pecks her cheek, leaving a sticky residue on her skin.