Traps by
(10 Stories)

Prompted By Temptation

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“Write drunk, edit sober.” He had seen that somewhere, maybe attributed to Hemingway. On the way back from the corner market, walking in the dark, he decided to try it.

Of mice and men...

Less than a block away, the market sells beer, wine, and even hard liquor — too much of a temptation to someone trying to cut back. He had bet himself that a four-pint pack of his favorite IPA would be in the store’s cooler. He got there five minutes before closing time, and he won. 

Earlier, before dinner, watching the news (situation desperate as usual), he had enjoyed the three cans left in the fridge from last night. Doing the dishes, he had decided he needed more. But first, double-checking the time while drying his hands at the sink, he strode to the trapdoor in the laundry room for a nightly ritual. The dehumidifier down in the tiny, spooky basement needed to be emptied. And the mousetraps needed checking. Making his way down the steep, no-railing stairs, he carried two new mousetraps, baited with peanut butter. Purchased earlier in the day, they were the plastic kind that are easy to set without trapping a finger. Once in place, they would double the number of traps in the basement. He made a mental note to buy more for the garage.

For the first time in recent memory, there were no bodies to dispose of. One trap he had set the previous night, plastic like the new ones, had been sprung, with no bait left. The other was still unsprung. He placed the two new traps close together on the ledge where he had had the most success. Then he picked up the sprung one, the old wooden kind, and took it upstairs along with the bucket of water from the dehumidifier. He emptied the water into the toilet and leaned over the abyss to put the empty bucket on the top step. He took the trap into the kitchen, placed it on a paper towel to keep germs off the butcher block, and baited it with more peanut butter, putting a piece of pretzel on top for good measure.

On the way back down the stairs, he thought what he usually thought: How much longer am I going to be able to do this? I’m seventy years old, with dizzy spells that come on without warning. If I fell and died, who would care? What a drama queen, his wife would say, if he voiced his thoughts. She was upstairs watching TV, probably almost through her first bottle of chardonnay by now. They had quarreled at dinner about something he had already forgotten, yet he knew she would be crushed by his death. They are soulmates — best friends in spite of the continual bickering he likes to think is related to her losing interest in sex.

Of course his thoughts then went to Abby, 500 miles away. Abby is his lover, with whom he keeps in touch by email every day and calls two or three times a week since they reconnected four years ago. She is married too, but no longer sleeps with her husband. They arrange to get together once or twice a year, and planning their next tryst is always a challenge. The primary ground rule is secrecy. The sex is as good as the old days, actually better. Sparks fly. Yet they agree this passion could not be sustained if they lived together. He knew Abby also would be heartbroken if he died, maybe even more so than his wife. To his amazement as well as his gratification, Abby adores him unconditionally, just like when they were in high school together. Perhaps, he considered, their recalled images of each other as young and supple are what keep them feeling young.

Now, back from the store with the four new beers, he fires up the computer. Hemingway’s advice would been taken, and then some. Nearly finished one can of the strong brew, the writer debates the pros and cons of opening another. In spite of the many cons, which include his worsening hypertension and feeling lousy the next morning, the single pro — “Maybe I can get even higher” — wins out, as usual.

If he could stop drinking so much, perhaps he would be capable of making love to his wife. If she cared. He would only be thinking of Abby anyway.

Tilting the tall can back to get the very last sip, he wonders, for the umpteenth time that day, how this is all going to turn out. The affair with Abby, he thinks, is keeping him alive. A major factor, he knows, is his fear of his approaching death. 

As inevitably as the church bell striking eleven down the street, he goes to the refrigerator and opens the next can. This time he stops at the kitchen counter to pick up his favorite glass, still there from the pre-dinner beers. Back at the computer, he pours the hazy, yellow nectar into the tall, pretty glass, which now, he sees, is shaped a bit like a woman’s body. Or an hourglass.

So far, no one else knows about his affair except his therapist. He can trust no one else, but yearns to share his pent-up emotions (and the gold nugget in his pocket, so to speak). Or does he just want to brag? Again he ponders whether or not to call his friend Brian in Vermont  — the artist his wife never wants to see again — and ask if he and Abby can stay with him for their next rendezvous. 

Just now he hears his wife down the hall. She has come down to the kitchen to open another bottle of wine. He hopes she goes back upstairs soon; she shouldn’t see his musings on the bright screen. It’s raining hard outside now. He gets up to peer into the kitchen. No sign of his wife. She didn’t say hello because she is still mad at him.

Brian slept with his wife one night, back in the Eighties, during the separation. Their son walked in on them the next morning.

Another interruption: His wife comes down again, this time to ask him to close a guest-room window upstairs. The window is stuck open, and the rain is getting in. He rises, after quickly closing out the computer file. But does he actually want to be discovered? He wonders once again if that would lessen his emotional stress or just make it worse. As usual, he decides it would most likely make everything worse. He knows it would cause tremendous emotional pain and angst to his wife, son, and daughter. He would have to move out of his beautiful home. He wouldn’t get to see his delightful grandchildren as often. This is a recurring topic at his therapy sessions, along with how to make himself treat his wife with more respect and why he has been drinking so much since his retirement. 

“Thanks for not questioning me,” says his wife after he had shut the window. “I didn’t want to hurt my shoulder.” He asks her if they would be sleeping together tonight. “I don’t know yet,” she responds curtly.

Back at his desk, he writes more about Brian, the artist. A funny, smart, intriguing guy. A good storyteller. He doesn’t hold that night with his wife against Brian. After all, he himself was the one who abandoned his young family for all those months — he just couldn’t handle the stress. But his grown son, an artist himself who many years ago was influenced by Brian’s style more than he admits, says Brian disgusts him.

He has visited Brian since the reconciliation, more than once. They didn’t talk about his wife. There was laughing. There were insights. I won’t be alive much longer, he thinks, resolving to call Brian tomorrow. Or the next day.

He remembers the last mouse he found trapped, the night before. It was almost always dead, but this one was caught only by a hind leg. It had dragged the trap off the ledge and onto the floor, where it must have been struggling for hours. He saw that if he picked up the trap he would probably get bitten. It was the plastic trap, so he released the mouse by stepping on the lever. It crawled away, trailing the broken leg behind. Was it dying inside the wall now, to later smell up the house? He supposes he should have crushed its head with his heel instead of freeing it. Too late now.

He took the glass’s last sip of beer. To the fridge for another? What would Hemingway do? He decides to go to bed. His wife likes to stay up later, in the guest bedroom. He decides to edit this in the morning.


Profile photo of Ben McKelway Ben McKelway

Tags: drinking, adultery, affair, retirement, marriage, monogamy
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Wow, Ben, another powerful story! You write this in the third person, but I have to assume that it is in some sense about you. Which raises all kinds of questions in my mind, but I won’t ask them. After all, nobody asked Hemingway about his personal life . . . or did they?

  2. Marian says:

    So many temptations and teases here, Ben, along with a lot of truths. Thank you for writing this story.

  3. You captured much that makes us all tick Ben -the sensibilities of the artist, and our pains and joys and secrets, and our fear of mortality.
    Great writing!

  4. An enjoyable little cat and mouse game…thanks, Ben!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Your writing is so engaging. It leaves me wanting to know more about the protagonist. Perhaps a sequel in the future?

  6. This was masterful in bringing the reader right into the narrator’s train of thought. One of those stories where the protagonist isn’t a very good guy but yet you’re rooting for him nevertheless.
    We have both kinds of mousetraps—in the Berkshires, not the Cape—and your descriptions of that activity are pricelessly spot-on.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    Powerful story of regret, recriminations, temptations and ruminations. You write with clarity and so much detail. I was right there with you every moment wondering if you’d get caught, if you wanted to get caught, what happened to the mouse with the broken leg? So many unanswered questions, just left hanging in our imaginations. Wow.

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