"Is that you, sweet boy?"
The officer squinted, shaded his eyes, then grinned. "Aw, I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't see it was you."
I fished in my purse. "I have my driver's license with me now, but I still don't have my registration sticker on. It's not my fault though. It's—"
He held up his hand. "I know, never is."
I laughed. "You don't know what I was going to say."
He rolled his eyes and bobbled his head. "What were you going to say?"
"I was gonna say, it's my husband's fault."
He shook his head. "I don't know much, ma'am, but I’m pretty sure blame shifting’s not good for a marriage."
I huffed. "You're telling me how to do marriage?" I said. "How old are you?"
His mouth opened and shut a couple times. "I'm—"
I shoved my car door open and climbed out. "That does it. Now I have to tell you a story."
He glanced back at his cruiser. "I don't know. I'm on traffic detail. I've got a quota and—"
I swatted the air in front of him. "Quota, shmota," I said pointing to the curb. "Sit."
I leaned in my car window and pulled a pencil and spiral notebook out of my purse. After I took a seat beside him, I opened the notebook to a fresh page and dropped a line down the middle.
He wiggled his wedding band with his pointer finger. "Yes'm."
"What's your name?"
"Does your wife call you Mike or Michael?"
"Either, or Mickey."
I nibbled the pencil eraser. "I like Michael, sounds handsome and strong.” I poked his bicep. “And you are."
I wrote Michael at the top of the left column.
"What's your wife's name?"
"Cynthia, or Cyndi."
I printed Cynthia over the right column then laid my hands on the notebook and turned so I could look him in the eye.
"I'm going to tell you my marriage theory. You ready?"
"Now, Michael, whether they know it or not, every bride and groom carries a milk crate of expectations down the aisle at their wedding, a honey-do list for the other person. Let's start with you. What do you want, or expect, from Cynthia?"
Michael stared at the tree across the street. My eyes followed his gaze. The leaves were half green, half gold. Fall's almost here, I thought.
"Let's see, cook dinner, do laundry, keep the house nice.” He counted on his fingers. "Stuff like that."
I jotted his items under Cynthia's name. "And what do you think she wants from you?"
Michael's eyes narrowed and his mouth hitched to the side. "Fix broken things, change light bulbs, take the garbage out."
I handed him the notebook and pencil. "Write those under your name."
When he finished, I reached across him. "It's too short. Here, let me."
I wrote on his side: yard work, removal and/or burial of dead critters (bugs or animals), car issues.
Michael reached for the pencil. "May I?” I handed it back to him.
He scribbled at the bottom of Cynthia's column: pay bills, make appointments, remember my mom's birthday.
I grinned. "Why, you're a fast learner, aren't you?"
"Yeah," he said, "I see what you're saying."
I stretched the list to arms' length so we could both read it. "Now, Michael. This is the list, The Boy and Girl List. In order for a marriage to work, you need to know what your spouse wants and expects of you, and vice versa. Believe me, when either of you slacks on your list, sooner or later, there's gonna be trouble."
I tapped the Michael side of the paper with the pencil. "As you look at the list, can you tell me why my out of date registration sticker is not my fault?"
He scanned the paper. "'Cause anything to do with cars is on the Boy List?”
I patted his thigh. "That's right."
Michael stood. "How many years you been married, ma'am?"
He extended his hand and I grabbed it with both mine and up I went.
"Twenty," I said.
"Then this list thing really works."
I nodded as I ripped the page out and handed it to him. "I think so."
He folded it and tucked it in his breast pocket. "Awesome. Thank you, ma'am."
When he started to leave, I tapped him on the shoulder.
"One more thing," I said when he turned back. "Let me tell you one more thing that'll make your wife really happy."
His eyebrows went up and he caught his lower lip with his top teeth. I felt my cheeks burn.
"Come on now. I'm not gonna talk about that," I said. "I hardly know you. What I was gonna say is, do stuff on her list."
He squinted. "But—"
I lifted my chin. "Trust me," I said. "Nothing says I love you more than my husband doing the dishes."
Michael's brow furrowed. I lifted my hair and let it fall behind my shoulders.
Michael headed for his car. Once there he paused and waved.
I rolled my fingers and pushed my words across the distance. "Guess what I'm gonna do now?"
I opened my car door. "I'm gonna go home and put my registration sticker on my license plate. Oh, and Michael? Cologne."
It took him a minute, but then he let out a belly laugh.