|Thanks for sharing this! It was a delight to read. It sort of reminds me of a short story I read a while back called "Provenance" by David W Ball. It can be found in the collection Rogues, if you're interested.
The dialogue is excellent. Even without too much information from the prose, I understood immediately that Phyllis was upset with Herman. If anything, I'd say it might be good to take out some of that non-dialogue explanation. We can tell that Herman is on thin ice by the fact that Phyllis didn't make him breakfast too, and that she leaves without so much as saying goodbye. The fact that Herman isn't really fazed by this tells us that it's something he's been experiencing for some time.
In essence, you do a great job of "Show, don't tell", but then you add in a bit too much telling, if that makes sense.
Likewise, the conversation with Kasper feels realistic, and you do a fantastic job of mixing action into the dialogue (He smiled. "xx." He patted Herman on the shoulder., eg), which keeps the pace moving and makes the characters dynamic and visual.
I also like how Herman lights up when someone finally takes an interest in his research. He probably doesn't have anyone to share his fascination with, so it makes sense that he'd be giddy about getting to do so.
It's well paced. You hit the beats perfectly following the typical 3-Act structure. Conflict is baked in and has impacts throughout the story. No criticisms here.
One issue I have with this story is its portrayal of Phyllis. Phyllis is portrayed very much as greedy and cold hearted. And maybe she is. But to me, it reads as though it's playing off of the b***h ex-wife trope. From the very beginning it seems like the only thing that she ever liked about Herman was that he was a provider. We don't get anything about how Herman loves/loved her, what Phyllis likes about Herman, etc. We also don't know if Phyllis has a job. I'd be pretty upset too if the breadwinner of the family suddenly decided to quit to finish his book, and he was never able to get the money. It's just a bad financial decision.
In short, she's a very flat character, and as the face of the conflict of the story, it makes that conflict ring a bit hollow.
A couple of suggestions for changes, take 'em or leave 'em:
- Phyllis as a sympathetic character -> She has a job, but can't pay the bills herself. She supported Herman's decision to quit, but her patience is understandably wearing thin. Herman loves her and wants to win back her love by proving that he can sell his book. This also shows Herman as being flawed, which is always compelling in a protagonist.
- Phyllis as an utterly unsympathetic character -> Herman really wanted to be a father, but Phyllis singly decided not to have kids. There's the suggestion that Phyllis has been cheating the whole time. She's been spending a lot of money despite not having a job and despite Herman's complaints. Before she leaves, she tells him she found out about the fact that he's out of publishers and she knew his book would fail - who cares about a bunch of dead people anyways? Really sell that she is just awful.
Otherwise, the morality of the story feels too shallow. The moral of her story here is, "Be patient with your husband who makes poor financial decisions because he might be the great-great-grandson of someone with a surprise inheritance." That's fine if she's truly awful, but as the story stands, I think she's quite justified in asking for a divorce in this circumstance.
I hope this helps! Again, thank you for sharing this piece. I really really enjoyed it.