“She left me.” An anxious voice at my locked screen door yells over the country music. He interrupts my Sunday afternoon ritual.
I am on my knees dusting the legs of the coffee table and have to crawl around the couch to look at the doorway. I am not expecting this man on this day. I stand up, wipe moisture from my upper lip, and smooth my hair back away from my face as he turns his key in the lock. Nothing can fix the dusty, sweaty mess I am: cut-off grey sweats and my class reunion t-shirt. This is not the me he knows. With him, I am tailored slacks or lacy lingerie; I was his daughter’s teacher before I was his lover. His clothes are wrong too. The designer suit he usually folds carefully over an armchair has been replaced by khaki cargo shorts and a light blue polo. I can see his curly chest hair peeking out above the buttons and little stains under his arms. I check my own pits and the odor assaults me.
Even the music is wrong for his visit; country is the language of my past. I turn it off and ask, “What did you say?”
Instead of responding, he walks in and hugs me, hard and long, like too much time has passed since he last saw me and I am truly someone special. I let him, wanting for a second to really be that important person. Then I see part of my face reflected in the television and smell the lemony pledge on my dusting cloth. I push him away. “What are you doing here?”
He usually reserved Friday after work for me, telling his wife he was at happy hour with the guys. Over the past few years, I’d learned to appreciate our hurried intercourse. Our post-coital cocktail was the only time he ever drank anything. And then he’d tell me all about his week. Before he could ask about mine, happy hour was over.
“Why don’t you wash up and we can go celebrate somewhere.”
We never go anywhere.
He gives me a gentle push towards the bathroom. “My marriage is finally over and now it is all about us, baby.” He kisses the hand he is still holding before heading towards the kitchen to make his usual vodka soda.
Smiling, I go. Obedient like the wife I’d been trained to be, the wife I was for five years in an abusive marriage. In the shower, I think about his last visit. We danced barefoot to some Luther Vandross song for just one verse before he started unbuttoning my blouse. I unhooked my own bra because he fumbles too much and our time is limited. Plus that gave him clear access to my nipples which he aroused quickly. As a lover, he was perfect. For me. He satisfied my physical needs with no unnecessary conversation. Then he left, and I could do what I wanted the rest of the week. I never had to clean up his toast crumbs in my kitchen or pick up his dirty boxers from my bedroom floor. There weren’t six pairs of athletic shoes piled by the front door, no half-dressed cover models in my bathroom magazine rack. And he never hit me.
As the steam builds up, the picture of us together all the time becomes clear. I shut off the water without conditioning my hair and step out of the shower without completely drying all my parts. I put on my faded, blue, terrycloth robe; the not sexy one.
He sits sprawled on my couch and offers me a glass of bourbon and water. Alcohol before sex is not part of our routine. But he is sitting where I like him to so I can ride him until he cries out for me to stop; I comply only if I have already finished myself. The pleasure is sometimes too close to pain. This time, I don’t sit on top of him. I decline the drink and sit at the opposite end with my legs tucked up under me. He tries to move closer, but I turn to drink from the glass of now warm water I’d poured earlier.
“What are you doing here?” I ask again, not able to keep the annoyance out of my voice. He does not seem to hear it. I straighten the magazines on the end table that had been disrupted by my cleaning frenzy. The vacuum still stands unused and lonely in the corner.
He tries to inch closer, reaches under my robe to use his hands on my bare feet. He knows how much I love that; it was how he started undressing me on his first visit. He repeats slowly in a deeper voice, “She left me.”
Knowing that whatever I say will be wrong, I keep my own mouth in neutral and pat the top of his hand which I hate to admit feels warm on my cold toes. “I’m sorry?”
“No!” He explodes in a grin and forces my legs out of his way. “This is what we’ve been waiting for.” He scoots across the couch to the cushion next to mine.
Exactly what I feared. No space for me to breathe.
“She is taking the kids and moving to the Valley. She has a boyfriend there who is widowed and has two girls of his own. He loves her and wants to adopt them. If I agree, she won’t ask for spousal or child support.” He is giddy. Like he just won the divorce lottery.
All of these details I already knew. His wife is the nurse at the elementary school where I teach fourth grade. I’d heard her gushing about the new guy to the school secretary. Just as I’d heard her numerous complaints about her husband over the past six years. Right after their second daughter was born.
“As soon as school ends next month,” he continues, “she’ll leave and we can finally be together.”
Trying to think about the best way to respond, I pull my robe tighter around me and adjust my now cramped legs so my feet are dangling just above the floor. Sipping my water, I blink rapidly as if that will make him go away, erase this conversation.
“I can sell my place. It’s too big for just us anyway. And you can finally move out of this craphole.”
I stop mid-sip and look around the cozy apartment I’d found after my own marriage had to end. Every piece of furniture had been carefully selected; I’d painted the walls myself. The smoky blue surrounds me with warmth in the winter and makes me feel cool in summer. It complements the vintage area rug that reminds me of my favorite aunt’s sofa, one I’d napped on as a child and later, fled to when injured. He thought my home was crap? I guess compared to the modern monstrosity he bought in a gated community anything would seem insufficient. When he and his wife hosted a faculty party, I’d blamed her for the tacky décor, but now I wonder if some of that was his doing.
He interrupts my thoughts and for the first time I hear that nasal squeak his wife mocks at the lunch table. “We can start looking this weekend – ”
“No.” I cut him off.
“No?” He sits back into the opposite arm of the sofa, finally registering my emotions, my distaste for this change to our routine, our arrangement. He looks at me almost frowning.
I wonder if he gave her that same shocked and hurt expression when she finally told him of her infidelity. And then I wonder why I’d never told him. But only for a second. Her actions were how I justified mine.
He clears his throat. “I thought you loved me.”
My turn for shock. “Why?”
“I love you.”
I tilt my head, purse my lips, and say softly, “You don’t even know me.”
His shoulders drop, his eyes crinkle up at the corners, and he opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. He closes it.
Before he can say anything else, I stand up, and take my glass into the adjacent kitchen. I stand at the sink and look out the window at the distant mountains. He follows me, persistence that was once admirable.
With his hands on my shoulders, he finds his persuasive tone, that deep voice I first fell for. “I know you love it when I slip inside you and taste you until you stop breathing for just a second.” He kisses my neck and in spite of myself I close my eyes and let him. “I know you love it when I rub that place between your shoulders and all down your back,” he traces the exact path through the thick fabric and part of me wants to take it off and drop to the floor with him wrapped around me. He shifts his arms, hugging me from behind. I feel him. “And when I hold you for just a little while after sex.” He nuzzles under my ear like he did the last time he dozed off in my bed: when he whispered I love you, I let myself believe it for a minute, but I wasn’t sure who his sleeping voice was talking to. He puts his hands on my hips, trying to turn me so I face him. “I know you deserve better than being the other woman.”
Involuntarily, I flinch. Untangling myself from his body, I move out of arm’s reach before I look directly into his eyes. “You’re right. I deserve better.”