This is a non-erotic story, without graphic sex scenes
The thermometer on the back porch read ninety-three, hot even for the first day of August. The curtain of hemlocks remained undisturbed by any tinge of breeze. The back yard table was set with plates, flatware and glasses despite the forecast for isolated thunder showers.
He carried the serving dishes through the freshly-mown lawn, his bare feet massaged by the soft grass, wondering what might be on her mind tonight. The review of an architect in the latest New Yorker? A garden show she'd watched on cable? Perhaps an update on her latest project at work? He was certain, whatever it was, it wouldn't concern him.
She hadn't touched her wine, he noticed. Sitting at the small table, reading a travel magazine, she looked up through her glasses and gave him one of her fleeting smiles, the one that meant simply, 'oh, you're here.' The pasta and salad found it's way to the table and was dished onto the common china, the chardonnay was tasted and found to be acceptable, and he prepared himself for another discussion about urbanities.
"It's good," she said.
"Thank you," he replied, "I put a little extra garlic in it."
"That helped, I think. May I have a slice of bread?"
Bites of moments slipped by, undisturbed by sophisticated patter. Perhaps, he considered, she's waiting for me to describe my day. But the inanities of his life, his job, his hobby always seemed to bore her, and he was loathe to disturb the silence.
She cleared her throat, perhaps a sliver of cork irritated it. Almost talking to the wine bottle, not him, she timorously declared, "I've had an affair."
The words were dragged from his ears to the portion of his brain that interpreted sounds. Incredulously, he considered the import. He must be mistaken, he decided; she was talking about a movie star, a celebrity. "Excuse me?"
She looked up, if not directly into his eyes, at least into his face. A touch more volume, a bit more confidence, she repeated, "I've had an affair."
His wife with someone else? Impossible. The mother of his children, his soul mate, entwined naked with a lover? He gazed at the short auburn locks and asked, "Who with?"
"A man at the office. You don't know him. Oh, you've met him a couple of times, at picnics and Christmas parties. But it's no one I work closely with. You wouldn't remember him."
"What's his name?" Somehow, this shred of information seemed of great concern, perhaps the key to the puzzle.
"Jim." She waited for his mind to clear of the shock. He casually twirled the wine goblet, sending the straw colored liquid into a whirlpool. He wondered what he might say, what possible question he could ask that might make sense of this agony.
Observing his confusion, Nancy took advantage of the momentary pause to commence an appeal. "I'm sorry, I'm starting this poorly. I had a speech ready, but I began wrong. I want to tell you that I still love you, that I've always loved you, I'll never stop loving you. This has nothing to do with you. It just happened. You didn't do anything wrong. It's all my fault."
The words, meant to calm him, to ease the pathos, turned on her. Angrily he cried, "What do you mean, this has nothing to do with me? It has everything to do with me! We promised each other we'd be faithful, and now I find you've been screwing around. What do you mean, it has nothing to do with me?"
As quickly as he flared he calmed, a portion of his mind understanding that quick words and animosity would do little to provide a solution. He stared at the hands resting in her lap, the head bent in sorrow, and in pity, asked for her explanation. "Tell me about it."
He detected the glint of a tear as she looked to him. "What do you want to know?"
"Everything. How it started. How long it's been going on. How many times. Things like that." He waited as she gathered herself for the inquisition she knew was waiting for her, and for the first time in many a meal, listened to her.
"How it started? It seems so long ago. I bumped into Jim in the hallway, literally. He knocked some files out of my arms, we picked them up together. There was something about him I liked, I don't know what it was. He apologized for making a mess. The next day, I was going to lunch and met him in the elevator again. I joked I didn't have any files for him to knock, and he suggested he buy me lunch to make up for it. I didn't have anyone else to eat with that day, so I accepted. We found out we had a lot in common, and we traded phone numbers. A week later he called me and we had lunch again.
"You may not believe this, Seth, but I had lunch with Jim once a week for over two years, and it was nothing but innocence. I got to know him, all about his family . . ."
"He's married?" Seth interrupted.
"Yes, and he has a son in college and two daughters still in high school. And he seemed interested in me, in the things I like, like gardening and architecture and interior design."
"The things I hate." More than a hint of rancor accompanied the aside.
"Don't say it that way, dear. It's not like that, like you two were ever in competition. He's just different from you, that's all. So for two years we had lunch together, and once in a great while drinks afterwards and once we went to dinner and a play when you were out of town. It wasn't a date, I paid for my meal and he paid for his. He was always complimenting me on my clothes or jewelry, and he noticed if I had been to the hair stylist, things like that.
"Then, one day, he asked me out of the blue if I ever thought of him in a sexual way. I told him no, I just thought of him as a friend, and I think it was true. He dropped it immediately, but I couldn't help but think about it, about what he said. A couple of weeks later, I asked him about it, and asked him if he thought I was sexy. He told me I was the sexiest woman he ever knew. And, yes, we both started considering an affair.
"We talked about it for months. We both wanted to, but we were afraid of what might happen. To you, I mean, and to his wife, and both of our families. We couldn't make up our minds what to do."
Seth chose this moment to interrupt, to clarify. "When was this, when you were thinking about going to bed with him?"
"A year ago last spring. As I said, it became a regular topic with us. When I look back, I can see that we both wanted each other but were afraid to jump, and one afternoon over lunch, he joked, 'Why don't we stop pussy footing around and just go get a hotel room?' And I said okay." She looked at Seth, not knowing if he wanted her to continue her story, or how much more detail he desired.
"So you two just went and hopped in bed," Seth finished for her, a touch of disdain tingeing his remark. The sky above the confessional dinner clouded, mimicking the mood. "I hope it was good."
"No, it wasn't. That first time, we were both too keyed up, too nervous to relax." Nancy paused, not sure if he wanted such particulars.
"The first time, eh? Then there have been others. How many times have you fucked him?" It was a cruel question, worthy of a man who fancies himself hurt.
"I'm going to be honest with you. I promised myself when I decided to tell you that I wouldn't lie anymore. I've lost count of the number of times Jim and I have made love. The second time was three days after the first; we talked it over and decided that we should give it another chance, the first time had gone so badly. And then, the next day we did it again, and then again, and then again. In the first six weeks, we were together sixteen times."
"You must have run up one hell of a hotel room."
"We would have, but Jim has a bachelor friend who travels a lot. He lets us use his apartment when he's out of town."
For a second he halted, allowing the import of her revelation to sink in. "So for over a year, you two have been going on like rabbits?"
"Not every day, not even once a week since that first burst. He took his family on vacation after school got out last year, then you and I went to Colorado, remember? During the time we were away from each other, we thought about it, and what we were doing. When we got back together, we actually agreed we were going to stop, but it was too strong, and we did it again. Since then, it's been twice, maybe three times a month."
Doubting himself, doubting his rationality, he said, "So all this year, you've been seeing him behind my back, and I never suspected."
A strong puff of wind swirled through the garden, the precursor of the storm about to arrive. With downcast eyes, she repeated, "I'm sorry." Seconds of silence, reflection. "I never meant to hurt you. I've felt guilty, I should have told you long ago."
"You shouldn't have ever started it, you mean."
"Yes, you're right, of course," she agreed.
"So why are you telling me now. Why not just go on ripping my heart out?" he queried, melodramatically.
"It's become too much for me to hold in. I told Jim I was going to tell you. He begged me not to, of course. He's afraid you'll be angry, make things difficult . . ."
"Don't I have a right to? After all, he's the one who's screwing my wife, isn't he?" Seth's nostrils flared, and Nancy thought that if Jim were in the garden, there might have be a fight.
"Maybe you do have a right. But what purpose would it serve? We can't undo what we've done." The first pregnant raindrop smacked the table. "We'd better go inside, dear."
Together, as a married couple, they rushed the remnants of the mostly uneaten dinner into the kitchen, two hurried trips each. "Do you want any more to eat?" Nancy solicited.
"No, somehow I'm not hungry. Can you imagine that? I think I'll have a drink, though, a stiff one." Traversing into the dining room, he poured a half glass of scotch, then slammed through the screen door, taking his solace onto the exposed porch. Nancy placed plastic wrap over the full containers of food, washed the soiled dishes in the sink. Midway through the chore the first lightning bolt struck, not far away, and a few minutes later, more rumbling thunder shook the house.
After the kitchen was tidied, Nancy peeked out the window. Seth remained on the wicker chair, nursing the whiskey, watching the torrent of rain water pour from the overloaded gutters. 'They should be cleaned,' Nancy thought to herself. "Do you need anything?" she asked her mate.
"No, nothing," he responded. "Just a little time to think, that's all." It was a clear signal to her that he was aloof, pondering. From two decades of observing his moods, she knew it would be better to leave him be. Silently she withdrew into the living room, turning on the cable more for the noise and distracting images than any real desire to be entertained. She wished for someone to talk to, to share her agony with. Jim would be perfect, she thought, but they'd cultivated the habit of not phoning homes, never compromising the dread secret. Perhaps her girlfriend, Abby, the only other person she'd confessed her affair to, who called her stupid and dumb, but let Nancy talk her worries out. She had the phone in her hand, the number was being dialed when the brilliant light flooded the room followed suddenly by the heavy clap; the bolt had struck within blocks, the lamps and television set winked out, devoid of power.
Frightened, Nancy threw the handset onto the floor and began weeping. As the storm swirled around the house, she cried for what was already lost, for the consequences that might come about. Tears and sobs drained from her, mingling, it seemed, with the torrent surrounding her refuge. Slowly, the thunder cloud receded and was replaced by the calm.
A sip of water might make her feel better. Slowly she trudged to the kitchen, switching the light on and being surprised when it failed to illuminate. She felt her way through the gloom, clutched a tumbler, filled it from the tap. "Nancy?" she heard, Seth's voice, filled with somberness. "Yes?" she replied, hoping that now he wanted her. She was thrilled to hear him request, "Come sit with me awhile . . . Please."
Only the low traces of the setting sun glimmered through the clouds. "I guess I won't have to water tonight, will I?" Seth weakly joked. Nancy took her place on the couch, obliquely facing him. The thunder continued to rumble in the distance, no longer a threat but a remnant of the tempest that had passed.
"What are you thinking?" she ventured.
"How all these years, I've believed in you," he sighed. "And now . . ." The words drained from his larynx, the residue of a virus. "Tell me. Is he the only one?"
Quickly, perhaps too quickly, she shot back, "Of course."
Slowly he considered the defense. "Never any one else?" A sudden shake of her head confirmed her denial. "Not even a kiss?" The furtive glance affirmed that something was being hidden.
"Yes," she admitted, "just once, long ago."
"Tell me about it," he commanded, wishing to know all the details of his unfaithful spouse.
"It was in our first year of marriage, when you were in the Air Force. Your squadron was out flying around, and a friend of yours came over to the house looking for you. I told him you were gone, and he came inside. Everything seemed okay, we were just talking, and he went out and got some wine, and then somehow he started kissing me. I was a little buzzed, but when he grabbed at me I told him to leave. He never came back, even when you were at home." She looked at him, in the hope that he'd believe her.
"And that was the only time you kissed another man?"
"Yes," she affirmed. "Until Jim came along."
"I see. And do you believe me when I tell you, that although I've had chances, I never did anything, not even a kiss?"
"Of course I do."
They sat for some time, silent in their thoughts. She considered that, perhaps, he had no more questions for her, the rest of the night would be spent in silence. The drizzle that followed the storm gained potency, another moment of tempestuous rainfall, then it quickly slowed, stopped. The late evening rays of light slanted across the landscape, Nancy was certain that somewhere there was a rainbow, wanted badly to find it.
"So you decided to tell me, even though Jim doesn't want you to. What do you expect me to do about it?"
"Nothing . . . anything. I thought about what you might want. I suppose you want me to stop the affair . . ."
"You haven't stopped yet?"
"We haven't seen each other in over three weeks now. I told Jim that it might be the last time, that's when we talked about me telling you."
"He wants to keep seeing you, then."
"He wants to," she admitted, "I'm not so sure I want to continue the affair."
"Are you tired of him?"
"No, not really. There's been a part of me that's enjoyed having two lovers. It makes me feel very passionate. But there's another part of it, the mistruths I've told, that I don't like very much. I hate having to watch myself, make sure I don't slip up. I get very tense about that sometimes. I don't want that anymore. If it means I can't see Jim, I'll have to accept that."
Seth digested her mitigation, he was no longer angry, but he was very hurt. "So what you're telling me is that you want to continue your affair, but you want me to give you my approval, is that it?"
She realized how badly she'd expressed her feelings. "No, of course not. I realized when I told you, it meant I was going to stop seeing him."
"But if I gave you permission, you might still go on with the affair?"
"I haven't thought about that. I don't know. Maybe, if you really meant it. But then again, maybe not. Besides, you'd never consent to that, would you?"
"I don't know," he revealed. "I'm so confused right now that I can't imagine how I'll feel when this really sinks in. Tell me, do you still love me?"
"Oh, yes, with all my heart. May I tell you something? After the first few times, I questioned why I was doing it. And I realized that it had little to do with my feelings for you. I love you. No man will ever take that away. Nothing will stop my loving you."
"Do you love him?"
"Love? No, not really. I don't think he loves me, either. I'm terribly fond of him, of course. But I'd never give you up for him. What I've done was a terrible mistake, and I wouldn't blame you for being so angry with me that . . . well, I don't know what I'd do if I were you. I just hope we can go on from here."
"I hope so, too." That was the last of the discussion, at least for that night.