A woman in a failing marriage stands at the edge of an affair
She woke up alone, the other side of the bed rumpled but cold. She was relieved yet disappointed. When she slept alone, which happened more often than not, she was unnaturally still. It was a trick she taught herself to save time making the bed when she got up. She woke up alone but she had not gone to bed alone. The evening had taken several unexpected turns. All of which led to the unexpected rumpling of Richard's side of the bed.
She lay there a moment longer, unsure of how it all happened, unsure of what her next move should be. She got up and started making up the bed. When she reached Richard's side, her hands slowed, almost of their own volition. She picked up the pillow to fluff it up, and brought it to her nose. The light scent of amber and sandalwood that was Jaime lingered there. She made herself put the pillow down and finish the task at hand, thus avoiding the thoughts that scent would arouse.
She changed out of her nightgown into running shorts and a sweatshirt and proceeded to the master bath. She brushed her teeth, washed her face and studied her reflection in the mirror. Outwardly she was unchanged. No matter what, she would always need the minor waxing between and around her eyebrows. Inwardly she was permanently, irrevocably altered. She ran a comb through her hair and headed downstairs.
Waiting at the kitchen door was Walter, an anxious, wiggling, extremely excited dog. She grabbed his leash out of the closet, then bent down to hook it to his collar. As she did so, she ruffled his ears, looked deeply into his eyes and mused that this was the only uncomplicated love she had. They walked out of the house into the dimly lit world of the early autumn morning. She did a little pre-run stretching and allowed Walter his sniff and pee at the end of the driveway then got to the business of running.
Her feet beat out one rhythm, her heart another, and her mind tried sorting through the events of her recent past. Her only goal had been to stop Richard this one time in his pursuit of this one affair. Richard wasn't a bad husband he just wasn't faithful. Never had been, never will. She had spent their entire marriage reacting to his affairs, crying, begging, and demanding fidelity all to no avail. This time she had been proactive. She thought subtle yet direct intervention might help her save her marriage.
Her pace slowed as she approached Highland Hill Road. Her body knew what to do; she didn't have to think about it so her mind continued down its own rough path.
The moment Elsa met Jaime she knew this was to be Richard's next attempt at another affair. Rather than wait for it to happen, Elsa decided to pursue a friendship with Jaime. She strongly believed that no woman would enter into an affair with her new friend's husband.
Elsa courted Jaime as enthusiastically as Richard did and was experiencing greater success. They had coffee together, shared lunches, dinners, and brunches on Sundays. On days they didn't see each other, they either spoke on the phone or communicated via email. Before she knew it, the very thought of Jaime made Elsa smile. Before she knew it she stopped concerning herself with Richard and his extramarital affairs. Elsa had fallen into an emotional affair with Jaime without knowing it.
Highland Hill Road marked the beginning of the end of her run. She picked up her pace a little and rounded the corner into a park near her house like a woman being chased. Then she slowed first to a jog, then to a walk. This part of the run was for Walter. This was his opportunity to sniff and pee almost at will. Elsa allowed him this for about ten minutes before heading home. Her body responded to the run in its usual fashion. The release of endorphins left her feeling loose and relaxed. Her mind remained lost in the past.
Home again, in the master bath she fine tuned the shower, removed her sweaty clothes and stepped in. She stood completely under the running water, allowing her hair to get thoroughly soaked. She stood there a long moment wishing the water could wash away her confusion. The only thing running down the drain with the sweat and grime from her run was any sense of who she really was. Last night her emotional affair very nearly became something else. She wanted it to become something else, at least her body did, her mind didn't know what she wanted.
She stepped out of the shower, dried off and dressed for work. While gathering materials for work, briefcase, papers, car keys, she paused in the doorway of her bedroom and stared at her bed. Last night in that very bed she and Jaime laughed and giggled like schoolgirls at a slumber party. They talked and played and wound up entangled in each other’s arms. It was then that she realized what she wanted. It was then that Jaime kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her lips before getting up and walking away.
What was this pull Jaime had on her? What was this feeling, desire, love, both? Was this love she felt for Jaime, or was she so desperately lonely that she would latch onto anyone who paid her the slightest bit of attention? She didn't know, wasn't sure she wanted to know.
She turned away from her bedroom, ready to confront the work world but not ready to confront either Richard or Jaime but knowing ready or not she would have to.
He woke up and opened his eyes to a dimly lit room he didn’t recognize. The light came through a curtained window whose filtering effect combined with his astigmatism left him unable to determine whether the light came from the early morning sunrise or a not too distant streetlight. He rolled over onto his back, turned his head and discovered the back of a naked woman, who was not his wife laying by his side. He turned his head back, fixed his gaze on the ceiling, and fumbled for the memory that was this woman’s name.
It wasn’t that he didn’t know the woman, he just couldn’t quite remember, which woman she was, or what her name might be. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands then eased his way out of the bed. He stood there a moment to orient himself in the room. To his right, in a corner by the window, sat a chair in which lay his neatly folded clothes and his glasses. To his left, on the other side of the bed, a sliver of light shone through a crack in a doorway. He gathered his things and quietly walked to that shining doorway, hoping that behind that door lay a bathroom and not a closet. He pushed the door open just wide enough to peep into, then wide enough to squeeze his body through. He discovered a bathroom painted in a yellow so bright he felt like he was being yelled at. He laid his clothes on the back of the commode, raised the lid, and emptied his bladder. He turned the water on in the sink washed his hands and splashed his face a few times. He looked up into the mirror and studied his reflection.
Oh fella, what… no, who have you gotten yourself into now? He thought. Serial infidelity had its consequences; forgetting a bed partner’s name was one of them. He considered his reflection a moment longer then pushed the mirror aside to view the contents of the medicine cabinet. There he found a prescription bottle with the name Alice Kennedy on it. Kennedy? He thought, the only Kennedy I know is Elizabeth Kennedy. Oh well this is the price you pay for drinking too much and leaving the bar with beer goggles on. He slid the mirror back into place and looked down at his wristwatch. It was rather early in the morning and, depending upon what part of town he was in, he could get into his house, change clothes, and be out again in that twenty to thirty minute window he had while Elsa was out on her run.
He turned the water off, reached out for his clothes and felt a twinge of guilt. It didn’t seem right to go home with the sweat and scent of another woman on his body. He looked at his watched again and concluded that he had time for a quick shower. He turned the shower on, stepped into the tub and looked around for the soap. The only thing available to him was a bottle of peach scented body wash, which he used from head to toe. He washed quickly and dried himself off with a towel he found hanging on a rack above a radiator. The very thought of putting on the clothes he wore the day before made him feel grimy but he had no choice. The smell of stale cigarettes and beer the clothes exuded made him feel worse.
He dressed, then walked back out into the bedroom in search of his shoes. He found them beneath the chair his clothes had been in. He slipped them on and tied the laces loosely. He didn’t want to leave without saying something to his night companion so he whispered softly, from the doorway that led to the hall, “Alice?… Alice?” The figure buried under the covers moved around a bit until a tousled blond head appeared and a soft, rusty voice croaked, “why are you calling the cat?”
Richard, momentarily silenced by embarrassment, recognized both the tousled head and the scratchy voice as that of Elizabeth Kennedy. He thought quickly and said, “I thought I tripped over her, I just wanted to make sure she was okay.”
“Oh, that’s sweet of you,” Elizabeth said.
Richard turned to leave, looked over his shoulder and said, “See you in the office later, right?”
“You bet,” Elizabeth answered with the casual assurance of a confident friend.
Richard took a couple of steps into the hallway, paused then called out again. “Elizabeth?”
“Ummm…,” she answered.
“How do I get home from here?” Richard asked.
“Make a left out of the driveway, go down two blocks then make a right on Beaumont. You’ll recognize the way from there.” She answered.
“Thanks,” he called out to her as he walked down the hall.
By the time Richard got to Beaumont Boulevard he had been in his car less than two minutes. That was, surprisingly, more than enough time for the scent of peaches, combined with the smell of stale cigarettes to assault and overwhelm his sense of smell. Once on Beaumont Boulevard he realized that he was less than five minutes away from his own house. Not only would he have time to change clothes, he would have enough time to shower off the smell of peaches and the gritty feeling of yesterdays clothes. In fact, he would have to be careful not to get home before Elsa left the house for her run.
He drove around aimlessly for a few minutes, and allowed his mind to go into freefall. Elizabeth Kennedy; she was a blast from the past. They had been intimate before; many times before, in many different places. This was the first time the place had been her house. Theirs had been an on and off tryst for years. No strings, no promises, no expectations beyond that of a good time on the occasional evening. Last night just happened to be one of those evenings.
It was getting close to the time Elsa usually left the house for her run. He parked his car a few houses away from his own and waited. It wasn’t long before he saw Elsa and Walter come out of the front door. He watched as she stretched, and he felt another momentary stab of guilt. He had done it again; cheated on her again. With a woman she had begged him never to sleep with again. He closed his eyes and pushed the feeling away. He had a lot to do and no time for guilt. When he opened his eyes she was gone. He started the car, pulled out of his parking space, and drove into his own driveway.
He walked into the house, focused on the task at hand and the things he would need for the day. He and Jaime had a meeting with a client later that morning and he had to be prepared. The very thought of Jaime made his heart beat faster and his skin tingle. She was the one he wanted to have an affair with not Elizabeth. The first time he saw her he wanted her. Her dark beauty intrigued him and she began to figure prominently in his fantasy life. He pursued her as he did his other extramarital affairs; he fed her compliments about her work, her office, and her overall appearance. He bought her little gifts to make her feel “welcome” into the office. He took her out to lunch so he could really turn on the charm. By the time he was ready to make his move she and Elsa had become friends. Though that made matters awkward it didn’t stop him from making his desires known. She rejected him soundly yet remained friendly, and as far as he could tell she hadn’t said a word about it to Elsa. But it wasn’t a complete loss; that friendship, his desire, and the availability of women like Elizabeth provided more than enough material for his fantasy life.
He went into the guest bedroom and made a beeline for the guest bath, kicking off his shoes and unbuttoning his shirt and trousers as he walked along. He didn’t want Elsa to know he came home to wash up. He didn’t know what lie he would tell her about his being out all night but he would deal with that later when he had time to think about it.
In the bathroom, with his clothes half on and half off his body, he grabbed his toothbrush, smeared toothpaste on it, and stuck it in his mouth. He turned the shower on, pulled the rest of his clothes off and stepped in under the spraying water. He stood there a moment, brushing his teeth while the water ran down his back. He turned, allowing the shower to hit him in the chest, and spat the toothpaste out of his mouth, aiming for the drain. He moved the shower curtain aside and tossed his toothbrush into the sink. He turned, found the shampoo and squeezed a dab into his hand. He lathered up his head then reached blindly for the bar of soap. Quickly, vigorously he washed and rinsed the scent of peaches off his body. He stepped out of the shower, grabbed the towel on the rack, dried himself off then wrapped the towel around his waist.
He made his way into the master bedroom and the walk-in closet he shared with Elsa. He gathered what clothes he needed and started dressing right there. As he did so he gazed around the room he ostensibly shared with Elsa and his guilt returned. He pushed it away with the resolve to do something nice for Elsa. If his meeting with Jaime and the client ended early enough, he would take her to lunch and buy her something pretty. That eased him a bit and he returned to the guest bedroom, put his shoes back on and checked his watch. He had at least five minutes before Elsa came home. He collected his dirty clothes, tidied up the bathroom he used and headed out for work.
She lay in her bed quietly and watched the darkness in her room fade with the coming dawn. Her sleep had vacillated from fitful to elusive, as did her thoughts and dreams, all night long. She was in love; foolishly, helplessly, hopelessly in love. It was a condition she had not actively pursued in years. She had suffered too many back-to-back disappointments in the world of romance and dating. It wasn’t the ordinary Lesbian drama, the gossip, lies, and infidelity that made her give up. It was the weird, psychotic, fantasy driven bullshit that did her in. She lay there and thought about her last three adventures in dating.
She’d spent almost a year involved with Karen, who unbeknownst to Jaime, was involved with a man who she married after giving Jaime a full seven days notice of the upcoming nuptials. Then there was Alice, the girlfriend turn “born again Christian” turn stalker who insisted, to the point of harassment, that Jaime join her in the cult of celibacy and self-hate. (It took a restraining order, an arrest, and mandatory counseling to convince Alice to leave her alone.) Finally, Jennifer, who had been a friend for more than two years before they ventured on their first and last date. They had been in the middle of a passionate embrace; clothes half on half off, hands and lips everywhere, when Jennifer whispered fiercely into Jaime’s ear, “I have always had the fantasy of being with a black woman.” That sentence drained Jaime of all her passion and desire. She couldn’t remember how she got out of Jennifer’s apartment but she did. She left that apartment full of doubt; she didn’t know if Jennifer’s interest in her was because she was Jaime or because she was Black and could fulfill whatever fantasy Jennifer had in mind. That date had cost her a friendship that she valued and had opened her eyes to an aspect of her friend she wished she had never seen. So, she gave up; no more dating, no more disappointments.
She looked at the clock on the nightstand and decided to get up. There was no point in waiting for sleep that wouldn’t come, or if it did, came too late. She got out of bed and went into the bathroom. She attended to those "first thing in the morning" needs then changed out of her nightclothes into a comfortable pair of sweat pants, a T-shirt and her sneakers.
Near the foot of her bed was what appeared to be an untidy pile of clothes. Jaime methodically transferred the pile to her bed and uncovered the shiny chrome plated surface of a rowing machine. She had rowed crew in her college days and she missed the workout it gave her body and the peace it gave her mind. She wanted to recapture the feeling gliding on the waters surface gave her so she invested in this beautiful machine that she rarely made the time to use.
She sat down on the sliding seat, slipped her feet under the straps on the footboards, and grabbed the oar. She started rowing slowly, reminding her body of the sequence of events that maximized each stroke; push with the legs then pull with the arms, shoulders, and back. Recoil, and start again. She rowed slowly for the first few minutes, then picked up the pace to approximate a racing speed. She closed her eyes and focused on the memory of rowing on sun kissed water. But like a VCR possessed, her mind clicked and replayed what she had named "scenes from last night".
It started with the movie, "Sylvia Scarlet" and a broken VCR.
"Where did you find it?" Elsa asked as she pushed the videotape into the VCR .
"There's a little video place on Morrissey Boulevard that has a great Katharine Hepburn collection and there it was," Jaime answered. "What's taking so long?"
"I don't know, I keep pushing the tape in and the machine keeps spitting it back out. Richard said it was fix but..."
"Don't worry about it, I'll rent it again and we can watch it some other time."
"No, no I really want to see it. I think it must be the only Katharine Hepburn movie I've never seen. Grab the popcorn, we'll just watch the movie upstairs in the bedroom." Elsa caught the tape as the VCR spit it out at her for what had to be the fourth or fifth time, turned and headed up the stairs.
Jaime did as she was told, she grabbed the popcorn and followed Elsa upstairs. In the bedroom Elsa went directly to the television and Jaime sat down on the floor, leaned back against the foot of the bed and started nibbling on the popcorn. Elsa turned, walked towards the bed and said, "that's no way to watch a Hepburn movie. Take your shoes off and get comfortable on the bed." Elsa handed her a pillow and they both stretched out, feet at the head of the bed, heads at the foot.
It was the worst Katharine Hepburn movie Jaime had ever seen. When the movie ended Elsa commented, "I never thought I'd see a movie in which I hated the sound of Cary Grant's voice. His fake accent is horrendous. But I must admit Kate does make a lovely boy."
"Or a lovely Baby Dyke," Jaime returned.
"I thought that was considered an offensive word."
Jamie laughed, sat up and said, "It is if you're not one."
Elsa smiled, rolled off the bed and said, "oh, I'll keep that in mind. I'll be right back."
The VCR gave an audible click and whirr as the tape reached its end and the machine started the rewind. Left alone, Jaime's eyes wandered around the room. On the nightstand near the head of the bed she saw two photographs in separate frames. The larger frame held the picture of a small boy, smiling and missing one of his two front teeth. The smaller frame held the picture of what appeared to be the same child missing both teeth and having longer, slightly darker hair. The VCR clicked again just as Elsa came back into the room. Jaime looked up while reaching for the smaller photograph and said, "Is this ..."
Before her hands could close upon the picture she heard Elsa squeak, "no!" Half a heartbeat later she found herself tackled, pinned down, and barely able to move. Elsa had grabbed the picture and was holding it out of reach.
Laughing, Jaime said, "hey, wait a minute, I just ..."
"No, no don't look at that picture! It's too awful ...," Elsa laughed while trying to get off of Jaime.
Jaime wrapped her arms around Elsa's body and rolled her over onto her back to prevent her from escaping with the picture. Rather than risk Jaime seeing the picture, Elsa rolled back. They tussled and giggled until tears flowed from their eyes and their faces ached. They stopped wrestling yet remained entangled in each other's arms. Jaime found herself looking at the picture clenched in Elsa's hand then looking directly at Elsa and into her eyes. Then she said, "It is you. You make quite a lovely boy yourself."
She kissed Elsa's forehead, each cheek, and finally her lips, which tasted like the popcorn they shared during the movie.
The high-pitched squeak and squeal of someone's car alarm yanked Jaime abruptly out of her reverie. She looked up at the clock radio and realized she had been rowing for almost ten minutes. She was so out of shape her legs, back, and arms burned. She slowed her pace and rowed another two minutes to cool down. She stopped and tried to focus on the discomfort of her body. She stood, and stretched, and chided herself, stop it! Stop romanticizing this thing with Elsa! She is a friend! A straight, unavailable friend, married to her co-worker! She went into the kitchen and set up the coffeemaker, then into the bathroom where she showered off her well earned sweat.
Freshly showered and dressed for work, Jaime sipped her coffee and wondered what she should do. She loved Elsa as a friend and she may have really screwed things up. She may have lost Elsa's friendship by acting like the mythological predatory Bull-Dyke out seducing innocent heterosexual women. Plus she liked Richard despite the rumors regarding his extramarital activities. He was a nice enough guy, a generous and supportive co-worker. There is nothing like a little kiss to really screw up a life. She would call Elsa, she decided. She would call, apologize, and make this right. She didn't know how she could make this right but she would think of something.