Monday, September 22, 2014

Your Mistress Won't Change Your Diaper

 Chapter One 

Killed from Behind


         

              Excerpt 


.

As a young couple, they were not especially stylish. He had not sported a black leather jacket when it was fashionable among the Alphas to do so. Nor had their children been the kind of children power couples are supposed to have: quietly in the background, accomplished, and above all, manageable. To the contrary, their children were ever the center of their lives, with each new developmental stage, each new accomplishment localized and celebrated.

They had never been a power couple, with two hot careers and much traveling between campuses. Indeed, in those days, it was sometimes a fair question as to whether they had a single viable career between them. As Anne’s commitment to breast-feeding and the family bed stretched from months to years, fatigue and exhaustion made the professorial lifestyle ever more difficult to achieve. Where were those fleets of nannies that regularly accompanied celebrity babies such as the Tom and Miriam Stoppard offspring? (he the famously deep-pondering playwright, she the TV physician). Always toting the shopping or kit and caboodle for the children, he joked about his counterpart, the Herr Professor in Germany, whose students carried his briefcase for him.

 Were they on the right path? he wondered. The fact that these infants of theirs were the center of their lives did not make them any easier, or any more advanced developmentally, than other people’s infants and children. It was truly a wonder that they had engendered such children, but surely they needed a bit of time for themselves, individually and, he dearly wished, together. Anne reassured him that all would turn out for the best.

A passionate man, a man still passionately in love with his wife, he could not help feeling just that little bit resentful at those times when his needs were superseded by those of the children. Still, if he only watched and waited his chance, all would be wonderfully well once again.

What they did not have was obvious. What they often had was happiness in the marriage, and harmony, for a good long time.

A good long time, had it been? Or a moderately longish sort of a time? For they had been wholly gratified in their intimacy for nearly six years, their passion largely unabated before the advent of children. Six years of really good sex. Ah. But they had been married ten years now. For the most part these had been ten good years, not counting that anomalous year of discord––a year when they pointedly did not brush hands or make eye contact; a year when Anne had shown her disfavor in myriad ways, including the ejection of his books from bookshelves that were, nominally, hers. But then later on she had shown her favor as well, in one instance by scoring season’s tickets to a classical music series. And so they had dressed up and gone out together: he gallant, she politely shy, each making an effort at lighthearted conversation, both conscious of enjoying the music, if not the conventions of a season of Friday night dates that felt oddly like a battery of examinations, examinations which, in those months of cautious reappraisal, neither of them were entirely sure of wanting to pass. Then somehow, suddenly as it seemed, they were lovers again. They had weathered it. It was over.  
                                                                                         
How then had the discord begun? For it was Anne, his wife after all, whom he had thought of, for a considerable time, as the great love of his life (remembering the song by Kate Wolf); it was she, with whom he had felt for such a time so well matched, that the discord had really begun. For she did have her baffling and, say it: difficult side, going seemingly off into some fairyland of ideas, up, up and away, or off into the gloaming, for days at a time, becoming absent mentally, emotionally, and of course in terms of any intimacy that might otherwise be stirring between them; going off, not geographically, but abstracting herself into a non-presence, becoming un des disparus when, and whenever, the spirit took her, as she got immersed in some tendentious intellectual itinerary, some offbeat new quest.

When he went onto campus, a bit down at the mouth, his colleagues would gently inquire after his health. How was Anne treating him?  they wanted to know. Ever loyal, he would defend her absence from academic functions: she was not interested in being a faculty wife, and in any event this was not the 1950s, when a man would expect his wife to appear always at his side. Women had their own lives now. They did not think of themselves as mere housewives. But she was a housewife, was she not? his friends gently prodded. And he defended her once more, though she didn’t bring in what, nowadays, was the wife’s proper share of the family income, or even perform her domestic duties especially well. What she was, was an excellent mother: affectionate, imaginative, a great teacher for the children. He defended her, though as time went on and the strains on one’s budget––not to mention one’s time, increased–– with somewhat less enthusiasm. And as she spent more and more time with the children, little wonders that they were, indeed, nearly all of her time, and their love life waned, he tried not to notice the ever-younger and, as its seemed, ever more lovely women graduate students, with whom some of his male colleagues consoled themselves when things were not going well at home.

There had been an interim affair, with a student, older not pretty, but grateful and admiring, and reminding him in a tender way of his sister, recently deceased.

And Anne kept on with her myriad non-remunerative projects, mothering their children brilliantly and cooking less well. She kept on loving him too, but less frequently. And living through many cycles of this, he had grown restless. There had been an interim affair, with a student, older, not pretty, but grateful and admiring, reminding him in a tender way of his sister, recently deceased.

And here again, he had had a good deal of unpleasantness to contend with, when Anne obligingly stumbled across the not very carefully hidden clues to the shocking reality of his sexual needs, and his determination to get them met elsewhere, if necessary. An affair, after all! Not as though he had killed somebody, was it?

Just half a year or less, of becoming infatuated like a tomfool, of carefully proffering small intimacies to the slender lady, an extramural student with a day job, who came to him weekly for special tutoring. Then a short time of thrilling beyond all reason when he discovered that his blind groping for a wall, his existential terror at facing his mortality––a terror that could be assuaged, he knew, by accepting the lightly dispensed favors of Aphrodite, by the free play of his instincts––these signs of sexual neediness were deeply understood and commiserated by the student (whose nascent language skills, as it happened, required considerable time and attention). And so too, for a terribly short time, he thrilled beyond measure when his gentle experiments in self-disclosure, his undemanding yet beseeching looks, were enthusiastically reciprocated.

Soon there were moderately long conversations. They talked more and more about themselves, less about the work. There were shyly dismissive exchanges of gifts––tokens rather: a really nice bottle of wine from her: a thank you for the time spent reading Plato together (had ever Plato been more sexy?) From him there was a sequence of second-hand novels, as he introduced her to the great French writers. There was a CD of Mozart here, a CD of Bach there. And from the student, strange recordings like “Iceblink Luck” and “Back to Black.” She got him to join Pandora, where they could better share the music they loved.

Now they met less often at his office, never a very welcoming place, and more often in the intimate cafés dotted about the edges of campus. Then the touching began, tentative, almost accidental at first, then mutually gratified and gratifying as they focused intently on the pleasure of sensation. He felt as if he could go on stroking her small, pretty hand forever. Growing weak at the knees, the student was grateful to be sitting down, and struggled to concentrate on what t he professor was saying about Plato, when all she wanted was to close her eyes and enjoy his surprisingly gentle touch. All this from quiet hand-holding underneath a table! The following week, he took her out to lunch on her birthday, and gave her a slim book of verse, unwrapped.  By God! He was courting again! With wife and children safely tucked away at home, he was on the make.

Seen here and there as belonging together, like a pair of salt and pepper shakers, as people might put it in East London, the professor and his adoring student were gradually becoming known on the small circuit of cafes they frequented, and accepted as a couple.

One day, as they lingered after a rather unproductive tutorial for a spot of lunch, he ordering a quarter-pounder hamburger, rare, she, the fish, they were spotted holding hands by group of girl graduate students. Another time they were seen sitting together on a pew-like bench in the dark recesses of a café. The professor, with his eyes closed and head thrown back, had actually dozed off, but not before draping his arm across the student’s lap, resting his hand proprietorially on her pubis. Amused, the student had not moved his hand.

Each more and more fascinated by the other, they forgot that the world, their little world, was watching. They were not discreet. Most unfortunately, they were seen by a friendly acquaintance of Anne’s waiting in line for coffee at a little shack on a side street, during a fleeting moment when Anne’s husband slipped his hand into the back of the student’s jeans. Afterwards Anne’s acquaintance left several messages on Anne’s voicemail, which her husband as quickly erased. The friend sent the professor an indignant note via one of his graduate students. He did not respond.

They were not Discreet


In the summer he took Anne to a few performances by the local symphony, knowing that the other woman would be there. On opening night, Anne dressed for the occasion in his favorite mauve dress, which showed her legs to advantage, and she wore a small strand of tiny black pearls, as she used to do when they were first dating He had to admit, she looked lovely. But when, from a distance, he saw the student, he was dismayed! A full two inches taller than Anne, and willowy to boot, the student wore a sheer white dress that showed her grace and her curves. My God, she was ravishing! As if to emphasize the superiority o f her beauty, she wore her hair piled on top of her head, and about her graceful neck, against remarkably luminous skin, three strands of pearls to Anne’s one. How was it that he had ever thought her plain?

My God! She was coming in their direction! The professor put his hand on the small of his wife’s back, prepared to steer her away from danger. But the student was now right there in front of them! Not content to enjoy her triumph from afar, she had chosen the scene that would most disadvantage her unknowing rival. The professor felt his chest tighten with dread at her immanent approach. Yet at the same time, at the sight of her youth and her astounding beauty, he felt a surge of joy mingled with pride, and, standing in the lobby of the symphony hall, rooted to the spot, he nodded and smiled at the people around him as though hosting this very public encounter between two women who loved him. Now, he waited with intense curiosity to see how the two women would behave.

Anne, of course, was entirely clueless, when the student lowered her head and smiled as he introduced the two of them; and she was clueless too, when a few of the matrons standing nearby, friends and acquaintances who clearly understood the situation so very much better than she did, were nearly rigid with indignation when the student warmly laid a proprietary hand upon the professor’s arm while chatting on about the fact that she and the professor were reading Plato together weekly in the professor’s office. And how much she appreciated his time. While any other wife would have been blushing by now, Anne, ever protected by her cluelessness, experienced an infinitesimally brief shock to her complacency, when, following her husband’s downward glance, she saw the high curve of the student’s breasts beneath the white fabric, so sheer that the girl’s nipples were clearly detectable. But any recognition––any sense of danger–– there may have been was quickly submerged as, much to the consternation of the couples standing near-by, she began chatting with her rival in an amicable way.

Suddenly, almost painfully, the professor had to excuse himself. Fortunate that he had been wearing a raincoat! Plunging into one of the men’s room stalls, he masturbated furiously and quickly and pleasurably reached his climax. As he gingerly wiped his penis with a linen hankie resourcefully retrieved from his coat’s interior pocket, he realized with some surprise that the images that had displayed themselves before his inner eye as he masturbated were not images of this ravishing woman, as he hoped, soon to become his lover, but rather the scene of his wife, surrounded by witnesses, standing unknowing before him and the woman he fancied, the woman who fancied him! And earlier, those more intimate scenes of betrayal as yet unsuspected by his little Anne, as when the group of girl graduate students saw him in the early stages of courting Anne’s rival, as when Anne’s friend had caught him with his hand down the back of the student’s pants.

Back in his seat just in time for the overture, he saw that Anne was none the wiser.

“Who was that attractive woman?” she wanted to know. “Isn’t she a bit old to be starting graduate school?”

“Oh she’s not a regular student, departmental major, or anything like that. Usually she audits courses like all the rest of the community folks.

“I thought that dress was a little sheer without a camisole, didn’t you?”

“Camisole?”

“I mean you could see her nipples.”

“Really? I didn’t notice.”

“Well. She seemed nice though.”

“Yes.”

“It’s nice of you to tutor her.”

“Yes.”

“To take the time I mean. When she’s not actually really in the department.”

“Yes.”

“I don’t suppose she does any babysitting?”

“I don’t imagine she does.”

“Would you ask?”

“What? What did you say?”

“Would you see if she might be interested.”

“In?”

“Babysitting.”

“Oh. Of course. I’ll certainly inquire.”


The affair continued apace. Suddenly these meetings with the student were all he could think about.  One week-end, when her boyfriend was out of town, she invited him to meet at her home. He told Anne he had a lot of shopping to do.

                         




Then there had been the much-anticipated consummation. Thrilling enough in and of itself, but also as a kind of vindication of his manliness. A kind of triumph of the life force over civilization. Surely something that felt this good had to belong on the side of the Angels.

And with the opening of the other woman’s sex had come the opening up of the world. Other woman? For a precious moment in time, she was the only woman. Now he almost shuddered with joy at the sight of the campus cherry trees bursting into bloom, as nature put on a show for the people who had time to look up from their books and see it: the lovers strolling hand in hand, or sitting close, their bodies touching, on small stone benches, their love blessed by the display, dramatic, exhilarating, lasting for so brief a time.  Breathlessly, he had recorded with his camera the beauty of early spring, season of burgeoning hope, of new life and new experience, the season when, coming so unexpectedly into his life, love had made of him an artist and a poet. 

Nor was he selfishly absorbed by his love. While he spent odd stolen moments crafting love notes for the woman student, sharing with her digital love tokens celebrating every sort of beauty that he knew––art, music, poetry, all of it––and while the scheduling of their intimate sessions required time, and no little resourcefulness, his newfound love and, let us be frank, the delicious thrill of illicit sex, had opened up his heart to the wide world. He found himself spending more time, not less, with his students, with colleagues, found himself out and about in the community. His lectures about love and the love goddess were inspired, filling his students with awe not only of his knowledge, but at the mysteriously adult experience of sexual passion that he alluded to, with not a little pride, as being his own. Less annoyed by people’s little peccadillos, he could afford now to be generous with those he had not formerly got on with. Now he could afford to be generous with his time. Commitments increased. He had greater passion for work and for creative hobbies.

As spring turned into summer and summer into fall, he spent more and more time on campus, holding late office hours, strolling about after sundown with his camera, now dramatically, now understatedly, documenting the campus at sundown, at night.






Anne waited dinner for him. She had often a long wait. But rather than intuiting that anything was amiss, she took advantage of his absences to become more deeply involved in her work. She had gone out and gotten herself a job. Now her career commitments surged. She became one of her company’s best new workers.

Anne announced her new job one evening, at dinner. He wanted to know her title. Was she a consultant? he wondered. They had often joked about how overpaid and useless consultants were, in the past. As a matter of fact, she was not a consultant, but an analyst. Not exactly a law job, but a job in which her legal knowledge and analytical skills could be put to good use. Part time?
 “Actually it’s full time,” she said. “It’s with a civil rights organization, and I’ll be commuting two days a week. The kids can go in After School. They don’t need me around all the time now, and we need to plump up those college funds.”
What had come over her? In one fell swoop, Anne had removed one of his major objections to her participation in their partnership: she would be bringing home a paycheck. Yet how very like her it was, to make these sorts of life-changing decisions all on her own, then announce the whole thing as a fait accompli.
“How much?” he wanted to know.
She equivocated, not wanting him to know that, just out of the gate, she would be earning three figures–-an elusive goal he had achieved only recently.
“I won’t know the exact figure until they draw up the contract.”
“But about how much?”
“Enough.”

And throughout the summer and early autumn, “Enough” might well have been their motto, painted on their escutcheon along with a book for his profession, a set of scales for hers, and perhaps sports gear for the children.

“Enough..”  They had enough to eat well.
“Enough.     They had enough left over to buy fine wine.
“Enough.”   They had enough to pay all the bills.
“Enough.”   They had filed the Horn of Plenty.
“Enough.”   Their lives were sufficient.
“Enough.”   He had had enough of always putting the children first.
“Enough.”   Anne had finally had enough.

Then, one night in late autumn, Anne stumbled across a clue to his infidelity and actually paid it some note. Suddenly his deeds, heretofore of disinterest, or mild interest at best, were the center of her life. The cross-examination began. Where and when had it started? How many times had they met? (She couldn’t bring herself to say, had sex,) and most crucially to her, and most painfully to him: What’s she got that I haven’t got?” And he had had to admit, under the almost relentless pressure of her questioning, and in the middle of the night, that those very things that Anne could do nothing about: the woman’s relative youthfulness, the sweet musicality of her voice, her social grace, her freedom and independence, were the things that made her so compellingly attractive.


Before his eyes, a woman who had always, so he thought, had a certain degree of self-possession, became a howling, almost subhuman creature, one not merely heartbroken in a romantic sense, but terrified of losing the security of her place in the social order. He pitied her, to be sure!


Then came the shouting and the screaming. Before his eyes, a woman who had always, so he thought, had a certain degree of self-possession, became a howling, almost subhuman creature, one not merely heartbroken in a romantic sense, but terrified of losing the security of her place in the social order. He pitied her, to be sure! At the sane time, he felt shocked and disgusted by her loss of self-control. Didn’t she realize that this sort of thing did nothing to improve her attractiveness?




He had not mentioned divorce, had he? For he was still very comfortable with her, at home. Still enjoyed their conversations. Their evenings watching telly together. The many friends, though fewer now than before, that they saw socially. The books, the politics, the ideals they had in common. They still shared a lot, didn’t they? And there were further thoughts he didn’t speak out loud, but which nearly put him into a panic himself: “Anne, my dear, divorce is terribly expensive. We couldn’t afford it. We would have to sell the house. And think of the children.” (Couldn’t afford a divorce, and really didn’t need to consider it, since the ‘other’ woman had her own tidy arrangement, living contentedly if tepidly with a long-time boyfriend, he whom she had described as frequently too depressed to have sex.) 

But nothing reassured her. Why, didn’t he love her anymore? How had this happened? She had thought he loved her! He told her so! And he had lied to her face! Looked her straight in the eyes and lied! What kind of an example was he setting, for his students? for the children?  (Rather a good one, he thought to himself, the example of a man who seeks to be happy.)

Once more that moral absolutism which might lie dormant, Old Faithful-like, under the surface of her complacency–-which he  glimpsed betimes beneath her persuasive, reasoning demeanor, and which he so detested in her–– surfaced abruptly, as a vertical jet of water rises from a darkly placid pond, spraying outward in all directions, spraying all about it in twisting, syncopated spirals: a summer sprinkler watering a vast, green lawn with quirky, loosely undulating Shiva arms, making magically wider and wider arcs, reaching beyond their invisible circumference once and again, as from a fountain of Ultimate Truth. And so she expressed with gyrating energy her rabid fundamentalism, enumerating in overly precise, clipped language his lies, manipulations, and contrivances; so she expressed her punishing middle class morality, which made no allowances for, indeed left no room for, spontaneity and passion.

Useless to try and explain to her, how the pleasure he was now experiencing, and intended to keep on with, was fundamental to his well-being, far outstripping any pain the affair might have caused. It had made of him a better man. He was better able to serve others. And pleasure was good for his health, he knew. He could show her arguments as far back as the Protagoras for the essential link between pleasure and longevity. And finally, he would tell her, this entire American obsession with monogamy and fidelity was preposterous; not based on human history, not based on human biology. But he said none of this to his wife, for the simple reason that she always won these verbal contests. Even if she had never read the Protagoras, never head of it, she had an uncanny way of arriving very quickly at the core of any argument. And while he thought of what he would most like to say to her, he heard her as from a far distance, speaking a foreign language: ‘dishonesty, ’ ‘deception,’ and even ‘betrayal’–– as though the charge laid against him was not mere common infidelity, but high treason.

In fact, he need not have worried about her superior powers of persuasion. Not this time. For as if possessed by raw emotions that came from some primitive part of her being, she exhibited very little of the reasonableness which he so admired in her. She was more like some desperate maenad, a wild heart without a home. Like an animal, aroused and confused, she was, and he saw how she thought now with her animal brain as, thrashing back and forth in this thicket where , all unprepared, she had landed, wanting to flee from the searing pain, the pain of a hundred tiny cuts, as the implications of what this meant to her understanding of the life they had been living together began to penetrate her consciousness in a thousand tiny ways.


For oh! He had spoken to her softly under cover of night. In the early hours, at first light, when she could not properly behold his face, could not test the whereabouts of truth by looking in his eyes, he had whispered tender words. Those words were now less than nothing to her. When had he stopped loving her? When had love itself become a lie?

She thought now of how he relished stories of deception. Spy stories. Tales of men who lived double lives. Confidence men. Intelligence and counterintelligence. She considered the high value he placed on duplicity. His regard for double-faced Janus. For crafty Odysseus. Yes! But hadn’t it always been understood between them that these things –– duplicity, aliases, spy games––only had value when in the service of the good? What you did to defeat fascism. What you did to protect democracy. Not the ingredients of a foul recipe to deceive your wife.

He had touched her intimately, as of old, but had thought of her coldly, perhaps with contempt, making of their intimacy some kind of whoredom. And she had not had the right to refuse to be his whore.

His last caresses––and who knew how many other tender embraces––had been given with hands that didn’t seek her, perhaps didn’t want her, perhaps with thoughts of getting away, of fleeing into another’s arms.

The flowers he had sent on St. Valentine’s Day, and tucked inside the bouquet, with its soft colors and tender green scent, the tiny sweet card promising: “All my Love”. That, too, had been a lie. For he had not meant–did not mean –“all”.

Once he had spoken those thrilling words, “With my body, I thee worship.” But with his body he had worshipped another, And she, his wife ,all unwilling, had been sharing his love. And how was she to know, even what her own share of that love had been? 

Those songs! Those love songs! All those songs were true then. She had always thought they were written for somebody else! Some poor lonely girl with nothing to hold onto. Now she was that girl! And he had made her that! His beloved wife, or so he had said.  He had made her pathetic. He had taken away her light heart, her hope.

Yet he had always been so solicitous for her comfort, so concerned for her welfare. Her compliant, adoring husband. Always so flattering in his compliance with her wishes. So all of this sort of thing was a sham! And nothing a guarantee of love’s security, of love’s safety.

 And as the hunter approached the thicket with his spear, she fought to extricate herself; but she found that she must remain bound amidst the thorny branches that smote whenever she moved and tore at her flesh, that she must tolerate this pain a little longer: long enough to reach some kind of understanding of where it came from, of what was is cause. Thus did she seek the way to best deal with this threat to her existence, as beyond the thicket, the hunter approached, carrying the weapon that could so quickly and easily end her life, and inside the thicket, where the hunter dare not come, her protectors were the little thorns that continued to wound her, though they could not reach her core.

But neither she nor her husband saw the thicket, the thorns, or the hunter with his spear. Nor did they hear her inhuman squeals as she trashed and struggled to be free, then fell back into the arms of her tormentor, seeking the only understanding available to her:  knowledge from pain. For this terrible struggle, which had only just begun, but which would go on for a long time, had been transformed, as though by an enchanter, into a humiliating melodrama, a spectacle wherein the husband saw the wife so distorted by her passion, that he grew colder and more distant, mocking and slightly disgusted, all without wanting these feelings of contempt for her whom he had once loved, all without understanding where this contempt–– so well hidden up to now, that it was concealed even from himself–--could possibly have come from


And again she hectored: where and how and when had the act taken place? Not in his office, for God’s sake? (Scylla) But if not there, where? Surely he hadn’t used the car she had bought and paid for with her own money, (and Charybdis) the car bought for him, to drive to their assignations? (Wherever did she find these words? And why the legalese? She would be speaking of “sexual intercourse” next.) And here it came. How many times had they had sexual intercourse? (When had she become a prude? Couldn’t she say fucked anymore?)

Like some corseted diva she gasped and brought her sobbing to its climax, and, releasing her high note, shouted the oddly cathartic words uttered by every woman who has ever been betrayed... humiliated me!

(Fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck yes! Fuck All. The fuck of it, What the fuck? Fuck Bunnies. Fuckin’ A ! Fuck lovely,Fuck a duck, he recited to himself.) He could hardly bear another minute of this.

And just as things seemed about to move from hysteria to possible reasonableness, to Pax, there were tears, soft enough at first, but gathering force now, and beginning  to cascade. Why didn’t you tell me? (Easy enough to answer that one.) And, perilously, as the sobbing approached its crescendo: Who else knew about it? Was I the very last to know? And indeed, this one was hard to answer without smiling. Noooo! ….. He must not do that! Whatever the cost. But inside of himself he had to smile just a little at her cluelessness. For of course she was the last to know. Proud, keeping herself to herself, never coming on campus to see him, she was not around anywhere that she might be told.



Moreover, his small circle of friends and friendly acquaintances, grown larger lately, had, as if moved by some tenderhearted conspiracy, formed a tight phalanx of support and protection about him and his lover. Some knocked discretely on his office door when the departmental chairwoman, a radical feminist who would like nothing better than to nail him, hove into view. Others might tell him the lay of the land as far as the boyfriend was concerned And still others, that happy few, that band of brothers, offered a few hours at a time in their various apartments.

Time enough! Quite taken, as it were collectively, by this tender and colorful affair that had grown up in their midst, his allies were fiercely loyal. Like courtly liegemen, too, they paid a delicate homage to his lady, tactfully averting their eyes when she came to him, lightly swathed in silk scarves about the head and shoulders, and when she departed from him, her hair tumbled, the scarves balled up in her jacket pocket. 

So in late afternoon or early evening, gazing down upon her face, lovely now in a shaft of dying light; or quietly regarding her features softened by the evening mist, and looking then upon her naked body, all there in the present moment, open and available, all for him; and as he thrust himself into her tight vagina, which had never introduced babies into the world, perhaps never would introduce them, and as he sensed the excruciatingly pleasurable orgasm about to crest in its unstoppable surge, his obligation to these dear people who identified so closely with the success of his affair, that they were willing discretely to encourage it––he felt towards these people an enormous swell of gratitude.

But let us return to the tears of the wife. (Interesting, he mused, watching her snivel, how this highly educated woman, under the pressure of an explicit infidelity that she had ignored for months, but that now was right there in her face, interesting how this cultivated woman, intelligent of speech, discerning in her tastes, was metamorphosing before his eyes into a character from soap opera, a living, breathing cliché.) Am I the very last to know?

He assured her that he had been discreet. There had been a little tentative touching, a little quiet hand holding, in a back corner of the café they frequented, nothing more. And she fairly shrieked, “Hand-holding in a campus café? Holding hands with another woman, while you are married to me?” Then everyone knows.

 And there was one final, stunning metamorphosis, fugitive, observable for a fleeting few seconds, a disclosure almost drowned in wobbles of tears. But there it was, he had seen it, a kind of delicate flush spreading across her face and neck as during orgasm, and just like some corseted diva she gasped and brought her sobbing to its climax, and, releasing her high note, shouted the inevitable words, the oddly cathartic words uttered by every woman who has ever been sexually betrayed: You humiliated me!
Female nude



                                                      Killed from behind. Delacroix


Well, yes, he rather had. Not intentionally, of course. They always said that, didn’t they? As if their trivial little lives were lived on a grand stage. It was rather fascinating really to watch this woman, with whom he had been intimate, and who he knew so well, cycle so quickly through these intense emotions, knowing that of her grief, her anger, her shame, he was he central subject. And of these emotions, perhaps this excruciating sense of shame was the most intriguing of all. Hadn’t he taught his students, for years now, that the Asian cultures were shame cultures, while Western culture was a guilt culture? Yet here was a woman flushing with shame at the though that a few acquaintances who had little to do with her, and with whom she had very little to do, might have seen her husband engaging in minor intimacies with another woman. Fascinating really, or would be, if one didn’t have to deal directly with the consequences.  For as he sensed that her rage was escalating anew, it occurred to him that compensation would perhaps be demanded. That she might somehow want to even the score.  Was he, was his lover, physically safe?

But he must stop woolgathering and finish out this scene, so extraordinary for a marriage usually civilized and amicable.
He had heard his cue. As soon as she had trilled the stock phrase about humiliation, he recognized that he too must play his part; and sheepishly, shamefaced at having to read from such a mediocre script, he mumbled the insincere lines spoken at one time or another by every husband who betrays: “I never mean to hurt you.”


Sheepishly, shamefaced at having to read from such a mediocre script, he mumbled the insincere lines spoken at one time or another by every husband who betrays: “I never mean to hurt you.”



Mark Stivers


For two days and two nights she raged, as he grew quiet and quieter. And then it came: the last cliché, the one he had been expecting all along: “It’s her or me!” Of course. Of course it was. They always said that too, didn’t they? And mind you, of this entire forty-eight hour  period in which he, abashed at her passionate outcry, had become less and less a participant, more and more an observer, there had been little that was not ruled by cliché. As the singular audience of this theatrical performance, he had had time to reflect upon the fact that, the wifely emotions here displayed, if they were enacted at all in the arts, were never the subject of opera or tragedy. Perhaps too sordid to be depicted or dramatized at all, these libretti of spousal betrayal, these rote scenes in point of fact belonged to the province of low comedy.
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But how had they arrived at such high speed resolution? And really without any reasonable parlay whatsoever, how arrived at that point of decision: the ultimatum? For now, surprisingly, he really felt himself to be on the horns of a dilemma: he loathed the idea of a divorce, but was he really to be asked to surrender completely?  Must he fly the white flag, forever relinquishing all that had made life sweet and tender in the last half of a year? Yes, she would have it no other way. She would not be his tart. (“You’ll be lucky,” he muttered under his breath.) So when the question was put to him, or more accurately, when he was put to the question, and tormented, as by some medieval truth extraction device, he foresaw the end of the affair.





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