He hugged her and hugged her again. Her body, warm within his arms, was so captivating that having to leave it felt painful.
He put on his shoes and opened the door. Before stepping out, he looked back—her dark eyes and red lips, lit by the sunshine coming through the doorway….
He walked fast, feeling happy and excited, almost like a school boy falling in love for the first time. The images of her smiling face and her long black hair flashed through his mind. The sensation of her smooth skin could still be felt at his fingertips. Maybe I could see her again tomorrow, or next Tuesday after my dental appointment, he thought.
He looked at his watch. It was late. He had lingered longer than he had planned to. The image of a woman’s face, staring at him with anger, popped into his head. It was not of the one he had just said goodbye to, but of the one at home—his wife.
He opened the door to his house and heard cutting and washing sounds from the kitchen. He felt nervous, like a mischievous little boy having to face his strict parents. He took off his shoes and jacket slowly, trying to relax. “Everything will be fine,” he encouraged himself. He took a deep breath and walked into the kitchen.
“Where have you been?” She looked up, frowning.
How strange that when you first fell in love with someone you found them attractive even when they were angry. Only after being with them for a while did you see the truth of their angry face, ugly and repulsive, he thought to himself, while wasting no time to answer. “I went to the post office.” He opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of grape juice.
“The post office? For two hours?”
“I took a stroll afterwards. It was a nice day.” He poured some grape juice into a glass and returned the bottle to the refrigerator. He tried to act as calmly as possible, ignoring his faster than usual heart beat.
She watched him moving about and resumed chopping scallions. She felt suspicious but couldn’t tell why.
There had been an issue of trust from the beginning. They met while he was living with another woman and she was seeing another man. He was tall and handsome. She was beautiful and shiny. It seemed perfectly natural that they fell in love with each other despite their separate attachments. The initial passion was so intoxicating that she didn’t think much about anything else, until their first sexual encounter.
Brought up in a conservative family, she despised premarital sex, most especially with a man who was already taken. She couldn’t bear the thought of him going back to the other woman, doing exactly the same thing that he had done with her. Who was I? A mistress? A piece of meat? She felt she had sold herself cheaply. She felt used and disgraced. The shame and pain were overwhelming. If only he had been a different man, single and free, her betrayal of herself would have been easier to excuse. She felt desperate.
“What’s wrong?” He didn’t understand why she was suddenly sulky.
“YOU are wrong.”
“What have I done?”
“You are living with another woman.”
“But you knew that.”
Seeing him completely ignorant of her feelings only made her more frustrated and angry. “Yes, I knew that! And I can’t believe I ended up with someone like you!”
“…” He was unprepared for such a storm after all the tenderness. It was hurtful to discover that, after all, he wasn’t worthwhile in her eyes.
“What do you plan to do with her?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know! You expect to walk away like this? Who do you think I am!”
“I’m not trying to walk away. I just need some time to think about it.”
“Fine! You’ll have to make a decision, me or her! And you’d better make it quickly! Don’t expect me to wait for long!”
He didn’t respond. He felt emotionally blackmailed. It wasn’t what he had expected from their first intimate experience. Why would she care so much about the other woman when there were so many good things between us? he thought. How about the man she was seeing? He knew they were still together, but he dared not bring it up for fear of annoying her even more.
Eventually, the other woman moved out and she left her boyfriend. They got married. But the gap between their beliefs and moral standards remained wide, carving permanent scars of distrust and uncertainty on their marriage.
“Are you hiding something from me?” She looked up from the chopping board, attempting to confront him a second time.
“No. I’m telling you the truth.” He drank down the grape juice, realizing how thirsty he was.
The phone rang. He went to the living room and picked it up. It was a male voice, asking for her.
She rinsed her hands over the sink, dried them on her apron, and rushed in from the kitchen.
He walked upstairs to the bedroom, and lay down on the bed. The trial was over. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the relief throughout his body. The images of this afternoon came back to him. She was lying on her chest, facing away from him. Her black hair covered her neck and shoulders. He ran his fingers down her back through the dent at the waist line, feeling her firm buttocks rising up, then her strong thighs….
“Dinner is ready—” His wife shouting from downstairs.
He sighed and sat up. He looked forward to bed time when he could dwell on the pleasure of his memory without being interrupted.
As soon as they sat down at the table, she announced, “I’m meeting a friend tomorrow evening for dinner. You’ll have to take care of your own meal.”
“The guy who just called. He’s an old friend of mine.”
He wished he could do the same thing, simply announcing that he was meeting an old friend some evening, a woman. Unfortunately, he knew too well how that would turn out. He made a mental note of phoning his lover the next morning from work.
She rubbed her lips against each other to even out the lipstick. Thinking about seeing him again soon, she felt excited. She had always liked him. The reason she had left him for her current husband was not that he had done something wrong, but simply that he had seemed less exciting at the time. Now after being married for a few years, the initial fervor had been cooled by the boredom of daily chores and the bitterness of countless quarrels. The memory of the old love revived, sweeter than ever. Especially that he had never expressed any grudge against her on her decision to leave him. He had always been gentle and caring.
She took a last glance at herself in the mirror, making sure she was looking her best. She had put on her favorite red dress. The color contrasted the whiteness of her skin, a physical trait she was proud of.
“When will you be back?” He looked up from his book as she passed the living room.
“I don’t know.” She stopped at the foyer. “Nine. Or ten. You don’t need to wait for me.”
He noticed the makeup on her face. She used to put on makeup when they were dating, but she stopped doing so after their relationship had been settled. Not that he liked makeup—actually he never had, as he found it fake—but he could tell that she had made effort for him then, just as she was now out to please whoever that male voice was.
“Ok. Have a good evening.” He tried to be nice.
She opened the door and vanished without hesitation.
As soon as he heard the engine of the car leaving, he rushed out of the door….
He knocked. The door opened. She reached out to him. He took her in his arms, feeling her soft chest pressing on his. He forgot everything else. To have someone accepting you just the way you are, it was wonderful.
He sat on the bus and looked out of the window into the darkness, thinking about her. That became what he did whenever he wasn’t with her—think about her.
Outside the window was a park. A couple was strolling along its edge, hand in hand. They stopped at an oak tree. The man put his arm around the woman and tried to kiss her. She attempted to pull back, but soon succumbed to his persistence. They kissed, under the tree, in the dark.
The bus stopped by the tree. With the help of the street lamp, he could see the two embracing figures better. The woman’s dress was drifting in the wind. He could vaguely tell it was red. Her skin looked pale in the dark, like wallpaper. It was his wife.
She turned on the light in the washroom. Her face in the mirror was flushed and glowing. She pulled out some paper tissues, dipped them in tap water, and carefully wiped away the makeup.
She went to the bedroom. He was reading in bed.
He looked at the clock. It was after midnight. “Did you enjoy your dinner?”
“Yes, I did.” She sat down in front of the dressing table, taking off one of her earrings.
“Did you enjoy your walk, too, in the park?”
She paused and turned around to face him. “How did you know?”
“I saw you from the bus.”
“So you went out too? How come you didn’t say anything earlier?”
He suddenly realized he should have prepared himself for her questioning. “I didn’t plan it. It just came to my mind, so I decided to take a walk. It was very nice outside, don’t you think?”
She turned back to the dressing table, still looking suspicious.
He watched her, taking off the other earring and putting them both in a drawer. Seeing her face loosening up a bit, he uttered the line he had been waiting for. “I saw you two kissing in the park.”
She slammed the drawer back and turned around to face him again. “So what are you trying to say?”
“You cheated on me.”
“I didn’t!” She responded immediately and firmly.
“But….” For a moment, he didn’t know what to say. He came to his second realization—he wasn’t prepared for her denial. “But you kissed him! How can you say it wasn’t cheating?”
“Because I’ve never slept with him!”
“How would you feel if I kissed another woman but never slept with her?”
She paused, staring at him. “It’s different!” She turned away.
“What’s the difference?” He insisted.
“The difference is… you would never stop at kissing a woman. We both know that.”
He wanted to retort, but he had to admit she was right. He wouldn’t stop at just a kiss. But would she, really? he wondered.
She changed to her sleeping clothes and slid into bed. She lay down facing away from him, not wanting him to see her face. She felt embarrassed, for being caught, because she was supposed to have a higher moral standard than he—she would never cheat in a marriage. But now, she worried, he would use my once in a lifetime indiscretion to justify his potential infidelity. She wished she had been more cautious and not kissed him in public.
The thought of him brightened her up. He was so attentive towards her during the entire evening. Knowing that he still loved her woke up her heart from the detail of everyday life. She felt alive again. She started dreaming, like she used to when she was many years younger. She dreamed about what would happen when they met next time. What would he say to her? How would he hold her? Would he kiss her again? Wandering in her happy imagination, she fell asleep.
It rained and it was cold, such was the autumn of a northern country. But his heart was filled with warmth. It was her birthday. He had wanted to give her a birthday treat for a long time. By luck, his wife had decided to go out for dinner with her friend. He made a reservation in a chic French restaurant and picked her up at seven o’clock. Holding her close to him under the same umbrella, he wished that life was all about love and being loved.
They arrived at the restaurant. The waiter took their coats and seated them at a table in a cozy corner, perfect for lovers. He found his hands dirtied by the umbrella and retreated to the washroom.
Coming out with his hands clean and damp, he found his seat and noticed a new couple sitting at a table next to them. The man looked jolly and enthusiastic, and the woman was his wife.
Before he had time to react, his wife saw him too. Her face changed shape. She stood up abruptly and came right at him.
“Why didn’t you tell me your plan this evening?” She was a volcano on the verge of explosion.
“I forgot to mention. Sorry.” He felt awkward.
“Forgot? How convenient!” She took a glimpse at the woman sitting opposite her husband and pointed a finger at her. “Who is she?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” He moved his eyes from his wife to his lover. She was looking at him quietly, waiting for his answer, just as his wife was. “She’s a friend. Let me introduce. This is my wife…”
“A friend? You expect me to believe that?…”
The woman stood up, put the napkin on the table, and looked straight at the wife. “You’re right, ma’am. I’m not just a friend of your husband, just as that gentleman sitting there is not just a friend of yours.
“Let me introduce.” She turned to the man who had been sitting with the wife. “This is my brother.”
He stood up and smiled faintly at them, as a greeting.
“He moved here not long ago. Now, if you would excuse us, maybe we should leave you to your conversation.”
Together, the sister and the brother walked out of the restaurant, leaving the husband and the wife face to face, trying to figure out what to say.