The alarm clock rang at six o’clock AM. She asked Bart if he’d mind having breakfast alone. “Sure,” he said. She told him she had had a rough night and trouble sleeping. “Feeling sick?” he asked. “No,” she said, “just wiped.” She turned over in bed and pulled the light blanket over her head to block the sun streaming through the wooden blinds. Had she dreamed all this? Her robe was on the floor. She peeked from under the cover, shielding her eyes, and put her hand in the robe pocket. She touched it. It was true. The rubber condom reared its ugly head.
Bart pulled out of the driveway. She heard the car leave. Every day for as long as she could remember, two honks as he backed out making sure Godzilla was not in his path. She felt light-headed. Oddly perverse. She opened the drawer of her bedside table. She pulled Bart’s condom over her lipstick vibrator with Bart’s condom and held it against her. It was fast. It was easy. She came quickly — for herself and by herself. She moaned, so loudly that Godzilla started to bark, bounded up the stairs and jumped into the bed. Bart didn’t allow the dog in bed, but she welcomed Godzilla’s arrival. She petted her best friend. He licked his mistress’s face. A forbidden bedmate. How wicked. She was happy to have this dog in her life.
Relaxed, she wondered about this masturbatory-secret-self-of-herself. With all her good friends, and all the confidences they had shared all these years, vibrators were the one small appliance they never discussed. Electric knives, toaster ovens, mixers, can openers, all safe territory, but never this life affirming gizmo. Why? she wondered. She had read in a science journal that the clitoris was the only human organ that existed solely for pleasure. Maybe self-pleasure was deemed verboten for her group of women. Or possibly all women? She’d bring it up at the next book club meeting. She’d slip it in somewhere between the talk of Anna and Vronsky’s fatal attraction. She’d dare it. But what was most important was that she had done it with Bart’s condom. She was proud of herself, a kind of quid pro quo, and she was ready to move on.
Faithful wife, unfaithful husband — so what else was new? In truth, she and Bart were strangers joined by body parts, for a short time paired in passion, or so she thought, and now performing a perfunctory, occasional, marital obligation. Like the family dinner at Thanksgiving. Rx: Ordinary Sex; i.e., turkey, cranberry, sweet potato.
For no reason that she could fathom, she suddenly remembered her mother’s dying. Her father had died four years before. When she visited Charlotte in the hospital, they had held hands, her mother’s so cold. Her mother saying softly, as if thinking aloud, “You know I never really loved your father.” As she lay dying, she confided to her only daughter that her father had not been the love of her life. “Charlie was a good man, a good husband, but my heart belonged to Mikey.”
“But, Ma,” she said, “Mikey married your sister, Aunt Helen. He was Uncle Mikey.”
“I know,” Charlotte said.
“Did Aunt Helen know?”
Her mother answered, “No, no.”
“Did Mikey know, Ma?”
Her mother seemed to doze off, but answered with her eyes closed. “Mikey knew he made my heart skip a beat. Yes, he knew. But he married my sister and I was married to your father. Sometimes life doesn’t work out.”
Then her mother drifted off to sleep — the sleep of preparedness, the sleep of the almost dying. Her mom, mother, ma, Charlotte died three days after her deathbed confession. Basta memories.
She got out of bed, fluffed up her pillows and began her day: Leave money for Esmeralda, call a new lawn-mowing service, bring in the car for the 10,000-mile checkup, get new knobs for the worn out ones on the kitchen cabinets, call and change her library shift so she could take her daughter, Lila, to lunch on her birthday, etc., etc., etc., call Jonathan Marston. Yes, call Jonathan Marston.
Bart rings up and says he’ll be home about nine o’clock PM. He’ll be in the air-conditioned conference room and she has the number. Bart’s telling the truth, she thinks. Call Jonathan Marston. She checks in with the kids, all in order — short conversations. It’s good that they’re always busy, too busy to talk. Call Jonathan Marston. She has until nine o’clock PM. Tempus Fugit. It’s 7:30 PM.
And so, she must find Jonathan Marston. The very one. Of the three numbers she has, the first is a plumber, the second disconnected, and the third is an elderly woman who says she often gets calls for a Jonathan Marston who was her dead husband. But she tells her there’s another Jonathan Marston living in Newton, Massachusetts, and that must be the one the caller wants.
The old lady seemed to want to talk. She said, “I am lonely since my husband died.”
“Mrs. Marston, I am very sorry for you, but I must make this urgent call,” she said.
Basta. Silencio. Cut to the chase.
She got the Newton number. Jonathan answered. That’s the way to do it. You just do it.
Her: Jonathan, it’s me. A surprise caller.
Her: Mount Holyoke ‘75.
You — Harvard ‘74.
You and me, one night.
Holiday Inn Harvard Square.
Me fortune cookie.
J.M.: Holy shit! It’s you.
You chose Bart.
Her: You chose Lucille.
J.M.: It didn’t work.
Her: Yes, she told me at the ‘75 reunion. She looked good. She looked great.
J.M.: She had a lot of work done.
Her: Did you remarry?
J.M.: Once. Didn’t work out either; wasn’t meant to be.
My God, we haven’t seen each other in thirty years.
J.M.: You surprise me. To what do I owe this pleasurable trip down memory lane?
Her: I’m in a remembering–memory mood, that’s all.
J.M.: What do you remember?
Her: You. Virginity. My first time. How sweet you were.
J.M.: I was clumsy; just a horny guy looking for a crawl space.
Her: Vulgar. Jonathan, well, you were never a poet.
J.M.: Never claimed to be. Are you still beautiful?
Her: Never was.
J.M.: Yes you were.
Her: I’m seasoned. Did you run into Bart at the Harvard 35th Reunion?
J.M.: (thinking) I don’t think he was there.
Her: He said he was.
J.M.: I must have missed him, I was late.
Her: (laughing) You were always late. Remember the time you went off kayaking with Bart and you missed the bus because you forgot your kayak?
J.M.: Yes, I remember.
Her: You and Bart were so athletic.
J.M.: Yes, we were good together.
Her: Yes, and so were we.
J.M.: Yes, we were … you and me; Bart and me … and, you and Bart.
And so, the conversation continued. Jonathan had two grown kids. Two ex-wives. One kid mildly autistic. And blah, blah. She, too, had her problems. Bart, Jr., had been in rehab, clean now, fingers crossed. Sam was dyslexic. Blah, blah. Lila might be gay, she really didn’t care. Blah, blah. She was a part-time librarian. He was in his father’s plastics business. She and Bart were fine. He enjoyed his single life. Blah, blah.
And so dinner was arranged. They had nothing to lose. Thursday, April 30th, he’d be in the city with a plastics conference being held at The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel. It was a meeting to determine what chemicals were leaching into bottles and containers; she had heard of the problem, he said a solution was the key to the future of plastics. He’d be free for dinner.
Her: See you.
J.M.: Great to talk.
Her: Hope you won’t be disappointed.
J.M.: Ditto. Looking forward.
Her: Goodnight, Jonathan.
J.M.: Thanks for calling. Good night pretty lady, Bart’s wife.
She was pleased with herself. She had done something adventurous, maybe dangerous. Odd, she thought: Jonathan hadn’t run into Bart at the reunion. She nestled under the covers and started reading Anna Karenina. Minutes later Bart pulled into the driveway — just as Anna had declared to her husband her love for Vronsky. Bart took his iced tea, came upstairs, jacket in the closet, pants folded on the chair. Same routine.
Bart: Feeling better?
Her: Much better. Probably a twenty-four-hour flu.
Bart: Hope I don’t catch it.
Her: Oh, Bart, you always think you’ll catch something. And, you never do.
Bart: You’re right. How’s the book?
She read engrossed as Bart prepared for bed. But on this night, she fell asleep while reading. That never happened. She never fell asleep before Bart. He lifted the book. Put it on her night table, and turned off her light. Something was different, he thought. Probably the flu …