Bart was breathing heavily. She tried to sleep but couldn’t. Her heart pounded so powerfully that she could see the light summer blanket that covered them both beat to its beat. She understood what it was to have a broken heart and wondered if infidelity uncovered could cause you to die. She had heard a song of hearts standing still, but she had never felt its true searing. She hummed the tune to herself so as not to lose it.
I took one look at you
That’s all I meant to do
And then my heart stood still.
She gently threw back the covers and watched her errant husband peacefully sleeping. She wanted to wake him, to scream at him, to pummel him. Instead, she climbed out of bed and lifted his pants off the chair where he had neatly put them. She searched the pockets: nothing. In his lizard-skinned wallet, which she had given to him as a birthday gift, was $62.00 — three twenties and two single bills along with some pictures of the kids. There was Bart Jr. at graduation, Lila and Sam together at Sam’s wedding, Sam’s wife, too. Pretty little thing. She kinda liked her daughter-in-law, though she wished Sam would call her like he used to. There was also a host of business cards — law firms, a computer company, and a few lunch receipts. Nothing suspicious. A chocolate mint wrapped in aluminum fell to the floor. Oh, yes, there was a picture of Godzilla, their ten-year-old sheepdog, but no picture of her, she noticed. She wondered when men stopped carrying pictures of their wives and substituted their dog. She wondered when Bart had stopped considering her a prize. For the first years of their marriage, he would often say how lucky he was to have found her. It reminded her, again, of some song, but she couldn’t remember the real lyrics. Something about “lucky to be me” or “you.” She hummed the music. Searching for the words kept her on track.
Hmmm. Hmmmm. Lucky hmmmm me.
She hung his pants under his jacket. She searched the jacket pockets. Nothing. She bent to pick up the chocolate mint that had fallen to the floor and tore the packaging. But, it wasn’t a mint; it was a condom. She placed the evidence in the pocket of her robe. She breathed deeply. “So, darling Bart,” she thought, “tonight was one of many or at least one of two.” She would have him followed. She would hire a detective. She was losing her mind. When the kids had been dating she had often remarked that she hoped they were using condoms — little did she know she was advising their father. Should she be grateful he was practicing safe sex? She didn’t feel safe. She felt scared. What was it about men and marriage? She thought Bart was the exception. Men and sex; it was different than women and sex. Or, was it? Her friend, Victoria, had had a lover for twenty years and Harry didn’t know. Was it different for working women? Who knew?
Truly, Bart was enough for her. She never thought of herself with anyone else. After the first five years and two kids, sex had become perfunctory. She couldn’t remember anymore if it had ever been good. She’d been faking orgasms for so long she didn’t know what a penis-inflicted one felt like. When Bart would turn over quickly and start to snore, she would take her lipstick vibrator out and come by herself. She always gave Bart credit for it. At least he had riled her up enough to make her love herself. And when she had wanted a third child and Bart didn’t, she vaguely remembered thrusting hard during sex and coming, but that was nearly a quarter of a century ago.
She needed help. In the medicine cabinet were two remaining 2-mg pills of Valium in a bottled dated 1998. They would still work. They had to work. She cupped her hand over the sink water and swallowed them with warmish water. It was hard for the tap water to be cold on these hot nights. “Please work,” she begged the benzos. Now she needed tea. She tiptoed down the stairs so as not to awaken Bart or startle the dog — Godzilla licked her bare feet. At least somebody loved her unconditionally.
She spoke to the dog. “Why me?” she asked. “I thought we were okay.” Godzilla tailed her into the kitchen. He knew something was up.
She sipped the hot tea; it burned her lips. The burn felt good. It stopped the pain in her chest. She had an investment in Bart — three kids, a home, and friends. They were planted in Jericho, Long Island — perennials and they needed little water. The mortgage was paid, the living wills in order, the kids en route to happily ever after …
“I’m not ugly,” she thought. “A little pudgy, but my breasts are still good. My face is still pretty.” Maybe it needs a little work. She had always prided herself on being fifty-three with no upholstery. Once she had a facial, nothing else. She wasn’t the type, but just maybe …
When she and Lila had gone for wedding dresses for Sam’s wedding, the saleslady thought they were sisters. But it was possible the saleslady was trying to make the sale. It seemed likely it was a lie; especially tonight.
The Valium had stopped her racing heart — that was a song, too. What was it? Hmmm. Hmmmm. The downstairs clock was chiming 4 am. She had been churning for three hours. Sleepless, she was on automatic suffering. Her mind, pushing her into panic, landed on the ghastly sight of older women at her 35th Mount Holyoke reunion. She didn’t know why she had opened that door. Why should her thoughts let in the class of 1975? The women looked so gray and elderly. She shut that door and then re-opened it. She had been given a button to wear by a young volunteer from the Mount Holyoke Class of 2011. The button was a photo of her from 1975. She bolted down three paper cups of cheap wine and did the obligatory reunion-remembering game. “You haven’t changed … Marcia, Barbara, Anne, Felicity, Violet, Joni, Meghan, Marisa, etc., you look the same.” Yeah, sure. The wine helped her get through the grand lie of aging women.
Over in the corner was Lucille. She looked even better than at graduation. Lucille had married Jonathan Marston, who had been her first boyfriend before Bart. The one she had lost her virginity to. Lucille had divorced Jonathan after two years. She remembered that Lucille had told her they just were not right for each other, but the sex was good. And here, some thirty years later, Lucille picked up where they left off. She confided that she had remarried twice: Peter Elfstrom, a gynecologist, and then Fred Dunston, a proctologist. Nipped and tucked, Lucille wanted them to get together. They exchanged e-mail addresses, no more telephone numbers — obsolete — and, some two years later, they had never gotten together. Why had that day come to mind? Why had Lucille suddenly appeared to her? Well, really, maybe it was not Lucille, but Jonathan. Jonathan Marston. It had hurt losing her virginity some thirty-three years ago, but she still remembered how kind Jonathan had been. He had combed her hair afterwards and kissed her, but she had fallen for Bart soon after. The thought of Jonathan tonight made her smile. He lived in Boston; his family’s business was there, she remembered. Not so far. Divorced. Remarried? She didn’t know.
She dialed 4-1-1. A machine answered. She needed human contact. She hit “0” for the operator. Would the operator know her desperation? Would she care?
The Operator: “City and State, please.”
“Boston, Massachusetts,” she said trying to act relaxed, “Boston, Massachusetts.”
The Operator: “Business or residence?”
“I need a resident listing for Jonathan Marston,” she said.
The Operator: “How do you spell that?”
“M. A. R. S. T. O. N.; M for marriage; A for adultery; R for revenge; S for sex …,” she said, but was interrupted by the operator.
The Operator: “What was that last …?”
“S for summer; T for trouble; O for orgasm. Excuse me; that was O for orange, and N as in NOW.”
The Operator: “I have three listings for a Jonathan Marston.”
The operator was barely a real caring person.
“I’ll take all three,” she said.
The Operator: “Two listings are free. We will have to charge for the third.”
“I’ll pay,” she said.
The Operator: “Thank you, Ma’am.”
She wrote down all three numbers on the phone stick-ums.
Jonathan Marston #2, Ocean Street.
Jonathan Marston #3, Main Street.
It would be one of the three. Yes it would.
She’d find him in the morning. Remarried or not, she’d call him. Revenge as a remote possibility made her stable. The Valium tinted with chamomile allowed her to climb the stairs without effort. Her heart had got its rhythm back. She curled up under the light blanket and looked at Bart. He was balding and he had not brushed his teeth. So tired, poor baby, what bad breath, she thought. He was snoring. She rattled his pillow so the snoring would stop. The room was quiet now. Sleep overcame her because she had options.