A personal note:
The story below came to me while in church. It’s not new. I posed it on another site about a year ago. Just the same I hope you enjoy it.
“For Better or Worse!”
Look I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never been a particularly religious man. I read once in one of my dad’s old books, something by Harold Robbins, “Religion is for women, God is for men.” I’m good with that. So the little lady, that’s Joyce, finds God in church; she keeps her purity by teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, serving on the Worship Committee, and making fixings for the cover dish dinners. I’m good with all that too. Maybe I can find God sitting on a tree stump in the middle of the woods while the dog scares up a rabbit, or by watching the sunrise on a hillside after a night of harvesting corn or soy beans. I mean God speaks to people in different ways. So I don’t get to church every Sunday; I’m still way ahead of the C. & E. types, and when the kids were little I never missed a Sunday.
So what’s that got to do with adultery? A lot I tell you, but; let’s get the bullshit out of the way first.
My wife Joyce is thirty-eight. I’m forty, well almost forty-one. It’s the usual story, small town, high school sweethearts, me off to college, graduate, come back as a high school shop teacher, carpentry, full-time teaching and part-time farming, building one custom house every summer for one of the up and comers in town. Joyce was hired right out of high school, secretary at a local law firm. No this isn’t about some grimy lawyer.
We got married, squeezed out three puppies, two boys and girl, we joined her church, and started in on the happily ever after. Joyce was a virgin on our wedding night; at least she said she was, I believed her. I might as well have been; you ask me two or three quickies in the dark on the back seat of a car hardly count.
Joyce is an attractive woman, until recently I thought she was pretty bright, five foot six, regular breasts, nice legs, no flab or spider veins; she’s not beautiful, pretty I’d say. She’s put on a few pounds the past few years, has a tummy; but what with three kids, her own home cooking, and time, that can happen, never bothered me, not till lately. Mostly brown hair, not sure, Clairol covers the grey. Her hair styles vary; sometimes she lets it grow, other times she has it hacked off. She has brown eyes, high cheek bones, really succulent red lips, and overlarge pearly white teeth, the teeth get a regular treatment to keep them white. By and large she’s a mix of too much of this, too little of that, and a good helping of the other.
Me, I’m a young Robert Redford, ha ha, I wish. No I’m five foot eleven, brown eyes, brown hair going to grey, no Clairol, and I guess I’m a little overweight. Names Harry McDermott, yeah for some reason they call me ‘Dirty Harry’. I’m not fat, but the thirty-four inch waist is gone, closer to thirty-eight I’d say, wea overalls mostly so can’t say for sure. I’m muscular, but look at what I do. I’ve never been in a fist fight, never been robbed or beaten up or anything. I have stepped in and broken up a couple fights at school though. I did belong to the National Guard; never got called up, but would’ve gone if called. Joyce and I both wear glasses. She switches off between contacts and the horn-rimmed. Me I stay with the old fashioned wire rimmed, and forget it, no bifocals, not yet anyway.
Now, how did I find out, who the cad was, how it took shape, and what have I done about it?
Like I intimated earlier Joyce loves our church. She loves to sing, and that’s meant regular choir practices, usually Wednesday nights, and maybe a half hour before church on Sunday mornings. Figure four or five cover dishes, and maybe two or three ham and oysters a year that put her in the church kitchen on a pretty regular basis. Add on Sunday school, an occasional seminar, and a trip or two or three to one or two of the memorials and nearby historic sites and that gets her out a little too. Then throw in the Worship Committee; that means changing the sanctuary paraments and altar flowers, an occasional cake or pie for a shut in or a visit to the hospital once in a blue moon, and then there’s trips with the pastor to one of the nursing homes or the nearby hospice. And no it wasn’t the pastor.
For sure Joyce gets out, but she keeps things on the kitchen calendar; neither me nor the kids get any surprises. Add to that the fact that Joyce is as reliable as an alarm clock; she’s up first in the morning packing lunches, lining up school satchels, and coats and such so we all get off on time. She’s home before the kids, and dinner’s usually ready by the time I get home. She’s really officious; nothing, I mean nothing interferes with her scheduled plans. Ah yes; easy to see, that was her undoing!
Oops, forgot! There’s more to Joyce than just church and an organized household. She’s the family ‘storm trooper’! We’ve got two boys, Chad and Harry junior, they both have cars, well pick-up trucks and there’s a jeep. Our daughter’s still too young, her names Claire, only fifteen so she doesn’t drive, but she snatches rides from her friends. Joyce likes to keep track of where the kids are and what they’re doing so everybody has an I-phone. Everybody has to be available. Any kid not available is in for it. I have to be available too. Here’s the rub; for us to be available Joyce has to be available also. She has to be ready and on hand at a moment’s notice.
So everybody’s itinerary is on the kitchen wall. We all have our cellular phones. We all, except Claire, have wheels, and we’re all, or we better be, close at hand. I guess by now the handwriting’s pretty much on the wall. Good ole Joyce, my ever-loving, every-loyal, always faithful wife and soul mate was destined to be hoist on her own petard.
So when did I get suspicious?
I first got my first smell of something one night when we were getting ready for bed. Joyce had done all her chores, solved all the family problems, and was up in the bedroom with me when I got the first whiff of trouble, and that’s exactly what it was, a whiff of something. I’m not a perfume kind of guy; oh sure there’s an occasional splash of Old Spice, but mostly it’s just good ole soap and water. That doesn’t mean I don’t know what ‘men of the world’ smell like. Joyce has her bosses, and the community’s rife with ‘manly odors.’
There’s a guy who’s in and out of the high school where I work who carries the unmistakable smell of lavender. Lavender? On a man? I had to ask him what the stuff was. He said it was Gaudier or Gautier or something. He told me it cost like $70.00 a bottle. I guess it came in quart sizes for that price; definitely not Old Spice! I didn’t recognize the name, but I sure recognized the smell; it was a kind of mix of mints and lavender. Gosh, lavender is for girls, and a mint is something you eat after a big meal. It just wasn’t a smell I’d soon forget. What was Joyce doing in the bedroom smelling like a male prostitute? I didn’t say anything; never seriously thought about it at the time.
I said I wasn’t a church going kind of guy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t go at all. So I’m in church one morning, early service of course, and Joyce is up in front singing her ever loving heart out when I noticed a new guy in the choir. Who was he I wondered?
After early church while Joyce was getting ready for her Sunday school class I slipped in the choir room. There it was, the unmistakable smell of lavender, and that’s right, you guessed it, it was all over this new guy. I kept thinking of the line in the old Eagle’s song; “she’s got a lot of pretty pretty boys she called friends.” I love the Eagles.
I walked over and introduced myself, “Hi I’m Harry McDermott, Joyce’s husband. I didn’t catch...”
Joyce was right up my ass, “Harry this is Kevin Melrose; he and his wife are new members, just transferred in from,” she looked at this guy Kevin, “Richmond isn’t it?”
Kevin smiled at my wife, then at me, “Yes, Richmond. My company transferred me out here a few months ago. We visited here and really liked the church.”
I shook his outstretched hand, smiled back and said, “That’s nice. Where’s your wife?”
He kept smiling, “Oh she’ll be along for the late service. Kids you know.”
I kept smiling too, “Kids yeah right,” I turned back to Joyce, “See you after church.”
She leaned up and kissed me on the cheek. Where did that come from I wondered. This was Mrs. ‘no affection in public at all costs’ Joyce McDermott. I watched her smile at Kevin, but never gave it a thought, at least not right then.
On the way home I got it; that smile and that smooch weren’t for me. She was sending Mr. Kevin Melrose a message. Now just what the message was I couldn’t be sure, but that odor of his got to me. That ‘Gutter’ stuff or whatever it was wasn’t a strong scent, but I have a sensitive nose. I’m not bragging or anything, but being on a farm, traipsing around the woods, catching the unmistakable aromas of certain critters becomes almost second nature. That ‘Goober’ odor just wasn’t something someone picked up by standing near someone in the choir. Besides my wife’s a soprano, and Kevin must have been a baritone or something because he was pretty far away when the choir was singing. Honestly I didn’t know what he was, but I saw he wasn’t that close to Joyce. I never smelled anything like that on anyone one else except the guy around school. How could she have been close enough to bring that stench home? What was going on?
What was going on? Nothing probably, but then again maybe it was time for ‘Dirty Harry’ to become ‘Harry the Sleuth’. It should be easy; I knew what Joyce was supposed to be doing every minute of every day.
Joyce had a newer car, an Avalon, and it was equipped with a state of the art GPS. I could track her wherever she went. I’d resorted to that once when she called saying she’d had a breakdown, but couldn’t say exactly where she was. Imagine an Avalon; she should’ve been driving a Chevy.
So I thought I’d keep a little track of where she was going. Over the next couple weeks I made spot checks; usually when she was off someplace that had something to do with church. Mostly it was easy; I could rule out joint trips with the pastor, the guy was in his sixties, and I could rule out Sunday morning’s. But what about the other times? What about Saturday afternoons? Joyce was chairman of Worship. Saturdays was when Joyce had to go to the church to make sure the altar flowers were there and displayed appropriately. That made sense since often the flowers were there as some kind of memorial, and the people who paid for them wanted them to be just right. That was part of Joyce’s job.
Also I started to make a point of getting my lazy ass in to church every Sunday. I’m not stupid, and until then I didn’t think Joyce was either. The guy Kevin, well I found out pretty quick he was as stupid as they come.
Come on, if somebody’s up to something they wouldn’t want to telegraph it, and certainly they wouldn’t want to telegraph something like an affair in a church. I watched Joyce, Joyce watched me, and Kevin watched Joyce. That wasn’t all; Kevin had a wife, and she was watching too. Better, or maybe worse, the later service was the habitué of the geriatric crowd. These were people my recently deceased mother’s age; they included Joyce’s mom, dad, and half dozen aunts and uncles, not to mention friends of the family. They were all watching!
After three weeks it was becoming surreal! Joyce had to see. Shit why was I going to church all the time? And to the late service! What did she think the old folks were seeing and talking about? I bet the old landlines were steaming after Sunday services. Still, my checks on her GPS weren’t telling me anything. Every time I checked she was exactly where she was supposed to be. I guess I could’ve called, but that wouldn’t have been me. No I had to come up with something else.
The something else fell right in my lap. We were all at dinner one night when my younger son Chad asked his mom, “Hey who drives the midnight blue Dodge Viper I saw on the church lot Saturday?”
Joyce looked up, and I could tell she was startled. She said, “Gee, I don’t know. Never noticed. What kind of car is that?”
Harry junior chimed in, “A Viper, a Dodge, and it ain’t cheap. I know that.”
I had her. I glanced at my wife noncommittally, “Doesn’t that new fellow. What’s his name, Kevin, Kevin Maloney? Doesn’t he drive a Dodge?” I deliberately got his last name wrong just to see what Joyce would say. She didn’t take the bait, smart girl.
She seemed to be clutching her fork when she said, “I don’t know. I don’t know what Kevin drives. I’ll check this Sunday.”
I looked at Chad, “You said you saw it on the church lot when? Saturday?”
“Yeah dad, it was Saturday.”
“What time Saturday,” I asked.
Chad replied, “Maybe 4:00 o’clock.”
I looked at Joyce, “You do the flowers about that time don’t you?”
She’d let go of her fork and picked up her ice tea, “Yes; but I’ve never seen him. It might’ve been somebody else. It could’ve been anybody; maybe one of the Mexicans who live not far from there.”
I thought, ‘This was good.’
Harry junior said, “A Mexican with a Dodge Viper? You’re kidding.”
Joyce got up, “Anybody for dessert? I stopped off at the Walmart and bought a coffee cake.”
I went with the flow, “Sure, I’ll take a piece.”
One by one our kids got up and left the table. I wondered if it was Saturday afternoons; was that when they’d been meeting? I thought, ‘If they’d been meeting on Saturdays, I’d check.”
Man, people are stupid. My wife’s stupid. I made a point to drive by the church late the very next Saturday afternoon. There they were; one pale metallic grey Avalon and one midnight blue Dodge Viper.
I’ve reads stories where the husband catches his wife, but decides not to do anything until he’s collected enough proof. That’s not me. If they were in the church up to something I’m not the type to wait around. I pulled in the church lot, got out of my truck and marched straight up to the side door.
Our church is an older one; it was first built in 1840. During the 1950’s two annexes were built on so the church is shaped like a T, there’s the main church with the sanctuary and downstairs Sunday school rooms, there’s a northern annex with church offices, bathrooms, and kitchen, and a southern annex with some storage, a small chapel, plus a comfort room with thick chairs and a couple plush older sofas. The comfort room is used mostly for people getting ready for a wedding or maybe members of a grieving family before a funeral. My ushers, best man, and I had used that room on our wedding day. I wondered as I crossed the lot to the side door if that was the room where our marriage might die.
I got to the side door, tried it, and found it was unlocked. That made no sense, if I was Joyce and up to no good I certainly wouldn’t want to be interrupted. I pulled open the door, the damn thing was stuck; it made a loud noise, so much for any big surprises. I started up the small set of steps, just three steps. At the top I made the turn that led to the comfort room. I could see the door was closed, but I could hear the faint sounds of people talking. I pushed open the door.
There stood my wife. It looked like she’d just stepped away from the man there with her; yes, it was Kevin Melrose. One look at my wife told it all. Her hair was down and tousled. She’d been letting it grow out since the beginning of summer, but this was nothing like the tight bun she normally kept it in. I could see her suede jacket lying across the top of one of the sofas. Her blouse was out and mostly unbuttoned. It was clear her bra was unfastened; one could only assume where Kevin’s hands had been. It was good enough for me.
Joyce saw me; she started to blush. She’d been standing beside Melrose; she stepped back and away.
I watched as she reached to cover her chest and start to re-button her blouse. She looked awkward and silly.
Damn it! God damn it! I’d caught her! I was furious, but held it in. What else was there to do? Punch the son-of-a-bitch? Yell? Cuss? Cry? I wanted to do it all but didn’t. I stood there like an asshole, dumbfounded. I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say or do; no, nothing to say, nothing to do, nothing, just nothing.
I stepped back in the hallway. I couldn’t think of anything so I said, “Sorry for the interruption.” I started back toward the steps. Then the whole thing crowded in on me. It started deep in my bowels, like a stone, a rock, it slowly rolled upward to my intestines, to my stomach, up in my throat, almost in my mouth; a giant huge hard thing, a terrible thing, it was overwhelming. I felt like I’d turned to stone. My mind, no my heart cried out, in my mind’s eye all sorts of words erupted; agony, grief, remorse, anguish, pain, oh the pain, the intense pain, and then death. Something had died; oh the awful, terrible sorrow. My marriage, my family, everything had just died.
Joyce didn’t follow immediately. My guess was she wanted to fix herself. I was back on the parking lot before I heard the church door reopen. I was already getting in my truck when I heard her say, “Harry wait...”
I shut my truck door; I nervously stuffed the key in the ignition, and turned it on. My windows were up, but I could hear her. She was calling my name. She looked stricken. ‘A little late for that, ‘ I thought. I put the truck in gear and backed out of my space. She’d reached the truck just as I shifted into first. I slowly pulled away. For a few seconds she tried to keep pace, but I wasn’t having it. I couldn’t bear it. I had to get out of there.
As I pulled into the street that would lead me home; home, what a joke, my mind started to wander. This was Joyce right; Joyce the ‘Type A’, hard-nosed, organized, super-efficient, loyal, faithful, ever loving wife, perfect mother, pillar of the church. What a crock of shit!
She was going to call. I knew she’d call. The cell phone was her weapon, the whip she used to flail everyone in line. I figured I had a few seconds before she did. I took the few seconds I had to think, to reflect. There were the pregnancies, three babies, the Lamaze classes, tummy rubs, sonograms, feedings, the colic, the high fevers. There were the Christenings, the birthdays, the plans, the promises. Chad had asthma, trips to the hospital, the emergency rooms, the hospital chapels, the prayers, bargaining with God, and the promises, always the promises. There were school problems, Claire in middle school, the bullying, Joyce’s protective instincts, going to the wall for her daughter, our daughter. My daughter, was she?
Both her parents were alive; her dad had suffered a stroke. God that was tough. We were there though. I was there. My dad and mom both died; one right after the other. She was there; right there with me, holding me up, keeping me going. Where was she now?
Jesus nineteen Christmases; picking out the trees, always live trees with the big root ball. They’d all lived too. They lined the driveway up to our house.
Our house; that was a travesty, a lie. We’d found an old farm, just twenty acres with a dilapidated rickety old house, leaky roof, creaky stairs. We’d laughed because it was like the house in that old movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. We’d turned that old house into a home; a warm, gentle home filled with love ... and memories. All gone now. The backyard, her first cat, two of my dogs, all buried back there. How she cried when ‘Pumpkin’, her red tabby died, the damn cat was over twenty years old, she’d had it since she was a kid, nice cat, purred all the time. I remembered, I’d felt bad too. Our house, it was in both our names, too bad now I guess.
Our kids, the youngest, Claire was just fifteen. OK, so Joyce was cheating I didn’t care about the cost. I’d have to put up and pay up for three years, just three years that’s all. Damn it so what! I wouldn’t, I couldn’t stay married to a cheat. We made promises! God damn. God damn her! And God damn him too! He’s got a wife and kids. Oh yeah, they’ll find out. You could take that to the bank! My cell phone rang.
I looked it over. It was Joyce. I picked it up, flicked it out, I said, “Joyce. Where are you; still on the lot?”
She replied, “I am. I’m leaving now.”
I finished, “OK, see you soon.” It would be soon too.
She asked, “Where’re you going?”
I replied, “I’m going home.”
“Don’t you want to wait and talk?”
“No,” I said, “You can stay there with Mr. Melrose. I’m headed home.” I added, “Try not to stay out too late.”
She responded, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
I heard her sniffle. I said, “You figure it out.”
I think we both hung up about the same time. I didn’t want to go home. Maybe if I just kept driving?
I did drive home. The kids would be there. So I’d found out she’d been cheating, and I’d found out who with. Now I had to decide what to do. That was a ‘no brainer’. I couldn’t stay married. So I was forty, almost forty-one, I had my health, I had a career, I had skills. I could farm. I could build things. I just couldn’t keep a family. Shit, was it my fault? Had I done something? Had I let her down? If I had, what was it? Did it matter?
When I got home the kids were waiting. They all looked scared. I guess Joyce had already called. Claire came up to me, “Mom’s on her way home. She said for you to wait.”
I smiled at my little girl, “Really. Did she say anything else?”
“No. Only that you should wait till she got home.”
I looked at my boys, “Tell your mother when she gets in I’ve gone upstairs to take a shower.” I wasn’t really that dirty. I’d done a little firewood earlier. I’d sharpened some blades and lubricated the wood splitter. We had a good supply for the winter, but there was some Mulberry and Maple I thought I’d cut up and split before it got too cold. Sure Maple’s a trash tree, but’s it’s a deciduous and burned, just not quite as hot. I even burned pine. If it was well seasoned and dry it was fine. Besides our chimney is a good one. I should know I built it; tightly sealed ceramic tiles, the best concrete, braced in cinder block, thoroughly parged and then painted. I cleaned it every spring. Couldn’t have the house burning down now could we? Didn’t matter now; no, I guess not.
I needed a shower because I just felt dirty.
I was just getting out of the shower when Joyce walked in. She looked at me all wrapped up in a towel and the big bathrobe she’d bought me last Christmas. She said, “Wait for me. Don’t get dressed or go downstairs. I want to take a shower too.”
I started drying my hair, “Yeah, be sure to get all the smegma out from between your legs.”
She looked stricken, “Harry don’t.”
I grinned ruefully, “Joyce don’t.”
She turned and walked in the bathroom. I continued drying. I’d more or less made up my mind. The kids were old enough. I didn’t need to get proof. I had all the proof I wanted. This was going to be a slam dunk. I got dressed and went downstairs. Fuck it; I wasn’t pulling any punches.
The kids were sitting around the kitchen table. We had one of those big country kitchens. I’d designed and built it the way Joyce wanted it. I didn’t get it! Why’d she do this? What was I supposed to do?
I got to the kitchen and scanned the kids. They looked scared. Well time’s up, “Kids your mom and I are splitting up.”
Claire gave it about ten seconds before she started crying, “Oh daddy...”
Jesus it was right out of “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
Chad was next, “Why? I don’t believe it.”
Harry junior was the most cognizant, “What’d she do dad?”
I looked at the three of them, “There seems to be another man...” I didn’t get any more out. Claire ran from the room. Harry followed after her. He exclaimed, “I’ll get her and bring her back.”
Chad looked dumbstruck, “You are kidding? Mom? This is some sick joke, right?”
I looked right at him, “Sorry, I caught her just a few minutes ago.” We lost eye contact; then I found out why.
From behind I heard her, “Harry you didn’t...”
I turned around and saw her; she was looking at Chad. She looked at me. I thought for a second she was going to faint; then thought better of it, not Joyce, not her.
She went over to the table and sat down. Still looking at me she said, “You couldn’t wait. You had to say something to the children.”
That really hit me; no denial, no attempt to lie, no remorse, nothing, just a ‘you couldn’t wait’. I told her, “We need to get this over with...”
Joyce turned completely white, “No ... no. You don’t mean ... you can’t. It’s not, it wasn’t...”
I interrupted her, “Wasn’t what? Looked like it to me. Jesus Joyce I’ve suspected for weeks; him and his faggotty perfume. You think I’m stupid?”
By then Harry junior had found Claire and with his arm around her was helping her back in. He asked, “Perfume? Guy? What guy?”
I looked at my oldest son, my first born. For a fleeting second I wondered, ‘Was he mine?’ I said, “The new man at church,” I looked at Joyce, “Kevin Melrose isn’t that his name?”
She looked at our kids, then back at me, but not in the eye, “Yes. Please. Let me explain.”
I looked our kids over; they were in worse shape than either of their parents, “You kids go in the living room. I’ll call you when we’re through.”
Harry junior got up and started to herd his younger siblings into the living room. I slipped into a seat across from my wife. My mouth was so dry I wanted to get something to drink, but I was determined not to show any sign of weakness. I looked at her. God I wanted to strangle her. I felt myself involuntarily shaking. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, but I couldn’t stop. She looked so forlorn. I wanted to hug her and comfort her. I hated her. I loved her. I wanted to cry out. I wanted to yell. I wanted to cuss and holler and break everything in the house. I needed to take a piss. I never felt so helpless, so feeble. My insides were twisted in a million knots. I felt the bile rise up from my stomach. I tried hard and managed to swallow it back. I felt cold, but I was sweating. Joyce looked worse. After what seemed like an eternity but was only a few seconds I said, “Well.”
She opened her mouth to start to talk, but nothing seemed to come out. She said, “Harry I ... Harry ... Harry I don’t feel so good...”
She started wavering in her chair. I hollered back to the living room, “Junior, Chad! Get in here!”
They must have been right at the portal. They were in almost instantly.
I looked at Harry junior, “I don’t know...”
I was feeling funky myself. I kept gasping for breath. I looked back at Joyce, then again at Junior. He was already at his mother’s side, “Chad,” he exclaimed, “go start your car,” He had his arm around his mother, “Come on mom,” He looked at me, “I don’t know what’s wrong. I’m taking her to the hospital. You don’t look so good either. Maybe you should go too?”
I felt bad, but not as bad as Joyce looked, “No you go ahead. I’ll stay here with Claire.”
He already had his mother wrapped in a coat and was half carrying and walking her out the door. I spun around and threw up all over the floor. There wasn’t anything in there, just bile. I fell to my hands and knees and just kept throwing up, dry heaves.
Over my shoulder I saw Claire, “Call your grandmother and tell her to get to the hospital. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right.” Claire ran to her purse to get her cell phone. I stayed on my hands and knees until I stopped heaving. Then while I was recovering, my cell phone rang.
It was Chad. He’d gone with Junior, “Dad, mom’s doing better. Looks like she just hyperventilated, but we’re still taking her to the hospital. She still doesn’t look good.”
I replied, “Good, stay with your mother.”
I managed to get myself back together. I even got a drink of tap water. Claire was a mess; I told her, “Claire honey just hang out in the living room for a while, just till we sort this out.”
She started crying again, “Dad I don’t want you and mom to ... please dad ... Can’t you ... you know? Oh gosh dad what’d she?”
What could I say? My little girl, my angel, I said, “We’ll see,” that seemed to quiet her down. I guess I shouldn’t have said anything to the kids without clearing everything with Joyce first. It was too much for everybody. That thought stuck in my throat. Clear it with Joyce? How stupid! It didn’t change anything, if anything, it made me more determined.
Junior, Chad, and Joyce weren’t gone all that long. Chad came back in first, “We got to the Emergency Room, but the place was so crowded mom said we should just come back. She was a lot better by then anyway. It was just hyperventilation.”
The back door reopened and in walked Joyce’s mom, “I saw everybody coming out of the emergency room; thought I’d follow and see if I could help.”
Junior was helping his mother back in a chair. Joyce was still kind of weepy, she glanced over but didn’t look her mother in the eye, she said, “Hi mom,” then she looked at me, “Can we talk tomorrow. I need to get some rest.”
This was Saturday. We, or she, had church in the morning; the thought triggered the anger in me all over again. I said, “Oh yeah, tomorrow’s Sunday, church. Don’t you have a solo or something?” Her solo was actually part of the offertory. She had a short piece; she’d be singing a verse or two of “Amazing Grace” while a couple others would be doing “El Shaddai”. One of the other singers I suspected would be Melrose. ‘How appropriate, ‘ I thought.
Joyce started sniffling again, “I can’t go to church, not now.”
I wasn’t having it, “Oh yes you can. You’re going to church. You’re singing in the choir. You’re singing your little piece, and I expect you to be just as affectatious as you always are.”
Joyce had a habit of over doing it when she was singing or reading before the congregation. Yeah, I forgot, our little Miss Joyce was a regular ham when it came to church, a real showman little Joyce was, she’d been that way since she was a child. The old folks and the children loved her. I wondered how much love there’d be after they found out why we split up; what with poor little Joyce being given the air by her backsliding slacker husband Harry?
I could almost hear the excuses, but gee Mr. McDermott it was only adultery. I mean like what; it’s only seventh on the ‘things not to do list’. It wasn’t like it was number one. Can’t you find it in your heart to ... you know? No I wouldn’t find it in my heart, not me, not good ole loyal, faithful, dumb ass me. I wasn’t Jesus. No sir. I’d have that ‘first stone’ ready and waiting!
Joyce whined, “Harry, no please. I just can’t, not now.”
The kids were watching. Their grand-mom was watching. I quietly said, “You can and you will. You will sing. You will smile. You will sway your hips, you will praise the Lord. But the four of us,” I waved my right arm about to include the kids, “we won’t be there. You can stand in front of the whole congregation and look at the empty pew where we used to sit. It’ll remind you of what you threw away.”
Joyce looked from Claire, to Chad, to Junior, to her mom, and then to me, “This isn’t...”
I interrupted her, “What? Fair? Bullshit,” I pointed to the stairs, “Go to bed.”
She gave up. Shoulders slumped in defeat Joyce trudged up the steps. About halfway up she turned and looked at me, “Are you coming up?”
I smirked, “It’s my bed too; wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
After a quick glimpse at her mom, groping the banister, she climbed the last few steps, turned and went off to bed. It was like watching someone stagger down the last mile on ‘death row’. I loved and hated every second of it.
Once she was out of sight Chad turned to me, “She told us what she did. She admitted she’d been a little out of hand, but she said, other than a little kissing and inappropriate touching, nothing happened.”
I listened. Chad and Junior acted like they wanted to believe it. I wished I could too, but I knew I couldn’t. It was more, a lot more, than just a grope and a kiss. Besides, what difference did it make? In for a penny, in for a pound. If nothing heavy had happened; it was most likely because they hadn’t worked up to it yet. I looked at Junior; he seemed the most determined, I said, “What does the Bible say? ‘To lust after someone in your heart is the same as doing it.’” I remembered I’d heard my dad tell me President Carter said that once, “Junior, you can look at me all you want, but she’s already done it; just not officially yet. I’m sorry.”
Junior dropped his eyes, “I get it, but its mom dad.”
I finished his sentence, “But it’s dad son.”
Claire was weeping again. Junior just hung his head. Chad whispered, “Let her stay home tomorrow; us kids will go. You and mom stay and talk it out,” He looked from me to Claire, to grand-mom, to Junior, then back at me, “We’ll abide by whatever you decide.”
Claire beseeched her grandmother, “Grand-mom?”
Grand-mom held her arms at her sides, “This is your father’s call.”
‘Thank God’, I thought, then I looked at my kids. I could see any resistance had been crushed. I said, “Ok.” And that was that. I looked at the clock on the kitchen wall, a clock with kittens on it Joyce wanted and I’d bought from a catalogue right about the time we knew Pumpkin was dying. Everywhere I looked I saw memories, mementos of something she’d killed. It broke my heart. What an asshole, what a stupid bitch. I reached out and took Claire’s hand, “You guys go to church. Mom and dad will stay and talk things over. And Claire, like I said earlier, ‘we’ll see.’”
Claire didn’t say anything; she pressed herself against me. I said, “All right all of you - upstairs. I’ll stay here. I need some time.” The kids looked at each other and at me, I expostulated, “Go on, scoot!” That got them going.
My mind was still made up. I’d give Joyce a chance. There was still grand-mom, I said, “I guess you want an explanation.”
She sighed, ‘There’ve been rumors. You don’t need to tell me anything; remember her dad and I are here for our daughter and for you. We trust you. It might hurt, but we know you’ll do the right thing.”
That gave me an idea, I said, “Thanks mom. Can I call you tomorrow?”
She came over and kissed me on the cheek, “Of course,” then she turned and left.
After a few minutes I went upstairs to the bedroom and my one-time wife.
I wasn’t going to surrender my right to my side of the bed. I went upstairs, took yet another shower, I still felt dirty, dried off, slipped on some underwear, something I seldom wore in bed, lay down, and curled my head in my pillow. It didn’t take her long.
Within minutes of my lying down I felt her head on my shoulder, her right hand was around my waist, “Harry,” she whispered.
I unwrapped myself from my pillow, “What.”
I responded, “Yeah me too.” I rolled back over.
Joyce wasn’t having it; she slid over as close as she could get. She pulled and tugged till she got me on my back. I let her. She rested her head on my chest. Her lips lightly kissed me. She rested her right hand on my stomach, it drifted down around my lower abdomen, she let her fingers lightly run over the flesh around my pelvis; she was at that erogenous landscape just above my genitalia where the hair from my groin met my lower stomach, it had the desired effect. I felt myself slowly grow.
Though she wasn’t touching me, the fabric of my boxers against my penis coupled with her soft fingers just above resulted in a growing turgidity, a tumescence, then a vigorous hard-on.
She lowered her head further down my chest to my stomach. She reached inside my boxers, she found my penis, she released him by pulling him through the flap normally used for urination. Her fingers lightly touched my manhood; they felt soft, she caressed my scrotum. I rested my right hand on the back of her head. I felt and smelt her hair, her long, thick, luscious brown hair. I smelled the soap she used when she showered. I wanted her, God, how I wanted her.
In that instant I thought of another fragrance. I could almost smell it, the aroma of lavender. I used my hand and pulled her head back and away, “No, not tonight,” I said. I rolled back over on my side.
I first felt then listened as she turned back and away. I heard her quiet sobbing. My mind’s eye produced another scene; I saw her kneeling on the floor, Kevin Melrose was seated on the sofa in the church comfort room. My wife was taking his penis in her hands. She was closing her lips around the head of his cock. No, I hadn’t actually seen it, but it didn’t matter, if not then, that afternoon, then soon. My wife, the mother of my kids, my life-mate had been readying herself, persuading herself, preparing to give everything we had away, away to another man. I thought, ‘To look at another with lust in your heart is to have already committed the act’. I didn’t sleep well that night.
The next morning Joyce and I both helped the kids get ready for church. We played it light; like it was no big deal, it was a big deal though. Joyce pretended she should go, but I know she felt differently, she kept saying “I should go. I have my Sunday school. I’m helping with communion this morning. There’s my song ... I hope they can.”
“No,” I admonished, “the church can get by one Sunday without you.” She faked a grimace, but I knew she was relieved.
The kids got off and the two of us sat down at the table.