Part 1: The Incident
When Michael thinks about it after the fact it seems all jumbled, and time heaves in huge blocks. Sometimes it is as if everything happened instantaneously. Coming down the hall, home a night early. Surprise her. Sarah will be so happy. She must be in the bedroom. What are those sounds from back there? A man is grunting? "Unnh!" he's saying, complete with the aspiration. Then, "Oh you're good, you're good, keep it up, keep it up!"
Hurry now! Something's happening! Why don't they hear his steps? Michael half turns the corner into the bedroom and that's when his whole world is torn away and he's frozen to the spot, he's floating somewhere in space, he's unable to comprehend the simplest thing.
It's George, who works with Sarah, standing, half leaning back against the footboard, and he's naked. Sarah is kneeling naked on the floor in front of him with his dick sticking in her mouth. George is grunting again. He seems close. His hands are on her head, grabbing some of her hair, and he's moving his dick in and out. She's moving sinuously, back and forth with the motion of his dick, like a mermaid swallowing an eel. He's looking straight down at her and she's looking up at him through her eyelashes and her face shows desire. She pulls back and he says, "Don't stop," and she answers, "I don't want you to finish too quick." It's Sarah's voice, not that of a mermaid. It's her voice when she's especially excited. She begins taking his dick in deep and pulling it out, keeping her lips tightly around it, the way she eats popsicles.
George's dick is huge, much bigger than Michael's. Even his balls are huge. Michael is amazed at the size, at the thickness even more than the length. It makes the scene even more surreal. He can only watch, can't move, can't say anything. He watches his wife pleasure George and taste and enjoy him, and somehow neither of them notices the third person, the witness. Then George takes a breath and moans "I'm gonna cum," and Sarah takes him back in her mouth all the way, and holds him there and pumps him into her, and finally, way out in right field, Michael yells, "What are you doing?"
Later is seems obscenely lame and stereotyped. It's obvious what they are doing. But what do you say?
George yells, "Oh shit!" and pulls away and Sarah has a profound startle reaction, jerking around toward Michael faster than he would have thought possible, shrieking and trying to cover herself with her arms. She stares straight at Michael. George had started to ejaculate, but when they jerked apart he shot a line of semen across her cheek. Now he crouches back, as though to defend himself, and his big dick pumps spurt after whitish spurt on the new carpet. Won't it ever finish? How much can there be?
No one says anything, or moves, for how long? Yell at them! Throw something! Hit George! Hit Sarah! Instead Michael staggers against the door frame. The room starts to spin. He rights himself and inches away, then stumbles all the way back out to the kitchen where he leans against the table. He waits. What will he say? What will he do?
There are sounds of scrambling from the bedroom, tense voices, one high pitched and one deep. Sharp, short words. Michael hears Sarah's voice over George's, saying, "Just go now." What can he do? They'll walk out right past him. Michael pushes through the screen door and staggers again, out to his car, gets in, and drives away. He leaves his suitcase and briefcase behind.
He drives to his office. The whole way there he's trying to control his driving, trying to stay in his lane, to stop at intersections, to keep the car going. At first he forgot to turn on the headlights. He wishes he hadn't left. Now that he's out he can't stand not to be there, but he can't bring himself to turn the car around either. On campus he walks up to the department through the stairwell, and the echo of his footsteps is the only sound in the world. What's Sarah doing? Has George left yet? Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
In his office there's a couch he can sleep on. Hah! As if! He turns on a desk light and his computer. He goes to the couch. He goes to the desk. He looks at the phone. Should he call her? What would he say? She could call him, but she doesn't. She won't. He doesn't consider that she wouldn't know where he's gone. Should he go back home? He paces and sits, paces and sits. He starts a CD that he won't listen to. His mind just won't stay still. He goes to the bathroom then hurries back, afraid he may have missed her call. Go home. You've got to see her. He has started to get over the shock, he thinks, and to get angry, but he finds himself being awakened at 4:07 a.m. by the cleaning lady.
In this part of the memory, everything is slower for Michael. It flows over him with no particular rush, what has happened. He really had thought maybe it could be a nightmare. No, it's real all right. It happened. What do you do about it?
Michael may as well go home now and get it over with. Face Sarah. He doesn't have any idea what will happen. He knows only that he isn't angry at all. He's depressed. He's mourning. He washes his face in the bathroom and trudges away with the cleaning lady staring after him.
It's worse the closer to home he gets. He almost can't go all the way there. Half a block away he actually stops for several minutes and stares down toward their house before he finally resolves to drive past it and around the block-but when he gets to it her car isn't there. Only then does he realize he hasn't really been breathing. He turns up the driveway.
Where had George parked his car?
Sarah has put a note on the door on a sheet of torn notebook paper. It's in her handwriting in blue ink, written with the calligraphy pen Michael bought her last Christmas. It's as though she had intended to write him something poetic and grand that would make everything okay, but when he reads the note there's no style to it at all:
I'm so ashamed. I can't explain myself. Please forgive me. I love you. I'm sorry. Please believe me.
I love you,
Below the rest, at the bottom of the sheet: "I'll spend the night at a motel. I'm not with George. Please forgive me, Mike."
Michael walks all the way through the house to the bedroom, to the place he saw them, his and Sarah's most private place. The carpet has been washed where George came on it. It looks like someone scrubbed it hard. He touches it and it's damp. He goes into the master bathroom to wash his hand.
What should he do?
He wanders around the house, looking at everything, wondering how it is so different from when he left the day before yesterday. It was just a simple professional meeting, the kind of thing he's gone to dozens of times. He didn't want to go because he wouldn't know anyone and he'd been hoping almost to the last minute that Sarah would be able to go with him. He remembers that when he called last night she had sounded happy to hear from him and had said she loved him, like she always does. Was George here then too? Was he here during other meetings? Were other men here?
His suitcase isn't where he left it. That's a subtle change, not like the overwhelming difference to the house itself. There's a ghostly presence, something hollow and cold, a strange emptiness, and silence. There are shadows he's never noticed, and he hears the floor groan when he walks.
He finds his suitcase. It's in the bedroom closet, right where it should be, empty. Everything has been put away. Everything is tidy. His shirts are hung and the top buttons are buttoned. He almost never buttons them on the hangers. In the armoire, his clothes are folded and neat, much neater than he would have left them. The little cornhusk doll he got Sarah as a present is on the étagére in the den, still wrapped. Michael vaguely remembers putting it on the dining table just before he went back to the bedroom to surprise Sarah. He has a stray thought that he should put it with her doll collection, but he does nothing.
Breathe in, breathe out. His chest seems to be unlocking just a bit. His thoughts slow down more. He won't have to face her just now, won't have to worry about not knowing what to say or how to handle it. He's already growing accustomed to the thought that his marriage is over, or he thinks he is, but when he walks back to the bedroom he can't stop staring at the spot on the carpet where George came so lushly. The moisture makes it a little dark.
Finally Michael starts to cry. He fights it. He really does. When he gives in he tries to do it quietly, but he can't really succeed even at that. He can't help gasping and making the sounds of grief, and his shoulders and chest shudder and shake. He leans back against the door frame and tears stream down his face.
Sarah. Sarah. Please don't leave me.
It takes a while to cry himself out, but everyone goes dry eventually, and after enough time has passed he simply leans there, staring into the room at nothing in particular and wondering how he lost his wife.
By and by he is caught in a wave of exhaustion. He strips down to his underwear and drops the clothes on the floor, careful to avoid the wet spot, then crawls into the bed. He leaves his reading light on. Soon he's almost asleep in that half-lit room, occasionally opening his eyes a little to look up at the ceiling fan, and his thoughts are slowing, slowing. He's thinking only of Sarah, of what he should have done, of what he did, of what he could have done. Then, when he begins to drift, an image brings him back. Yes, it's Sarah. George is spurting into her mouth and she's loving it. She's excited.
Most women don't drink semen. The majority find it sickening. Sarah is like most women that way. She doesn't like it either and hasn't done it once in all the years he's known her. Until now, he thinks. He asked her to once or twice and she said no, she couldn't, so he joked about it and then dropped it. You don't impose that on your beloved. Some things aren't going to happen. You make your compromises with real life.
Sarah likes sucking on George, though, and she is practiced at it. Michael can't stop seeing it happen. He was so big! How wide she'd had to open her mouth to take it in. She wanted it. He remembers her expression, what she said: "I don't want you to finish too quick." She'd been breathing those fast breaths when she said it. She'd wanted it to go on.
It wasn't the first time. It wasn't the first time! Michael is wide awake again with that knowledge and with the other things coming to him, his mind working fast again but more focused than before. She'd been dressing better and been more careful with her make-up, for the first time in years. He'd noticed that. He wasn't completely blind. And there were the spots on her blouse, the ones that night she'd gotten home late from work, that looked like she'd spilled a few drops of milkshake. It was, what, two or three weeks ago? She'd gotten terribly upset when he'd mentioned them, to the point that her face and neck had turned red, and she had taken off the blouse to hand wash it right away. It had been excessive, but he hadn't thought much about it then. Now he knows what the spots were, and how she got them.
She loves Michael. She's sorry. That's what she wrote. But she loves George's meat, and his cream, and she doesn't want any of Michael's. She's been supping there awhile, getting satisfied awhile.
He can't stay here, to be here when she returns, but he's too, too tired, and that's the end of the memory.
Part 2: First Meeting
He heard the fumbling at the door and stood up because he didn't think he could stand to be sitting when Sarah saw him. Then she was in the door and they were both of them just looking at each other and he was paralyzed again. He had rehearsed what he would say, but on seeing her it fled him. He almost said "Hi" but it seemed so banal that he couldn't manage it. Just inside the door, Sarah stood with her feet close together, holding one hand with the fingers of the other, not looking at him, not looking away. Her lips were tight and her chin quivered. Her hair was pulled back in a pony tail, the way she did it when she was cleaning the house. She was wearing jeans, a pullover sweater, and her running shoes. No make-up. Her eyes had bags, like she hadn't slept. She looked awful. She looked wonderful.
They were standing in an otherworldly place that crowded out everything they knew of the world. Michael was all empty where his heart should be and the silence could almost swallow them. Then Sarah's voice came from somewhere, a tiny sound, almost nothing at all.
"I'm so sorry, Mikey."
She waited for a second, and when he didn't reply she went on, "I know you hate me, and you have every right to. What I did was horrible. I only hope you can forgive me."
He still didn't say anything.
"I love you so much. I'm afraid I've lost you. Please let me try to make it up. Please? I'd do anything to undo what I did, to save what we have."
She had to let loose her grip on her fingers to wipe her eyes, first one side, then the other, then back to the first side. Michael couldn't answer. It was too complicated. He couldn't say anything because everything got in the way of everything else. Finally Sarah said it in that shakiest of voices that sounded like it was coming through water,
"Aren't you going to say anything, Mike? You could tell me you hate me. Tell me I'm a whore. Please say something."
He tried to say something, sighed, tried again, took a deep breath, tried again. "I don't think I... there's not... what can I say?" A pause. "I don't hate you." Another pause. "I don't think I can talk to you. I can't talk to you right now."
A pause while he tried to formulate sentences. "I'm going to stay somewhere else. Please don't try to see me." Still another pause. "I'll come get my things when you're not here."
He wiped his eyes and brushed past her and out the door. He saw her in the doorway, heard her calling, "Michael, please don't go. Please! I'm sorry!" as he backed down the driveway. He almost stopped. He had to press on or he couldn't do it.
Part 3: The Argument
What did it come down to? There were so many things. He argued with himself about it while he walked along the river road. He was walking because he couldn't stand to stay inside.
It isn't a matter of just forgiving her. There's more to it. It's complicated. I can't see all the parts. I mean she's always been loving.
She has? Well she was sure loving George's dick!
No, damn it! I mean she's never been like that. I don't know what happened.
She was slurping it pretty good.
That's not it, damn it! I always knew other guys would want her. Anyone could stray.
Stray? She was drinking cum!
I know! But what was going on?
Don't you know?
I just don't know.
So what's the point you can't get past?
The big point? It's that she sucked him. That's the big point! That she didn't just fuck him. She wanted to do things to him she never ever wanted to do to me!
A couple came along the road walking in the other direction, holding hands, looking happy. He nodded to them as they passed.
But oh shit. Anyone can stumble. She's only human.
Yeah, but she sucked him and she did it in our house. There might have been others, too.
But am I so pure? I'm not. I sexed two other women since we were married. I fucked Susan at three different meetings. I didn't even feel guilty. I loved it. I just worried what would happen if Sarah found out. It was, shit, it was exhilarating. What if Sarah had found out? The only difference is I found out and she didn't.
Would she forgive me?
I think she would, but she would have been awfully hurt. She'd forgive me after she hurt me back awhile.
Do I want to hurt her?
Yes. No. Fuck off! It's not that simple. I can't make it square one again. I could really push her nose in it, but I can't. I can't push her nose in it when my nose should be there too. The whole time I was making her confess I'd know I should be confessing too.
He pondered this while he walked a few steps, then: Shit. I'm all fucked up.
Yeah. I know. That much I know. But what if she found out about what I'd done after I made her crawl? What would she think of me then?
She won't find out.
But what if she did?
She won't find out.
I'd know. I'd know it forever.
Is that the only thing?
What's the other thing?
What is it?
It's that I never did anything with the others I wouldn't offer to her. I never held out on her sexually. It never interfered with our lovemaking, never once. But Sarah! Damn it, I don't want to go where this is going.
Yeah, well say it anyway.
Sarah loved drinking George's gizz and she was doing it-how long?-a month?-maybe more? Maybe more. But never once did she do that to me. Oh no! The bitch never said, "Mikey? I'd like to try something different, something I never did before." No, nothing like that. She loved his dick and she loved sexing him! The look on her face. She was worshipping the goddamned thing!
I don't know. I don't know.
Maybe I didn't treat her right. I know I could have been better to her. Been sweeter. Paid more attention. Maybe she was getting even for something. I wish I could put everything together. I can't think straight!
Maybe he's a better fuck.
That's not it!
No! I don't know. I just don't know.
Well, maybe it's that his dick is so big. It's humongous. She loved it because it's a monster. You can never compete with that.
Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! That can't be all of it! How did she do any of it at all? Sarah never even tasted cum. She didn't and now she does. At least his. She must have a belly full of it! Why'd she start doing that now?
Why? What made it happen?
You know, don't you? You know what it has to be.
No. Just that it's something about George. Something that's different from me!
Maybe it's his personality. Maybe he's more charming, or more outgoing, or more sure of himself, more dominant, more masculine, more of a man. Maybe she wants a man like that and she's tired of men like me. Maybe that's how he got her to suck his dick and like it.
Maybe she couldn't get off to someone more warm and sensitive.
You're not so damned sensitive.
He stopped thinking and exhaled. He started to shiver, and the next thoughts he spoke out loud. "God. Oh God. I'm not much of anything. Whatever it is, he's got it and I don't, and I can't compete with him for her."
He started to cry because he read the equation and knew that in every way he came out less than George, and that he really had lost Sarah. That was what it finally came down to. He had promised himself he wouldn't cry again, so he made himself stop. Be a man about it. Shit.
But she wanted to come back.
"Yeah. Because she got caught and she's afraid of what everyone will think. If she came back she'd know it soon enough, what she got from him and not from me. What she was missing. If she stayed it would be from guilt or pity. Every time we did it she'd be comparing. I'd always come up short."
And narrow. Don't forget narrow.
Oh shut the fuck up! It wouldn't be any good for either of us. I may as well let her go now and try to keep a little dignity.
Well there's that. You can pretend to have dignity, now that your wife is sucking other men in your bedroom.
Damn it! I can try to be a grown up. Not be a total jerk. At least I can keep from demeaning myself.
Sure. Be "Miss Congeniality." That's the "B" prize.
Yeah. Yeah. I know. But what can I do? Sarah already chose George. He gives her something I can't offer. Something I haven't got.
Part 4: Purgatory
Michael saw Sarah once. She came to his office the second day as he was busy trying to keep from thinking about it-not very successfully. He'd been by the house when she was gone, like he said, and had left a note on some practical matters. He'd added a postscript, asking her not to come see him, but there she was in the doorway.
She was dressed smartly and had used make-up. He could tell she was scared and it reminded him how much he loved her. Everything became jumbled for him again so that nothing was going to be easy. He wanted to crush her to him and tell her he couldn't live without her. He wanted to beg her to take him back. He wanted to shout at her and tell her to stop fucking with his heart, to leave him alone so he could shrivel up without having to deal with her. Instead he managed to say, "Hello," and make his voice normal, but right off she made a big mistake.
"Mike, I know what I did was terrible, but it's just something that happened one time, and it'll never happen again. I promise it won't!"
Little things can change your world, things less than finding your wife with another man. In the realm of all that could be, this was a very small thing indeed, finding your wife trying to lie her way out of the heartache she'd caused. Such a little thing.
Outwardly Michael merely winced. Inside he was outraged. Bitch! Bitch! Fucking, lying bitch! Somehow that made it easier to talk, so he really did shout out loud at her, and everyone must have heard.
"Jesus Christ, Sarah! Do you think I was born yesterday? You can't even be honest about what went on? The very first thing you tell me? God damn! There's nothing to say. How could I ever believe anything you said?"
He watched her shrink down inside herself. Oh shit. I didn't have to do that. I didn't have to do it. I didn't have to pound her.
"Mike, no..." Sarah looked around, and put her hands up in a supplicating gesture, but Michael was too wound up. At least he lowered his voice.
"Go away. Please, Sarah. Just go away. Think about what you really want. Go back to your wonderful fuck. Don't come around to lie to me. It's bad enough you've got another man, but you couldn't even respect me enough to tell me the truth."
So she left. She gulped twice and seemed about to cry again, but then she set her mouth and, looking neither left nor right, walked back down the hall.
One day led to the next.
He lectured days, because he had to. He tried to write. He sat in his crummy little efficiency night after night and wondered what Sarah was doing to George. He went to a movie but left in the middle and didn't go to any others.
There were practical issues of living apart, so he called several times to leave messages on the answering machine. One day the message in his voice was replaced by one in hers. Another time he called and Sarah picked up the phone and he hung up. He started shaking. After that he didn't call anymore, but left written messages on her door. He didn't tell her his address and he didn't list his new phone number. Sarah didn't come to the office again and she didn't call there either.
One week led to the next.
There was this singles club Michael found his third weekend, when he was crazy with loneliness. He met a woman and they talked and he could tell in five minutes where it was going. They went to her apartment where they sexed. During it he stood, half-leaning back against her desk and she knelt in front of him and sucked him off. It was wonderful. It felt marvelous and the thought of her swallowing his sperm gave him a stupendous orgasm that left him reeling. She seemed to like the whole thing, too. Afterwards, of course, he realized he had just copied George and Sarah. Really he'd known it all along, but he'd been too caught up in it to care. That came a little later.
He went to another singles club the next weekend, where he met another woman. He could tell pretty quickly that he was going to score with her, too. He'd never dreamed there was such a pool of available women. He'd known but he hadn't.
When she found he was a professor and she didn't have to play dumb, she told him her hobby was collecting English antiques. She said she identified with Elizabeth I, because that was her name, too, and because her hair was red.
Michael said, "Not a virgin queen, I hope."
He went to Elizabeth's house and they fucked. She gave him a blow job, too, and it was nearly as good. He wondered if all women at singles clubs sucked cock, and resolved to find out. Elizabeth was different from the first woman, though. She was interesting and funny, and her house was packed with prints and old objects, and books. She liked antique furniture. She wasn't just a sex toy to Michael. Not just.
They were sitting on Elizabeth's couch, naked, with the lights off, watching "Antiques Road Show" while they kept each other bothered. When Elizabeth was distracted by an 18th century Chippendale dresser, Michael pushed two fingers up her vagina. It was almost better for him than fucking her. She lay her head back and closed her eyes and had just enough presence of mind to moan, "You bastard." He masturbated her for a few minutes, enough to get her most of the way there, then they watched the show some more while he smelled his fingers. When an appraiser asked the owner of a frontier doctor's case if she knew its dollar value, Elizabeth leaned down and took Michael's penis in her mouth. A few minutes later she asked him if he had noticed the value.
"Who cares?" He answered. "You're worth far more than it."
He liked her, enough to call her during the week, and a few weeks later they flew to DC for the weekend, to an exhibit at the Smithsonian and "The Taming of the Shrew" at the Shakespeare Theatre.
Elizabeth brought sex toys along. One was a cord with seven balls attached in sequence. Michael got a hard-on the moment she pulled it from her suitcase. Sarah would never do something like that, he thought. Maybe for George.
The sex toys gave Michael an idea. He told Elizabeth, "This weekend, I'm Petruchio and you're my sweet Kate, and you have to do everything I tell you."
She looked blankly at him for a second, then smiled and pulled out her ancient copy of the play. "Wait a minute." She looked up the lines she wanted. Then, "I am bound to serve, love and obey."
Elizabeth is kneeling, her head on a pillow, her ass high in the air, waiting for the enema to act.
"Petruchio, my Lord, it is time."
"Then be quick, Katherina."
Shortly, Elizabeth is kneeling again and Michael is playing with her vagina and her ass. He takes the cord and a tube of lubricant and begins pushing the balls into her rectum, one, another, another. She gasps with each one. When all that remains outside is a short length of cord, he rises.
"Get dressed. It's time to go to dinner."
"My Lord! No!"
She gasps again several hours later, after dinner, after the play, when he finally pulls the balls out, one by one by one. She gasps and moans again when he fucks her ass while fucking her vagina with a vibrating dildo. Afterward they lie together with Michael on top, and the room seems to rise and dip. He doesn't think of Sarah at all, not even that he hasn't done sodomy in years, not since Sarah told him she didn't want to do that anymore. No, not Sarah. Not Sarah.
When they slept together afterward, he found Elizabeth liked to touch. Like Sarah, she would be touching him when he awoke during the night, her forehead or her feet or a hand. Once he woke from a dream, disoriented, and found himself on the edge of the bed, and she was pushed up against him.
"Sarah, honey, you need to give me a little more room."
"Huh? Did you say something, Michael?" asked Elizabeth. She yawned.
"Yeah, Lizbeth. We need to move back to the middle of the bed."
"Oh, okay." They moved back and she fell asleep again, with a hand on his chest.
She slept like Sarah.
Michael stared at the alarm clock for awhile. He put a hand atop Elizabeth's. It felt like Sarah's hand.
They would have seen each other again, and something might have come of it, except for a coincidence. It was almost Sarah's birthday. He'd thought of it now and then, and it hit him when be brought Elizabeth home from Washington, because she had an area by her front door planted in Calla Lilies.
It might have been different if they'd been any other sort of flower, but Calla Lilies were Sarah's favorites. After she and Michael had seen an exhibit of Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings, she'd torn up a good part of the garden to plant them. Sarah knew O'Keeffe had claimed her flowers weren't sexual, but she wasn't fooled. She knew they were abstract visions of vaginas, and that knowledge made her love them more, so Michael had surprised her with a book of O'Keefe flowers for her birthday. She'd gone through the entire book at one sitting, and then had attacked him. That's why they'd gotten a large print of a Calla Lily for the bedroom, and why he'd taken to calling Sarah's vagina "Lily." It became part of their love play, a term of sexual affection.
Michael is sitting on the rocker in the den, reading a book on the role of disease in history, when Sarah walks past behind him, pauses, and bends over. She's just going to give him a peck atop his head, but no, she lets her hair cascade so that it flows on both sides of his face, tickling his ears and his cheeks, spilling all the way down to his chest. She's the only woman in her office to still grow her hair long. She runs her hands down her hair, across his shoulders, to his chest, leaving them right over his nipples. Her hair lets them move smoothly, as though over silk, to where she makes gooseflesh on his chest, and Michael is aware of all these things about Sarah, her hands, her mouth on his hair, her murmur, "Sweetheart, Lily needs to be fed," and he's hard before the book is down.
The memory flooded through the car as he drove home from Elizabeth's. He replayed it over and again, all the way home. At a stoplight the car behind him honked because he didn't notice the light change. It wasn't a distant memory. It had happened just before he'd left for that last meeting.
He remembered all through the night. He wasn't going to sleep, so he thought of Sarah. Sarah was distant, Sarah was gone. Sarah crowded out Elizabeth. She wouldn't let him go. He finally made up his mind to do something he had resolved before not to do, get Sarah a present.
Isn't it unforgivably cold to ignore a birthday? It's necessary, Michael argued. She'd see it as a sign of desperation. It would just make things harder before she decided to make that official break that was bound to come. Doubtless George would give her something. Oh yes, George would give her something. Toward morning, though, it seemed that Michael should do it, give her something special.
He bought Calla Lilies, of course. He never thought of anything else. Would this somehow mess up what was beginning to happen with Elizabeth? When the time came he almost didn't leave them. Idiot! Idiot! Drop it. Don't cling! He left them on her doorstep, the doorstep of the house filled with the memories the two had made, that was alien now. George's fuck house. He left it with a note:
Please have a happy birthday. Though it may be time for our lives to part, I'm grateful for the days we had together.
Yours with affection,
He'd worked hard to get the words right. It must have been over an hour, with several cards ruined, before he had given up.
Part 5: Face to face
Sarah should have been a detective. Twenty minutes after she got home she took the arrangement to the florist and demanded to know the address of the man who had bought it. She said he'd been stalking her and she'd go to the police if they didn't tell her.
Shouldn't Michael have expected Sarah to do something? He had, after all, given her a loaded present. But he did and he didn't. Sure, he fantasized this and that, but he didn't consider the real possibilities. He shouldn't have been as surprised as he was when she knocked at his door. He truly didn't expect her, hadn't a clue. For a moment, looking through the peephole, he even thought of playing possum. You'd think he would be more self-assured, now that he knew women found him desirable.
What did she want from him? She had no special make-up this time, no special clothes. Her face was pink around her eyes. She looked different somehow. She looked drawn. He had to open the door to her, and when he did it was like no time had passed at all. Was she gathering courage to tell him goodbye?
Sarah did gather her courage again, the way she had that first morning, and had again at his office. She began talking, rushing the words out before he sent her away again. She was naked emotionally, eyes wet, voice quavering, and even Michael could tell.
"Mike, let me say what I have to say before you slam the door on me. Please come home. Please. I'm miserable without you. I hate myself and I'm lonely for you."
Michael should have fallen at her feet. Part of him wanted to, but he didn't trust her. He didn't understand. He thought she couldn't be serious, not really. What should he say? Was there a line inside him somewhere? A phrase from a punishment fantasy jumped out. "Well it can't be for lack of good sex... oh shit!" Michael grimaced and shook his head. Bite my damn tongue! "Damn! Damn! God damn me, Sarah, I'm sorry. I'm not very good at this."
She'd flinched. Yes she had. But she responded to the hidden question. "The truth is, I haven't had any sex at all since you left."
With everything swirling in his head, he couldn't resist upping the ante. "That's ironic, Sarah, because I have."
Stop it you asshole! Stop hurting her! She's defenseless. Call it a win and move on. Sarah would have been impressed by the battle going on inside her husband right then. But she wasn't finished. She continued, and Michael came to realize she was much braver than him.
"There's no one at all. I don't want anyone else. I keep waiting for you to call or come back. Now you've sent this card saying you want to leave me forever. Please Mike." Her voice dropped, became soft, weak. "I'm begging you for another chance."
Then she looked him in the face, wide eyed, wet, and defenseless. He could have smashed her if he wanted to. What did that birthday card say? Why did she want him? He still didn't understand, not completely. He subdued himself and recovered his soul, but he had to ask something that could be ugly. Don't be vicious, but ask. He made his voice as soft as hers,
"Sarah, I don't know. I just don't know. Are you sure you know what you want? What of George?"
Sarah sniffed and wiped her eyes, then her nose. "I told him I can't see him anymore. That I won't see him anymore. That I want my husband back. I want you back. I want my marriage back." Her voice broke during the last sentence, but she regained her control and finished. "I quit my job, because I couldn't work around him. I interviewed for a new job, and I think I'll get it."
Oh God. Is this real?
So of course Michael opened the door and let Sarah in, but he was careful they didn't touch. He brought her a tissue and offered her a seat at one end of the couch and asked if he could get her anything, while he tried to remember what he had vowed to say if this ever happened. He was polite and formal as he sat on the other end, and he tried to keep his voice from shaking. How easy it had once been to talk to her.
"Sarah, I need to say something first. This is hard, so let me try to say it right. The thing is, I don't know if we should try to get back together. Whenever I think about it I go round and round. I'm not sure... I don't know..."
"The truth is, I don't know that I can give you what George could. That you'd be happy with me. So I have to know the truth about it. The whole truth. Whatever happens I can't stand any dishonesty. I just can't."
"Let me finish. Please. Please." He waved his hand spastically in front of his face. "I don't need to know about any other men, but I need to know..."
"Mike, there weren't any other men. Please believe me about that. This was..."
"Sarah, I don't need to know... okay. Okay. Look. Okay. Oh Jesus. Before we go any further." He took a deep breath. It was time. "Sarah, I was unfaithful to you."
"I know. You just said..."
"No. Before that. I slept with other women before that."
She didn't say anything at all for a minute. She was completely still. Finally she asked, "Why are you telling me this? Do you want to punish me more? Believe me, Mike, you can't hurt me more than I'm hurting myself."
"No. No Sarah. I really don't want to hurt you. Part of me did, but not anymore. But I don't want anything false between us. I'm confessing... because I'm not pure... and I love you too much..." His eyes were watering and he was breathless. No, not that! That was all he did for Sarah. No wonder she'd left him. "I love you too much... I don't know... to hold anything over you." He screwed his eyes and mouth shut, pulled his head down into his shoulders, and made a fist at his side. He didn't move for several seconds.
He held his other hand up, his fingers spread wide. Give me a minute, he thought. I can do it. He was so deep within himself, trying to keep control of himself, that he didn't hear her ask, "You still love me?" Finally he took another deep, deep breath, looked at her, and continued. "I thought about this a lot, Sarah. I can't judge your doing something when I did things. Maybe we can't work things out, but I'm not going to try to do it with a lie. If I held something over you when I'd done the same thing... well... you can see. It wouldn't ever be right. It couldn't. So... So... So I can't lord it over you. Everything has to be a clean slate."
He didn't want her to see him like this. Damn me! He closed his eyes again when he finished and turned away from her, which kept him from seeing her lean to him. The first he knew was when Sarah took his hand.
It's a good sign for togetherness when you can cry together. It wouldn't seem to be true, would it?.
Part 6: Confession
"Are you ready for me to tell you about what happened?"
"I think so." Kissing Sarah's temple, smelling her hair, running his hands all over her, holding her close. It was enough to have her. What would he do if he could tell she lied now? Would he keep her, even if? Even if he knew not to trust her again?
"Well, I did lie to you about how often I'd been with, you know."