[A note to the reader: parentheses show the thoughts of the narrator at the time of the events he is describing]
It's hard after the fact to be sure, because the memory is affected by everything else that happened. I think I expected something, or suspected something, but who could know? There was something about her, something more distant than the usual chasm, even with the little faux-sultry looks I was getting, and her use of "sweetie," and what seemed to be her almost uncontrollable laughter. Was the ground thawing at last? Judith was completely agreeable on everything, kidding about everything, laughing at everything, laughing at nothing at all. It was as though she'd suddenly feel a laugh come on and couldn't contain it, like a hiccup, looking sheepish at her newly-found hilarity, as though she were experiencing some new and overwhelming state that pulled her every way there is, so that she was forced to laugh at the idiocy of it all. And so she was.
Before she took her bath she pulled me to her and gave me a slow, sultry kiss full of lips and tongue and warm breaths, and she made a promise: "I have a surprise for you in bed." She chuckled as she walked to the bathroom.
And in bed? Here the facts are clear enough. Judith checked to make sure I was ready to accept the kind of promise a woman gives with lips and tongue and warm breaths, caressed me all the way from my balls to the tip of Big Ben, even pulled on me twice. I'm sure it was twice. Then she gave me a simple goodnight peck and, turned away, and as I was starting to protest at this playful promise break, she said in her most syrupy voice:
"I had sex with George Mathis this afternoon."
(What?) I said it milliseconds after I thought it.
"Well, I just thought you should know. Good night, sugar."
What kind of joke was this? I was sure I'd heard her right. I waited for a punch line, and when there wasn't one, I asked: "What are you talking about, Judy?"
"I told you." Her voice was still honey and cloves.
I turned on the light.
"Why are you saying that?"
"Sex? With George?"
"Well, what's good for the gander..."
"What in the world are you talking about?"
That's when the scene went from troubled dream to absolute nightmare. If it had been a movie, the light would have changed to something garish and eerie, and there would be strange, discordant music. Instead, it was just the two of us in our regular bed. Freddie Krueger didn't step into the scene. Everything was as ordinary as it could be except that Judith sat up and turned toward me, and her voice grew tight and thin and almost teary with anger. "I sucked him too! Do you want to know what he tastes like?"
Chew on that a while. I wasn't sure she'd actually done what she was saying, but I didn't know what to think any more than any other husband would. I had to ask one more time.
"Honey. I don't know what you're talking about. What's going on?"
"Don't you 'honey' me, you bastard! How much have you slept around? How many times have you done it? How many women have you done it with? Or have they been men? My God, you're gay! That explains it!"
"How could I have been so taken in by you? Am I that stupid?"
"And you know what else, you son-of-a-bitch? You went and got yourself infected with HIV! And now you've infected me!"
"Get out of my bed! Did you have to ruin my life? Wasn't cheating enough?" She was crying openly.
Nothing prepares you for something like that, does it? Could it? I'm not even sure what I thought at first. That she was crazy? That this was an over-the-top joke? That... what? I wasn't worried, or sad, or angry, not yet. I just didn't get it.
"Judy! What's going on? HIV? Sex with George? This doesn't make any sense!"
I got off the bed.
"I don't have AIDS. I'm not gay. What are you talking about?" (Sex with George Mathis? Could she have done that? HIV? She couldn't have it. Could she?)
"I got tested today. The test was positive." She seemed to be trying to control herself.
"What? How? Why were you tested?"
"Because Dr. Schadenfreude thinks everyone should be, and he recommended it. So I got to find out that you infected me!"
"It was my regular visit! This morning! Damn it, you never pay attention to anything! All you can think about is screwing, isn't it? He has a fast test. And I'm HIV positive, you bastard! Get out! Get out! Get out!" Judith was shrill, screaming, red-faced, a banshee. I thought she was mad. Maybe I was right. I went as far as the door.
"What about George?"
"What about him?
"You sexed him? Did you really?"
"Yes. You're not the only person in this house who can get laid, you know!"
"Why not him? How many different ones did you do?"
"Get out of here!"
"There's one thing..." I had a thought. It seemed the only reasonable possibility.
"Listen first! Did it ever occur to you that your result could be a false positive?"
The tenor of the conversation changed right then. Judith stopped and looked at me for a second.
"Don't try that. You gave it to me. I've never, ever cheated!"
"Yes, you bastard! If I'm going to get sick because you've been screwing around, I might as well enjoy myself too!"
"Well, you didn't get it from me!"
"Are you saying you've never cheated?"
"I'm saying I'm not HIV positive. Damn it! I don't fool around." While she was thinking of how to answer, I thought again too: (George Fucking Mathis? That asshole?)
"Well, you can't get it from toilet seats, you know!" Judith doesn't do sarcasm well.
"But you can get a false positive from the test. Judy, shit! I did not infect you! Period! George Mathis?"
"I made him use a condom, which is more than you've apparently done!"
"When you gave him the blow job?"
"You can't get AIDS that way. So, yes, I sucked him, and he liked it. I swallowed it all. He really liked that and wants to get together again tomorrow. He wasn't even very clean!"
"It's not impossible to get it that way. Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus! If you're infected... but you're not because I'm not, and you've just done the stupidest thing imaginable."
"Me? I didn't infect my wife! You are an absolute bastard! You won't take responsibility even when it's obvious!"
Murky. It was murky, with strange, shifting tides of meaning. It was too much to comprehend. Any part of it could make sense. It would be bad, but it could make some sense. There was just too much, though. I had to get away from her and think. I had to get my head straight.
"Okay. Okay. This is what we're doing. We're going in to get tested together. Together! I'm going to call your doc first thing in the morning."
"And then you'll see the results of what you've done!"
She didn't sound completely convinced.
I lay awake most of the night. Judith was awake too. At one point I heard her moving around in the back of the house. I knew I couldn't be infected, could I? You can know, but you don't actually know, do you?
(Is it even possible? How could it have happened? What if she's actually got AIDS? Where else could she have gotten it? Could she be trying to shift the blame to me? Could she have become infected by another man—maybe George—and be trying to make me think I'm the cause? The best defense for her is always a good offense. Hell, she could have infected me! And she fucked and sucked George! It didn't take her any time at all. It must have been within a few hours of when she got the results. A person who could do that could do it with anyone.)
I spent most of my time thinking of Judith with George. No one could miss how he'd looked at her over the years, in the grocery, at parties, across the room. Not that he'd looked at her so much differently than he did other wives, but it was pretty obvious, and being obvious seemed to work for him. It got him divorced, and since then there had been a long string of women, most of them apparently married. Some of them had managed to save their marriages afterward.
I imagined Judith kneeling over George's penis. He'd held her head while she did it. I was certain of that. Judith would do the whole thing slowly, taking it deep and sucking especially hard as she pulled it out. How did she get George to use a condom? I'm sure he enjoyed her. I imagined him with a wide grin. Oh happiness, to have such a pleasant surprise come walking up to him! But maybe not such a surprise.
We didn't talk the next morning until Judith said, "I went on-line last night. The test is more than 99 percent accurate."
Shit. She didn't have a clue.
"But only half a percent of white women are infected. About half of all their positives are wrong! Didn't Schadenfreude say anything about that? That the fast test is just a screen?"
She stormed from the room, and we didn't talk again until it was time to go.
(So it's just a screen. So? It's still 99 percent accurate. What if Judith really is infected? What if I am? When did it happen? When for her? When for me? Could I have given it to her? How? It was impossible, wasn't it? Could I have got it from her? Questions, questions, questions.)
Then I thought again of George 's schlong and Judith's mouth. It almost pushed the thoughts of AIDS out of my head.
.... There is more of this story ...