Chapter 1: A Declaration of Intent: Howard
My name is Howard Wilson Carver. I am a senior accountant at Taft, Collridge and Woolwich, a long-established Boston accounting firm. I am fifty years old and I have risen about as far as I can in this firm. I specialize in business tax management and I am considered the in-house expert on the subject. I earn $85,000 per year, plus benefits. I am very fit for my age since I exercise regularly and maintain a common-sense dietary regimen. Oh yes, I am also the firm's only black in middle management.
I know it's more fashionable to say African-American, but the fact is, I'm black, negro, colored, non-white, etc., etc. What makes me somewhat different is the fact that I'm married to a white woman. Edith Delaney Carver and I have been married some twenty-six years this May. I am uncertain if we will see twenty-seven, however.
Edith is what usually is called an impresario. She arranges and books plays and concerts for major venues in the Boston area. She is very successful and has been for a number of years. She is forty-eight years old and is also very fit and trim. In fact, she is one of the most attractive women on the Boston social scene. She is very camera-friendly, her picture appearing often in the society and entertainment pages of our local newspapers.
Edith and I discovered early on in our marriage that we could not have children. I was fine, but Edith apparently had a disorder that prevented impregnation. She took the news with stoicism, whereas I was quite upset. I wanted children and Edie said she did as well. We talked about adoption, but for one reason or another, the timing was never quite right. As the years passed, it was less and less on our minds.
When we were first married, I was the sole breadwinner. My modest salary provided us a small apartment in Needham. We struggled at the beginning, but in time my promotions and salary increases took the immediate pressure off, and we began to think toward our future.
When we learned that we would be unable to have a family, Edith, or Edie as I had come to call her, decided to find work. I couldn't blame her. Sitting at home all day doing housework and waiting for me seemed a pointless exercise for someone as bright as she. I encouraged her to find something she would enjoy, since we would not be dependent on her salary.
As luck would have it, she found work with a booking agency. The agency provided musicians, comedians, actors, dancers or whatever skill was required to clubs, advertising agencies, theatres, television studios and radio stations. It was a modest business, but Edie took to it like a duck to water. Within two years, she increased the bookings by a third and the innocuous little agency was suddenly becoming a factor in the Boston entertainment market.
Naturally her employer, Aser Hirschfeld, was delighted with her performance. She was not only increasing their business, she was also working her way into the inner sanctum of the publicity world. She was highly visible, and as a consequence was noticed by both performers and potential clients.
By the time she was thirty-five, Edie was an established personality on the local entertainment scene. At that point, she had overtaken my income.
It was also at that moment where the relationship in our marriage changed between us. Edie had gained enormous self-confidence and had become the dominant person in our union. It was she who decided whom we would entertain. It was she who chose the restaurants where we would be seen, and it was she who decided we needed a more fashionable residence.
Nothing less than a Back Bay address would do. It would stretch our finances to the limit, but Edie was insistent. Fortunately, her income kept rising with her success, and in the end we could manage the payments for the spacious, renovated townhouse she chose.
I know it sounds like I had turned into a milquetoast, a man who simply let his wife control his life. But it happened so gradually, that I wasn't really aware of it for some time. By the time I recognized my role in our marriage, it was established and seemingly immoveable.
They say success breeds success, and in Edie's case that was definitely true. She stayed with Aser's firm just long enough to establish her own clientele and then, with no discussion with anyone, set off on her own. It was handed to me just as it was handed to Aser, a fait accompli. At age thirty-seven she established her own agency and stole almost every valuable client she had captured for Aser Hirschfeld.
I could hardly complain, I suppose. By now Edie's income was far surpassing mine and most of what we had in possessions and capital came from her earnings. I was a lesser light. Oh, we were still close. Our personal relationship was still fine. We made love regularly and she enjoyed the comfort of my presence when we were alone. It was that very comfort that masked what was happening to us.
Was I happy? For the most part, yes. Edie was in her element, and her success was shared with me. I went to work each day with little to worry about. I knew my job inside and out. In fact, I was becoming bored, and I didn't see any change on the horizon. I would continue along my well-trodden path and remain at TC&W. I could never accuse my employer of being the cause of stress in my life.
As Edie continued to soar, I noticed that I saw less of her. She was forever attending some opening, charity function, or gala event. I was invited quite often, but discovered that it was really Edie being polite. She and I both knew that her world was an alien environment for me. I would accompany her when a partner was required, but more often than not she was off, flitting about making contact, pressing the flesh, and getting her picture taken with one celebrity or another. I was a fifth wheel.
As we entered our forties, Edie continued to grow on the Boston social scene. Her business had momentum and her income was quite astounding. I remember when we met with our tax accountant three years ago, that she was declaring over a half-million dollars in earnings. I nearly fell off my chair when I heard that. I had no idea. Edie seemed quite nonplussed as well. I don't think she really knew how much money she was making. Almost all of it was going into a money-market account at Fanny Mae. The rest was in her personal account.
I think that meeting had a greater effect on us than I realized. Our marriage had evolved into something more hybrid than the conventional union. We made love, or at least had sex, once or twice a week. We were happy in each other's company when we were alone. But when we were in public, Edie seemed to prefer some distance between us. Was she embarrassed with me? Was it because she was the dominant, successful partner and I was the modestly successful accountant? Or was it because I was black, and she was white?
I'm not paranoid by nature, but as I saw how she reacted when we were out in public at social gatherings, I began to wonder. And there was something else, as well. Our only friends were my friends. I learned early on not to include them in parties in our home when Edie was inviting her "friends." Mine would be ignored and I would end up being uncomfortable for them. I mentioned it to Edie more than once, but she dismissed my concerns as imaginary.
So that brings us to today, my lovely, successful, svelte, vibrant wife and me, with our unusual, but seemingly workable marriage. I won't embarrass myself by describing myself as handsome, but I am not ugly. I possess a full head of graying hair, weigh only a few pounds more than I did in my twenties, and thanks to Edie's generosity I am exceedingly well dressed. Our sex life is still active and we profess love for each other regularly. I had no reason to be discomforted ... until.
"Howard, I want to talk to you," Edie said as we finished putting the dinner dishes in the dishwasher.
"Yes? What about?"
"This is awkward. Let's go into the living room and sit," she suggested, clearly uncomfortable.
This was unusual. I walked to the sofa and sat. Edie chose a single chair facing me.
"I ... I don't quite know how to begin," she stumbled. "You know I love you. We've been soul mates forever. I would never want to hurt you."
I sat, now rigid. Something was about to descend on me, and I was sure I wouldn't like it. I became conscious of holding my breath.
"I ... feel the need to do something to ... enhance my life," she continued, still very uncertain. "I have been feeling that there's something missing and I've been looking for ... it."
I took all my willpower not to interrupt. I had no idea what my face looked like, but I could feel the pressure rising.
"I've been thinking about ... about ... taking a lover," she finally said.
She looked at me without turning away. She waited for my reaction. My mind was whirling out of control. I did everything I could to maintain my equilibrium. I remained silent. I would force her to tell all.
"Howard, you must understand. This has nothing to do with my love for you or anything about you as a lover. You have been wonderful all these years. It's just something that's been gnawing at me. You know I would never cheat on you. I couldn't. I just couldn't. That's why I wanted to talk to you about it ... tonight," she finished, wringing her hands.
I let out my breath. A long slow subdued whistling sound as I scrambled to gather my thoughts. I continued to say nothing. I didn't know how to begin. I didn't know how to react ... yet. I waited.
I could see the frustration in her face. I wasn't behaving the way she had expected.
I am blessed with a very deep, powerful voice. A quirk of genetics, I suppose. I've had a number of people tell me that I sound very much like James Earl Jones. I have had more than one woman tell me that they can "feel" my voice. Pleasant vibrations, I'm told. I am flattered. I'm also aware of just how I can use my voice to my advantage. Edie has seldom heard me do that.
Finally, I spoke.
"No," I said quietly but firmly.
"What do you mean?" she asked, a look of surprise crossing her face.
"I said no," I repeated, still quiet and controlled.
"Howard, you can't just say no. This is important to me," she whined.
"Edith," I said in a calm but firm tone, "I will not tolerate infidelity. I have been faithful to you since we first met. When we took those vows in the church, I knew I would honor them for the rest of my life. I expect you to as well."
"But Howard," she tried again in a pleading tone.
"NO!" I said loudly. "Don't even bother carrying on this discussion. You know exactly where I stand. I will not change my mind. End of discussion," I said forcefully, a tinge of anger present.
I rose and looked at her with distain mixed with disappointment before walking into my study. I closed the door behind me.
I flopped into my leather chair and put my head back. I was desperately trying to get myself under control. I was scrambling to come to terms with what this meant for our marriage. It wasn't good at the very least. At the worst, divorce.
I got up and opened my private cabinet and took out a snifter and my bottle of cognac. It had been weeks since I felt the need of strong drink, but this was certainly the occasion. I was breathing deeply, attempting to stabilize myself once more.
I tried to look back and remember if there had been any hint of this, but of course I could think of nothing at this point. My mind was too cluttered with the here and now to remember anything of importance, much less some subtlety that I may have overlooked. The best I could manage was reviewing the basics.
She wanted to take a lover. No matter what she said, she wanted to cuckold me and she wanted to do it with my permission. That would not happen. But it begged the question. Had she already cheated and now wanted my acceptance of something previously established? I didn't know. How could I find out? And what was this really about? Was it about a better man, or variety, or the need to feel young again? Or was she setting me up for something else? If so, what?
I was in a unique situation. If there was to be a divorce, I would be the beneficiary. Her earnings far surpassed mine, and I would be the aggrieved party. There would likely be substantial alimony from her to me. It didn't make sense. Why would she risk it? And her reputation? What would a messy divorce and ugly rumors do to that? It just didn't make sense.
As I sipped my brandy, I began to relax. Strangely, I wasn't as upset with her attempt at betrayal as I expected to be. Why? Was I anticipating it? I didn't think so. Had we grown apart and I didn't notice? Was it something to do with my lowly status compared to her celebrity? Was I dragging her down in her mind? I couldn't answer any of these questions.
I gradually became aware of a simmering anger building in me. She was treating me with contempt. She had assumed I would accept her proposal ... or at least ... would be willing to discuss it rationally. I doubt she expected my unequivocal rejection. It was, in retrospect, the right response. No!
As I sat in my chair, I began to plan my reply beyond my outright refusal. This hadn't ended it, I was sure. She would be plotting another attempt, or at least a diversion. I wanted to be prepared. Edie had shaken my trust in her. It was almost as if she had already cheated and I had discovered it. What to do?
My first instinct was to hire a private detective to find out what she was up to. Unfortunately, I had no leads to point him in the right direction. Perhaps I was getting the cart before the horse. I needed to do some internal investigation first. If there was one thing I could count on it was that Edie would be out more than one night this week and I would have the house to myself for several hours. It would give me the opportunity to search for clues to her plan.
In the meantime, I needed a strategy to put her off balance. That was fairly easy. I would move my things into the guest bedroom. She would sleep by herself for the time being. That should unsettle her.
It was early yet, not quite nine o'clock. I left my study and went to the hall closet to get my windbreaker. Edie was nowhere in sight. I left by the front door and went for a walk. I needed to clear my head, but more than that, I wanted to be out of the house. My anger was now mixed with sadness. The more I thought about it the more I wondered if this could be the beginning of the end of our marriage. A marriage I had thought was sound and fulfilling. I didn't want that, but...
I wasn't really paying any attention to where I was walking, but at last I realized I was many blocks from our townhouse. I had calmed myself to the point that I could think about my circumstances and plan my actions. What I wasn't certain of was my behavior while Edie and I were together. I had some options. Freeze her out with a silent treatment? Act normally, or at least as normal as the situation would permit? Display a consistent anger? Perhaps even move out temporarily?
I gave some thought to what might be the best strategy. The more I thought about it the more I was convinced I wanted to learn more. I wanted Edie to open up and tell me what she was thinking. I wanted to know as much as I could about her expectations of me. I was sure it was the best way to get to the bottom of this whole episode. I would not simply accept the status quo. I would not allow her to use me. I would not ever knowingly become her cuckold.