Thanks to Carnillia for his help with this story, Crkcppr for beta reading and blackrandl1958 for her editing. Thanks Pat.
I was at loose ends. My wife Carole had taken off on a two-week trip to see our sons, Oliver and Carl. Carole’s job allowed for extended time off, but mine did not, and truth be told: I didn’t really have a very close relationship with either of our sons.
I wasn’t sure if it was my time away serving in the Air Force, or the long hours my job required, but in the end, it really didn’t matter; it was what it was.
When I got home to our brownstone in Boston’s Back Bay after dropping Carole off at the airport, I had just hung up my jacket and was heading to the kitchen for a cold beer when the doorbell rang.
Opening the door, I saw an attractive impeccably dressed middle-aged woman, with a large package wrapped in plain brown paper leaning against her leg.
“Can I help you?” I said.
“Yes, I’m looking for Carole Johnson, is she in?”
“No, she’s out of town for a couple of weeks, is there anything I can help you with?”
“I hope so. I should probably introduce myself. My name is Maria Pirelli. Carole has mentioned me, no?”
“No, I can’t say that she has, I’m sure I would have remembered such a unique name. Maybe she didn’t want me to meet such a beautiful lady!”
“You flatter this old woman, Jon, you are Jon, Carole’s husband?”
“Yes, yes I am, but I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Mrs. Pirelli.”
“This is quite embarrassing; Carole has told us so much about you that I can’t believe that she has never mentioned us.”
“You say ‘us’. But I don’t see anybody else here.”
“Oh, that would be my late husband Antonio. That’s why I stopped by, to deliver her portrait for the exhibition.”
“Yes, I have it here. Could you please help me carry it in?”
“Of course,” I said, taking the package from Maria’s hands, “Won’t you please come in?”
“Thank you, Jon,” she said, as she took a seat in the front room of our house.
“May I get you something to drink? Some white wine, perhaps?”
“Yes, white wine would be fine, just one glass as I am driving,” she smiled.
I went to the kitchen for the wine, returned to the front room and handed the glass to Maria.
“Maria, you said this was ‘her portrait’, I assume you meant Carole. May I see it?”
“But of course! It is quite lovely, I’m sure you will appreciate it!”
I started tearing off the paper, not sure what I was going to see, but expecting a more or less typical portrait.
I was quickly disabused of that notion, as a nude painting of Carole on our bed came into view! And not just nude – she looked freshly fucked!
“I have to ask, Maria – was this painted from life?”
“Of course, why do you ask, Jon?”
“Because I’m no art expert, but I would bet almost anything that Carole had had sex just before this painting was done.”
“And I don’t remember this, and I think I would have noticed an artist hanging around while I made love to my wife!”
Maria laughed, “Of course not, this was done while you were overseas serving in your Air Force.”
I felt my blood pressure rising. “Then, please tell me, just who had fucked my wife before this painting was done?”
“Why, my Antonio, of course! Who else could it be?”
“It couldn’t, it shouldn’t have been anybody but me!” I growled, barely containing myself.
Maria slowly turned from the painting to look at me; my expression must have made it clear that she had seriously misjudged the situation.
“I thought you knew. Carole said you knew.”
“You thought I knew about this, that I was okay with this? What kind of a man do you think I am?”
“Surely you’re a man of the world, a man who understands that men and women have natural urges that must be met?”
“Are you insane? Are you telling me that you knew about this, that you were all right with your husband fucking another woman?”
“I wish you wouldn’t be so crude...”
“Well, I wish that my wife wasn’t a cheating slut! I guess neither of us is getting our wish! So, tell me, just how long as this little Peyton Place been going on?”
“I ... I think you should talk to Carole,” Maria said and started to get up.
“Oh, no you don’t! Carole isn’t here, and you are, so you’re going to tell me everything, starting right now.”
“It began about twenty years ago...”
“Twenty years!” I nearly hit the roof.
“Please, Jon, if you want me to tell you the story you’re going to have to calm down as much as you can or I am going to have to leave.”
“Okay, Maria, I will try, but you have to understand the impact this has had on me.”
“I think I do, Jon, but you have to understand that Antonio and I thought you knew about this, and approved.”
“Well, I can’t imagine how you could have possibly thought that, but go ahead, I’ll try to control myself.”
“As you probably realize by now, Antonio and I have what you Americans would call an ‘open marriage’. Antonio’s work took him away from home for long periods, and we both had needs, so we agreed that we would each have discreet liaisons.”
“Well, that’s wonderful for you, but how does Carole fit into this? I can assure you that we had no such arrangement, if I had known she was fucking...” Maria started to protest, then sat back.
“I don’t care if it offends your delicate sensibilities, but that is precisely what she was doing! If I had known she was fucking Antonio he wouldn’t have had to worry about his painting career, he would have been lucky if could hold his dick, let alone a paintbrush. But go ahead; finish your little fairy tale.”
Maria continued, “While Antonio was here on a special project, he met your Carole and they had an immediate connection. Carole was apparently having some sexual difficulties that Antonio helped her with”
I couldn’t contain myself, “What? That’s certainly news to me! I can just imagine the kind of ‘help’ he gave her. If she was having sexual ‘difficulties, ‘ why didn’t she talk to me? I’m only her husband after all!”
“That I cannot tell you; you will have to ask Carole that yourself.”
“I don’t see how that can happen, since I will never speak to that cheating cunt again!”
“But you must, Jon! She loves you!”
“She certainly has a funny way of showing it. Please, don’t mind me, finish your story.”
“After a couple of months, Antonio returned home to New York, although he and Carole remained in touch. Then came the war, and you had to go overseas. About a week after you left Carole called Antonio in tears. She was barely holding it together. I told Antonio, ‘You must go to her.’
“Antonio didn’t even call; he just packed his bags and headed to your house. When he got there, Carole was a mess. It took her five minutes crying on his shoulder before she could even begin to tell him her problem. Carole was at her wit’s end between her work, keeping the house together and dealing with two young sons.”
I had to interrupt again, “You do realize that the military has resources to help the families of deployed servicemen?”
“I wasn’t aware of it specifically, but I can see how that would be so.”
“Yet, instead of calling her husband, or military family affairs, she calls her lover! My apologies, I keep interrupting, I assume this is what led to the ‘portrait’?”
“Yes, Antonio helped with her boys, then took her to bed and wrapped his arms around her until she fell asleep.”
“Did you hear what you just said?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“You said ‘her’ boys. You do know that I am their father, that they’re ‘our’ boys?”
“Yes, of course, that’s what I meant.”
“We’ll see. I’ll let that one pass for now, so how many times did they fuck? I was out of country for an entire year; they must have fucked like rabbits!”
“It wasn’t like that! They had a true love, a pure love!”
“So what did that make me? Garbage time?”
“No, Jon, you mustn’t think that, Carole loves you deeply, but what she had with Antonio was special...”
I had enough. “Maria, I think it would be best if you left now.”
Maria started to leave, but I called out to her, and she turned around. “You said something about an exhibition?”
“Yes, there is to be an exhibition, a retrospective, of Antonio’s works, and Carole’s portrait was to be the centerpiece.”
I nearly exploded! “What! She hasn’t humiliated me enough; she has to make it public?” Maria started to say something else, hesitated, then let herself out leaving me alone with my thoughts.
I was worried. I couldn’t reach him, and he didn’t answer calls from Oliver or Carl either.
My phone rang, and I jumped, hoping it was Jon, but the display indicated it was Maria.
“Maria, how good it is to hear from you, but I’m afraid I can’t talk long. I’m trying to reach Jon.”
“That is why I am calling. I stopped by your house, I didn’t know you were away and I saw Jon.”
“That’s wonderful! How is he doing? Do you know why I can’t reach him?”
“Not well, I’m afraid, and I think I know why you can’t reach him – he saw the portrait. I’m sorry, Carole, I thought he knew.”
“No, I just could never find the way to tell him.”
“Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to tell him now. I was seriously afraid, I was even too afraid to take the painting, I hope Jon didn’t do anything foolish.”
“I hope so, also, that painting is special to all of us. Good-bye for now, Maria.”
I hung up and sat down heavily, unsure of what to do. I had harbored the fantasy that Jon would understand what Antonio had meant to me, how my relationship with Antonio had actually helped our marriage. From what Maria said that appears to have been a pipe dream.
Oliver came over. “Is everything okay, Mom?”
“No, it’s not. I have to go back home right away.”
“What’s the matter? Is Dad okay? Should I come, too; should we have Carl meet us there?
“Yes and no. He’s not sick or injured, but he found out about Antonio.”
“‘Found out’ about Antonio? You always told us that he knew, but was embarrassed about it and we shouldn’t say anything.”
“I know, Honey, I know, but I couldn’t tell your father. He is a very proud man, and I knew he could never accept what Antonio and I had, it would have been the end of our marriage.”
“I can’t believe that you lied to us, made us part of your dirty scheme, and I really can’t believe that you did that to Dad!”
“It wasn’t dirty! It was beautiful!”
“Whatever, justify it any way that you like, but you should definitely leave here as soon as possible. If our father lets you talk to him, please have him call us so that we can apologize to him.”
I tried to talk to Oliver, but he just turned his back on me and walked away, and I made my arrangements to return to what I hoped was still my home.
I arrived home to a seemingly empty house. There, on a chair in the front room was the painting that caused all of our troubles.
There didn’t seem to be any sign of Jon, and then I noticed that all of his belongings were removed from the master bedroom and the door to the guest room was locked. Now I knew where Jon was, but what could I do with that knowledge?
I knocked on the guest room door, getting the expected non-response. “Jon, I know you’re in there. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to talk to me. I can be patient as long as I need to.”
It took a few days, but I cornered Jon in the kitchen and he finally agreed to talk to me and get things done.
“Around twenty years ago...” I could see Jon getting agitated. “Please, Jon,” I said, “if we are ever going to get through this you have to give me a chance to explain.”
“How can you possibly explain making me a cuckold and turning my sons against me?” he said.
“I didn’t do that, Jon! Please let me finish.”
“I’ll try,” he said glumly, “but you’ve got a hard row to hoe.”
“Around twenty years ago, as much as I love you, I found myself losing my sexual attraction to you. I was making more and more excuses to avoid sex, and faking it more when we did have sex.”
“Well, that certainly warms my heart!” Jon practically snarled at me.
“I’m trying, Carole, but you have to understand how hearing this affects me!”
“I do understand, Jon,” I said, “Just let me finish. I know parts of what I have to say will be painful, but it’s time we got this all out in the open.”
“Go ahead,” Jon sighed.
“While I was sitting at my table in the food court feeling sorry for myself, a debonair gentleman asked to share my table. I probably don’t have to tell you that it was Antonio. He was charming, and after a few lunches, he talked me into letting him take me to dinner.
“When I got home I was so turned on that we had some of the best sex we had had in months. It took Antonio just a few weeks to get me into his bed. You and I had been rather inexperienced, and with Antonio, my sexuality was re-born. You may remember how much livelier our sex life was...”
“Yes, you told me some of your girlfriends had been reading some sex books and shared some of their ‘tricks’ with you.”
“Yes, I’m afraid I told you a little white lie...” Jon’s face was turning so red I was afraid that he was going to have a stroke, “Alright, maybe that was a poor choice of words, but you have to admit our sex life was much better.”
“Harrumph!” Jon grunted.
“Eventually, Antonio had to return home to Maria, and things returned to some semblance of normality, until the war.”
Yes, I remembered that time. My unit was called up and we were deployed to Iraq. While I wasn’t a pilot, and wasn’t directly involved in combat, our base periodically came under attack, and we all had to do what we could to fend off the attacks and tend to the wounded.
I saw many things that still give me nightmares, some of my good friends suffered horrific injuries, and some didn’t make it.
Now Carole was going to give me her tale of how she managed back home.
“I was devastated. I was worried sick about you, and at the same time angry with you for leaving me alone with all the responsibilities of the kids and the house.”
“I didn’t ‘leave you alone’,” Jon said, “I was under orders. What did you expect, that I would go AWOL?”
“I didn’t say that it was rational, just that that was how I felt. I called Maria and Antonio, I’m still amazed that they understood me; I was so incoherent.
“The next day when I came home from work, there was Antonio, with his luggage waiting for me on my stoop. I ran up to him, gave him a hug and asked him what he was doing there.”
“We could tell from your call that you were in trouble, Carole,” Antonio said, “Since you and Maria had never met, she sent me to take care of you.”
“I was shedding tears of relief as I helped Antonio bring his luggage inside, and moved him into our lives and, yes, into my bed.”
“Don’t you mean ‘our’ bed?” snapped Jon.
“Y-Yes, yes, that’s what I meant. I-it was around this time that he painted the ... the portrait.”
Jon was turning red again, but slowly calmed down.
“He helped with the boys...”
“I’m sure he did, it might not have been the cause, but I’ll bet it didn’t help with my relationship with the boys!”
“I don’t know, I suppose it’s possible,” I said. “With Christmas Antonio had to return home, and I was going to be all alone with the boys, when Maria called and invited us to join them.”
“Of course you had to go, right?” Jon said sarcastically.
“You don’t have to be so nasty about it, Jon!” I snapped, “But yes, we went and had a wonderful time! We met Maria’s and Antonio’s family, and they welcomed us into the family...”
“How wonderful for you!” Jon said, “I think we’re getting to the heart of the problem – they were your family and I was the outsider!”
“No, Jon, never!” I said, “You were always in my heart!”
“Just not in your bed, right?” Jon said as he went for a walk to cool off.
I came back into the room, and sat down wearily.
“So tell me, Carole, was that the end of you and Antonio?”
She couldn’t meet my eyes.
“N-No,” she said, “we were able to get together about once a month for about 12 years until his death, eight years ago.”
“Twelve years!” I nearly exploded, “you were fucking that asshole for twelve fucking years?”
“No, Jon, it wasn’t like that at all,” she cried.
“No? Then why don’t you tell me what it was like? You seem to think that what you did was all sweetness and light, a beautiful thing, right?”
“It was!” she cried.
“Then why did you hide it from me? Because you knew it was wrong!” I yelled.
Carole couldn’t answer; she just sat in her chair with her head down.
I sat silently for a few moments, then stood up and started pacing.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You were no longer attracted to me physically, but instead of coming to me, and working together to solve the problem, you cheated on me with some Italian-American artiste. Oh, but that was okay, because you would ‘share’ with me all the erotic tricks he ‘taught’ you.
“Then, when I was called up to serve our country in war, seeing horrors I can only pray you never have to see, you moved him into our house, fucked him in our bed and allowed him into our sons’ lives. Did it ever occur to you that the reason why the boys and I haven’t been close for years is because you made them lie to me? That maybe they lost all respect for me?
“When I came back I was kind of messed up, still traumatized by what I had seen. Where was my wife, my rock?”
“I was here!” Carole exclaimed.
“Maybe in body,” I said, “but where was your spirit, your heart?”
Again Carole could only sit silently with her head down.
“Why with her Antonio, of course!
“Then, for twelve more years, my ‘loving’ wife has monthly ‘visits’ with Antonio while I sit home, fat, dumb and happy, secure in the knowledge that just as she is my one and only love, I am hers.”
“But you are my first love, always number one in my heart,” she cried.
“True, but not your one and only, was I? And tell me, if Antonio hadn’t died, you would still be seeing him wouldn’t you?”
She couldn’t answer; she couldn’t even meet my eyes.
“And that picture! That’s a picture an artist paints of his lover, painted in our bedroom, you still with that ‘just fucked’ look on your face!”
She fought through her tears, “What can I do, I love you, how can I make this up to you?”
“Can you unfuck Antonio? Can you give me back my relationship with my sons?” I asked.
“Can you honestly say that if Antonio was still alive, and I hadn’t found out about him, that you wouldn’t still be fucking him?”
“Please don’t be so crude! You make it sound so ugly! We loved each oth...” she hesitated, realizing what she was saying.
“You’ve made my point. I just don’t see any way that we can stay together; I would always feel that I was second best in your eyes.”
As I headed back up to my room, I pointed to the portrait. “I would advise you to find some other place for that work of ‘art’. I can’t guarantee its safety if it’s still there the next time I come down.”
I was still crying when Maria came by.
“Oh, my dear, you’re crying, Jon didn’t take it well?”
“No, Maria, not at all. He blames my letting Antonio into our sons’ lives for their estrangement from him, and I’m not sure that he is wrong. When I got upset and let slip that Antonio and I loved each other, he just deflated and went back upstairs.
“Oh, and you had better take my portrait with you. I’m afraid that he may harm it if we leave it here.”
“No, he wouldn’t, he couldn’t do that, ... could he?”
“Right now, I have no idea what he might do! That portrait is a physical reminder of my infidelity, and as long as it is here, whatever slim chance I have of saving my marriage is gone.”
“Carole, why didn’t you do as we said, and tell Jon about our ‘arrangement’? Surely he would understand, as I do, that one can love more than one person?”
“Because Jon was right about one thing; that as much as I loved what I had with Antonio, it was wrong, and that Jon would never ever accept it. That’s why I kept it hidden for all these years. It terrifies me to say it, but I’m afraid my marriage is over!”
“Carole, I have to say I am disappointed in you! The reason relationships such as mine with Antonio work is honesty. We were both open and accepting of what we were doing. If I had taken a lover without Antonio’s approval, his reaction wouldn’t have been so different from Jon’s!”
“I know, Maria, I know, but I just couldn’t. I just hope that I can repair Oliver and Carl’s relationship with their father. I’m afraid that including them in helping cover up my relationship with Antonio might have done irreparable damage to their relationship.”
Maria left with the painting while I retreated to my room to contemplate the likely end of my marriage to my one true love.
While I didn’t see any way of saving my marriage, I still had to think about our sons. Despite how we had grown apart over the years, they were still my sons and I loved them, but it was Important to me to know about their involvement with Antonio. I wasn’t sure if what was left of our relationship could survive if they were involved with Carole’s affair with Antonio.
I called Oliver and Carl and made arrangements to get together. The logistics were difficult, and our relationship didn’t make things any easier, but we finally agreed to meet at Carl’s home in Detroit, since it was centrally located.
I decided that our initial meeting should be just the three of us, feeling that significant others would just complicate things.
As we gathered in the den, each with our beverage of choice, we settled into comfortable chairs, and I got right to the point.
“Boys, I’m sure it’s not exactly a state secret that my relationship with you hasn’t been all that any of us would like it to be for many years now.”
Both boys nodded, Carl looking a little more uncomfortable.
I went on, “I have recently learned that your mother has been having an affair with another man for many years, since you were very small, and I need to know what you knew.”
Carl couldn’t help it, he started to cry, and said, “We’re sorry, Dad, but she told us that you knew, but were embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to know that you knew about it.”
“But why the distance between us?” I said. “Was it because you lost respect for me, or did you miss ‘Uncle Antonio’?”
Carl bent his head, looked up with tears in his eyes and said, “Honestly? I don’t really know! I’m sure as a child I missed the excitement of being around Antonio’s family; when I got older I think I just felt guilty, I honestly didn’t think about how I would feel if I had been in your shoes.”
Oliver could only nod his agreement with Carl.
“Well, sons,” both young men brightened at my use of the term, “we probably have some work to do, but I think we’ll be okay. Now, I have a divorce to take care of.”
Oliver and Carl nodded.
“I don’t expect you to take sides, she is still your mother and it is me she cheated on.”
“We know, Dad,” said Carl, “but she lied to us, also, and included us in her betrayal. I don’t know if either of us will ever be able to really forgive her.”
“Well, that’s between you and her, just know that if you do reconcile with her, I won’t hold it against you.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Oliver said, “that means a lot. So, are you really going to divorce Mom?”
“I don’t see how I can stay married to her. She admits that she wasn’t sexually attracted to me and carried on a yearlong affair with another man, bringing him into our bed and your lives. Do you know that the asshole painted a nude portrait of her right after he fucked her? You can actually see it in the painting and they were actually planning on putting it on exhibit!”
“What?” said both Oliver and Carl. “How could she do that?”
“I have no idea,” I said, “I guess she felt that she hadn’t humiliated me enough!”
“Well, that tears it, Dad!” Carl said, “I know you said you were okay with us having a relationship with her, but I don’t think I can stand to even be in the same room with her right now.” Oliver nodded his head in agreement.
“Again, that is your choice,” I said, “but I certainly appreciate the support. I guess I’d better go home and finish this.”
“Would you like us to come along, Dad?” asked Oliver.
“I don’t think so,” I said, “As angry as I am at your mother, I don’t think we should pile on her. There will be plenty of opportunity later for you to tell her how you feel.”
“Okay,” Carl said, “Just call us if there’s anything we can do,”
With that, I headed home for the final confrontation.