It was a Saturday afternoon, I guessed it must have been around 2:00 p.m. and my right big toe was killing me. I don’t know about anybody else but for me, aside from a toothache, just about the worst pain imaginable is having an ingrown toenail, especially when I’ve been out kneeling around in the flower beds. I’m not much for flower beds, but my wife Susan likes them, and by default I’ve had to pick up the weekend slack.
Susan, like me, works during the week, and lately she’s been tied up with this and that on Saturdays. Saturday mornings she usually gets up early, starts the laundry, and then after she’s separated the whites from the colors she heads out to do the groceries. Her afternoons the past few months have been tied up with a variety of other activities I know little and care even less about, stuff like one of those county planning committees about zoning and such, and then another thing, something about environmental preservation and protecting the local wildlife. She’s on some committee at the local public library too.
So that’s left me to finish the laundry; that is if I can’t get our daughter Samantha to help out. God help us, Samantha’s seventeen, in her senior year of high school, has her own car, and impossible to talk to let alone get her to do anything. Our boy, Gregg, is a little better; he’ll pitch in, but only if it’s something he thinks is important. He’s fifteen and sometimes, if I wave the car keys at him, he’ll stay long enough to do a load or two, but it’s got to be his clothes, and the effort never lasts past lunchtime.
That leaves me to cut the grass, do the flower beds, the laundry, and sometimes run the vacuum over the rugs. Sounds worse than it really is; it’s not, with the kids being older Susan’s let me off the hook regarding church on Sunday mornings. So with Sundays pretty much free I get to spend time on the lake fishing or out on the river paddling about in my canoe. In the cooler weather I can go fishing or, if I can find a partner, do some hunting, winter is for the snowmobile.
Back to my toe; it’s been killing me all day. Maybe it’s time to get this fixed? So I walked back inside, using the back door of course, drop off my dirty shoes, and pad through the kitchen and dining room to the stairs. It’s a pretty typical two story; we’ve lived in it for just under sixteen years, new when we bought it, it’s seen some wear and tear but it’s still in excellent shape. Up the steps, down the hall, and to the right to the master bedroom. Susan’s father got her a fancy manicure kit when she graduated high school, and I’ve availed myself of it from time to time.
Slipping off a smelly right sock I open the top drawer of Susan’s bureau and fish around for the kit. Having found the kit I slip into our bathroom and turn on the bathtub hot water. The plan? Warm up the foot, soften the nail, sit on the commode, snip the offending toenail back, and end my suffering.
Yet I was unexpectedly stopped; there in Susan’s bureau rested a three ring loose-leaf spiral notepad, an 81/2 by 11 thing children use all the time. No big deal I think, just an old notepad, but wait, this one’s different.
This has a title; it said, “My Life.” ‘What’s this,’ I ask? Susan’s never kept a diary, at least not to my recollection, and I’ve known her since college. I wonder, ‘Is this a story, a novel she’s been writing? She’s always said that was something she’d like to try. Maybe it’s a catalogue of notes; she’s been on all those committees since last winter? Yes of course, its notes about her meetings. Then again, maybe she has started a diary?’
I wonder, ‘She’s never mentioned anything about any of that stuff to me. Is it some secret thing I’m not supposed to know about?’ Then last, is it really any of my business? No its not; I decided to ignore it. Besides, I had a bad toe that needed my immediate attention so off to the bathroom I went.
Toe nail clipped, foot cleaned and wiped I took the clipper back to Susan’s bureau. There was that notepad again. I wonder, maybe a little peek, just a quick look. What harm would it do? Uh oh, Susan just pulled in the driveway. I replaced the clipper, closed her bureau, and left the bedroom. Maybe some other time.
So I forgot about it, so what. If Susan wants to keep a little diary, or a few notes about what she’s been doing, it was her right, and I didn’t have the right to snoop around. Just the same, every now and then I did look in her bureau drawer to see if it was still there. It was, but it hadn’t looked like she’d been writing in it, it didn’t look like it had been moved around. Besides our relationship over the past several months couldn’t have been better. Why stir something up?
About changes in our relationship, that was something I was especially proud of. We’d been married sixteen years; sure if people wanted to they could count it up and see Susan was pregnant before we got married. Heck, we were both young, still in college, and well, sometime things happened. Susan had told me she was pregnant. Neither of us wanted an abortion, so we got married and Samantha popped out a few months later.
I remembered talking to a few of my fraternity brothers; some had been all for it, they’d said marrying Susan wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was the right thing because we really loved each other. Sure, there were a few nay sayers; they said things like, “She was just another piece of ass,” and a couple reminded me that Susan wasn’t exactly a virgin, that she’d slept around some, slept even with a couple of my ‘brothers’. I understood that, I knew she wasn’t a virgin. I knew a couple guys who’d had her before me. Hell, the first time I met her was at a party, she was a little high, and I took advantage of her.
Actually she’d been a lot high at our first meeting, I’d been high too, but I liked her and started asking her out. She was pretty suspicious at first. She more or less half remembered we’d done something, and thanks to her suspicions and her girlfriends it had been several weeks before she agreed to go out with me. I didn’t have some reputation as a Romeo, but the fraternity had a reputation, and I wasn’t completely innocent.
I kept our first dates as casual and as tame as I could. I really had feelings for her. I knew my feelings were partly from guilt and maybe a little pity, she’d gone over the line before I met her, and had earned a reputation as being a little too loose. There were guys who bragged, and there were always those who liked to whisper.
So I remember we got married. I quit my fraternity, and she quit her sorority. We went home and told our parents. Her mother and father were accepting, but I sensed they were disgusted with their daughter but sort of appreciative of my ‘nobility’. Her father even said I was being noble. I wasn’t sure if he wasn’t being just a little sarcastic. He’d said I didn’t have to do it, and that they could take care of their daughter. I countered by telling told him I loved his daughter and couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather marry. I knew he blamed me for his daughter’s circumstances, and though I never mentioned it I understood his point of view. Heck, if I hadn’t been high myself I would’ve used a condom. I’m sure he knew that.
My parents were ecstatic! Though they thought we were too young, and we’d sort of jumped the gun they were both ‘all in’. In fact it was my mom and dad who put up the money for us to get a decent off campus rental, and when Susan’s parents found they couldn’t afford her tuition anymore my parents found the money for that too. Then when Susan had her baby my mom drove up to the college and moved in with us to help out. My two brothers and sister didn’t appreciate that, but they knew mom would have done the same for them if they’d ever needed it. Besides, I was the baby; Bob, Gary, and Juanita had all already moved out and started families and careers of their own.
Since then married life hadn’t been exactly perfect. I had a tough time finding a job, but eventually latched on to a medium sized housing firm that needed a C.P.A. ready to accept a slightly lower rate in pay. I hung on and as the company grew so did my responsibilities and my earnings. Susan had fewer problems; she got started almost right away part-time with an insurance agency, and pretty soon found herself holding down a well-paying job with a reputable nationally recognized insurance company. Since then she’s grown with the company, and is currently assistant manager at their branch office in the larger city not far from where we now live.
At the start money was tight, and Samantha’s arrival followed two years later by our son Gregg did add to the burden somewhat. We held on, sure there were fights and threats, but we managed. I loved her dearly, and I knew she loved me. Even after so many years’ things have remained a little tight financially, and there have been occasions when I thought the relationship was in jeopardy, but during this past year everything’s run smoothly.
The last couple times I’d looked in the top drawer of Susan’s bureau the notebook had been there, and it seemed like it’d been untouched. The other day though I could tell it had been moved. I wondered, ‘Just what was Susan writing in there?’ I rationalized, ‘Why not just one little peek?’ I opened it up.
I didn’t know where to start or exactly what I expected, but it was obvious it was a pretty new loose-leaf. It was one of those three ringed narrow lined three subject jobs with hundreds of pages, and it looked like it was at least partly filled up. I turned to the very first page, and wow! I knew after the first few lines she was talking about me! The more I read the better I felt. This was great! She was talking about me, and what she said was wonderful.
So she started:
I still can’t believe it’s true. Even now almost twenty years later I remember what my girlfriends told me, “Susan when the right one comes along, you’ll know. He’ll just sweep you off your feet.” I recall it was like yesterday. In a way it almost was. I was at a party and I saw him. He was standing off to the side talking to several other men. I knew most of them, but I’d never gotten a chance to meet him.
I was feeling tipsy and didn’t know quite what to do. But then one of my peers tapped my elbow, “Good looking isn’t he?”
“A real dream boat,” I replied, “Do you know him?”
“Yes,” she said, and she walked me over. He was so handsome, shaggy brown hair, big brown eyes, he stood so ramrod straight, and when he looked at me, even from across the room I knew, I just knew I’d found the ‘one’, that special one all the fairy tales talked about. I was...
“Jeremy, are you upstairs? Dinner’s almost ready.” It was my wife.
Damn! I had to put the notebook down. “Yeah, I’m here. Be down in just a moment.” I carefully placed the loose-leaf back just the way I’d found it. I quickly hit the bathroom, the original reason for being upstairs, threw some cold water in my face, wiped off with a towel and sped downstairs.
In the dining room Susan already had things laid out. The kids, Samantha and Gregg, were waiting. Susan looked at me and smiled, “One of your favorites tonight, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, string beans, and Cole slaw. All just the way you like it.”
Gregg interjected, “Yeah, just like they make at Royal Farms.”
His mother scowled, “What difference does that make? You dad likes it.”
I sat down in my place at the head of the table, “Shut up Gregg,” I grinned at Susan but frowned at Gregg, “Maybe one day when you’re all grown up you’ll find someone like your mother, then it won’t matter where the food comes from, only who was thoughtful enough to get it for you.”
Bored, Samantha sighed.
Gregg ignored me and reached for the chicken. I scolded, “Not yet Gregg. Fold your hands.” And so all four of us folded our hands while their mom said Grace.
“May the Lord make us truly thankful for what we’re are about to receive, and for all our many blessings, both big and small. Amen.”
We all said amen, and dug in. Typically we’d all eat slowly and sit and talk, but tonight Samantha had plans, Gregg had homework, and Susan had another one of her meetings. Me, I had nothing to do.
Near the end of the meal Susan waved her hand over the table, “Jer,” she usually called me Jer instead of Jeremy, “would you mind? I want to get to my meeting a little earlier.”
I smiled, “Sure dear.”
She smiled back, got up, kissed me on the cheek, and without further ado found her way out the door. Samantha wasn’t far behind. Gregg was halfway upstairs when I thought, ‘What an opportunity. I can get back to that loose-leaf. I want to read some more about me.’ I tidied up the kitchen, put all the uneaten food away in the fridge, all neatly packed, I waited until I was sure Gregg was fully ensconced in his room, and then went back upstairs myself.
I found the loose-leaf, reopened it, and continued reading.
“He’s just so right. He’s so everything I thought I’d ever find in a man; he’s polite, considerate, funny to talk to, and he’s interested in the same things I am. He likes old movies, not the more modern colored things, but the really old ones, the old black and whites with the old stars like Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford.”
I thought back, ‘I never watched any of that old shit, and while I’d heard and even watched some old Joan Crawford stuff like ... I didn’t know, couldn’t remember, who was Norma Shearer?’ I read on.
She must have stopped writing. There was a date at the bottom, January 11, 2011. This was September 22, I counted backward; that was close to ten months ago. OK, I went to the next entry. “His name is Robert, Bob, Schuster. He isn’t married. Peggy Jeffords said he’s a widow, he’s in his mid-thirties, and works for a publisher, but she didn’t recall which one. He doesn’t have any children.”
I thought about what I’d just read, and it gave me the creeps. Bob Schuster? He worked for some publisher. Susan had started helping out at the library. One of her jobs was lining up potential guest speakers for what she called ‘The Library Forum’. He was ‘the one’? That couldn’t be, I knew I was her ‘the one’. My stomach felt tight. I stopped reading and glanced forward. I skimmed ahead through several pages. His name came up a few times, not a lot, just every now and then.
Then I recalled how many times I sat in meetings while my company’s senior partners held meetings with men and women from other companies. I often took notes and wrote little memoranda to myself. Quite often I was asked to go over something with a partner. I’d take my notes along, and often as not knew my notes would’ve made little sense to anyone else. I thought, ‘I bet that was Susan’s notes; she’d just got things mixed up.’
I thought again, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll look for my name. I bet she’s written a lot about me.’ I surged ahead. My name did come up every now and then, but mostly it was pretty mundane stuff, me taking Gregg to Scouts, having Samantha’s car repaired after she backed into somebody at the Walmart parking lot, me getting sick and missing time from work even though I’d had a flu shot. None of it was particularly important, but then I came upon a March entry. I was pretty prominent for a few lines, and I didn’t like it.
She had written, “I know I’m supposed to love Jeremy. I have to love him. I was pregnant. He didn’t have to marry me. He didn’t have to take on the responsibility of raising my baby. I wasn’t even sure Samantha was his until we’d had her DNA done for something related to school. He loves me. I have to love him. Oh, I do love him, just not that way, more like a brother or a very close friend. I know I’ll be forever grateful.” I put the loose-leaf down. I looked over at the photograph we’d done last year. It had all four of us. The kids looked great. Susan looked beautiful in one of her blue dresses, hair down, she was smiling. I thought I looked OK. But what did all this mean? I skimmed back to where I saw that Bob guy’s name earlier. I found four separate mentions.
On February the eighth she mentioned him again, “He stopped in to see me the last week in January. Said he’d like to see me about setting up an author. I agreed we could meet at our next monthly meeting. He asked when that was? I told him in February. He said fine. I remembered all that because while I was at work and later at home he was all I could think about. He’s so handsome, and his voice is so sonorous, he could be an announcer on TV. He’s so charming. I don’t know why I’m writing this down. I guess it was because Jeremy and I had a big fight last night about money. Jeremy’s so annoying sometimes. When he yells he gives me a headache. When I want to talk about something he never pays any attention to me. I swear it’s like talking to a brick wall.”
I stopped. I must have missed some entry about me in my earlier skim. I thought I’d read a little further. Then thought again, I’ll go back. Here was something, January twenty-eighth. I pulled up the date on my IPhone, it was a Thursday.
Here’s what she wrote,
“Saw Mr. Schuster, Bob, tonight, we had coffee at the Starbucks. He said he had a young writer, a young woman with a great fiction story set in west Texas near the end of the Nineteenth Century. He had a copy for me, and asked me to read it. I took it, and after that we talked. I told him I’d heard he was a widower. He said he was, but didn’t like to talk about it. He said, “Maybe when we got to know each other a little better we might.” He looked so sad when he mentioned her name, Glenna. He broke down and showed me a picture, she looked a lot like me. I said maybe we could meet for coffee again. He suggested the fourteenth of next month. I said no, that was Valentine’s Day. He said he knew, it was such a special day for him once. I changed my mind. I agreed we’d meet at the Starbucks again on Valentine’s Day.”
‘Valentine’s Day,’ I thought. I reflected back. I remember bringing home some Walmart flowers for her and Samantha. They both thanked me. I remember laughing when Samantha lowered her head so I could kiss her hair. She had a date, and didn’t want me to mess up her makeup. Susan kissed me on the cheek and thanked me. Later I remember she said she had to go to a meeting. I blew it off. I remember she couldn’t have been gone very long.
I looked ahead and found something dated February fifteenth. Not much, just a quick read, she’d noted,
“Saw Bob last night. He was so sad. I told him I’d read the novel; I did and thought it was great. I was sure our readers would like to meet the author. We didn’t stay long. I told him I had to get back home, Jeremy had given me flowers and was probably expecting something. I tried to be light hearted, it didn’t work. I guess it was another reminder. He said my husband was a lucky guy. I agreed and we left.”
I closed the loose-leaf, but made myself a reminder to look back again. I thought, ‘Susan seems to have feelings for the guy.’ I blew it off though, she’d been attracted to other men before and nothing came of it. In spite of what she might’ve said, the “brother” thing I knew she loved me. Yeah, I’d hold off. I’m not stupid. I told myself, “Just stay calm.”
Looking back, looking ahead...
Then came Thursday, September fifteenth. The Frederick fair was the next week, and Susan and I always took a day off to go. The Frederick Fair was very much like most of the state fairs everywhere only it wasn’t a state fair. We always had a good time. I signed up to take off on that Tuesday, the twentieth. Ever since I could remember we’d always gone on Tuesdays. Tuesdays were senior days, and even though her parents were dead Tuesdays had still been our day of choice. Susan’s parents had lived in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, just a short trip to Frederick. I’m talking about Frederick, Maryland. We lived outside Pittsburgh, and the trip usually took the whole day.
Anyway, I took off, and checked around on my calendar. Being Thursday I thought I’d stay a little later and get some things done so I’d be ready for Friday. There weren’t any meetings for Friday, but next week’s Wednesday and Thursday calendars were full.
So I stayed late, and got to thinking, ‘Why not do some research. Why not look up this Robert Schuster?’ I did, and found out a few things. He did work for a publishing company, Harper-Collins. He had an office at their New York headquarters, but he traveled promoting selected works in targeted markets. I couldn’t find too much more, except information where I could get in touch with him. I didn’t think I needed to bother with that. I’d found out he was a real person, and he’d represented himself correctly to my wife. Later on the way home from work I thought about maybe finding a way to meet the guy. I meant to meet the guy only if I had the time and then only if it wouldn’t seem intrusive.
When I got home that night I told Susan I’d taken off the next Tuesday so we could go to the fair. She kind of surprised me, she replied, “Oh gee, that’s not good. I have a library meeting scheduled. How about Wednesday or Thursday?” I told her I was pretty sure they were bad since I had meetings of my own. We both knew Friday was out, Samantha was a cheer leader, and there was most certainly a game. We dare not leave Gregg and Samantha home alone all day and most of the night on a night like that. They might kill each other. So this year’s trip to the fair was going to be cancelled, it hadn’t been the first time and probably wouldn’t be the last, though being a city boy it was one of the few times I got to feel rustic. I knew I’d live.
Later that Thursday night Susan came to bed in a negligee. She wanted to fool around, and we did.
Things got pretty hectic around my office the next several days, and I almost completely forgot about Susan’s little book. In fact I didn’t get back to it until near the middle of October. There was so much in there, and so much of it was really mundane stuff about her work, her sister, and her community meetings. Plus a lot of it was just kind of haphazardly jotted down and hard to read. I skimmed all around the summer months and didn’t find much of anything.
There were, however, some troubling comments in September, one was dated the sixteenth. I checked my IPhone, and recalled that was the Friday after Susan’s unexpected seduction and debauch. Here was what she’d jotted down,
“Felt bad for Jeremy, he always enjoyed the Frederick Fair, he got to put on his ‘farmer role’ and amble around like one of the boys. I never bothered to tell him how out of place he looked; imagine, an accountant playing ‘Farmer in the Dell’. I gave him a little loving that night. Maybe it was guilt, couldn’t say, but I just couldn’t get into it. Thought about Bob, how lonely he must feel.”
‘Shit’, I thought, ‘I thought she’d done something. Had she been faking? I hadn’t thought so, and that Bob, how’d he get in there?’ Then it dawned on me, we weren’t a couple anymore; we’d become a threesome, there was me, there was Susan, and now there was Bob. Maybe I better look a little deeper?
That had been her Friday the sixteenth notes. I looked further. Nothing much for a couple weeks. She’d noted they’d met someplace on the Tuesday we would’ve gone to the fair, but all her notes had been about that new writer, nothing about her or him.
Then I found something, Halloween was on a Monday, but our neighborhood was doing the trick or treating on the Friday before. Susan and I had the candy ready, mostly snickers bars. We’d shared duty when our kids were young, me in the car and her walking them to the doors. Gregg always wore a Batman costume or some derivative thereof, while Samantha either had on an Ariel or some Cinderella thing. I always thought she looked adorable. We had pictures of her mother; they looked so much alike.
That Halloween treat night, October, 28, 2011 Susan said she needed to see her sister, and it was important. I couldn’t argue, she and her sister were very close, and I had my suspicions that Roxanne, her sister, had been having some problems, just what I didn’t know, but I knew they were serious. I told Susan to go on and I’d handle the candy.
Two days later I checked the loose-leaf and there it was; it was dated Sunday, October thirtieth, it was like reading something out of “True Confessions”, or some other woman’s rag. I couldn’t believe what she wrote,
“I told Bob I thought I was falling in love with him. He said he was falling in love with me too. We held hands.”
I was dumbstruck!
There wasn’t anything else until that Wednesday; imagine just a couple days later, and they’d met again, on Wednesday, in the afternoon, at a restaurant. She didn’t mention the restaurant, but she did say “our restaurant”. Our restaurant! She must have taken the afternoon off. What she wrote was downright devastating,
“Saw Bob again. He wants to go someplace. I told him no, not yet anyway. I told him I was married. I told him Jeremy was a wonderful man. I admitted I didn’t love him anymore, but I owed him. I just couldn’t betray him. Bob understood.”
That had been Wednesday, November the fifth. She’d left another entry on Friday, and it destroyed me,
“God I don’t know what to do. Bob called this morning. He told me he loves me again. He said he was tired of the platonic thing. He couldn’t help it; he said what we had was either real or it wasn’t. He needed to make it real. He said he’d do anything, but he couldn’t go on the way things were.”
Then she wrote,
“I love him. I love him. I love him!!!!!!!”
I couldn’t believe all the exclamation points.
That night when we all ate supper Susan was super solicitous; she couldn’t do enough for me. I took it all in stride. Besides we were pretty much forced to listen to Samantha’s rant about her boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend as it were. Samantha had been dating a boy who’d been off and on attending the community college. I liked the kid, but he was nearly twenty and still hadn’t made up his mind about what he wanted to do. Samantha, as was her custom, had at first fallen head over heels, but after a while she grew bored. She said the kid wasn’t very smart, couldn’t see a waterfall unless he was under it. She’d done everything but trip him down a flight of stairs to get him to see she was tired of him.
I asked why didn’t she just come out and tell him? She said she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I glanced over at Susan; she had a very understanding look. I realized that was her problem too. For some reason at first I couldn’t fathom that Susan had moved on, but she had. Bob had shown up, laid on the charm, and she was ready to leave. That was the first time I felt like crying. I did later. I went out to the shed where I kept the mowers and such, took a lawn chair, sure it was cold, but I sat down behind that shed, and I let em roll.
It was a Friday. I went inside and told Susan I wanted to go fishing. I had the weekend, and considering the way business was running I might not get another break. She asked where I was going. I told her a place I knew in Ohio that had a large lake. I told her I’d leave that night, and be gone all weekend. She gave me a complacent, or was it a condescending smile and said. “OK.”
I packed up my fishing gear, threw it in the back of my SUV, and took off. Of course I had no intention of going fishing. I needed to get away. I had to think things through. I drove around Pittsburgh and finally found a room. The Steelers were home that weekend and they were playing a division rival so the best hotels were pretty all much booked up. I did find something, and settled in. I had to sort things out.
I got in the room, took a hot shower, and looked myself over in the tall body length mirror that hung from one of the closet doors. I’d never been a great athlete, but I knew I’d never been ashamed of anything. I played football, defensive back, in high school, intercepted a pass or two, lost a chance or two too. I’d always liked to hunt and fish, got a few deer back in high school and college. Played some baseball, enjoyed swimming, and though I liked it I was too bulky for organized lacrosse. Staring at my image in that mirror, even though I never lifted weights much, I thought I had a pretty good physique for a forty year old. Stomach might have been a little firmer, but there was no Dunlop’s there. Biceps looked good, shoulders broad, good leg definition; I thought I was a pretty good catch. Susan didn’t know what she had.
Then I thought about the other things. I remembered when each of Susan’s parents died I just couldn’t bring myself to feel very much. Susan, Roxanne, and Samantha cried their eyes out, even Gregg cried, but I just couldn’t get into it. I remembered how cool they were when they found out Susan was pregnant, and I especially remembered how it was my parents who’d stepped in on Susan’s behalf.
I guess that was when it caught up with me. Susan had a habit of saying I had a laconic nature, nothing rattled me, I never got excited one way or the other when something big happened. At work some of my colleagues said I was like ice at some of the meetings. Mom and dad always said I was different, but they never quite explained what they meant.
Was I that emotionless? I sat there and stared at my naked body. Susan stopped loving me. Maybe she never loved me. Maybe the past eighteen years had been about gratitude. If that was so, why wasn’t I crying? I loved the living shit out of her. I always had. In college other guys occasionally made cracks about Susan’s ‘so called’ promiscuity. One guy called her a whore; I didn’t let that pass. Now she’d written in a damn book, her damn secret book, that she loved somebody else, that maybe she never loved me, not like a man should love a woman, not like husband and wife.
I guess that did it. I broke down. I started crying, and off and on I cried all night long. The next morning I went downstairs to get the free breakfast, but instead took my bathing suit and went down the hallway to their small swimming pool. I used my room card, opened the glass door, and jumped in the water. It was freezing cold, but I didn’t care. I paddled about and thought some more. What was I going to do? One time I got to the deeper end, all of five feet, tried to drop to the bottom, breathed out and did, and started to breathe in the water. What if I made myself drown? If I did, it would look like an accident. Susan would cash in my insurance, pay off the house, and be free to marry her “One true love”. I almost did it. I almost took my own life, but at the last moment I leaped up. Gasping and choking and coughing I managed to free my lungs of the deadly heavily chlorinated water. No, I had children, what kind of example would my suicide leave? There had to be another way.
I went back upstairs, got a shower, got dressed, and went back down. Breakfast was over so I went out, found a Denny’s, and ordered two fried eggs over medium, a stack of pancakes, two sausage patties, and some hash browns.
So Susan loved somebody else. She’d never ever really loved me. I’d been the loving loyal stooge who’d carried her water for nearly twenty years. She’d written that she hadn’t even been sure I was Samantha’s father! Did I need a woman like that? I did, I needed her. I loved her so much. I felt like crying all over again right there in the Denny’s. How was that for being laconic! I was ready to cry in public! Would an emotionless, stiff upper lipped bastard do anything like?
I remembered when Samantha was young, and later Gregg, and I used to read to them. Samantha especially liked hearing fairy tales. There was one that came to my mind while sitting there at Denny’s.
Hans Christian Anderson had written something called the “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”. I remembered it well. Maybe it was me? There was this tin soldier, an incomplete toy. There’d been twenty of them and they’d all been made from an old spoon, but one, because of a lack of tin only had one leg. The one legged tin soldier fell in love with a paper ballerina, another of the many toys the boy owned and played with. But a mean goblin had engineered his disappearance. He’d fallen out a window, experienced a series of frightening adventures until being swallowed by a fish that was caught and, by luck, sold back to the same house he’d originally come from. Yet in a fit of tantrum the little boy threw the poor little tin soldier in the fire. Just then a gust of wind blew the paper ballerina into the same fire, and as the paper ballerina burned up the tearful tin soldier slowly melted away. Both just disappeared and died. All was lost.
Why had I thought of that particular fairytale? I didn’t know, but I did it again, I started to cry. Right there in Denny’s I started to cry. I finally got it together, paid my bill, and left. What was I going to do? I thought about my choices. I could go after that Bob Schuster and threaten him or beat him up. I threw that idea out; that just wasn’t me. I could pretend nothing was wrong. I could play dumb. No, I couldn’t do that, it would eat away at me worse than any cancer. I could confront her. I could tell her I’d been reading her little book. On the face of it that sounded like a good idea, but I knew it wouldn’t solve anything. When it came down to it, there was really only one thing I could do that might save any of the dignity that I had left. Dignity that I seemed to have lost with the discovery of my wife’s true feelings. I had to divorce her.
So I’d made up my mind. I’d divorce my wife. First, I’d secretly go back through her little pamphlet, her little fairytale and make absolutely positively sure I was right, then I’d find a way to bring divorce to the table, bring it to the table in a way everyone would at least pretend to understand.
So fishing trip completed. I went back home filled with grim resolve.
Once back home Sunday night Susan was warmer and more loving than ever. Never an aggressive lover, she knew just how to softly pull me in. It was a wonderful evening filed with tender emotion, I experienced that immense joy only a terrific woman could deliver, and I experienced it repeatedly. I was sated, but I also knew in my heart of hearts she’d experience none of the same emotions. Sure I knew she’d been fulfilled, at least on one level, but that wanton unrestrained exultant torrent of fire I knew she was capable of never even remotely occurred. I wondered, ‘Was she showing me how much she loved me? Or was it pity, and most depressing, I knew there was someone else in the room.’
The next morning I thanked her and reminded her how much I loved her. She told me she was glad I was happy. She did not mention the word love.
So for me the game was up. It was just a question of when and how. I decided to wait until after the holidays. As it related to the holidays that included Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.
Thanksgiving we spent at my parents. Susan followed the prescription; she was the loving wife, the doting mother, and the, oh so considerate daughter-in-law. I watched the charade with hidden bitterness. How could she not be considerate toward the people, my parents, who, at some cost to themselves had sustained her college career and provided a babysitter when her parents had remained invisible? It broke my heart, because one day soon I’d have to tell my parents the truth about Susan and what my plans were.
Christmas came and went. Samantha got her clothes, Gregg got his clothes, a new tennis racket, more electronic stuff, and the promise of a car in the not too distant future. I got clothes. Susan got clothes, and one more last special gift from me. I wanted it to be special. Susan had been born in May so her birth stone was the emerald, but I recalled her first introduction to Schuster was in January so I combined the two by having a special necklace made; a two carat central Emerald surrounded by five smaller Garnets.
Susan said she loved it, but she asked my why the garnets. I told her it was for a special occasion and one day I’d tell her. I smiled when I said it so I was confident she didn’t have a clue as to the real reason.
Of course the holidays were filled with parties, there was her office party, my office party, a party with our church friends, my family had a party, and there was one party made up of close friends plus some relatives like her sister. Throughout the entire season I kept my own secret log of times when Susan disappeared. Her disappearances became pretty predictable, either Tuesday afternoons or an occasional Thursday evening. Her reasons were just as predictable, her sister’s problems, and of course the rather frequent “community” meetings, meetings I knew never existed. In order to preserve my own sanity I kept my distance from her ‘notebook’. I knew I’d have to make at least one last check, but I wasn’t quite ready for that torment.
At last the holidays were over. My first stop was to see my parents. I knew it would be bad, but I guess I didn’t know just how bad. I told them everything, her newly discovered true love, her repeated visits and commiserative conversations with him, her log book and all the revelations therein including her uncertainty about Samantha’s parentage and her great respect but lack of love for me. It broke their hearts; my mother cried, my father cried too. I told them to avoid any contact with Susan until I had broken the knot. I also insisted they keep all knowledge of what was happening from my siblings. I emphasized they especially keep everything from my sister; with her hot temper who knew what might happen?
With my parents informed and locked away, my next chore was to examine Susan’s book one last time. When I got to her bureau one afternoon when she was gone I found it was gone. ‘What had happened,’ I wondered? I found out soon enough; she simply moved to her jewelry box where I found it nestled just below her Christmas gift. ‘Had she figured anything out?’ I wondered, ‘Did she know?’ There was only one way to find out. I opened the book one last time.