TITLE: Finding a Voice.
EXCERPT: "Her marriage has worn at her, turned her into this ugly, hollow woman who cooks and cleans and satisfies like it's her job, only to be told not good, never good enough."
WORD COUNT: 1,635.
His wife and his mistress share knowing glances -- one woman's eyes are frightened, faintly apologetic, while the other's are cold and harsh -- but they've all done this dance before. It is civility for the sake of keeping up appearances; it is faked smiles, controlled facial expressions, long swigs of drinks that burn the throat, to take the edge off. Julius is so used to the pattern, he could predict exactly how the scenario will play out.
Later that night, he will return home and bury himself in his wife's floral smell, trail soft kisses at the base of her neck. She will grasp him, moan deliberately into his ear, whisper I love you as he thrusts into her.
Before he falls asleep, there'll be a text message waiting for him. Tomorrow night, same time?
And when he strolls in late the following evening, smelling of cigarettes and lavender, his wife will kiss him goodnight and pretend that she isn't struggling to keep her promise of 'till death do us part'.
The affair has gone on for six months. Six months. Vanessa can't even believe so much time has passed. She has trained herself to ignore the pitying looks she receives from those who know, to ignore the sizzling in her veins every time that bitch (woman is too generous a term for someone as classless as the one fucking her husband) strolls past. She has cooked favorite meals until her fingers were raw with effort. She has spiced up her wardrobe and even still, she looks in the mirror and sees what he sees: a housewife, a mother.
Her daughter, Bethany, is seventeen (so caught up in boys who don't call back and glittering outfits for school dances, she hasn't even noticed her mother's despair) and Paul, who is eleven, still plays with his action figures; would they even understand it if they knew? And what would they think of them: the wife who remains silent as her husband meets another woman at motels in the dead of night, the husband who doesn't even care enough to hide credit card statements that detail the charges?
Vanessa has already ceased to think highly of herself. Her marriage has worn at her, turned her into this ugly, hollow woman who cooks and cleans and satisfies like it's her job, only to be told not good, never good enough. She wonders if, on the off chance she musters up the courage to scream, her throat will even remember how.
Angelika knows she can do better than a man with two kids and a wife who can prepare more than just frozen dinners. And yet, even after she promises herself never again, her beat up truck pulls into places with names like 'Happy Inn' or 'Lucky Motel'. For six months, she lets Julius open the door to one dingy room after another, each reminding her that she's not even worth a hotel, not even worth a room without a layer of dirt coating the furniture.
They still feel like a secret, even though Angelika has heard the whispers and has seen the tragedy in his wife's eyes. Nothing about their relationship -- if it can even be considered that -- has grown familiar. She has allowed Julius's thick, shaking fingers to unhook her bra more times than she can count but she will never tire of the urgency of his kisses. Meanwhile -- Vanessa, Bethany, Paul -- their names pass like ghosts through her mind, even as her hips are bucking against him.
Soon, he will leave her, she hopes, though logic tells her she's wrong. She will always be second place and though this is how it has always been, though she knew what she was getting herself into, she still blisters when he mentions things like parent teacher conferences, things like anniversaries.
One day, as they're both dozing off in a motel by the airport, she asks, "Why bother with cheating?" And then, with a devilish glint in her eyes. "Is she not as good as I am?"
"She's..." Julius pauses to search for the right word. "Amazing."
Her face crumples for a second but Angelika knows how to recover quickly. She rolls her eyes as if all of it is one big joke to her when really, this might be the most serious conversation they've ever had (possibly the only one as well).
"Then why do it?"
He shrugs. "It's something new. Sweet kisses and bagged lunches get old after a while."
She laughs and pretends to know exactly what he's talking about but when she rolls over, her eyes are wide, afraid. Eventually, she knows, she will get old too.
Bethany is a teenage girl, not a coma patient. She is not blind to the fact that her father makes up lies to leave the house or that her mother is falling apart before her eyes. For weeks, she searches for signs that a divorce is coming. She sifts through the mail, looking for words like termination and spousal support; she checks her mom's ring finger every morning and every night.
Eventually, she realizes that divorce isn't coming and that's when Bethany starts to hate herself. Because there's no way a woman would put herself through so much pain, would watch her husband giving pieces of himself to someone else and do nothing, if she wasn't keeping it together for her children. Beth won't lie and say her parents divorcing wouldn't break her. She would be lying, however, if she didn't say it was preferable to watching her mother fall to ruin.
Beth finds the woman's name. Angelika. For a week, she tries to work up the nerve to call her but in the end, she is only seventeen years old. She is barely brave enough to go to a school dance unaccompanied; confronting her father's mistress is a bit of an overstep. She tucks the number away in her diary, promising herself she will never need it.
And she is wrong. Her father doesn't come home one night and her mother has never looked worse. Everything is laid out on the woman's face -- fear that the inevitable has happened and she has been left for this other woman, fear that he is never coming home.
Hours pass and Bethany grows incredibly familiar with his voicemail inbox. You've reached Julius, I'm not here right now but if you leave a message... Eventually, she gets desperate. She pulls the scrap of paper with the seven digits she swore never to dial, smooths it out, and punches the numbers into her phone.
It rings once, twice, three times.
"Hello?" A sleepy voice grumbles.
"It's Bethany," she says, but then she thinks the woman probably doesn't know who she is. "I'm --"
"I know who you are."
Beth has never felt angrier. "Oh really?" She says, her voice rising. "So you know that you're sleeping with a married man then? Sucks because I was giving you the benefit of the doubt."
She doesn't care that she sounds like a high school girl, dealing with things that are none of her concern, she wants to scream at this woman the way her mother should have. The woman gives no response and satisfied, Beth powers on.
"Where's my dad?"
"He's...he's..." Angelika stumbles over the words and Bethany stops her before she can say something she'll regret.
On the other end, there's a deep breath, the shifting of fabric. "He's here."
"Do you understand that it's three in the morning?" Beth demands, and she can hear her mother pad into the kitchen, feel Vanessa's eyes on her. She doesn't care. "I have an English test in the morning on a book I didn't even read but I'm still up, worried because my father isn't home."
Through the receiver, she hears the woman rouse her father with, "Julius, you overslept, your daughter is on the phone!" She hears her father curse and then the phone is passed to him and his voice comes through, tired but crisp.
Yes, did you forget about me? She wants to ask. Instead, she says, "Yes, it's me. Mom is worried, you know." and hopes he feels sorry for what he's done.
"I'll be home soon," he says quickly. Beth scowls because he seems to think that fixes everything, because I'll be home soon doesn't cut it, because her father doesn't even know how to have an affair discreetly.
"I call the woman you're sleeping with to find out where you are at three in the morning and all you want to tell me is I'll be home soon?!" She asks, trying to sound amused even though her voice is cracking.
Her father sputters. "Th-This is none of your business!"
"You're right," she says simply, "It's mom's. Would you like to talk to her?" She waves the phone in front of her mother as though she's teasing a dog with a treat and Vanessa is mechanic as she pries it out of her daughter's hands.
"Julius?" She squeaks.
"Yes, baby, I'm on my way."
Suddenly, Vanessa has found her voice. "No, you'd better stay where you are. I don't think anyone in this house wants you here."
"What?!" He asks. He clearly doesn't believe the words that are coming out of her mouth and honestly, neither does she. "Nessa," he presses, "please."
"You don't come home and our daughter knows to call your slut?" Vanessa shakes her head. How had things gotten so bad, and without her realizing? "I'm sorry, I think you've gone too far."
Julius offers no explanations and Vanessa is thankful; she doesn't want to go through the process of rejecting them.
"Please." He begs again.
He's listening to a dial tone in the end.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
I don't know what it is that makes me sick of people. It's like I get comfortable and then I think they'll just hang around with no effort on my part. I lost Sabrina. I lost Brittney. I'm almost losing Jomo. And lets be honest, isn't all that my fault?