10.3 / May & June 2015

The Affairs

1. W. thought her husband had always been great in bed. He knew just how to touch her.
2. X. had never been sure her husband was the one. They’d been together for almost twenty years, but lately she’d been thinking about her old college boyfriend a lot.
3. Y. envied her friends who lived alone. How tidy their tiny houses were, filled with beautiful things.
4. Z. was 26, but she had schoolgirl crushes she didn’t tell anyone about, certainly not her husband. She didn’t know if that was normal.

Wanda knew the old blues song “Don’t Advertise Your Man,” but she couldn’t help boasting at her book club when the conversation turned to sex. They’d just opened their third bottle of wine, a Cabernet. The hostess confided that her husband was going to try Viagra. “God,” Wanda groaned, tossing her head back in mock dismay. “That’s definitely not our problem. We’ve still got this chemistry going. There’s no other way to explain it. He’s after me all the time.” Maybe the bad karma started there. With her smugness, the pleasure she took in their envy.

1. When he told her about the affair, W. was shocked. She wondered whether sex was better for him with the other woman. Where was he finding the energy?
2. X. had been watching her college boyfriend on Facebook. He was balding. There were some pictures of his teen-aged children. No mention of his wife.
3. Y. kept a folder of pages torn from decorating magazines. Subway tiles from Sri Lanka she’d like to see in her bathroom. An elegant sofa upholstered in smoke grey linen.
4. Z. wondered if her husband had crushes too. When she found the credit card receipts from a local hotel, she wasn’t surprised.

Xandra looked forward to it too much, her hours on the computer late at night, when the house was dark and quiet, the family in bed. The dazzle of light from the screen gave her headaches as she aimlessly surfed from site to site, looking up boys she’d slept with when she was young to see what had become of them, girlfriends she’d never liked, hoping they’d lost their looks, or suffered terrible reverses. She Googled herself, wincing at the photo in the company newsletter after her last promotion. She looked like a fish. He was looking pretty good, in his Facebook photos at least. She wondered if he ever thought of her.

1. W. didn’t find the other woman particularly attractive. That made it worse somehow.
2. X. decided to friend her old boyfriend on Facebook.
3. Y. suspected her husband was having an affair. When he told her, she was relieved.
4. Z. thought she would have had an affair too if she were more courageous. She wondered what lunchtime sex in a hotel was like.

She was tired of picking up after him. Socks on the floor, how many times had Yvonne told him to put his socks in the hamper. He emptied his pockets on the dresser with a clatter every night, keys, coins, pens, pocket calendar, glasses case, ignoring the decorative Navajo basket she’d bought to keep all his detritus out of sight. And the towels in the bathroom. Was it too much to ask him to hang them up straight after he’d used them? She was probably being petty, but she liked orderly surroundings. In her opinion it wasn’t about control, it was about beauty, grace. But since he never looked at anything, he wouldn’t know, would he. Let the other woman deal with it and see how she liked it.

1. W. slept and slept. She awoke bleary-eyed in the afternoon, her face puffy. It hardly seemed worth getting out of bed.
2. X.’s old boyfriend responded eagerly. She decided he was still attractive, even older and with so much less hair. She wasn’t bad for her age either.
3. Y. started reading the real estate ads. Her pleasure in pictures of houses and interiors was almost sexual. A cabin in the woods. A quaint condo in the city.
4. Z.’s husband broke off his lunchtime affair. It was nothing, he said, a mistake. But Z. wondered whether it was just habit and inertia that kept them together. Did he love her? Did she love him? She talked to her latest crush about her marital problems.

“I don’t know who to talk to,” Zoey said. “It’s just so hard right now.” She blinked away tears as he drew closer, putting his arm across her shoulders. “We all have rough patches, Zoey. I’ve been there.” Her face brightened. “Really? You seem so together, like your life is perfect. You don’t mean your marriage, do you?” Their eyes locked for a long moment. “You’d be surprised,” he said.

1. W. was gaining weight. Her husband was gone for work when she got up, and came home late. He wasn’t interested in marriage counseling.
2. X. and her old college boyfriend were exchanging lengthy e-mails. He’d never forgotten her. She’d never forgotten him.
3. Y. called a real estate agent. She kept it secret.
4. Z.’s latest crush was sympathetic. Very sympathetic.

Wanda’s face burned when she thought about how she’d bragged at the book club. She stopped going to meetings. “You know how it is,” she told the hostess, aware her excuses sounded lame. She couldn’t remember what she’d thought she had in common with the rest of them anyway. She didn’t answer their voice mail messages, and after a while they stopped calling. They were probably talking about her, pretending to be concerned.

1. W.’s husband left her. She knew he would.
2. X. and her old college boyfriend were talking on the phone every day now. They made plans to meet for a long weekend in an unfamiliar city. She spent $450 on clothes and a new haircut, which her husband didn’t notice.
3. Y. went out after work to look at houses. Every week she was in love with a different one.
4. Z. began an affair with her latest crush.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” Xandra said. “I know, I know,” he said, “but I’ve been thinking about you for so long, for years now. You look just the same.” He squeezed her hand. She felt a thrill, remembering their lazy weekends back in college, tangled naked in the sheets, drinking French roast coffee and reading the Sunday New York Times. Just once. Just this once and no one would know.

1. W. got out of bed, joined a health club, and enrolled in an art class. So many of her talents had languished during her marriage.
2. Infatuated after their weekend tryst, X. and her old college boyfriend told their spouses. He wanted to break up with his wife. She didn’t know what she wanted. X.’s husband begged her not to leave him.
3. Y. put down a deposit on a Tudor cottage and began divorce proceedings.
4. Z. rehearsed in front of the mirror. It’s just not working, Z. told him. She tried out different openings. It’s not you. It’s me. She wasn’t sure who the speech was for, but she thought it was for her husband, and not her latest crush.

Wanda hadn’t felt this good in years. She’d turned the kitchen into an art studio, newspaper smudged with oil paints on the counters, curtains pushed aside to let the light in. The house smelled of turpentine. Sometimes she painted all night, salsa blaring on the stereo.

Xandra’s husband reminded her of their honeymoon, drowsy days on the beach, their bodies glistening with coconut oil, nights of passion and whispered intimacies. They needed to get away for their twentieth anniversary, he said. Someplace warm. He cried. She cried. They booked a trip to Maui.

It was perfect. Hyacinths blooming by the slate steps in front. A bird feeder surrounded by daffodils in the back yard that she could see through the kitchen window over the sink. Yvonne had picked out colors for all the rooms, but she wanted to spend some time with the fabric swatches for the curtains. Maybe after the rooms had been painted, so she didn’t make any mistakes.

“It’s over. You know it too,” Zoey said. She’d finally settled on her opening lines. Her face was white and scared in the mirror, but she was also excited. She knew this was just the beginning, but the beginning of what?

Jacqueline Doyle's work has appeared in The Rumpus, Monkeybicycle, Ninth Letter Online, South Dakota Review, and elsewhere. Her essays have earned Pushcart nominations from Southern Humanities Review and South Loop Review, and a Notable Essay citation in Best American Essays 2013. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
10.3 / May & June 2015