Taking Chances, a short story by Sisyphus. Date added: 2011-08-13. Times viewed: 4137.
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- Intro: An older woman cheats with an older man and finds the ecstasy of taking chances.
Catherine Emerson met Thomas Quimby, quite by accident, when he sat down on the park bench across from her in Rittenhouse Park where she often ate her lunch, usually yogurt and fruit, before returning to work as a bookkeeper and office manager at Bronson and McGee’s Law office.
Two days earlier,Catherine and her husband, Martin celebrated their thirty-fourth anniversary at the Avalon Bistro where they had their first date. It was a tradition they both enjoyed and they could reminisce and laugh over a leisurely meal. The Avalon served Mediterranean dishes, good wine, marvelous desserts and was now run by the original owner’s son and his wife, who always stopped by to congratulate them, treat them to a glass of wine, just as their parents had over the years.
Catherine and Martin always sat at the same table in the corner and enjoyed the darkness, the candles, the red and white checkered tablecloth, the paintings of scenes from European towns and the soft classical music that added to the romantic, old world atmosphere that made the evening special for them. Though neither of them had ever been to Europe, the Avalon Bistro made them feel like they were on their honeymoon and not in Atlantic City where they actually went after their wedding.
Catherine and Martin had a good marriage and though it had its hills and valleys, mostly it was a plateau. Many evenings she would look at him while he read the newspaper or did his crossword puzzles while she sat across from him reading one of her romantic novels wishing he would say or do something like the men in the books she read. Sometimes, he would be stubborn about not repainting the bathroom when she was sick of the dull green or insist they not replace the faded carpet in the bedroom--their squabbling growing intense--but he eventually gave in, resigning himself to her decision. Though he said okay, she could feel his resentment and grouchy remarks for weeks afterward. They had other disagreements and tensions and after a flare up, Martin would sulk for a few days then things would return to their normal state which was tranquil, respectful and affectionate though far from passionate.
He was thoughtful and tender when he kissed her goodbye in the morning or a kiss on the top of her head when he came home for dinner. He was a good father to their daughter, Melissa, teaching her to ride a bicycle, reading to her at bedtime, spoiling her with little gifts. He was dependable and conscientious about mowing the small lawn in front of their house and the back yard and taking the trash to the curb on Tuesdays, buying flowers for Valentines day, but it was Catherine who bought flowers on other days for the dining room table or would, for no reason, light candles at dinner or initiate going for a picnic or a movie or to the zoo and Martin would say fine, anything you want to do is fine with me and she wished he would suggest an idea but accepted this is just the way it is. She loved romantic movies and often cried and would dream of Robert Redford after seeing, “The Way We Were” secretly wishing Martin was more like him or Cary Grant in “An Affair to Remember” then realize how foolish she was and accepted the good man he was, but more and more when he would be reading the newspaper after dinner or doing the crossword puzzle, she’d notice his belly, the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth, the way he would tug at his ear or scratch his thin white hair while he was thinking or watching television and feel a longing come over her for something she couldn’t name but knew was missing in her life.
Once in awhile he would look up at her and smile and ask how she was enjoying the book or say, “I’m going to have some tea would you like a cup” or did she know a five letter word for a river in China or what was new with Melissa, their daughter who was still single but living with a man she met in graduate school. She liked how he would bend over and kiss her head when she was sewing or sorting through the bills at the dining room table and he often washed the dishes after dinner and she liked how he hummed while he put things away and wiped the table--though she could never recognize what song he was humming.
She would look at him and wonder what would have happened if she had married Robert Garfield who she dated before Martin, how her life would be different married to the college professor he became, or if she had pursued her acting career--her dream when she was performing in amateur theater groups all through high school and while she and Martin were dating, but those thoughts would drift away after a few minutes as she looked at her husband, her book resting on her lap realizing what a good man he was, even if he wasn’t like the men she read about in the novels. She remembered the days when they made love every chance they could and how he used to come up behind her in the kitchen and wrap his arms around her, grinding into her ass, but gradually, after Melissa was born and he was making his way up the ladder at Gregory and Associates, a small accounting firm, travelling a lot, spending more and more time at the office, their lovemaking dwindled both in frequency and intensity. Still, they made love, usually at her initiation, stroking his thigh then slowly moving her hand between his legs and he would respond by rolling on his side and into each others arms, making tender sweet love, though no longer passionate frantic pulling their clothes off, screaming at each other, no longer surprising each other with something new or daring but always satisfying, both knowing what the other liked, both having orgasms, his following hers within minutes and then they would spoon, laying quietly before falling asleep, glad that they could still feel desire for each other. It was a good marriage of caring companionship, thoughtful gifts for birthdays and Christmas, their annual anniversary dinner at the Avalon Bistro, a nice home in which to entertain their neighbors and friends. It was clear they loved each other and felt good about growing older together.
Still, at fifty-nine, Catherine sometimes missed the intensity she felt when she was twenty-two, the excitement of falling in love, the newness of discovering each other. Though on the outside, she looked her age--the soft swell of her belly, her sagging breasts, broader hips, thicker thighs, her hair short and grey, no longer blond falling over her shoulders, her skin no longer smooth, no the longer the pretty young slender woman she’d see in the old photographs around the house, but inside she still felt youthful--the thought of turning sixty in a few months was hard to comprehend. Though she valued the peace and contentment of having everything she needed--a wonderful home, a handsome, loving husband, an interesting job, no financial worries, but more and more she felt the sky was grey when she wanted to see a rainbow.
So when Thomas Quimby sat down on the bench across from her in the park two days after celebrating her thirty-fourth anniversary and opened the black covered notebook and started writing, she was curious and felt a sudden spark igniting that surprised her. She glanced at him while eating her yogurt. He seemed so intense, writing quickly, concentrating, occasionally looking at pigeons strutting and pecking by his feet or looking up at the sky searching for a word, then immediately go back to writing. She noticed how he’d tug at his short grey beard, narrowing his eyes in concentration. She could tell he was crossing out words by the intense scribbling on the page, shaking his head as if saying a definite “no” then continued writing. What she especially found fascinating was how oblivious he seemed to people walking past him, the children running or wobbling on their bicycles, or mothers pushing carriages, or teen agers walking through the park, carrying i-pods with ear plugs, or talking on their cell phones, or texting--nothing brought his eyes from the page where he was writing and she wished he would look up and notice her and wondered why.
For some reason she couldn’t take her eyes off him and even after she finished her yogurt and knew she should return to her work, she lingered, noticing his deep concentration, his passionate intensity. She wondered what he was writing and felt her curiosity growing. Usually she didn’t pay much attention to people passing where she sat but the man across from her fascinated her and she felt the urge to say something to him, ask him what he was writing then dismissed that thought, feeling it would be wrong to interrupt him. She noticed his wire rimmed glasses sliding down his nose and his quick pushing them back in place, his white hair, though not wild, was long and hung over his ears and curled up slightly at his shoulders, his beard was trimmed but still he had a slightly disheveled look about him as if not much mattered but his writing. At the same time, he seemed distinguished, scholarly, or artistic, definitely not ordinary. It was the first time she had felt that attracted to a man--especially a stranger.
When she got up to return to work, throwing her empty yogurt container and plastic spoon in the trash can next to her bench, he looked up at her and their eyes met briefly, a slight smile on his lips. He looked down at his writing then back up her and smiled again, placing the pen on the page, using it as a marker and closed his notebook. When he looked up at her and she could see his blue eyes, surprised by his smile, a sudden thrill rippled through her, making her feel she was blushing. She suddenly felt awkward standing there, her hand on the strap of her handbag, a quickening of her heart beat and her fascination, “What are you writing?” she asked then quickly added, “sorry, that’s none of my business.”
“Just some thoughts,” he said, chuckling, his face softening in contrast to the harder, grim look when he was writing.
“You seemed so intense. I was watching you.”
“Oh, well, I get carried away with my writing.” He glanced down at his notebook, patting the cover then back up at Catherine.
“Well, I better get back to work. I don’t want to interrupt you.”
“No problem. I was almost finished,” he said, looking at her, “Where do you work?”
Catherine turned and pointed to the office building across from the park, “Over there on the fifteenth floor in an office.”
He looked where she was pointing and stood up, “Mind if I walk you there. I have to stretch.” He stood up.
“If you’d like, that’s fine,” she responded noticing he was several inches taller than she originally thought, also much thinner. Again, their eyes met as she looked up at him, surprised at his offer, feeling a slight thrill rise in her that she hadn’t felt in a long time. She noticed his worn brown corduroy pants, faded and baggy at the knees, his wrinkled tweed sports jacket and open collared flannel shirt that clashed with the jacket.
“Let’s go,” he said, placing his notebook in his jacket pocket. She noticed a paperback book in the other pocket and the tip of a pipe sticking out of the upper pocket.
Neither of them spoke as they walked towards the entrance of the park. It was autumn and the path was littered with brown and red leaves. He pointed to the leaves covering the grass. “I love this time of year,” he said. “It’s so colorful and I love how summer fades into autumn.” He paused and added, “Like us,” then chuckled. He took a deep breath, “And the air is so sweet. I like how warm it is during the day and the chilly nights.”
“I do, too,” Catherine responded, looking out at the colorful leaves where he was pointing and thinking about his comment, “like us.” She also liked how poetically he spoke about autumn, how responsive he seemed to the world around him.
Suddenly, he left the path and went over to the grass, gathering a pile of leaves in his hands and threw them in the air over his head and laughed. His doing that surprised her but, after a moment’s hesitation, joined him and also picked up a pile of leaves and threw them up in the air letting them fall over her. He bent down and gathered another pile and threw them up in the air, over her and she did the same, surprised how playful she felt and how she laughed at the sudden impulsive tossing of leaves over each other, realizing she hadn’t done this since she was a child and here she was at fifty-nine doing it with a stranger.
Brushing the leaves from her short grey hair and shoulders, still laughing she smiled at him, “That was fun. By the way, what’s your name?”
“Tom,” he said, brushing a leaf off her shoulder. “What’s yours?”
“Catherine,” she said, reaching out to shake his hand. “I like to know who I’m throwing leaves at,” she said, feeling his strong hand on hers.
“That’s very considerate of you,” he said, shaking her hand. “Glad to meet you,Catherine,” he added.
“I better hurry,” Catherine said. “I’m already late.”
“Sorry, for making you late,” Tom said. “I just couldn’t resist playing with the leaves.
Catherine nodded and continued walking with Tom beside her, feeling exhilarated by the spontaneous tossing of leaves. She remembered Martin raking the maple leaves each fall in the front of their house, burning them in small piles but never picking them up to toss in the air. It felt strange to be walking through the park with a strange man, someone other than her husband. She was quiet but enjoyed feeling his presence next to her. She noticed him looking up at the trees over head then back at her, their eyes meeting briefly. He smiled at her then looked away as they walked to the park entrance without speaking.
When they left the park and stood at the corner waiting for the light to change neither of them spoke but the silence did not feel awkward, though she was searching for something to say.
“I haven’t seen you around here before,” Catherine said looking up at him then at the yellow wait hand on the traffic light. “And I come here every day for lunch and fresh air.”
“I’m not surprised because I just moved here a few days ago and just discovered this park.”
When the light changed, she felt his hand on her back as they crossed the street. Others crossed with them and the sounds of horns and sirens and the busyness of downtown at lunchtime made it difficult to have a conversation. They weaved their way to her office building and she turned and said, “Nice meeting you, Tom. Welcome to the neighborhood. Maybe I will see you again in the park.”
Standing in front of the revolving door of the office with people going in and out, he nodded, “Perhaps, you will. I hope we meet again.”
“Well, I better get back to work. I’m already ten minutes late,” she said, looking at the revolving door then back at Tom.
“Well, we can’t be late for work, can we?” he said smiling at her and she could feel he was teasing.
“Right. I’m never late and they’re going to wonder what happened to me. They would never suspect I was late because I was throwing leaves in the air.”
“We should do that more often,” he said.
“Maybe we should,” she said and smiled, looking into his eyes. “I’d like that,” she added and suddenly realized she was actually flirting with him. “Well, I better get going,” she said after an awkward silence.
“What time do you finish work?” Tom asked.
“Four-thirty,” she answered surprised at his question but sensed a mutual interest in each other growing. “Why?
“Well, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think we should have a cup of coffee together, or better yet, a glass of wine at that little café up the street.”
“You do, do you?” she responded, realizing she was enjoying being playful.
“Yes, I think we should. Why not?”
Catherine laughed, shaking her head, looking at him. “I can think of a lot of reasons why not, but I think I would like that.” She remembered Martin was going to be working late that night and she would be having dinner alone.
“Good,” he said, nodding, smiling. “I’ll meet you at the café when you get out of the work. You will recognize me. I’ll be the white haired guy writing in his notebook.”
“Okay, Tom. I’ll be there but don’t you get any ideas. I’m a happily married woman.”
“And I’m a happily unmarried man and have no desire to complicate my simple quiet life. It’s just a cup of coffee or possibly a glass of wine--no expectations.”
“Good. No expectations,” she said, quickly walking away then turning back and waving good bye as she pushed the revolving door and disappeared into the building.
While working, she felt energized and especially cheerful when she answered the phone, “Hello, Bronson and McGee--Law Office.” It was her job to answer questions, take care of what she could on the phone before deciding if the caller should speak to Mr. Bronson or Mr. McGee. She was their girl-Friday and she loved being efficient, her fingers always on any information her bosses needed. Two other young women worked in the office and she always checked over their work before bringing it to Mr. Bronson or Mr. McGee for their signatures or approval. Both Gloria and Valerie were good workers, smart and they often asked Catherine for her advice on various issues, mostly men they were dating. She envied their slim bodies, the short skirts they could wear--tight but not too tight, on the edge of appropriate, Catherine judged. Gloria liked high heels but Valerie’s dressing was a little sportier and her shoes were either flat or had slight heels. Catherine liked that they could work efficiently, chat when there was no one waiting or both lawyers were away from the office, sometimes laughing at a witty observation and the office had a professional but relaxed atmosphere.
“What’s up?” Gloria asked when she noticed the smile on Catherine’s face and the perkier sound of her voice when she spoke on the phone or asked one of them about the forms they were working on. “You seem different. What’s up?” she repeated.
“Nothing’s up,” Catherine answered. “It’s just such a nice autumn day.”
“Right,” Gloria responded, sarcastically, sensing that Catherine was feeling something unusual. “Did something happen at lunch? You were late and you’re never late.”
“No nothing happened at lunch. I was just enjoying the warm weather and how beautiful the leaves are this time of year,” she said, remembering what just happened in the park and what they would think if she told then she was throwing piles of leaves over a man’s head she just met. She almost said something, her excitement brimming over but hesitated, uncertain then decided not to, suddenly feeling she wanted to keep what happened to herself.
Just then Mr. Bronson opened his door and asked Catherine for the Reginald Bosnovich file and she turned away from Gloria. “I’ll bring it right in,” she said, getting up to go to the filing cabinet. But as she searched the files, Catherine knew that Gloria was right, something was different. She found herself glancing at the clock thinking about the time and meeting Tom after work, surprised how exhilarated she felt.
When she walked into the busy Vinery Café and saw Tom at the rear table writing in his notebook, she took a deep breath, swallowing the air and made her way through the narrow space between tables, determined to enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and nothing more. Still, she could not deny that this was such an unusual thing for her to do and she tried controlling the fear and excitement that was rising.
Tom glanced up just as she approached the table and smiled, closing his notebook on the pen and greeted her, “Well, here you are. How was your afternoon at work?”
Catherine nodded and sat down across from him. “Work was fine. How was your afternoon?”
“Fine,” he said. “I went back to the park and continued writing then went back to my apartment which is actually just two blocks from here and then came here to meet and get to know you better.”
“Oh you live nearby. You said you just moved in, isn’t that right?”
“Yes, a few days ago,” he said, both of them feeling a little awkward. “So what would you like, coffee or a glass of wine?”
“I should probably have coffee, but I think I would like a glass of Chablis--haven’t had one in a long time.”
“Chablis, it will be. I will have a glass also,” he said, looking up to see if the waiter was nearby then turned back to her. “So, you said you are happily married.”
“I am,” Catherine replied, nodding, “very happy. I have a wonderful husband. We just celebrated our thirty fourth two nights ago.”
“Nice. Very nice. I don’t meet many happily married people.”
“Well, we are,” Catherine repeated. “Were you married?” Catherine asked.
“Yes, I was for twenty nine years to a smart, talented woman who unfortunately died a little over two years ago. Actually, she was in a serious car accident and was killed instantly--thank God she didn’t suffer.”
“Oh my, that’s terrible. That must have been a shock.”
“It was, though I have to admit, ours was not a happy marriage.”
“Too bad,” Catherine nodded.
“Yes,” Tom said, shrugging, “it was one of those unhappy marriages but neither of us could make a move to divorce so we existed in the same house though not the same bed. Still, when I got the news she was killed I felt terrible, sorry that she was gone, her life ripped away and out of my life without the chance to resolve our problems--not that they could have been resolved. Then I felt ambivalence. I was suddenly free and yet a part of me missed her. I had a hard time with so many confused mixed feelings. I think underneath our problems, I loved her more than I realized but bitterness made it impossible to feel anything like love while she was alive.” He paused, took a deep breath and looked down at his notebook, touching the cover. “Sad, isn’t it?”
Catherine nodded and was about to respond when the waiter came over and asked for our order which Tom gave to him quickly, slightly irritated at being interrupted.
When the waiter left, Tom continued. “I have to admit I cried at the funeral and felt sad and lost for days, you know, the suddenness of the change, the emptiness in the house, so many mixed feelings, her clothing and remnants of her life everywhere around me, photographs of us when we were younger and madly in love, but within a week or two I was fine, in fact, I felt relieved and happy to realize I was free and life had other possibilities now that I was no longer married.” He paused and sat back in his chair, sighed deeply then smiled, “But that was then and this is now.”
“Right,” Catherine nodded, looking at the smile on Tom’s face. “Still it must have been hard, losing someone after all those years together. I can’t imagine how I would feel if something like that happened to Martin--that’s his name, my husband,” she said, adding, “We’ve very close. He’s my best friend.”
“Well, it sounds like you’re situation is a lot different than mine--like I said I felt I was starting a new chapter of my life. I sold my house about a year ago, made a little money, but not as much as I should have because of the economy, travelled, had a few short affairs without feeling I was cheating.”
“A few affairs,” Catherine repeated, hesitating, wondering what it must be like to be free and have other relationships, suddenly remembering how she had been wondering what it would be like to have the kind of excitement she read about in her novels and how she felt when Gloria and Valerie told her about the men they were dating and how freely they talked about their sex lives, even describing how so and so made them scream.
“Did you cheat when you were married?” she finally asked, surprised at her boldness.
Tom smiled, nodding, looking into Catherine’s eyes, “Yes and I suspect she did too. I mean we went years without fucking each other.”
Stunned by Tom’s bluntness and the use of that word, one that she never uttered though Gloria and Valerie did, she nodded and felt a twinge of excitement.
“I suspect you have never cheated, but have you ever thought about it?” Tom asked, looking into Catherine’s eyes.
Fortunately, the two glasses of Chablis were placed in front of each of them which gave Catherine the chance to think about how to answer Tom’s question. She glanced up at the waiter, a young man with a thin mustache and small goatee and thanked him then looked back at Tom, his eyes looking into hers, a slight smile on his lips.
“So have you?” he asked seeing her hesitance.
“I don’t know,” Catherine answered.
“Yes, you do,” Tom quickly responded, “but you are embarrassed to admit it.”
Catherine again was stunned by his bluntness. She looked at her glass of wine, placed her fingers around the stem thinking about his statement but also wanting to propose a toast and was delighted when Tom picked up his glass, raising it to hers and smiled, “To Autumn--season of misty fruitfulness and blossoming friendship.” When their glasses clicked, he added, “that’s part of a line from Keats.”
“I’ll drink to that,” she said, clicking his glass then took a sip, noticing that when Tom took a sip, he looked into her eyes over the rim of his glass causing a tingle to rise in her, the same feeling she had in the park when she first looked at him. At the same time, her breathing seemed to stop and she wondered what was happening to her.
“You haven’t answered my question,” Tom said, putting down his glass.
“Oh, right, your question about cheating--am I too embarrassed to admit it,” Catherine responded then paused, taking another sip of wine, not sure what to say, feeling Tom waiting for her answer.
“Yes, tell me, I want to know,” he said, looking into her eyes, smiling slightly.
“I would never want to hurt Martin,” Catherine answered.
“So you admit you have thought about cheating but you wouldn’t want to hurt Martin, is that it?”
“Yes, but only in passing, a fantasy sometimes, but nothing serious, nothing I would ever act on, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like to kiss and be held by another man.”
“Well, that’s honest. I can’t imagine a woman like you would not think about it--it’s natural to wonder,” Tom said.
“What do you mean a woman like me?” Catherine asked.
“Well, I can tell there is a streak of wildness in you. I saw it when you tossed those leaves over me in the park--that was very revealing.”
“Oh, so you saw wildness in me. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Yes, and I have to admit when I first saw you and our eyes met, you made me smile and I immediately felt attracted to you.”
“And you did too, didn’t you?”
Again, Catherine was stunned by Tom’s bluntness and honesty and realized it was impossible to be evasive with him. Again, she sensed his intensity and remembered how he was writing in the park. She was not used to his directness, since everyone she knew, including Martin, were never this direct. She then remembered Gloria and Valerie in the office and how refreshing it was to hear how they spoke to each other. She suddenly remembered being shocked when she heard Valerie ask Gloria, “So did he screw you?” but also, how it aroused something in her, the same thing she felt when he said, he and his wife didn’t fuck.”
Catherine picked up her glass of wine, took a sip and did something that surprised her. She looked at Tom over the rim of her glass and knew she was flirting with him, remembering standing outside the office building surprised she was flirting--something she had not done since her teen years but it excited her. Looking at him and seeing how he looked at her while she sipped her wine emboldened her and she was enjoying the strange sensation rising in her.
“Yes, I was attracted to you. You seemed so intense writing and I became fascinated.”
“One thing that is important to me is complete honesty,” Tom said, pausing to take a sip of wine. “It’s very important,” he added, looking into her eyes. “I want to know what a person is really thinking and feeling. No bullshit.”
“I agree,” Catherine said, again stunned by his bluntness. “But it’s not always easy. Sometimes you don’t want to hurt a person’s feeling so you beat around the bush--even lie.” Catherine took a sip of wine and continued, “And sometimes you don’t know what you think or feel.” She took another swallow of wine then another, finishing her wine, surprised that she drank so quickly and looked at her empty glass.
Tom finished his wine and asked if she would like another glass and Catherine again surprised her self by saying, “Yes, I think I would. I usually don’t drink wine in the afternoon but I will make an exception.”
Tom put his hand up to call the waiter over and ordered two more glasses of Chablis then said, “No bring us the bottle.” When the waiter nodded and left, he turned to Catherine. “Why not? I’m enjoying being with you.”
Catherine smiled, “Thank you. This is very nice.” She sat back and looked at Tom realizing how strange it was to be drinking wine with another man, someone she thought was attractive and interesting, someone so different than Martin and that thought aroused a pang of guilt and yet it felt romantic, exciting, new and she realized she was feeling sexually aroused but tried ignoring it. She stared at the empty glass thinking to her self, “There’s nothing wrong with having a glass of wine with a man. It’s just a glass of wine, nothing more than a little diversion while Martin is at work and won’t be home until later, much better than being home, reading a novel while having dinner alone.
“What are you thinking,” Tom asked, seeing how she had drifted away.
“Oh nothing,” she said.
“I told you I want honesty, you weren’t thinking nothing, tell me what you were thinking.”
Just then the waiter placed the bottle of wine on the table and smiled, “Enjoy,” he said.
“Thank you,” Tom said quickly looking at the waiter then lifted the bottle to fill Catherine’s glass and then his, smiling and she liked the crinkly lines around his eyes, the way his eyes twinkled behind his glasses. He picked up his glass and raised it to hers, “To honesty,” he said clicking her glass.
“Yes, honesty,” Catherine said. “I’ll drink to that.”
Sipping their wine, they again looked at each other over the rims of their glasses and Catherine suddenly felt that rising thrill sweep through her, sensing they were seducing each other then felt foolish, confused, aware that she was heading into dangerous territory then put her glass down and looked at Tom, suddenly feeling shy and not knowing what to say but muttered to herself, “this is crazy.”
“So you didn’t answer my question before, what were you thinking.” He paused, “now don’t tell me it was nothing--people don’t think nothing.”
“Hmmmmm,” Catherine thought, not knowing how to answer his question. She looked at him and felt his intense blue eyes looking at her. She took another sip of wine thinking how handsome he was for a man close to seventy--she didn’t know his age but guessed and struggled to know what to say. Should she say she was feeling attracted to him and wanted something to happen or that she shouldn’t be here and would be leaving soon--she had to get home, but realized that was not honest. The wine was relaxing her and she knew she was feeling desire but did not want to betray Martin or go where her feelings were leading her and complicate her life.
She looked at him, her fingers stroking the stem of her wine glass then bit her lower lip before speaking. “I was thinking how much I am enjoying being with you,” she said. “There. I’m being honest.”
Then Tom leaned forward and took Catherine’s hands, gripping them tightly. She was surprised by his sudden taking of her hands but did not pull them away.
“Come back to my apartment,” he said.
“Are you serious? I can’t do that.”
“I’m a married woman and we just met. I hardly know you,” she said, still letting him hold her hands.
“I know you’re a married woman but you wouldn’t be the first woman who cheated on her husband and I have a feeling you want something more in your life—more than a comfortable relationship. I can tell.”
“You can. What can you tell?”
“That you want intensity, romance, passion. You love your husband, I know that, but you’re also bored. Aren’t you?”
“Tom! You shouldn’t be talking to me like this. You don’t know me.”
“Yes I do,” he said. “I can tell by how you are letting me hold your hand. You didn’t pull away and I can feel you’re not being honest with yourself.”
She then let go of his hands and looked into his eyes. “This is crazy. I just came here to have a cup of coffee with you and not a bottle of wine or to be invited for a fling.”
“What makes you think I want a fling?”
“What else could it be? I’m married--happily married and you’re single and probably horny,” she said, surprised that she said that. “There I said what I thought.”
“I’m not interested in a fling but I follow my intuition and I see an intelligent, attractive, woman who has settled into a comfortable marriage but there’s more to you. I saw it in how you laughed in the park when we were playing with the leaves and I said to myself, this is someone I could fall in love with. I’ve missed that. I had a terrible marriage, an empty marriage and though I had a few flings, they didn’t do it for me. I don’t want a fling. I want more. ”
Catherine looked at Tom, seeing how direct and blunt he was and liked that. “You sure say what you think.”
“That’s right. I say what I think and feel. I haven’t stopped thinking about you all afternoon and couldn’t wait for us to meet.”
“Really,” Catherine responded, surprised that he was feeling so much and that he could fall in love with her. His words were so sincere, so intense and it aroused her and suddenly, his passion excited and bewildered her. She felt herself blush and remembered how excited she felt in the office, how cheerful and energized, how Gloria asked “what’s going on,” obviously noticing something was different. “You really felt that,” she repeated.
“Yes, really,” Tom repeated. “And if you are being honest with yourself, you felt the same. You were excited too and eager to meet me after work. Weren’t you?”
Tom’s words and intensity took Catherine’s breath away and she realized he was right that he was literally sweeping her off her feet, arousing feelings, even fantasies that came over her while reading her romance novels, imagining a rendezvous in the forest or being captured by a dashing pirate and ravished. Even at fifty nine, she knew she had the same feelings she had when she was a young woman and saw a good looking man at the mall or in a restaurant with Martin, her eyes drifting, looking at another man, her imagination wondering but quickly returning to her husband across from her, erasing the thought of another man from her mind.
“Yes, I admit I was excited. It was fun in the park and yes, I am attracted to you, though I am embarrassed to admit it.”
“I understand,” Tom said. “This is hard for me too. I don’t know what will happen with us, it could end up being a fling, but there’s only one way to find out.”
“Taking a chance.”
“What do you mean?
“Following you heart, going after something you want, taking a chance. There’s no other way to live.”
“You may be right, Tom, but I can’t take a chance. I’d be betraying Martin. I would be creating a problem that could become a disaster.”
Tom picked up the bottle and filled Catherine’s glass and then his. He placed the bottle down and looked at her, not responding to her words. Both of them felt the awkward silence. Tom picked up his glass of wine and took a sip looking at Catherine. She looked away from his gaze, closed her eyes, took a deep breath, trying to shove away and squash what she was feeling, knowing she didn’t want the sudden drama that had entered her life but feeling the urge to go with him. She looked at Tom, their eyes meeting and she could feel he was reading her mind. She took a big sip of her wine and was feeling the effects, slightly woozy, not drunk but getting there, the words “taking a chance” ricocheting in her mind.
“I think you should come back to my apartment,” he said, taking her hand again. “I want you to.”
“I can’t,” she said.
“Yes you can,” he said. “You will regret it if you don’t.”
“I might regret it if I do,” she said but suddenly felt intrigued by the thought of doing something dangerous, something she only imagined but never thought would be real and now the opportunity was on the table.
“Come with me,” he said, squeezing her hands. “Take a chance. Find out more about who you are.”
“I know who I am,” she said.
“I said find out more. I know you know who you are, but there’s more that you don’t know. I can see that.”
She knew he was right and it thrilled her to feel seen in a way that only she saw and no one else had a clue. She remembered wanting to be an actress, how exciting it felt to be on the stage and dream about being on Broadway or in the movies, but she put that dream aside when she married Martin then had Melissa and kept up with the responsibilities of keeping a home, a husband, a child, and a challenging job and here she was almost sixty, married for thirty four years to a wonderful man but now she was sitting across from a man she just met that afternoon, a stranger, contemplating having an affair--an outrageous thought, something out of one of her romance novels, something she thought could never happen to her in real life, but one she now knew she wanted though it frightened her.
“I can’t,” she repeated, struggling with her desire and prudence. “I can’t go with you.”
“But you want to don’t you?” Tom said. “I know you do. I will ask you one more time and then that will be it. Come with me. Don’t be afraid to live. Take a chance.”
Catherine finished her glass of wine and looked at Tom, his words bombarding her brain, but she suddenly found the courage. “Lead the way,” she said, biting her lower lip, looking into his eyes.
Tom smiled, nodded, took out his wallet and put twenty-five dollars on the table, not waiting for the bill and stood up. He reached for her hand. “Let’s go,” he said, holding her hand and led her out the front door onto the busy street and the warm air.
For a moment they stood in front of the café, people rushing by them and he faced her, looking into her eyes, holding both of her hands in his, “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked. “I want you to come but only if you want to.”
Though fear, doubt and nervousness swept over her, his clear blue eyes, the strength of his hands holding hers, the concern for her feelings when he said “only if you want to,” filled her with a swirl of emotions and she said. “Yes, I want to,” loving how he nodded and smiled at her answer, adoring the twinkle in his blue eyes behind his glasses and how his white hair moved in the breeze that swept by them then added, “I’m scared but I want to.”
He held her hand as they walked the two blocks to his apartment over a camera store. The green door to his apartment was between the camera store and a dry-cleaners. “It’s nothing fancy,” he said, opening the door for her, “a small studio apartment but its home for now.” They went through another door and up a narrow stair way to the second floor then down a hall and he opened the door, “Welcome to my kingdom,” he said, bowing, his arm across his stomach as he bent over, letting her enter the small but uncluttered apartment. Catherine looked around at the book case filled with books, a round oak table by the window with a small vase of flowers which surprised her. She thought it unusual but nice that a man would buy flowers for himself. Also on the table was his laptop and next to the table two wooden chairs. She glanced at an old couch with scotch plaid upholstery on one wall and facing the couch was a well worn blue chair with a magazine on the cushion and a lamp on the table. An empty mug sat next to the lamp. She noticed a small kitchen with a counter separating it from the living room and his bed, neatly made on the wall opposite the book case. In the corner, she noticed the small bathroom.
She then noticed two shelves on the book case that had small wooden animals and walked over to it. “These are beautiful,” she said.
“Thank you, I love carving animals,” he said.
“You made these,” she said, glancing back at him then at the carvings. “This dog is so amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this and the bird. You’re really talented,” she said, her eyes looking intently at the dozens of animals, some of them much larger than the others, some unpainted but others exquisitely painted. She picked up the carving of a cat painted black with a small white spot sitting looking up as if watching a bird, its tail curled and then she turned and saw Tom watching her. “I can’t believe you made these,” she said. “These should be in a museum or gallery.”
“A few are,” he said, “but mostly they are all here and I’m waiting to be discovered but recently my main passion is writing.”
“Yes, I saw you writing in the park. What do you write?” she asked putting the carving of the cat back on the shelf.
“Ideas, philosophy, poetry, sometimes just observations, sketches,” Tom said taking the notebook out of his jacket pocket and thumbed through the pages. “I wrote about you when I went back to the park.”
“You did. I don’t believe it. You wrote about me,” she said. “What did you write?”
“Are you sure you want to hear,” he said, opening to the page.
“Of course. I’m curious. No one has ever written about me before.”
He smiled, looked down at the page, putting his finger where he was going to read, cleared his throat. “Catherine doesn’t realize how beautiful she is but I sense she is filled with longing and wants to be seen and known but has allowed herself to accept that this is her life and nothing is going to change. I have only known her for ten minutes but I hope I can get to know her better. I’m not sure if that will ever happen but if it does, I want what I haven’t had for so many years. I want passion and I don’t want to die never having the passion and love I have always longed for.”
Tom looked up from his reading and saw Catherine looking back at him, her mouth wide open as if in shock. “That’s it,” he said.
“My goodness,” Catherine finally said, realizing he was expressing something she had been feeling. “I can’t believe you wrote that. You’re full of surprises, Tom. That was beautiful. I felt tears while you read that,” and she suddenly walked over to him and touched his face, her fingers stroking his cheeks just above his beard then her fingers touched his lips, touching him to see if he was real and not a fantasy. She looked into his eyes and smiled and he looked into her eyes, returning her smile and without thinking she moved her mouth to his and he moved his mouth to hers and they kissed lightly, tenderly and then she put her hand on the back of his head, pulling his lips harder to hers and their kissing grew more passionate, his arms around her shoulders, pulling her deeper into his body, his arms embracing her, their kissing growing more intense until she couldn’t stand it any more and pulled her lips away, gasping, both looking into each others eyes, a smile on their lips and she knew she had crossed a threshold and entered a realm that felt warm and thrilling and they kissed again, their tongues swirling, their hunger for each other growing and he took his hand and led her to his bed and held her close and she could feel his erection pressed against her stomach, felt herself growing moist between her legs, knew she wanted nothing more than to make love to him. He stepped back and unbuttoned her blouse, looking into her eyes while she unbuckled his belt, the button to his corduroy pants, lowering the zipper while he slipped her blouse over her shoulders, gently removing her arms from the sleeves, seeing her bra, her nipples pressing the material, the cleavage exciting him while she lowered his pants, he reached around to unfasten her bra, slipping the straps from her shoulders, seeing her soft, sagging breasts, their eyes looking into each others eyes, loving the slow undressing of each other and they kissed again while he pulled her wet silky panties over her soft wide hips and down her thighs, before lowering her to his bed, kissing her, laying between her legs, feeling his hard cock pressing against her wet pussy, slowly grinding while she wrapped her legs around his body, pulling him harder against her, lifting her hips wanting more of him then gasping, whispered, “make love to me” and he did, entering her gently, pushing slowly feeling her pussy adjusting to his hardness then pushing harder, going deeper both of them moving together, kissing, thrusting, moving as one, slowly then faster and faster, panting, whimpering, building until he felt her tensing, trembling, getting closer and he moved faster and harder, her pussy gripping his cock and suddenly she exploded in a huge orgasm, screaming, while he kept thrusting harder and harder and she felt him tensing, thrusting faster and suddenly exploding, shooting his warm cum deep into her, soft guttural grunts coming from his chest and throat with each thrust before ecstatically writhing then collapsing on her, the soft sounds of her breathing under him, her breasts crushed against his chest, his cock still deep in her, loving the warm wetness of her pussy, the strength of her arms and legs holding him in her, both of them overwhelmed by what had happened, laying there wallowing in the afterglow, noticing it was now dark outside and in the room.
Still breathing heavily, he turned her on her side away from him and molded his body to hers, spooning in the small dark room, both laying quietly, the aroma of their sex in the air, his lips kissing her neck and shoulder, the back of her head. Catherine lay there, loving the warmth of his body against hers, the soft feel of his cock against her ass, his lips on her shoulder, not wanting to move, the sound of traffic outside in contrast to the quiet of the apartment then glancing at the red numbers on the digital clock on the table next to the bed, remembering in a panic that she had to catch the six-forty-five train since she had already missed the one she usually takes after work. Her car was at the train station and it would take her fifteen minutes to drive home and arrive before Martin came home from his meeting and she wanted to have something for him to eat.
“Oh my goodness, I have to catch the train,” Catherine said, suddenly shattering the moment, the reality of her life dissipating the realm they had entered. “I have to go,” she said, turning her face towards Tom’s, feeling him release her as she shifted then quickly sat up. “Sorry,” she said to him, running her hands through her hair. Tom reached in back of her and turned on the lamp and sighed at the thought of her having to leave but knew how stressed Catherine was now that she had to rush to the train and get home before Martin did.
Catherine leaped out of the bed, picking her clothes up from the floor, looked at Tom leaning on his elbow looking up at her then quickly dashed into the bathroom to pee and get dressed. Tom got up and put on his pants, not buckling the belt and stood there shirtless and barefooted when she came out of the bathroom, tucking her blouse into her skirt, looking at the white hairs on his chest, then at his eyes looking into hers, seeing his sadness that she had to leave but the understanding of the situation.
“I’ll walk you to the station,” he said.
“No, don’t. Thank you. I just want to go,” she said, realizing she didn’t really want to leave so suddenly but had to. She put on her shoes, holding onto Tom as she bent down, putting on one shoe then the other, picked up her pocketbook, putting it over her shoulder then looked around the apartment as if taking a snap shot to savor then went to the door to open it just as Tom put his hand on the door holding it closed and wrapped his arms around Catherine, kissing her. She returned the kiss then put her hand on his chest, pushing him away. “I have to go,” she said, reaching for the knob. When she opened the door, she glanced back at Tom standing there, stopped, reached to touch his cheek and said, “Thank you. Good bye” and left.
Catherine barely made the six-forty five, but got on, glad it wasn’t as crowded as the earlier train and sat down in the place she usually sat, finally able to settle herself from the fear of missing it just as the train bolted forward then picked up speed. Catherine looked at her reflection in the dark window as the train rattled and wobbled, her mind barraged with thoughts of what had just happened to her, emotions swirling, not sure what she was feeling as the realization that she had cheated on Martin hit her and how excited she felt about Tom and where that was heading, if anywhere, what did she want, how would she face Martin. She looked up at the people sitting around her, a heavy set black woman wearing the green scrub uniform from the hospital, an old woman fishing through her pocketbook, a girl texting, a woman close to her age sitting across from her, reading a book and Catherine wondered if she looked as old as that woman, seeing the wrinkles, the pale, flabby skin, the dry grey hair, no lipstick and thought, “I hope I look younger than she does,” she thought, realizing she wanted to feel young again, wanted Tom to think she was sexy and beautiful, wondering if she should again try to lose some weight. She looked at the conductor walking down the aisle punching tickets then heard the computerized voice of a woman saying, “Girard Street Station, a wheel chair accessible station, doors are opening.”
Finally, she got off the train at her station and dashed up the steps to the parking lot, found her maroon Subaru and drove the familiar route to her house, glancing at the digital clock on the dashboard, realizing she had twenty minutes before Martin would be home, wondering if he had tried calling and got the answering machine and what he would think if she wasn’t home to answer the phone. She couldn’t stop thinking about Tom and how he made love to her, how she felt sneaking off to his apartment, did she want it to happen again or should she stop and not shake up her life with an affair. The thought of hurting Martin if he ever found out she cheated swelled in her mind. Where was all this heading? Where did she want it to go? She didn’t know. All she knew was how confused and exhilarated she felt. When she pulled into her driveway, parking in front of the closed garage door, she sat there, not moving, looking at her house, the memory of Tom’s small apartment flashing in her mind, the carved animals, the way she felt in his arms. She took a deep breath, opened her car door and entered her house, going straight to the kitchen, filling up the white tea kettle. “A nice cup of mint tea is what I need,” she thought, glancing up at the clock realizing she would be facing Martin in ten or so minutes, could she act normal now that her life had suddenly changed, wondering if she could live in the two realms of existence--her life with Martin and what might be her life with Tom. She was suddenly a wreck of emotions, trying to stay calm as she waited for Martin, wondering what she could fix him when he got home. She remembered the tuna casserole she made for dinner last night, there was still some left, she could microwave that and felt relieved it would not be much of a hassle to serve that. The tea pot whistled and she poured the water over her mint tea bag, lifting it in and out as it brewed then sighed, looking up at the clock again before taking the cup to the table, savoring the first sip just as the front door opened.
“Hello, dear,” he said when he entered the kitchen, putting his brief case down then kissing her on the head, in the same spot he kissed her every night when he came home.
“Hello, my love,” he said. “How are you? How was your day?” he asked, taking off his suit jacket and folding it neatly over the back of one of the kitchen chairs, “Is anything new?” he asked before she could answer any of the previous questions. She often wondered if he really cared, the questions were always so automatic when he came home, but she answered, “I’m fine. Nothing is new. Work was good, nothing special--an ordinary day,” she lied, holding down the excitement she felt, trying to keep the realm of her marriage away from the new realm she had entered that day.
“Would you like me to heat up the tuna casserole from last night?”
“Yes, that would be nice. I’m hungry,” he said, sitting down at the table and picking up the newspaper from the chair where he left it at breakfast.
Realizing she was also hungry, she got up and took the casserole out of the refrigerator, placed it in the microwave. While it was heating up, she took down two plates from the cabinet, still feeling exhilarated but appearing calm and efficient as she took the casserole from the microwave, prepared two plates with the tuna and noodles and brought them to the table, placing Martin’s in front of him with a fork and napkin, bent down to kiss his head, touching his shoulder then sat down across from him with her plate.
“Thank you, dear,” he said smiling at her, starting to eat then picked up the paper and began reading while she sat and looked at him, enjoying for a moment the comfort of their familiarity, but wishing he would talk to her and not read the paper and remembered how passionate Tom was when he was writing and how he challenged her with his questions and his bluntness and she found herself comparing the two men that were suddenly in her life.
As the weeks passed, the contrast between her life with Martin and her life with Tom became increasingly dramatic and Catherine found it challenging to balance the two but managed to keep the two worlds apart. At home with Martin, they had breakfast together before he left, kissing her on the head then driving his Volvo to his office in Norristown while Catherine left fifteen minutes later, drove to the train station to go downtown, a ten minute walk to her office, enjoying walking through the park and past the bench where Tom and she first met but now she would rush to his apartment at lunch time for a quick, passionate rendezvous or meet him at the café or take a walk through the park, though that made her nervous, not wanting to be seen by any of her friends.
Martin and Catherine spent their evenings together when he didn’t have meetings, she reading, he, either watching the news on TV or doing the crossword puzzle. They went to friends for dinner or an occasional movie and he always asked if she wanted tea or would she like him to massage her shoulders. They often took turns doing that, he would massage her then she would massage him. In bed they cuddled and she loved how tender he could be but it was different than the way Tom held her and kissed her, at first gentle but then passionately and she loved his imagination when they made love, unlike the familiar routine that she and Martin had.
She knew that Tom used Viagra, something that Martin would never consider, but it definitely made a difference in how hard Tom got and how long he could last and he did things that enhanced their lovemaking, introducing some role playing, sometimes holding her hands above her head, pinning her hands, gripping her fingers, looking down into her eyes, his mouth inches from her mouth and she felt captured and possessed like the lovers in her romance novels, or sometimes he would come up behind her, pushing her against the wall, his hands grabbing her pussy, grinding his cock into her ass or he would spread her legs, getting his mouth on her pussy, licking and lapping--something Martin never did. Tom was an adventurous, energetic lover, playful, daring, always finding new ways to surprise Catherine and she loved when he teased her, moving his cock up and down her pussy then pulling away just as she was on the verge of exploding and it drove her wild, she even liked when he talked dirty to her, called her names and even though she knew it was playing, it made her shout names back at him and she felt like she was living in one of her fantasies except this was real. Suddenly, she felt youthful, like her life was beginning all over again and she adored Tom’s youthful, passionate spirit and she realized getting old was more a state of mind than age.
They found ways to meet and go bicycling through the state park, go swimming in the lake, lay on the beach, laughing, having a picnic. She liked the smell of his corn cob pipe when he smoked it, sitting in the blue chair after dinner. One weekend when Martin was out of town, Tom rented a cabin in the mountains and they made love on the floor in front of the fire place and he chased her through the woods, both of them naked and the made breathless love on a grassy hill. She loved that though he was seventy and she was fifty nine, they were like teen agers and she was living in a way she always imagined and dreamed about and she knew she was now madly in love with Tom, wanting to spend more and more time with him.
When she was home with Martin, their evenings were pleasant, comfortable and she knew she loved him, cared about him, but now understood on a visceral level the difference between loving someone and being in love. Martin was a dear man, still, in many ways, her best friend and they shared so much history and even returned to the Avalon Bistro for their thirty fifth anniversary and laughed as they reminisced and clicked glasses with the owners who treated them to a glass of wine, but still when she looked at Martin, she didn’t feel the way she felt when she looked at Tom, never felt the thrill when they greeted each other. She loved laying her head on Tom’s shoulder after they made love, talking, laughing, cuddling and feeling close. She loved hearing what he was writing and how he read to her, the warmth of his voice and even when they were quiet in the same room, when she looked at him, the tingle she felt when they first met came over her and she felt happy and it got harder and harder for her to go home to Martin.
Though she was able to maintain the tranquility of her marriage and knew Martin had no idea she was having an affair, something that actually bothered Catherine, wishing he wasn’t so blind or indifferent to how she now dressed for work or how she spent more time away or how she avoided him in bed, though they still made love, she knew it wasn’t the same but sensed that Martin didn’t and she wished he was more tuned into her. She also wanted to spend more and more time with Tom and ever since the time she made love to him that first night in his apartment, she felt she was living a lie, knowing she was betraying her vows to Martin, being an adulterer and hated feeling guilty for wanting to be with Tom every chance she got. More and more she felt trapped and frightened of hurting Martin but the tangled up emotions she was feeling were growing tighter, hurting her, strangling her. She felt tense, her mind filled with confused thoughts and she would stare out the window or up at the ceiling in bed. She knew she could not continue living this lie and that she was inevitably heading towards a collision that would be the hardest thing she would ever have to do--tell Martin she was in love with another man and had been having an affair for well over a year.
Many times, she discussed her dilemma with Tom and he listened to her, nodding but would not give her advice but would ask, wisely, what did she want to do and she would say she didn’t know and he would nod and say, I understand how hard this is for you but it’s hurting you, driving you crazy, what are you going to do about it and when she asked, what should I do, still, he would not tell her.
One day when Melissa was over the house visiting her mother, she said, “Mom, something is bothering you. I can tell. What’s going on?”
Catherine looked at her daughter, wondering if she should tell the truth, unsure how Melissa would react to her now sixty year old mother telling her she was having an affair and in love with another man other than her father, but the lie she was living was festering in her like an infected sore and she had to say something, change something or she would not be able to endure the pain she had been swallowing. She sat down at the kitchen table, gripping her mug of tea and told Melissa she had been having an affair for over a year and how much she loved Tom and what a wonderful, talented, passionate man he was, how when they first met in the park, they threw leaves over each other and how they go bike riding and camping then took a deep breath and stopped talking and saw the smile on her daughter’s face and couldn’t believe her ears when Melissa said, “Wow, mom, that’s great. Go for it!”
Somehow having Melissa’s approval helped her know what she should do.
“Aren’t you upset at how Dad will feel if I tell him I’m in love with another man and I want to be with him?”
“I know it will devastate Dad,” Melissa said. “But he’s a grown man. He will just have to deal with it. He’s not the first man this has happened to. It’s up to him how he handles it.”
“I don’t know if I can do it,” Catherine said. “I love your Dad very much and don’t want to hurt him.”
“But you’re hurting yourself, mom. Listen, you only have one life, you have to take a chance and live it and be happy before it’s too late.”
“That’s what Tom said, “You have to take chances.”
Melissa held her mother’s hand. “He’s right and he sounds like a great guy.”
When Melissa left, Catherine knew she had to tell Martin and though she dreaded what he would do or say, she made up her mind that she would tell him that night. She called Tom and told him she told Melissa and how she responded and that she was going to tell Martin and how frightened she was. All Tom said was “I love you” which she understood was his way of encouraging her, that he would be there for her and he knew how difficult it would be to tell Martin she was leaving him.
It was a Saturday that Melissa came over for lunch and got the news. Martin was out running errands, getting new batteries for his flashlight, picking up clothes at the dry cleaners, getting a haircut. He would be home soon.
After rinsing the dishes, putting them in the drain board, Catherine stood at the sink staring out the window at her back yard, seeing the leaves on the small patio and on the barbecue grill, now covered with a green tarp but her mind was wondering if she could actually do it, what would she say, how would he react, she wondered, would she be able to stay calm and not cry. She knew he was having heart issues and was taking medication. The doctor didn’t think it was too serious, told him to cut down on the ice cream, but it occurred to Catherine that the shock might trigger something and she knew she had to be careful not to upset him too much though she couldn’t imagine he would take the news lightly. She found herself having an imaginary conversation with Martin. They’re at the kitchen table. She brought him a cup of tea. Should she take his hand, speak softly, gently? Or, just say, Martin, I have something to tell you and just bluntly blurt it out, straight forward and direct--the way Tom was with her--a trait she admired but wasn’t sure she could duplicate.
That night, she made a pasta dish with a red meat sauce, garlic bread, a salad. Martin said it was delicious and how much he appreciates all the good meals she made. Catherine liked how he complimented her when she made a good meal or brought home a special dessert from the bakery though this night it was hard for her to have a conversation while they ate. She stared down at her plate, nibbled at her food, glancing up at Martin twirling the pasta on his fork, closing his eyes when he raised it to his mouth, savoring the taste. When they finished eating she took his plate, put water in the tea pot and asked if he would like some mint tea or the Earl Grey he often drank.
“Either’s fine,” he said, sitting back in his chair, picking up the magazine he had been reading earlier, thumbing through it then stopping at the article he had been reading and told Catherine, “I’ve been reading this article about climate change and how they think there’s going to be more severe storms,” then added. “What do you think?”
Catherine’s mind was thinking about what she was about to do and didn’t respond. Martin looked up and repeated his question, “Catherine, what do you think?”
“About what?” Catherine responded turning to Martin. “What do I think about what?”
“Climate change. Do you think it’s changing?”
“Oh I don’t know, Martin. “I don’t know what I think,” she said pouring the water over the tea bags, the string and label over the edge of the mugs then brought them to the table, “Here’s the Earl Grey,” she said placing the mug in front of Martin then sat down and took a deep breath and looked at him reading the article.
“Martin, I have something to tell you,” she said, sitting straight in her chair, looking at him.
He shoved the magazine aside and looked at Catherine. “What is it? I’m all ears,” he said.
“Martin, I’m having an affair with a man I have come to love.” She looked at Martin, dreading his response but glad she finally said it--blunt and direct.
He looked at Catherine, his eyes widening, him mouth opened, stunned, as if he had been stabbed with a blunt pole taking the wind out of him. She saw him looking into her eyes and before he could say anything she said, “Oh Martin, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you but I had to tell you. It’s been going on for over a year.” She reached for his hand, wanting to hold it but he immediately pulled his hand away.
“Catherine!” he said.
She reached for his hand again, “Please, hear me, Martin. I love you. You are a wonderful man, a wonderful husband, but I met this man, completely by accident and I didn’t want this to happen but it did. I’m in love with him and he’s in love with me.”
Martin shook his head from side to side, looking into Catherine’s eyes, the stunned look on his face, his mouth open. Finally he spoke, “Are you serious? You’ve been having an affair for over a year.” He paused, closing his eyes, shaking his head then looking at her as if she suddenly had two heads, “Catherine! What’s gotten into you? What’s wrong with you? ”
“Nothing is wrong with me. Nothing. Oh Martin, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to tell you or hurt you. I’m sorry. This is so hard for me. I didn’t mean it to happen.”
“This is crazy. I don’t believe my ears. How could you do this to me?”
“I don’t know. It just happened. I didn’t mean it to happen. I didn’t mean to do anything to hurt you but it happened. It just happened.”
“Things don’t just happen, Catherine,” Martin said, looking at her. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Martin, nothing has gotten into me. I fell in love. I’m so happy. This is not about you. You’re a wonderful man. I love you. I will always love you, but this is different.”
“Different! What’s different? We have a good marriage. Thirty five years. A wonderful home. What’s different?” He looked at her, anger darkening his eyes. “God damn it, Catherine, what’s different?” He stood up, pushing the chair back.
“Sit down, Martin. Please.”
“I don’t want to sit down. I want to know what’s different.”
Catherine stood up and went to Martin, tried putting her arms around him but he pushed her away, staring at her, his face growing red with rage. She knew he had a temper but it rarely flared up. They hadn’t had a disagreement in months. “Please, let’s talk. Please understand. I love you and didn’t want to hurt you, but I love Tom.”
“Tom!” Martin repeated. “So what’s so different with this Tom?”
“It’s hard to describe, he’s just makes me feel happy, young, even sexy. I don’t know what to say. We have fun. It’s exciting. I feel alive.”
“And you don’t feel alive with me,” Martin said. “Is that it?”
“Martin, I don’t want to compare you with him. You are such a wonderful, good man and so is he. I will always love you Martin, but I want to be with Tom.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Martin yelled, grabbing the chair and shaking it. "Are you losing your marbles?”
“No, I’m not crazy. I’ve fallen in love. I mean, I love you Martin but I’m not in love anymore. Do you understand? Can you hear what I’m saying?”
Yes, I hear what you are saying and no, I don’t understand. I think you must have a screw loose--falling in love at your age. This is nuts.”
Catherine looked at Martin, seeing the rage and confusion in his eyes, his hand gripping the back of the chair and realized there was nothing she could say that would make him understand.
“I’m leaving you, Martin. I can’t say any more. And I didn’t expect you to be happy and say congratulations. I hope you can understand I’m not doing this to hurt you. I’m doing it because I have no choice. I didn’t plan to fall in love. I just did and I want to be happy. Don’t you want me to be happy?”
“Of course I want you to be happy, but not like this. I can’t believe this is happening.”
Catherine didn’t respond. She took a deep breath and went over to Martin, wanting to take him in her arms and soothe him. Seeing him so upset, so hurt, so confused filled her with anguish, she felt tears coming to her eyes, slowly rolling down her cheek. She put her arms around him, holding him close. She felt him begin to relax then tense then shove her away. “Don’t touch me,” he yelled and left the room.
Catherine started to follow him but stopped and let him go. She wiped the tears from her cheeks, feeling she was going to sob but took a deep breath, holding back the urge to cry, not sure what to do next, part of her wanting to go to Martin, part of her wanting to call Tom, part of her wantingto fall to the floor, her throat aching from holding back her need to cry, the harsh burning sensation forcing her to shake her head from side to side, then swallow, taking another deep breath in an attempt to gather her strength. “That was so hard,” she thought and suddenly started sobbing, shaking, making soft guttural sounds as the tears rolled down her cheeks, the salty taste on her lips.
After several minutes, she decided to go to her room and pack some things to take with her to Tom’s in the morning. When she walked from the kitchen into the living room, she saw Martin facing the wall, staring. She wanted to go over to him, to touch him, comfort him, but didn’t, afraid of how he might respond. She could see how tense he was, how dark and she didn’t have the strength to face an outburst. He turned and looked at her, glared would be the proper word, then turned away. She hated how he looked at her. She didn’t want him to be angry but what could she expect. She had stabbed him in the heart, she knew that, knew that he might never recover from the shock and grief of losing his wife to another man and she hated being the person who did that to him, but it was inevitable, she knew. She could not continue living a lie, sneaking off to be with her lover, pretending everything was alright with her marriage when what she wanted more than anything was to be with Tom. Sometimes, the pretending hurt so much, it took all of her energy to sit with Martin at night after dinner or going shopping as if everything was normal, being with him and thinking about Tom was excruciating. For months she dreaded the thought of telling Martin the truth. The thought of hurting him was more than she could bear, but she was hurting so much she knew she had to do it and talking to Melissa earlier made her even more certain. Though she felt relieved to finally tell him the truth, hurting Martin, devastating him was the worst thing she had ever had to do.
She knew that in most marriages when there was a break up, the man left the house, got an apartment, leaving everything to the wife, but this was different. She didn’t want Martin to have to leave his home. She was the one who wanted to leave the marriage. It didn’t seem right for him to have to find another place. This was simpler. She could live with Tom, maybe find a bigger apartment and she hoped, eventually, she and Martin would still be friends, hoping time would heal the fracture, but now, the pain was far too great to know what would happen in the future.
Though they slept in the same bed that night, Martin’s back was to hers and there was no response when she said good night. In the morning Martin came into the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee. She asked if he would like some eggs but he said, “I’ll make some for myself later,” then went into the living room with his coffee while she sat at the kitchen table, her two suitcases by the front door.
It was a Sunday morning and there was not as much traffic when she drove to Tom’s apartment downtown, a forty-five minute drive. It felt strange to realize she was now living in his small apartment but it was cozy and she liked that Tom always had flowers and was fairly neat and the apartment didn’t feel cluttered. They both liked to cook and she enjoyed standing next to him in the tiny kitchen, cutting vegetables, listening to classical music, sipping wine, stopping to hug each other and kiss then take a walk through the park, sometimes sitting on the bench where she first saw him. She liked that she could walk the two blocks to work and Gloria and Valerie both admired Catherine’s courage for moving in with Tom and she now shared some of the things they did in bed and how they applauded and laughed, calling her a vixen. “No I’m not,” Catherine responded, but part of her liked that they said that. She liked that Tom called her at work and before she could say Bronson and McGee, he said, “I love you” then hang up before she could respond but then she would do the same thing, in the middle of the day, impulsively call and say, “I love you” and hang up.
She made sure Martin was not at home when she made trips to get more things,not too much because of the small apartment, but each week, she called Martin to see how he was. At first he was monosyllabic and she could feel his hurt and anger then after two months or so, he mentioned he was taking a trip to England, partly on business but also a vacation and she was delighted. “Good for you,” she said. “I want to hear all about it when you get back,” and she felt there was a possibility they might be able to stay friends but he responded, “I doubt I will want to tell you about it” and she realized he was still angry. “Are you eating well?” she would ask and he said. “You don’t have to worry about me, Catherine.” He never asked how she was and she’d hang up, sadness welling up in her at the loss of Martin in her life and still hoped it would change in time. She asked Melissa to spend more time with him, check up on him, which she did though Catherine was aware of the ambivalent feelings she had towards her father, even though he did bring her gifts when she was little and had fond memories, as she got older, she found him aloof and critical of the way she dressed and some of her friends and choices she made when what she wanted from him was to feel accepted and not judged.
One night when she and Tom were in bed, cuddling and things were heating up, the phone rang and it was Melissa telling her that Martin had a heart attack and was in critical condition at Jefferson Hospital. She was at the hospital with him. “I’ll be right there,” Catherine said and hung up then turned to Tom. “I have to go,” she said. “Martin’s in critical condition.”
He reached over and hugged her. “Go. You should go.” Catherine appreciated how generous Tom was, not at all jealous; however, just before she left, the phone rang again and it was Melissa telling her “He died, not to come.” Catherine heard her daughter’s words, heard her crying then burst into hysterical tears, crying, sobbing, gripping the phone screaming, “Oh, no! Oh no! Oh no.” She was white with shock and gasping.
“I saw this coming, mom,” Melissa said. “He hasn’t been taking care of himself. He looked terrible.”
“This is all my fault. I did this.”
“No you didn’t. Mom, it’s not your fault. You did what you had to.”
When Catherine hung up, she started sobbing again, crying hysterically. Tom held her, rubbing her back, kissing her head, doing all he could to comfort her but didn’t say anything, just let her cry and feel safe in his arms.
“I broke his heart. This is my fault,” Catherine said, trying to control her crying. “I did this to him,” she said. “I broke his heart.”
Tom didn’t say anything and just held her, knowing this was not the time to tell her it wasn’t her fault, that she needed to cry her heart out. He knew she had nothing to do with his heart attack but Catherine believed that without her, he had nothing to live for, that she took away his happiness and when she said that to Tom the next day, after a restless attempt at sleeping, he tried to convince her that it wasn’t her fault. “Catherine, you are not responsible for how he lived after you left him. You aren’t responsible for his happiness. ”
At the funeral, dressed in black, standing next to Melissa, holding each others hands as they listened to the minister, looking at the coffin being lowered into the grave, surrounded my their neighbors and friends, Tom stood in back of the small crowd rather than next to Catherine. She was crying, reflecting on their life together, but knew that Tom was right. She was not responsible for his happiness. She turned and saw Tom standing next to a tree in back of the crowd. Their eyes met and she could feel his love for her, his sadness for her, his understanding the grief and guilt she was feeling for the way her husband’s life ended and how hard it must be to see a part of her life being buried while the man she now loved was waiting for her. After the ceremony, the hugging from friends and neighbors, shocked and dismayed at the the break up of their marriage, still offered their condolences. The people Martin worked with for so many years hugged her and said what a good man he was. She nodded and thanked them. Melissa kissed her mother goodbye and whispered in her ear, “Tom is a lovely man.”
When every one left, Catherine stood by the graveside for a few more minutes, looking at the shiny wooden coffin, covered with flowers and dirt. Tom could tell she wanted to be alone but after a few minutes came to her and put his arms around her shoulders. She leaned into his chest, feeling his warmth and comfort. When they walked back to her car, she glanced back at the grave, holding Tom’s hand, squeezing it, feeling his strong loving hand. In the car, she was quiet but she loved the way he looked at her from time to time as they drove back to their apartment for lunch and the years ahead of them.
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