by David Cain
I had just opened my program for the third time in a futile attempt to kill time while we waited for the curtain to rise.
Debbie has always insisted we arrive early when we attend the theatre. She likes to be early no matter where we go, but when it comes to dramatic performances, Debbie insists we find our seats a full half hour before the time printed on our tickets. Sometimes she speaks to me as we sit waiting for the show to begin, but more often Debbie keeps quiet and still, wholly ignoring me, enraptured by the hustle-bustle of the crowd, absorbing the excitement she claims charges the air. I usually found the long wait boring, but that night had a definite tension; the gathering audience twittered with a sense of anticipation.
When I opened my program, a voice from the past struck my ear. I looked up automatically and saw Jack Varner standing in the fourth row.
Jack Varner. Five years before, I would have called Jack my best friend. The lights dimmed and the curtain rose. Debbie clutched my arm, and whispered something I didn’t understand. It had been five years since I last spoke to Jack. A spotlight, a full moon over Venice. Our friendship dissolved without a word. Iago crept along the narrow streets of the stage.
Five years before, I had an affair. Ashamed of myself, I have tried to forget the episode, a lesson learned hard, a bullet dodged, an ugly nightmare which has faded slowly through each waking hour I have endured since the day the woman, April, told me goodbye. I have kept my sins silent, believing that was best.
But I couldn’t help wondering, would Debbie still love me, if she knew?
I can’t say, in particular, what drove me to that dead end, that common trap I had seen so many of my fellows fall into. Debbie has always been a beautiful, intelligent and loving woman. No one has ever wondered why I married her. April, on the other hand, had all the substance of a gusty spring breeze. After our affair ended, the very idea of the woman disgusted me. I can hardly imagine how it began. I would like to claim that the foul man who slobbered and pawed over the dull waitress bore only a superficial resemblance to me. I wish I could erase it all.
Over the years, I suppose, Debbie and I grew lazy, lost our way on the ever-arduous journey of marriage, started taking too much for granted. We struggled selfishly during a drought of affection, our days and nights left stale, empty and wilted. By chance, I stumbled upon an meager oasis, desperate for a cool drink of fresh love, and while thoughtlessly slaking my parched heart in April’s shallow pool, I gave no thought to the morrow and the journey that lay ahead. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t speak of her that way. I’m the one who made us ugly. April was a sweet girl, despite the fact that I wish I’d never met her.
Come on, come on. You are pictures out of door,
Bells in your parlours; wildcats in your kitchens,
Saints in your injuries; devils being offended,
Players in your housewifery, and hussies in your beds.
“What can I do you for?” she asked, while smacking a wad of gum. I tried to focus my stinging eyes on the blurred words of the menu. Smack, smack, smack. I waved a hand, trying to buy time. Smack. Everything had a curious name that disguised the actual dish being offered – The Santa Fe – The Dillion Fiesta – The Manhattan – my head throbbed as I tried to think. Smack, smack, smack.
“Burger?” she asked, putting her hand on my shoulder. I looked up at her, relieved and she smiled. Despite my surging headache, I managed to read her plastic name tag; April.
“Please,” I said, obvious in my pained confusion.
“Can I get you an aspirin first?” she asked. I nodded, too grateful to speak. April reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a small bottle of Bayer. I downed the two chalky tablets with the ice water she had given me.
“Rest a minute,” she said. “I’ll bring your food when you’re ready.”
It was probably two in the morning. I had been out drinking with Jack and Debbie had torn me a new asshole when I came stumbling in. I was late, and nothing on this earth made Debbie madder. Pitifully drunk, I wouldn’t let her talk to me that way, so I stumbled back out with a curse and after driving around town like a maniac, I found myself sitting on a brown vinyl seat, staring at a menu. April poured me a cup of black acrid-smelling coffee. I burned the roof of my mouth with the first sip. The jolt of pain sobered me up.
“You all right?” she asked. Again, her hand touched my shoulder. I liked that more than I care to admit. Sometimes the slight pressure of a woman’s caring fingers erases a world of heartache. I looked up into her dull brown eyes and wanted to kiss her.
“Yeah, I’m fine, um, April,” I said. She grinned and blushed slightly. Her hand slipped casually to gently knead my back in a friendly way. I’m sure she had touched a thousand men that way, but it meant everything to me.
Smack, smack, smack.
Base men being in love have then a nobility in their natures
more than is native to them.
I left the office at lunchtime and found the house number she had pressed into my hand. “If you want somebody to talk to,” April said softly and I kept hearing seductive echoes in her voice as I recalled the invitation a thousand times over. April looked different in her t-shirt and skirt, in the daylight, in focus. Prettier in a way, and older, deep into her thirties. I followed her down a narrow hallway while she chattered, still smacking her gum. I watched her hips sway as she led me to the kitchen.
“Can I get you something to drink?” she asked, her waitress voice singing melodically. I tried to speak, growing more nervous and confused with each step forward. April turned, asking again with her eyes, smiling as she saw my discomfort. Suddenly, she kissed me hard. I returned the kiss instinctively. April’s hand found my prick, growing stiff within my trousers and stroked my thoughts away. I moaned and April knelt down, releasing my zipper. Smack, smack, smack. I held the handle of the freezer door as April swallowed my cock down. I shuddered as her tongue teased me, ran my fingers through her dull brown hair and pushed my way into her loose warm throat. April lifted her faded blue skirt and pushed her panties down.
I sank down behind her and with April’s face pressed hard against the yellow linoleum, I thrust my dick into her cunt. She smiled and grimaced with each eager stroke as I squeezed her broad white ass in my hands, as I spent my lust into her depths. Smack, smack, smack.
As the last drops of ejaculate dribbled from my penis, a wave of nausea swept through me and I was done with April. I fought the urge to zip my fly and run from that seedy place, to put the affair behind me, to forget it ever happened. April turned and kissed my cheek and called me silly names. I wanted to be sick, but she pushed me gently down and laid her wet snatch over my disgusted frown.
I swore, when I left, my face still raw with the scrubbing I had given myself, that I would never return. April held nothing for me. A few days later, Debbie yelled over trifles. Lust and cruel revenge snarled within me. I fucked April. Smack. I grew to like her company, to like the way she made me feel, to like the love she gave. Smack.
Though other things grow fair against the sun,
Yet fruits that blossom first will first be ripe.
I took April dancing, one brave night. Debbie had excused herself to spend another evening with Cheryl and I decided to prove something to April by taking her out. When we first met, Debbie and I loved to dance, but we stopped playing those games somewhere along the line. When I walked April to the ladies room, I found Jack leaning against the wall. He nearly jumped out of his skin when I boldly greeted him, introducing him to April. For a brief moment, I was proud of my worldliness, glad to share my affair with someone I could trust. Jack fairly trembled when April disappeared through the door.
“You’ve got to get out of here,” he hissed.
“Come on, Jack,” I said.
“Really. I saw Audrey Michaels over by the bar.”
“Shit,” I said. “Shit.” I looked around, shrouding my face with a wide-spread hand.
“Look,” said Jack, “Go outside. I’ll tell April to meet you there. Nice girl. That way you won’t be seen together.”
“Great,” I said. “Thanks, Jack.”
“Call me,” he said. I dashed outside.
Men should be what they seem,
Or those that be not, would they might seem none.
Debbie and I spent a long, horrible weekend at her parents. I was miserable and treated her miserably as a result. Everything that was wrong between us seemed magnified as we went through the motions of a happy loving couple. In the desert of the charade, I felt my affection for April flower. I decided the only answer was to end my marriage.
The next night, Monday night, I gave Debbie a weak excuse and went to see April.
“I’m sorry,” a chilly April said. “It’s over.”
I drove to the cliffs after April coldly convinced me that she was serious, that she would not change her mind, that everything we had done had been a horrible mistake and that if I didn’t leave her at once and forever, she would never forgive me. Pride argued, but I knew she was right. On a summer night, the cliffs would be busy with young couples necking. My car pulled into a deserted strip. I don’t know why I went there, unless I was tempting myself with some romantic notion that the only answer to my troubles would be to throw myself into the rocks below. I sat in my car and watched the suburban lights in the valley below flicker with reds and yellows.
I never spared a thought for April. I felt relieved to be rid of her. Sitting in the dark, beneath the stars, I tried to imagine leaving Debbie, at once, forever. I tried to imagine forgetting her. Imagining the end, true and real, I fell in love with Deborah again. I resolved to start everything over. A surge of joy poured through my breast. I would make her love me, now and forever.
I turned the key in the ignition. Click. Click, click, click. I walked three miles to call a tow truck. Two hours later, I started my car.
I went home, horribly late but determined. As I turned the door knob, I steadied my nerves and anxiously prepared myself to take the blows, to turn the other cheek, to bravely endure her storm until I had the chance to rekindle the love in Deborah’s heart. I stepped inside. Debbie emerged silently from the shadows.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I knew at a glance that she had been crying. I closed the door behind me. “I should have called.” Debbie shook her head. “I was with Jack,” I explained. Debbie burst into tears.
I took her in my arms and kissed her wet cheeks as she sobbed. I took a deep breath, filled my soul with the familiar scent of my wife, felt her heaving full breast press against my chest, whispered love into her ear and lifted her up. I carried Debbie into our bedroom and made love with her until dawn.
‘Twas mine, ’tis his and has been slave to thousands.
We had been friends a long time, Jack and I, and during the long first decade of my marriage to Debbie, they had become friends as well. Jack sometimes played a role in our arguments, but we never fought about him, for he treated her kindly even when I didn’t. They were tolerant of each other’s weaknesses, for my sake, and Debbie was always ready to include Jack in our plans when she could have easily justified his exclusion. He was like a brother, almost one of the family.
Two weeks after our new beginning, as I left a meeting downtown, I saw Jack with April under a blooming dogwood. They laughed and kissed. I sat down on the park bench and watched them play. The rage of betrayal poured through me, followed by the delight of knowing a juicy bit of gossip, even if I couldn’t tell anyone. Then I wanted to kill Jack for taking her and then wanted to slap his back in gratitude.
And then I felt a sense of loss. My love for Debbie had rushed through me like a spring flood. I had to keep Jack and this woman away from Debbie. Nay, It would be too risky to let him even speak to Debbie, for one unthinking word could expose all my sins, ruin everything I had struggled so hard to build. I erased all thoughts of Jack, almost at once. I never called him. He never called me. We never spoke of him again.
And I missed my friend.
The curtain fell for intermission. I kissed a tear rolling down Debbie’s cheek. The house lights snapped on.
“I can’t bear it,” she said. “He’s so cruel.”
We went into the lobby and I brought Debbie a glass of sparkling wine. She explained exactly what made the actor who played Iago a genius, while the man who played Othello could never be more than merely good. I nodded thoughtfully, inspired by the excited passion that poured through Debbie’s veins. The red light flashed and we went back to our seats.
“Look,” I said. “There’s Jack.”
I smiled as I turned to my wife, thinking that time heals all wounds and perhaps I could undo some of the wrong I had caused. A deep blush struck Debbie’s face. Her lip trembled. At once, I saw the guilt in her eyes and, at once, I knew. The lights dimmed. I knew. The curtain rose. Jack Fuckhead Varner. The streets of Venice glowed. I had never even dared say his name to her, before that night.
Will you think so?
She had been with him.
Or to be naked with her friend in bed
An hour or more, not meaning any harm?
I clenched my fists, biting my nails into my palms. My breath grew short, hot, fiery, choking. I wanted to strike Debbie, to scream, to rush down the aisle and take the blackguard by his collar and squeeze the life from within his foul being.
This is the fruits of whoring
I fell back into my seat, defeated in my rage. I knew but that meant she had always known. Debbie knew I had been lying because she was with Jack. Tears burst through me. Debbie cried softly beside me. I pushed my face against her breast and sobbed heartily.
Be wise and get you home.
“I’m sorry,” I said through my tears. “Forgive me.” Debbie’s hand caressed my head, patted my back, drew me close.
Demand me nothing. What you know, you know.
From this time forth, I will never speak a word.
“I love you,” she said, a whisper in the dark.