It was a decent night for an insomniac. A 3:12am bathroom break was just a pause before making it back to my bed and quickly returning to sleep. I woke for the second time just after 7:00am, slipped into the shower and began my day. The house remained silent other than sports highlights murmuring and flickering in the dim morning light. I sat on the red vinyl bar stool in his kitchen eating a bagel with peanut butter and sliced banana. Popeye, our oval-eyed beagle, stared at the smear of peanut butter tenuously clinging to the side of my cheek. It did not fall. It was located and licked.
At the bus stop all I could think about was my current email flirtation target. I quickly shook it off, assuming whatever interest I had secured from the confines of my cubicle was likely over. It was three weeks ago when we both started stringing words together to make the days more bearable. A couple of sighs were produced – a pang here, a blush there – but my unrequited fondness for Sarah had long passed since the three dates they went on 11 years ago. I was married now. So was she. Yet I still liked saying her name out loud, reading her effortless use of the word fuck, picturing her blue eyes bug out and her embarrassed smile curl as she keyed in the profanity.
An old song played on my Ipod as the bus approached. It was a longing song, a falsetto singing about low times. It quickly turned my forced indifference about Sarah into something just a bit more romantic, all what iffy and teenage girl. I chuckled and drew a heart in the steamed up bus shelter. Cars whizzed by. A paper wasp landed on my shoulder and thankfully the bus approached, stopping me short of fingering our respective initials into a math equation. I got on the bus, paid the fare went to work.
The moment I got settled in at work, now people whizzing by, I fired an e-mail to Sarah to explain my recent self. There were exclamation points I regretted, a semi colon I totally fell in love with and of course the mandatory ellipsis to finish it off. Her response came quicker than I expected. I was on the phone when I saw the e-mail preview flash on top of a release I was writing. Just her name, her breezy, alliterative name catching my eye as I tolerated the awkward charm some wire service salesman was spewing.
Oh Tim, be careful, revel in the fact that someone loves flirting with you as much as you do with her, go home tonight feeling desired, and make your wife feel the same way.
There was nothing to do but follow her instructions. But the response was so perfect I knew I would find a way, manufacture some tactic to prolong the surface innocence. If she backed off, I would press a bit, like a gawking, hungry face in a bakery window until the eventual only antidote of ignore finally kicked in.
Laura used to think it was sweet, the sound of Tim’s gold wedding band tapping the headboard in the middle of the night. It was accidental, but a lovely reminder of their marriage. Over the years, as his sleep became more inconsistent, he became a pillow flipper, a head sweater, with the occasional sighs and often grunts of a man trying to find his way back to sleep. His ring would make contact at least four times a night, never scratching as there were no real edges, mostly just a strong tap – one hard substance against one more pliant – startling her awake and intermittently jarring her from her own much needed sleep.
Asking him to remove the ring was a sentence she could not utter without some eyebrow movement, a planted seed that would jolt him aware at some random moment while driving or taking out the trash. That bitch he would think later, carefully preparing how to confront her with the puzzle pieces now in place. She was paranoid of course, but not an odd character trait for someone screwing around on their husband.
Looking around, waiting for the inevitable third ring tap, her eyes adjusted to the darkness of their bedroom. It was so snide in its comfort, all billowy and welcoming, everything soft and so normal. Vanilla candle here, silver framed picture of their three-year old girl Tatum there, cover to the wicker laundry hamper askew, black sock missing its mark on the hardwood floor next to it. Dust bunnies crouched and cuddled in the corner. Just thinking that in the pocket of his once white bathrobe – the one hanging on the back of the bedroom door – is his bloodstained dental floss turns her stomach. And she knows it’s there. She is 100 per cent sure. The tiny coiled, pink snake of floss festering there in its terry cloth cave, gathering time, drying to dust.
She needs to get away from Tim, from the ugliness that she is allowing him to become.
During the work week, at around 3:30 in the afternoon, I start to get tired. It usually begins in my neck, thick muscles clenching as if my job was balancing dictionaries on my head. I stretch out my arms and rub with two fingers directly where the muscle in his neck becomes skull. This triggers the yawns. As if I swallowed a pride of lions, my mouth widens, teeth moisten, hot tongue hangs and dances. My eyes water as I open and close my mouth like a secret cave. Back to back to back yawns, a rare triple, as I try to make sense of the corporate blurb I am writing. “I know we are bound by our corp speak, but let’s try and make this one sing ok pal?” My boss would say out of the side of his mouth.
I slammed the file shut, forgetting to save. Save the whole three whole words I was able to squeeze out. Should I seek her out? Stupid social media making it so easy. I know I am stereotypically tired of the stale taste of eight years of marriage so maybe it was the offer of sharp language that kicked my sense of deviancy alive. I do enjoy the solid writing and Sarah’s instructive tone undercut by her own, much quieter longing was truly compelling. But I should back off. Tip toe away in place of a huffy stomp, to make it seem like I was never here. Because, deep down, I know shouldn’t be.
Sarah, I don’t want to fuck you, I just wanted to fuck with you a little.
The depressed mouse button feels hot against the tip of my finger. I could not resist.
Laura thinks about her ongoing affair with Duncan all the time. Not mooning, dreamy moments of rapture while dropping Tatum off at preschool. Her hands do not perspire gripping the wheel of her Tiguan while ignoring the impatient wails from the backseat. Her pragmatism constantly reminds her that she is not in love with Duncan, or even the idea of him. He knows it too and is perfectly content with their once or twice a week furious hook ups at his one bedroom condominium in the north end of Toronto. Laura’s thoughts about the affair are mostly questions about the cheating on her husband of eight years and how she has let her life slip away, one dirty text message at a time.
“Good morning Ms. Wilkins and good morning to you Tatum!!” Tatum’s preschool teacher greets both of them as they arrive at the painted yellow door. She takes Tatum’s Dora backpack off of her and tucks it under her arm. Tatum runs inside and joins her equally cute playmates all huddled around a robot dog.
“Hi Barb, how is everything?” Barb is thin, like a talking Q-tip. “How is Tatum doing?”
“A-mazing – one bright little cookie!”
“No problems then?” Barb’s eyes bulge a bit, weighing down the rest of her face.
“Problems? Of course not! None at all, not a darn thing, she is total angel!”
Laura turns back to the classroom and lets Tatum knows she is leaving. “Bye angel!” Winking at Barb now. ‘Bye mommy,” she responds looking up from all fours, mimicking the creepy robot dog by quirking her head and ruff ruffing. Laura smiles and shrugs. Barb smiles and shrugs at Laura. Bet Barb isn’t fucking a mortgage broker. Bet Barb makes really tasty grilled cheese sandwiches.
Laura got in her car and zoomed away. Dropping off Tatum at preschool is part of Laura’s daily ritual. It’s exclusively part of her ritual because her interior decorating job offers more flexibility than Tim’s corporate public relations job. She has four stable clients, all housewives from Toronto’s well known affluent neighbourhood Rosedale. They all know one another, all too old to hump the pool boy, all filling their spare time creating interesting Starbucks orders or squinting at Aureolin swatches. Laura kind of likes them. She knows she will never be one of them as she doesn’t like Frye boots or plastic surgery enough. Her ability to find rare pieces to inhabit vacant sitting rooms affords her just enough status so the women treat her without impatient disdain. The consistent and never late payment of her invoices also makes it easy to shrug off any feeling of dollar bill insecurity. Laura’s first meeting is not until lunch, so a quick text to Duncan and she is off to have sex with a man who is not her husband, a man seven years younger, a man who affectionately praises her vagina as labtastic
Oh fuck Tim, I’m so irritated with my husband I want to flirt with you but I am too aggravated to come up with anything interesting.
Sarah’s e-mail reply did not arrive as quickly this time. In fact, I actually became so enamoured with the writing of this press release she managed to slip away from my mind completely. Boss man was pleased with the draft, his cherubic face smiling, bloated knuckles tapping his desk as he read it, leaving it completely free of red pen edits. This is fine my boy, just fine!
Before I could think of how to respond to Sarah, I had to pee. After a shake and a zip, I stared at myself in the mirror. Bit of grey around the temples, but still a pretty solid head of dark brown hair. I keep it reasonably short and when it does get a bit long, I add a dollop of product and slick it back a little. The crow’s feet around my eyes are deeper than I like, but for 37 years old, I was doing ok. Better than some of my balding, moustache growing (what the fuck?) paunch carrying buddies I have known since forever. I do have a bit of a muffin top, but it is seasonal, disappearing after a summer of light jogging as winter running in Toronto is for crazy people. One more glance at the mirror for a final time I almost wink. Hey there good looking. Another midday ego check passed.
I return to my desk and stare at a picture of his Laura, the two of us actually, laughing on a ski hill. I can see the reflection of the camera I am holding in Laura’s preying mantis designer sunglasses. We look happy. We were happy.
I am unsure if I could ever have an affair on Laura and it’s disappointing that my fidelity is not absolute. That if a perfect scenario, a perfect opportunity were presented, I may saunter over to the side of new and different desire. I wish the thickness of earnest love was still there with Laura, embedded in my chest and loins, so I could announce prophetically to the world that yes, YES! Indeed I would never fall into the arms or between the legs of another, that my hot blood still runs true, and not because of the consequences, but because of the passion, the sincerity and the lust I still feel for my wife of eight years. Boo ya! But I know that ardour is just not there anymore. Change the channel. Pass the chips.
Duncan’s bedroom is not much better than ours, Laura thought, naked, covered in a sheet somewhere between silk and rayon. He being single and just 30 was evident in his design style. Frat boy chic mixed with affluent family hand-me-downs. Lots of black lacquer and antique lamps, framed motivational posters and pictures of golden retrievers on sun soaked cottage docks.
“That was fun,” Duncan leaps onto the bed after returning from the washroom, his long penis flopping like a dog’s ear. “It was a nice surprise to get a text from you this morning.”
“Thank you for being so accommodating,” Laura replied, hugging the sheet closer to her body. “What time is your meeting?”
“In an hour,” he grinned impishly. “Why? You good to go again?” He grins and thumbs the tussled bed. “Save your energy for your client,” Laura discretely stands up, holding the slippery sheet against her breasts. “I have to head across town to go look at a mirror.”
“A mirror?” Duncan opens the top drawer of his tall, rustic dresser and pulls out black dress socks and boxers. He exclusively wears blue pin stripe boxers. The tradition contrasts his somewhat flaky character and Laura appreciates it. “What kind of mirror?”
Laura abandons all modesty and lets the sheet fall to the floor. She slips on her three to a pack La Senza thong on quickly, thankfully avoiding the toe hook, naked bunny hop, in front of a secret lover embarrassment.
“An antique 11 foot walnut triptych.” She replies, hoisting her 36 C’s into her bra and staring into Duncan’s blank face. “The expensive kind.”
They both pass each other in the bedroom, scooping up various items of clothing and accessories that were flung across the room in various stages of time challenged embrace.
Smooch, smooch, hug hug, text me soon baby doll.
Sure thing love. Bye now.
52 minutes after arriving at Duncan’s condo, Laura is now sated, smoothed out, still a bit moist and driving too fast to the west end of the city to look at, and arrange delivery for a $3200 mirror. A mirror that will hopefully not reflect how her freshly fucked guilt has ruined her make up.
My work cubicle is about 10ft by 10ft. Same as the other cubicles on the 14th floor of an office tower in the heart of the financial district. There is a small fichus plant in one corner, a miniature basketball net in another and all three and half walls smeared with office printer pictures of Tatum, the absolute love of my life. My job at a mid-sized investment management company is pretty boring. It’s not the job I work for, it’s the not too shabby pay cheque. My comfort and ability to leave right at 5pm everyday to rush home and see my Tatum is my primary objective. Everything else is just corporate politics, ticking clocks, middle aged women with ID badges attached to their belt loops and occasional brain numbing tedium.
The various shaped photos at various angles help me get through it all on most days. It’s her tiny brown ringlets, thin lips, slightly upturned nose and winter sky blue eyes that make elderly women in grocery stores stop and gasp. She wears overalls and high top Chuck Taylors. She toots when she sneezes and thinks it’s the funniest thing in the history of funny. She falls asleep in tucked under my arm while I watch Seinfeld reruns. I love her so much my chest actually throbs.
When Laura showed me the little white stick with pink circle (at 3am for some reason) my first thought was not that they were having a baby, but we were having a boy. The second and third thoughts were the fast forward vignettes of playing catch, or, more aptly, shooting hoops in the driveway at various stages of rim reach-ability. It was chips and Diet Coke watching the Superbowl, it was wrestling and video game buffoonery. It was basically permission for me to remain an adolescent for at least 20 more years so I could better relate to his son – a pretty sweet deal in my opinion. But then along came Tatum.
It was about a month into the second trimester when the ultrasound technician asked if we wanted to know the sex of our baby. Laura was 10 minutes late for the appointment and I, looking very financial district in a grey suit and mauve tie, was biting my nails in the medical building waiting room. I started my new job a month previously and was extremely anxious about being away from the office for any amount of time. Laura was elbows deep in the renovation of the dining room for the largest (and richest) of her four clients and had been cornered by Judith (in a smart pantsuit) and her contractor (also in a pantsuit, just not as smart) who could not agree on which wall to knock down. Laura kept trying to break away but Judith was having none of it, displaying militant indifference to the existence of any other problem other than her own. Finally she let Laura leave after ensuring she was onside with her wall demolition choice.
The frenzy of Laura arriving at the doctor’s office was brief and I pushed aside any anger at her tardiness to get back to the wonder of the appointment. Their technician was a middle aged Asian woman with hair so thin dark moles poked through the jet black hair to say hello. Her English (engrish?) was tragically halted and broken but she was enthusiastic, with a laugh like a chickadee, so the room quickly moved from annoying and harried to full excitement.
“Would you like to know sex of baby?” She asked, ultrasound wand goopy and moving all around Laura’s belly, faint heartbeat thumping so quick, so eager.
I remember looking at Laura, who was equally goopy with every intention of postponing the knowledge of the sex until the birth. The whole ‘one of life’s rare true surprises’ angle, was very much consistent with my romanticizing every nook and cranny of their lives. Laura, already decorating the room in her mind, of course wanted to know, wanted to avoid the blue/yellow debate, the returning of wrong gender specific onesies.
So before I had a chance to whimper out the words, “let’s wait”, Laura looked into the wonderfully goofy buck toothed grin of our technician and asked her if it was a girl. And the technician just smiled with her eyes, mouth pressed flat, and nodded. I, again pushing away the prick of anger caused by my wife, let it all sink in, the reality sluicing through my veins, blanketing his images of basement foozball fart fests to be replaced by, by what? Barbies and doilies? Pink chiffon boas and Laura’s oversized high heels? He had no idea what to think.
But when Tatum arrived four months later, looking like a naked mole rat, wiggling in the blood and the gunk and the sweat and the relief, I was freaking blown away on how strong and how instant the love for her was, how all my juvenile masculine forecasting was whisked away with the sight of my daughter, her eyes as big as the sun, staring vacantly back at him from under the Burger King like heat lamps.
aura never thought she was the type of woman that would have an affair. She was a bit wild during her twenties, more drinks and dance floor groping than she would like to admit, but when she committed, she stayed honest and faithful. Her first post university boyfriend was a bit of jerk, a derivatives trader with tortoise shell glasses and pointy Ferragamo shoes as shiny as his occasionally slicked back hair. They both worked hard – she was an industrious event planner at the time – and played hard at the various trendy bars and clubs located near the district where they both worked. He was tall; almost 6’5” and Laura loved walking into rooms with him and his elongated presence. He was attractive, as was she, and his big, occasionally loud personality would turn a simple after work drink into group shouts of tequila and sloppy bathroom stall make out sessions.It was only after 15 months of this booze fuelled fun fest Laura received a 1:24am phone call from her tall, loud boyfriend asking her if her husband was home. It wasn’t the question, it was the silence that followed, making Laura realize immediately that the man she so loved being with also loved being with someone else.
Two months and many baskets of French fries later, Tim strolled into her life. He was neither tall, nor slick and his shoes were usually flip flops. His hound dog eyes, coke- bottle shoulders and latent grunge goatee did not match his unique ability to make people squirm with his remarkable pointed and perceptive questions. It was these questions and sagacity that attracted Laura, not the plush, laid back character statement he was trying to make.
“Can I borrow your sugar?” Was the first question he asked while she was reading a book, sipping a latte. “Did you know chewing pens is a sign of sexual frustration?” Was the second.
Then he sat down and poured sugar into his coffee, smirking, staring, begging for a response. Laura stared back at Tim, the man she was eventually going to marry, and wondered if this was a calculated pick up move or not. Either way, she succumbed, more out of boredom than curiosity.
“I did know that actually,” she replied, placing the dog eared paperback on the table. “Why do you think this pen is so mangled?”
The 20 or so seconds of silence that followed Laura’s bold comeback was when she decided to shake off the cobwebs of the douchebag who was sleeping with four other women and get back in the game. 27 years old was not a time to be wallowing over the loss of something insignificant. There was a cute guy sitting right across from her. A bit ruffled, a bit milquetoast, but with a great little half smile that she was already feeling in various parts of her body.
“Hi I am Tim,” he said extending his hand. His thumb ringed hand.
“Nice to meet you Tim, I’m Laura.”
I feel anxiety in my chest when the end of the work day approaches. It’s a good kind of anticipatory anxiety that means I am getting closer to feeling the warm, skinny Tatum arms draped along my neck. There were no further e-mails from my recent crush, so all current focus was the fake ruffling of paperwork to let his co-workers know that my day was quickly coming to an end. The fact I was easily lost both in his work and his upcoming departure was surprising considering how eager I was to engage with Sarah earlier this morning. Was it seeping guilt? Sneaky indifference? Either way my focus is now on catching the subway and the one long bus that will bring me from work to his 2-bedroom semi-detached home on Douglas Avenue in the north end of the city.
Hw lng untl yr hme?
The cold text. Where vowels once stood, rounded and warm, now stands drunk consonants, broken and insulting. Their unlimited text plan – 60 bucks a month thank you very much – precludes any cost savings excuse from text speak. It was pure laziness that I expect from Tatum in about 10 years, not from my wife. She also knew as a professional communicator (my self imposed moniker) that any shortening of sentences or use of emoticons in chat or text was like poking him in the eye with exclamation point.
Barring any traffic disasters I will be home in exactly nine minutes. Can’t wait to see my favourite girl!
Spelling out the nine, naturally. Leaving Laura to question who I am talking about.
Exactly nine minutes later, Tim walks in the front door of his modest 2-bedroom semi-detached home on Douglas Avenue in the north end of the city of Toronto. Exactly 15 seconds after that, Tatum wraps her warm, skinny arms around her father’s neck. A fire burns in their working fireplace (first line of credit experience) and Laura makes dinner, actually breakfast for dinner, a family favourite, behind the same counter where Tim ate his peanut butter bagel 10 hours prior. Popeye the dog holds a pair of pink Hello Kitty socks in his mouth and wags his tail furiously, equally excited for Tim to be home.
“How was your day?” Tim asks, dropping his leather knapsack (containing a gum wrapper, a pack of secret smokes (three left), a bottle of relatively cheap cologne, a chewed up pen cap, a pack of Tums (four left, tinfoil tail swirl intact) and a Financial Post crossword with doodles along the edge (a cartoon dog he learned to draw when he was eight, and stick figures playing basketball).
The knapsack was hardly a physical burden to get home, but it made Tim feel very urban and a little granola. How should Laura respond? Tell him it started out great, especially the part where she strangely reached orgasm while Duncan’s long fingers were carefully knuckle deep inside her? Or should she just jump right in and explain that Duncan’s seminal fluid was much thinner than Tim’s and a bit bitter, earthy, like almonds dipped in blood.
‘It was fine, was able to score the massive mirror Susan was looking for, all at a tidy little profit for us.” “Woo hoo! I love profit for us!” Tim responds, moves behind her and kisses her on the back of her neck.
The bacon in the pan spits and lands on the back of his hand.
“Yowch” “Woo hoo, Yowch!” repeats Tatum, moving in between her mother’s legs.
Laura looks down and warns: “Watch it sweets, the bacon is angry at your father.”
‘What did I ever do to the bacon?” Tim boos hoos for Tatum’s sake and Laura can feel the wave of not cute anymore nausea punch her in the stomach.
Tatum laps it up. Popeye wants the bacon.
“Let’s eat,” says Laura.
“Breakfast for dinner!!”
The Langley dining room consists of a harvest table passed down from Tim’s father when he upgraded to something ornate to match his current wife. Tim sits at the head of the table, one of the few patriarchal things he demanded and something Laura could care less about. Even Tatum recognized the inanity of Tim’s royal demands, making fun of him by always sitting there, knowing his creased glare and finger pointing to her assigned seat was forthcoming. She liked sitting across from her mom anyway, she was an elegant eater and Tatum tried to copy her.
The familiar hum of a smart phone interrupted their first bite.
I instinctively roll my eyes at Laura. Her phone was always going off, including at some odd hours in the middle of the night. I never asked her about who was texting her at 2:24am, she had tons of female friends, some I adored and some I just felt sorry for. Laura acted as a sounding board for the dramatic and a wing woman for the desperate.
“Mine’s in my purse,” Laura said, scooping a fork full of cheesy eggs into her mouth
My phone in my front pocket buzzed again.
“Daddeee, check your blueberry.” Salty bacon, sip of juice. I fudged in his front pocket, pushing the phone up to my hand.
“Really Tim, at the dinner table?” Laura was mocked, light heartedly, surely putting it in the bank for later.
Sorry to do this Tim, but I am finding it difficult to not think of you. I am guessing you are sitting down for dinner right about now. I am hoping you are the kind of man that doesn’t check his email at dinner.
Eleven years ago, Sarah invited me to her parent’s house for their second date. It was a perfect summer evening. She was wearing a long, brown summer dress and leather gladiator sandals. Gold and silver bangles snaked up her arm when the vodka and soda met her lips. Her black hair contrasted in the white light of the sun, way too downtown for the uptown mansion district. I remember vividly her leading me to the veranda and casually raising her dress to reveal her new tattoo etched on the top half of her outer thigh. I had to concentrate to keep his breathing even, to remain casual about seeing the raw footage and the hint of boy short panties where the small cartoon Max from Where the Wild Things Are now attacked. The tattoo was camp, cute and approximately dangerous.
Later on, she sat across from me, legs crossed, occasionally shifting in her seat to offer more calve, more thigh, more forehead sweat. We spoke about silly things, about sexy things and I could feel himself stiffen as she told him how much she secretly enjoyed going down.
“We should stop talking about this…” I said, sipping wine and staring.
“I guess you’re right, we should stop talking about this.” She said immediately, holding the gaze, but obviously a bit disappointed.
I am amazed at the details that still resonate after all these years, especially considering I usually can’t remember where I left my car keys or the night of Tatum’s weekly swimming lesson. After the third date ended in indifference, I figured it was just another momentarily lusty moment that meant pretty much nothing to Sarah. I bet her memory did not include the scent of the flowering hyacinths that crept behind her or the hum of the hydro wires overhead or the occasional yelp of a small dog in the yard next to them, the street lights coming on and when she used the word somnambulant to describe her day or the awkward, heavy lidded thickness of the long driveway walk goodbye. Later on, back at my basement apartment, I knew I messed up and should have acted, should have stayed, should have second date felt her up. Aggression has never been my strongest asset. Just ask my wife.
“Whose turn is it for stories?” Laura asks Tatum, who was now sitting underneath the table, letting Popeye clean the eggs off her chin with his pink tongue.