In the Spring of 2014, I entered a short story, The Book of Love: Chapter Two, into a contest. It – the story below – won third place in The Friends of Palisades Library Contest.
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and sat staring at nothing in particular. Finally, she willed herself to rise and walk out of her office and into their bedroom.
What she had known in her gut was now tangible – betrayal, there in black and white for all to see. She walked to her bed as if navigating a ship on a stormy sea.
When he saw her expression, he knew that she had read his thinly fictionalized novel. He retreated to the bathroom to brush and floss his teeth – again.
She fingered the new negligee she had hidden under the pillow on her side of their bed. Should it stay folded or should she put it on and reveal her desire – for what she did not know — underneath its silk and lace? Taunt and tease – she could do it only with the known… a disadvantage.
“I ended it a while ago,” he muttered from a distance she had not imagined possible when they married. He spit out the bile that had been building within him since he’d noticed the book on her desk. He spit again, into the bathroom sink, the one over which they had marveled at the positive pregnancy test, where she hung her head with morning sickness – the very place they had gingerly and oh-so-carefully bathed their first child so many millennia ago.
Past and present, hope, despair love, rage and even ennui swirled in her head too: she spit her conflict and chewing gum into the wastebasket.
It was wrong, the act, the deceit – the lust for change. He should’ve resisted — and he had, before and since — but now… he would have to confront the pain he had caused his true love with whom he had built a life, a family and once again, be the better man she knew him to be.
The thrill of the new, the promise of the novel, she understood its appeal, especially in the face of the banality of monogamy. Sometimes, the effort required for ‘date night’ was too much for either of them…. So how had he exerted so much to pursue this thrill?
She wrestled with what, if anything, to ask. Would the answers be of any use? The smell of him on the sheets of their bed … one that seemed suddenly larger, the contentment she found in their household, her appreciation of the version of herself he had helped her construct. Would she fracture this? Separation would be costly. Would he? No, too impractical. She heard him turn on the shower and wondered what he was washing away.
Taking steady strides now – the familiar was necessary, trust again a possibility? — she went to the kitchen and found the champagne they had won a few school auctions ago. It was still corked and chilled – finally, an occasion worth of this vintage.
Deftly, she popped the cork over the kitchen sink, the sink where they had eaten leftovers between fits of giggles, where he had gently and expertly cared for her finger, cut carelessly while multi-tasking. As the cork slid gently in to her hand, she knew that salvation was possible… one way or another.
She grabbed two champagne flutes — wedding gifts – from the cabinet above, and from under the sink she took cleaning fluid and poured it in to one of the glasses.
She entered their bedroom naked; he dropped his towel.
Knowing he would have to cross the gulf he had created, he walked toward her, “It did mean something back then, but never as much as us.” Relieved that he hadn’t started off with a platitude, she managed a half smile and then punctured the moment by smashing one of the flutes into the fireplace.
“Discarding what was shattered and sharing what is intact”.
They drank from a single flute.
“To Pandora,” she said – with something between a laugh and a cry
“To Pandora” he crooked, “and a belief in the power of hope.”