Fallen Ch. 2bySandia©
I got up, leaving her lying there on the bed. I went over to the closet, facing the new outfits she had bought. I stroked a sequined black evening dress, its price tag still attached.
“Honey?” she asked.
I twisted the material in my hand. I wondered how much it cost, but the tag dangled, just out of reach.
“The condom,” I said, “The one that was in your purse.”
“What was it doing there?”
“I told you,” she said, “I got it from you.”
“But what was it doing in your purse?”
I heard her shifting in the bed. “We were going to use them. . .”
“But you’re not. . .”
“Michael, nobody uses them,” she said. Not for. . . that.”
“Not for that?”
“You know what I mean.” I did. She meant oral sex.
“Did he tell you that?” I turned. She’d pushed herself up against the headboard; she clutched the sheet to her chest.
She looked at me. “He’s safe, Michael. . . You know that. He’s married. . . He has three kids.”
The sex flush was fading on her shoulders, but the color was rising in her cheeks. Her naked feet showed from where she’d pulled up the sheet.
I wanted to look away. “The photographs. . .” I said, my voice catching. I realized it’d been a mistake.
“Yes?” she asked.
It had been a mistake to look at her when she looked like that.
“You looked like you enjoyed it.”
“He asked me to pose like that.”
“I know, but. . .”
She shook her head. “It was just for the camera,” she said.
“You were posing by the window.”
“Oh,” she said. “Yeah, that made me nervous.” She smiled.
Her grin faded quickly. “Michael,” she said, “We’re five stories up.”
“I know that.” I turned and faced the clothes. There was a set of louvered doors leaning against the wall that I’d been meaning to put up. I nudged them with my toe. That wasn’t what I really wanted to ask.
“Honey…?” she asked.
I interrupted. “Did you—do you—enjoy it?”
She said nothing, and I listened to the sounds of her shifting on the bed. She was sitting up.
“Michael,” she said. She approached me and I glanced back. She’d wrapped the sheet around herself. It trailed onto the floor. She clutched it at her breasts.
She touched my upper arm, just below my shoulder. “Whenever I talk to you about this…” She made a motion with her hand. “You get mad. But…” She searched my face. “You also. . .” She glanced down. “Get turned on.”
I turned. “It’s not because I like it!” I said. “I don’t! It’s just a. . .” I paused, searching for the words. “A reaction – a physical reaction!”
I followed her gaze, and found myself wishing I’d put on some clothes.
She touched me gently on my stomach. “It’s the same with me, honey,” she said. She lifted her eyes to mine. “Just a physical reaction.”
I refused to admit she had a point. I wanted to back up, but I was already practically standing in the closet. When she shifted, she brushed her sheet against me, making my situation worse.
I gathered myself and reached out with both hands. “Maria. Are you fucking him?”
I watched her closely as her eyes went a little round. “Michael,” she protested. But she quickly looked down. “No,” she said. “You have the right to ask. . .”
She gazed back up at me. “No,” she said, “I’m not.”
Her sheet was slipping off her breasts; she was starting to unravel. We gazed at each other another moment. “You know that, don’t you.” She pressed her hand to her belly, catching the sheet so it would not slip off of her waist. “Don’t you?”
I watched her wide, ocean-colored eyes, and sighed, giving up.
She put her arms around me. “You love me, don’t you?” she asked. She leaned herself against my chest. I could feel her smiling there. “I can feel it.”
I kept my silence, not saying what I felt.
After a moment I felt her hand slip down my back. She caressed my buttock. “Michael, can we put,” she asked, “your erection to good use?”
I laid her out across the bed. “They say,” she said, “this is what teenage boys are like.” She grinned. I couldn’t help but smile back.
“You’ll never know,” I said. She spread apart her thighs, opening the sheet for me.
She closed her eyes and sighed, as I entered her, easily.
“Only you,” she murmured, just before I came. “You’re the only one.”
The next day, since my car wouldn’t start, and we drove Maria’s Celica into town and she dropped me off at work.
I called my brother, who’d left a message for me there. It didn’t take him long, to get to the point. He said he’d been talking to our sister, to Denise. “She told me what’s been going on,” he said, “Between you and Maria.”
I could sense what was coming, and I tried to warn him off, unsuccessfully. “A man who lets his wife cheat on him,” he told me, “is not a man at all.” Chase was my older brother, and sometimes he forgot we’re all grown up now.
“You’re one to talk,” I told him. “What are you, gearing up for number four?”
He already had a little girl and a boy; and could barely pay his child support. The rumor was he was about to divorce his current wife.
We got into a yelling fight. “If you had any balls at all,” he finally said, “you’d throw that bitch out!”
I told him to go fuck himself, and then I slammed down the phone. Chase was the last man I’d take advice from, especially about women; but still a part of me couldn’t’ help but wonder if he was right.
Maria called, after that, a little after one. She said she had some news, but told me it was a secret. “I’m going to take you out to dinner,” she said, “We’re going to celebrate.” She mentioned a notable restaurant in the tower of our city’s most expensive downtown hotel.
“How are you going to pay?” I asked. We hadn’t been there since I’d lost my job at CompSci Inc.
She laughed. “Meet me in the lobby,” she said, “At seven sharp. Ok?”
I said yes, and she hung up the phone.
I walked the dozen blocks or so from my office to the restaurant that she’d mentioned. It was in a hotel that overlooked the river.
She looked stunning, when I saw her. “You like?” she asked, grinning, and spinning for me. She clutched her purse, her going-out purse, in her hand. She came up and kissed my cheek. “I spent three hours at the salon today,” she said, “and then I went out and bought this.” She held out her arms for me.
“Maria-” I asked, but she put her finger to my lips.
“Don’t ask,” she said. “I’ll tell you in a minute.”
We rode the elevator together. I couldn’t keep my eyes off Maria’s form. Her dress sparked in the lights and reflected in the mirrors. She was glowing. She was putting on a little weight. If I’d ever had a complaint about Maria, it was that she was a little skinny. Now her skin was taut, with a thin extra layer of baby fat.
The elevator made a series of pleasant-sounding chimes as we passed through half a dozen floors. Maria wore a thin, diamond-studded choker; the one she’d gotten from her mother, in addition to her golden chain. The cross she always wore was hidden inside her dress. The outfit was off the shoulders; it would be obvious to anyone she did not have on a bra.
When the doors opened, I made an automatic move to get out, almost stepping on a small distinguished looking man. He wore an old fashioned fedora and held a cane. He brushed aside my apologies, and got on, stepping carefully around Maria. It was obvious he was getting pleasure just looking at her. Maria didn’t seem to mind; she hardly seemed to notice him.
As we continued riding up, I found myself wondering what this man would think if he knew what our marriage was really like. I stepped over to Maria and put my arm around her waist.
The restaurant was just as elegant as I remembered, though nearly empty on that night. A sleek, expensive looking hostess, a young Asian woman, took our reservations, and led us to our chairs. She wore a black, crushed velvet mini-skirt, and a large diamond on a silver chain glittered between her breasts.
A handsome, suited waiter held out Maria’s chair. He smiled down at her as I sat down. “Anything to drink tonight?” he asked, motioning to the wine list.
“Champagne,” Maria announced, smiling at me.
I nodded, and named a brand.
“No,” she said. She looked up at the waiter, and named another brand. He smiled, pleased at her selection.
I looked out the floor to ceiling windows. The sun had gone down. Its last rays illuminated an enormous cloudbank in the west. From where I sat, I could see the lights in Maria’s office, a few of them still burning on her floor.
Maria caught my eye. “Don’t be like that,” she smiled. She caught my hand. “Remember, we’re going to celebrate tonight.”
My own hand felt cold and clammy. “Celebrate what?” I asked.
She squeezed my hand. “You’ll see.” I looked back out the window. I could see people, in some of the towers, their silhouettes made visible by the lights inside.
She squeezed my hand again. “Michael-”
Our waiter was coming back. He had the expensive looking bottle of Maria’s choice, and a bucket mounted on a little stand. It was full of ice.
He looked at the two of us, and then he poured the first glass for me. I nodded my approval, and then we waited for him to leave.
“I have something for you to see,” Maria said, reaching into her purse. I stared at the amber colored fluid bubbling in Maria’s fluted glass.
She handed me a folded piece of paper. I recognized it immediately, as soon as I’d unfolded it. It was a printout of CompSci’s employee benefit screen. I used to come across these screens nearly, when I used to work there. I stared at it, questions forming in my mind.
The first problem was that Maria was listed as a level IV. She’d been a level I, until just recently, and even then, the promotion could not have been to level IV. CompSci never skipped like that for people in Maria’s line of work. In fact, when I thought about it, I couldn’t quite understand how she’d gotten to level II.
Her salary had more than doubled from where it had been. I suddenly understood where the extra money was coming from; why she felt she could spend so freely. I thought about my maxed out credit cards.
“No,” she said, “You haven’t seen the best part.”
I looked back at the paper, scanning for what she meant.
“It’s backdated,” she said, giving me a hint. I looked – she was right. In fact, it was dated to nearly two and a half years ago, when I’d first gotten her her job there.
“We can pay everything back,” she said, while I stared at the printed page. “Everything.” I found myself, almost against my will, doing the math inside my head. She was very nearly right.
“Maria-” She glanced away from me, over to our right.
Our waiter was coming back. I found myself hastily folding up the paper and slipping down it into my lap. “Maria,” I hissed, “This is dangerous.”
She was smiling broadly, suppressing a grin at my expense. I felt myself growing furious at her. I watched as she tipped back her glass and took a sip.
“Maria!” The waiter was standing there. He wanted to take our orders.
She asked for the lobster bisque, and then we all waited for me to place my order. I stared across the table at my wife. She looked a little nervous; she began to take another sip.
“Maria!” She flinched, spilling a little of her drink.
“Michael,” she retorted, crossly, searching for her napkin. The waiter was still standing there.
“Maria, do you have any idea how dangerous this is?”
She looked across the table at me, her brow furrowing. “Michael-” she said.
I slammed my hand against the table, clattering the silverware. “Maria, put down that goddamed drink!” She stared at me. I felt the waiter begin to slink away.
“I was only going to have a sip,” she said, quietly, looking down.
I stared at her another moment. I saw my hands were trembling. I got up and stormed away.
In a moment, I found myself standing in the men’s room. How did she think she was going to get away with this? I wondered. And why had she ordered champagne, when she was pregnant with my baby? I braced my hands against the counter at the bathroom sink, and stared down into the basin.
There was a man at the urinal beside me. I waited for him to finish; wash his hands, and leave.
When I heard the door swish close behind him, I looked up into the mirror. My eyes were red. I looked furious, even to myself. I ran my fingers through my hair and turned the water on. I heard the door behind me opening again.
Had I done something to deserve this? I wondered. I thought back to when Maria had announced her pregnancy. I’d reacted badly: “We can’t afford it,” I’d said. I remembered how she’d fled into the bedroom, and cried and cried, while I sat there, wondering how to make things work.
The enormous man who’d just come in lumbered across the floor behind me. I caught a glimpse of him before he disappeared inside a stall.
Could she really not know how dangerous what she was doing was? And what would happen if I left her? Where would I go? Did I want to be one of those fathers who sees his baby on the weekends?
I heard the door open again. Jesus, I thought, was everybody in the restaurant coming in here?
Then I heard her heels clicking on the floor. “Maria-” I spun around.
“Michael,” she said, “We can’t go on like this.”
She had her hands clasped together at her waist. I saw she’d started crying.
She raised her face to mine. “I’m trying so hard,” she said, “I wish you’d try to.”
I swallowed. I tried to take her arm. “Come on, Maria, we can’t be in here.”
She pulled away. “Shut up! When are you going to learn,” she said, “I’m doing this for you!”
I stared at her. I felt the rage begin to overpower me.
“Michael,” she said, looking down, “I know this is hard for you too-”
“You know?” I interrupted. “YOU KNOW?” I yelled. I stared down at her, at her down turned face. Her lower lip started quivering.
“You don’t know ANYTHING!” I yelled, “You’ve taken a stupid, stupid risk, you’re ruining our marriage, and you’re ENDANGERING OUR BABY.”
I felt a rush of shameful pleasure as I saw her face crumple up; I was so glad I still had this power over her, the power to hurt her so. Tears spilled over her lower eyelids, and ran streaming down her face. “Michael-” she said, reaching out.
“Fuck you!” I yelled. “I can take care of things. I don’t need my wife to turn herself into a fucking whore!”
She ran, sobbing, out of the room.
I stood there for a moment, still trembling in my rage. I heard the man in the stall quietly clear his throat.
I fled the bathroom too.
She wasn’t anywhere.
Fallen Chapter II Part 2
Our table was sitting empty, the champagne still swimming in its bucket. Maria wasn’t there. The waiter eyed me suspiciously. I glared back.
No one would tell me where she’d gone. The hostess asked about the bill, if I was planning on leaving too. The lobster bisque was sitting, cooling on the table. I realized I had no way to pay for anything that we’d ordered. I’d spent the last of my cash on getting the Camry home and it was now sitting lifeless in our drive.
“Can I pay you back?” I asked. She stared at me, a look of distaste for me crossing her otherwise pretty face.
In the end they took pity on me, as well as one of my useless credit cards. I told them I’d call them, when they could run it through.
If Maria had registered at the hotel, it wasn’t under my name, or hers.
I found her car on the second level of the garage. I leaned against it staring out. I waited. An hour passed. I sat down in the driver’s seat, leaned back, and turned the on the radio. There was nothing on. Rush Limbaugh was complaining about people who love their dogs too much. I switched it off.
After a while, I turned the key in the ignition.
I hadn’t asked the restaurant to validate, and the man at the exit wouldn’t let me leave without paying for the hours Maria’s car had been there. I gave him my last two dollars, and then scrounged around for change. Finally he let me through. I noticed Maria had left her car nearly out of gas.
At home, I pulled the phone around and set it on a table next to my chair. I turned the TV on.
At some point I fell asleep, and woke to the ringing of the phone. When I picked it up, I heard the line go dead. I got up and went to bed. It was three o’clock.
I woke up at five, sweating. I got up, showered, shaved, and dressed, and drove Maria’s Celica to work. I started working on the only project I had left, despite the lack of go-ahead. What did I have to lose? I thought. It wasn’t like I had other pressing projects that needed to get done.
In the afternoon, I called up both my two overdue accounts. One said the check was in the mail; the other claimed he’d found a problem with my work. I wound up hanging up the phone on the second one; I knew he was lying about the problem he said he’d found.
I called Nina up on the number she’d given me. But it was the middle of the day; of course, she was still at work.
After a couple hours of not doing much of anything, I got into Maria’s car, and drove the couple dozen blocks to the building CompSci owned. While I drove, I wondered how long Maria’s warning light had been on.
I had an eerie, strange feeling as I parked the car and got out. I’d parked two spaces over from the spot that had once been mine. In the gloom of CompSci’s garage, for a second, it was like I was working there again. I wished, for a moment, I could go back and change the past.
I shook the thought out of my mind.
I took the elevator to the fifth floor. I stepped through the glass vestibule into the reception room of the suite where Maria worked. I glanced over a Nina’s desk; she’d already left. It was a little after five. I hurried against the chance that Maria was gone too.
There was a corridor, flanked with office doors, that led from the reception room to the cubicle farm where Maria worked. I noticed the door to John’s office, the third one on the left, was standing open. I hurried by.
The corridor took a right and then, after another thirty yards or so, opened into the warren of fabric covered plastic walls where the lower level workers worked. The room was huge; it took up nearly half the floor.
“Oh, hi,” I said. I stopped short. A trio of women was sitting together, huddled at a table in front part of the room, just around the corner from where I’d come. They turned and stared at me. None of them responded.
“I, uh,” I stammered. I felt like I’d interrupted something. I glanced at the birthday cake, sitting in the middle of the table: “Happy 31st.” The blonde, I realized, was Maria’s best friend at work.
“She’s down there,” one of the other women said, an attractive black woman with straightened hair. She nodded with her head. “In the break room.” I noticed there was an empty chair.
“Oh, uh, thanks,” I said, wondering how much they knew.
The break room was toward the back, all the way across the room, directly across from where the women were. I glanced back. The blonde was standing up, to get a better view.
The door was standing open. I read a sign that was posted on it: “Remember,” it said, “this room is a privilege, not a right.”
She almost ran me down; she’d been coming out while I was going in. She carried an enormous ancient carving knife upright in her hand.
“Oh my God!” she cried, covering her mouth with her other hand. “You scared me!”
I looked from the tarnished heavy blade to the fingers that covered her face. They were bare; she’d taken off her wedding band and engagement bands.
“Sorry.” I put down my hands. She smiled unconvincingly. “Can we talk?” I asked. She lowered her hands as well.
She nodded slowly, and then looked down. “Not here,” she said, looking around. All three women were standing, watching us. She led me back into the room.