The Missing Link 01: Stevebyangiquesophie©
"Just sex?" she asked. Her voice struggled for control. A grimace floated across her face.
"Yes, Liza," I said. "Just sex. It was good, but it meant nothing ¬-- it was gymnastics. She had a great body -- lovely tits. A bit bigger than yours I'd say, and firmer, but then again, she was at least ten years younger. But other than that, just sex. Sweaty exercise."
Her eyes darkened under her knitted brow -- I saw the anger brewing. "Bullshit, Steve," she spat. "There must have been more. You are not a 'just sex' guy. I know you."
"You know me," I repeated. "But do you really, honey? Do you know me as well as I thought I knew you?"
Liza is my wife. I am Steve. I am 30, she is 32. We have been the Stevensons for seven years now. Yes, my parents had a weakness for alliteration. We have a child, a boy of six. We called him Eric, just for the heck of it -- no granddad, no uncle with that name. And thank God, no alliteration. He is bright, and he'll need it; his world has turned into a mess.
So has mine.
At college I lusted after Liza. It was because of her tits, her face and the way she hugged me with every square inch of her body after I helped her getting through a Business Management test. I needed exactly one date to fall in love with her eyes, her laugh, her voice and the fact that she remembered how I liked my coffee.
It took us three more dates before we had sex. Then I needed six months to find the courage to ask her to be my wife. And finally it took us a year to graduate, find jobs, an apartment -- and marry.
In the seven years of our marriage I changed companies twice until I decided, two years ago, to go it alone. I navigated small companies through the dire straits called taxes. And as more and more of them seemed to appreciate my efforts -- bigger ones too -- I started doing well.
After having little Eric Liza switched jobs. From being an account manager in an advertising agency she became a free-lance proofreader for ad agencies and publishers. It didn't pay much, but it allowed her the flexible hours a mother needs to keep house and raise a child while the father is out making money. She worked mostly when Eric was at school, or in the evenings when I could take care of him.
Life was good to us. The house we lived in had been built with the bricks of the American Dream, including a lawn, a picket fence and two cars of recent make. Living a cliché can be very comfortable, especially for young families. But I never knew that our life also included this other well-worn cliché -- a cheating spouse.
My feelings when I found out surprised me -- I felt embarrassed. Go figure: my wife acts like a common slut and I am the one feeling embarrassed. I felt dumb for having trusted her. I had chosen her to be my only one, my best friend and soul mate, the mother of my child and she turns it into a farce. Shouldn't she be the one to feel embarrassed, guilty and ashamed -- even before being caught?
Yes, I know, I can be quite naïve.
I came home one day early from an ICT seminar. Of course I had tried to contact Liza about the change in schedule. Her cell was down and at home the voice-mail picked up my call. I left a message and decided to try again after landing.
When I waited for my luggage I did try again and got a sweet and bubbling Liza. She had found my message and was excited to have me back early. I rushed to find a cab and hurried home. The unexpected treat of a free afternoon and night with my family made me feel like a little boy on Christmas morning.
Eric was with her mother's, she said. She seemed as excited as I when she opened the door. She looked delicious and I was horny after two days of bits and bytes. We went straight up to our bedroom where we undressed in a hurry. Sweet currents of electricity ran up and down my spine when I pressed my face between her naked breasts, inhaling the scent of her perfume.
When I reached her pussy after a meandering journey of kissing and licking, my tongue entered a swamp. I know, you'll call me stupid for not getting suspicious at once, but be honest -- you would have been just as clueless if I hadn't given you warning. I was also handicapped by the fact that all the blood my brain needed was commandeered by a different body part.
I was horny, she was willing -- thinking could wait. It waited through numerous orgasms on her part and three on mine. It waited through two rounds of snacks, a bottle of wine and three hours of sleep before I woke up from a crowded bladder and slid out of bed. That's when I felt the sting of doom, right into the sole of my bare left foot. I cried out, making Liza stir. I lifted my foot to see what was under it. Then I picked up the object. I placed it on the open palm of my hand, where it gleamed in the ghostly light of the tiny night lamp.
It was a cufflink.
It felt quite heavy, made of real gold, it seemed. It had two connected square flat surfaces, a large one and a smaller one -- the latter obviously to be worn on the inside. Both surfaces had a relief, making them look like seals on a signet ring. On the smaller one were letters, which made me wonder who owned it -- and how on earth it could have ended in my bedroom, biting my foot.
I turned around and watched Liza. She breathed slowly with her eyes closed. I rose and walked to the bathroom. The pressure of my bladder -- nearly forgotten -- returned with a vengeance. My cock still looked red and angry after having been used so vigorously before. I redirected the splattering stream to make it less noisy. Then I shook off the last drops, walked over to the small basin and rinsed my hands under the faucet.
The gold cufflink stared back at me from the white marble ledge where I had put it. I saw more detail now, in the better light. On the bigger square was a heraldic kind of seal, divided by a diagonal. The upper part sported a prancing horse, the lower showed three round dots, like a set of billiard balls. The smaller square had a more intricate pattern. It showed interwoven letters, maybe the initials of its owner.
I saw an R. It seemed to be woven through the legs of an M, but there was also a C. RMC, CMR, MRC, MCR -- so many possibilities, but what the hell? Liza wasn't married to an MCR or an RCM, was she? Besides, I never even owned a cufflink, but here it was -- very male and lying under our bed in our bedroom. Tears pressed at the back of my eyes when the significance of it all started to seep in. My fist hit the porcelain of the basin.
"Stop it!" I hissed through clenched teeth. "Don't be ridiculous. Think."
So I found a cufflink beside my bed that wasn't mine. It could not have lain there longer than a few days. The cleaning lady vacuumed the room every Thursday. Today was Friday -- no, Saturday by now of course.
I looked into the mirror, shaking my head as if to free it from the dark thoughts that clung to the inside of my skull. I fought to keep them hidden under more innocent possibilities, but those weren't more than feeble excuses, really. How could a cufflink lie in a bedroom without having been dropped by its male owner? And was there a plausible reason for dropping it, other than while opening or closing the cuff of a shirt? And wouldn't one have taken off a shirt before putting it on again?
"Ah!" my friend Denial piped up. "Maybe he just lost the link, but never took off his shirt?" "In your wife's bedroom?" my sounder friend Reality retorted. "Why should he be there at all?"
Before this schizophrenic dialogue went further, I growled. I grabbed the cufflink and left the bathroom, tiptoeing through the bedroom and down the stairs. I had to think, didn't I? I had to keep the panic and the black thoughts at bay, if only to eliminate mistakes by rushing to conclusions.
The thought of Liza cheating on me had never entered my mind. Admitting that she obviously did would be like tearing down the house around me and hurling myself into the indifferent emptiness of outer space. It was like pulverizing the very foundation of my existence. The eight years with her had spun a warm, hugging cocoon around me. It was the only thing protecting me from a thirty below zero winter on the Siberian tundra. Accepting the reality of her cheating would leave me limping along like a helpless amputee.
And yet -- there it was on the kitchen table: cold, gold, very real and riddled with consequences.
I poured a shot of my long-saved Laphroiagh single malt scotch. It was a waste; I didn't taste a thing. I poured another, allowing the dark demons to rush in. Liza had cheated on me while I was gone. I went out of town quite a few times this year -- seminars, courses, clients. I have been doing that for years. Why would I believe this to be the only time she cheated? Just because it was the first time I found out?
The third whisky brought about the one and only classic question: why? Of course I summed up all the equally classic answers, throwing them out as quickly as they popped up. I started doubting everything I had been taking for granted -- our material comforts and the almost perfect bliss of our family life... little Eric, our love life, the frequency of our sexual encounters; their quality. Could she have been nursing unfulfilled needs? How? Wasn't my exhausted cock proof of the opposite -- still tingling from our last work out? And wasn't it -- by the way -- a very respectable seven inches? All right, six-and-a-half.
"You ask why?" said my fourth whisky. "Fuck the why. Fuck the 'with whom' too. You married a slut, plain and simple." Did I marry a slut? Just thinking the word filled my befuddled brain with angry indignation. How could anyone even think that I would marry a slut? Me? Marry a slut? Outrageous, I thought. An offense.
And I poured the whisky that would be my last before the lights went out.
Liza's voice had an edge of concern when she shook my shoulder -- well, at least as far as I could hear her over the beating of hammers on anvils. I lifted my head from the puddle of drool that had leaked from my sleeping mouth. First thing I saw was a half empty bottle. Second thing I saw, after focusing my eyes, was the absence of the cufflink. My head was a battlefield. Thoughts wandered in and out of a lingering mist. The steaming mug of black coffee smelled like medicine. I didn't even dare to check its taste.
"God, Steve," Liza said, sitting down at the other side of the table. "You gave me the shock of my life. First, you weren't in bed when I woke up. Then I find you here, head on the table, dead to the world with an empty whisky bottle in front of you. What is going on?"
Her words were too loud and too many; they insisted on invading my skull through a way too narrow entrance -- painful, painful. I rose. I tried to rise. I rose. The world needed leveling; my eyes seemed to observe it from a distance.
"Later," I said with the voice of a stranger.
Upstairs I first emptied my stomach. Then I took a shower and three aspirin. On the way to my bathrobe I went past the bed. I fell on it and slept another three hours.
When I at last reentered the kitchen, Liza had gone. On the empty table lay a note informing me that she was picking up Eric at her mother's. "Kiss, L," the last line said. The note lay almost exactly where the cufflink had been. Or had it?
While drinking coffee I wondered if I might have dreamt the whole thing. And then I wondered if it would be such a bad thing to believe that. Liza for one might find it convenient.
Damn, why did I have to hit the bottle like that?
Eric was a ball of energy, running into me full force. I took him outside to shoot some hoops and inhale much-needed gulps of cold, fresh air. Afterwards he had to beat me with his newest computer game, another of the many gifts my doting mother in law spoiled him with. God knows where she finds the money, but he is her only grandchild.
Liza stayed away from us, but maybe she always left us alone when we did our boy things. I tried to remember and couldn't, really, but I guessed so.
After receiving three sound beatings I left the boy to it and returned to our kitchen. Liza was at the table, slicing onions and peppers. I smelled fresh garlic too. Liza believes in home made food; I gladly help her eating it. The simple sight of domestic bliss brought the threat of tears to my eyes -- or was it the onions? I sat down.
"Liza," I said. "There was a gold cufflink on this table. Did you find it?"
The sharp knife just kept doing its almost professional dance, very close to her fingertips. She never missed a beat until she finished the onion. Then she wiped the little white cubes off the blade and carefully laid the knife down before looking at me.
"A cufflink? You never use cufflinks, do you, honey?"
It was the perfect answer given with the perfect timing and the perfect face to accompany it. Even the slightly puzzled smile was spot on.
"Did you find it?" I insisted. "It was right here."
"No," she said. "No cufflink. I found a puddle of drool and an almost empty bottle of booze, but no... no cufflink." And she picked up the knife to attack another onion. Liza never tears up when she does onions, I remembered. Come thinking of it, she doesn't cry a lot anyway, I thought.
Should I tell her how I found the cufflink next to our bed? Or that it was a signet cufflink with an R on it and an M and a C? Should I ask her if she knew an RMC or an MRC? Maybe I should, but I didn't; what was the use? Her casual denial caused a great sadness to sink over me.
The cufflink wasn't there anymore because she had found it. Maybe she had taken it to her lover already, on her way to picking up Eric? She would certainly have called him to allay his fears at discovering the loss.
Anyway. I did give her a chance to come clear -- or to seriously prove her innocence. She did neither.
In my college years I have been drunk at parties, so I know how alcohol makes you forget things. But this time I had been sober when I found the damn thing. Moreover, I even remembered every detail straight through the haze of my later drunkenness.
The cufflink had been there and now it was gone. The only person who could have found and taken it, was Liz. And she denied even seeing the thing. She blew her chance to come clean and it made me unspeakably sad.
"Liz," I said, with a voice that was calmer than I felt. "Will you please lay down the knife and look at me. I have an important question." She looked up quickly, wide eyed.
"Of course, honey," she said. I had her attention now; maybe even her worry.
"How did that cufflink end up beside our bed, Liz?"
It was her second and last chance.
She rose and walked over to me, wiping her hands on her apron. She bent down, reaching for my shoulders. Her eyes held mine. Then she shattered my world.
"Please, honey," she said with her warmest, most concerned voice. "What is this about a cufflink? I really don't know what you mean. I never saw it, not beside our bed and certainly not on this table."
I just stared back, shaken by her calmness.
"Darling," she went on. "You must have been drinking a lot. Why was that, anyway? You never drink. It scared me."
I took her hands off my shoulders and rose.
"Liz," I said, fending off her attempt to hug me. "I shall leave you alone for a bit, so you can think of a better story."
I went upstairs and collected a few things like underwear, clothing and my laptop. When I came down again, Liz protested as she saw my bag. She tried to stop me, but I went into the garage, into my car and out on the street.
I saw Liz in the open door when I drove off. Knowing where to go was easier than knowing what to do.
I felt miserable. There was the supposed betrayal and the obvious lying from a woman I'd loved more than myself for almost nine years. There also was my son; not seeing him would be hell. And then of course there were the minor but manifold pains of missing all the automatic comforts and securities of my life: my house, my bed, the easy rhythm of things and all the other certainties that I took for granted until they disappeared.
A hotel room shows its true face when it becomes your only room. It is boring, impersonal; it is a place where time grinds to a halt and seconds become minutes, minutes become hours. TV gets like a black hole, sucking your mind empty. You read, but the words don't register; they only allow you more time to dwell on your misery. The few friends I had were out of town or otherwise engaged. My mom and brother live half a continent away.
So I went out to escape my room, just to discover that bars and cinema's, malls and restaurants are even more apt at giving you a feeling of loneliness. Isn't it remarkable how being alone emphasizes that all the other people are not?
Going to work on Monday was a relief, until Liza called me, around 10 a.m. I had closed down my cell phone all through Saturday and Sunday, but there was no way I could do that at work. I decided to take her third call, if only to tell her not to bother my poor secretary.
Liza was in tears, but they were angry tears, soaking the remains of a well-nursed rage. She accused me of making her worry when I kept myself unreachable all weekend. I told her to stop it or I would hang up. She did not hear me. So when she went on wondering how I could have done this to her and little Eric, I disconnected the phone. I also told my secretary to keep her away from me.
Eight calls later the girl came into my office, giving me an ultimatum: get Liza off my back or I'll leave this building, screaming. I took the ninth call, finding her considerably more subdued. I asked her to stop calling me at work, but I already knew she would not do that. She wanted to talk. I told her I'd only do that if she allowed me to see Eric whenever I wanted, whatever would happen. She said I should come home, so I could see him all the time. I put down the phone. It rang a minute later. I picked it up. She said I could see Eric as often as I wished. So I gave her the name of a restaurant we both knew and promised to be there around one.
She didn't look pale or tired, nor did she look nervous when she rushed into the restaurant, ten minutes late. Her blouse was crispy white under a tightly cut jacket. It was in a color only the French have a name for, leaving us plodding cavemen wondering what on earth might be mauve or taupe. But thankfully her missing upper buttons made up for that -- as did the tightness of her skirt. I wondered about her wearing them; normally it would have been jeans and a sweater. Did she do it to tease me, or was it to rub my nose in it? And did I care? Yes, I did, but right now it only instigated darker thoughts.
She was a whirlwind, turning heads while rushing down the aisle to my table -- her high heels tapping a tattoo on the marble floor. I took quite a bit of that whirlwind out of her sails by refusing the hug and the kiss she had in mind. I didn't even stand, let alone help her into one of the fragile chairs.
Her smile died. She sat down across the small table, her fingers nervously torturing her tan leather clutch -- yes, definitely tan, I decided.
"So," I said. "I guess you found a better story?" Her face ran a gambit of emotions, half of which I could not read. The last one I'd qualify as despair, but that could very well have been due to my own feelings.
"Honey," she said and paused, closing her eyes and opening them again. Her voice was thick with controlled emotion -- or was it indignation? "I don't need a story, truth will do. Why are you so cruel? I came here to tell you how very concerned I am -- with you, with us. Just imagine -- we make the most wonderful love and the next moment you are zonked out, draped totally drunk over our kitchen table, an empty bottle of booze before you. And all you rant about is a goddamned cufflink! Now how would you have felt in my place?"