Two's a Crowd Ch. 02byangiquesophie©
There isn't much to tell about the next few days. I felt as though I were living under water. All senses were subdued. Even sounds seemed muffled. With the aid of sleeping pills I slept a lot, but the quality of my sleep was more that of unconsciousness. I couldn't complain, though -- the sleeping hours took a huge bite out of my painful existence.
While awake I worked, mostly. For once I was glad that my job was about numbers -- solid, predictable and dependable pillars of security. Numbers don't lie, I told myself -- at least not as blatantly as some people.
I phoned Onslow to apologize for abandoning him so rudely at the hotel. I told him I felt better. I also assured him that I was honored with his offer, very much so, and that I was certainly considering it seriously. I just had to clear a few personal issues first. He waved away my apologies. And he never asked about those issues. He just told me to take my time. Being careful about the decision was as important to them as it was to me.
After the phone call I mused on how things had changed so rapidly. What had been a big dilemma only last week, now seemed to have turned into an opportunity, an escape. Almost like a rope of sheets tied together to get me out of this jail my life had suddenly become -- a new start, as they say.
I stared at the pen dangling between my fingers. A new start. Did I want one? Maybe my brain did. Between my brain and my heart, my brain always has the better judgment. And usually it doesn't find much opposition amongst my instincts.
Not this time, however. This time all my senses, feelings and emotions reared their heads in protest. For a numbers man like me that is a unique sensation. It left me in a swirl of roiling, conflicting feelings, pushing and pulling against my very balance.
The fingers around the pen trembled. I don't know how long I just sat there. My phone shook me out of my stupor; it was our company's legal counsel, calling me about some of the "personal issues" I had wanted to tackle.
Myriam never called me those first days. Maybe she thought that it was what I wanted. Oddly enough, it disappointed me. She is a social person. It should have been in her nature to want to explain herself, to look for the contact, even now. But she didn't. Was it one more answer to the question whether I knew her at all? Or worse, was it an answer to the question of whether she loved me at all? And why did I have questions like these to begin with?
She cheated on me. Maybe she had done it for a while. She exposed herself in public with another man, dressed as she never had done with me. She acted very intimately with him. And she fucked him, no doubt about that. But against all odds she kept lying to cover it up. No, I realized now...she hadn't lied. She had just refused to answer. Why? What was the use?
My evenings and nights were hell. The hotel had a nice enough bar. I am afraid I spent too much time there, alone. I do have friends. I have colleagues I see privately. But most of them are shared acquaintances -- they are as much Myr's friends as they are mine. I couldn't face them. Not before I found a way out of my quagmire.
After a week it became clear that Myriam didn't plan on telling me whatever truth she had decided upon. So I took out the business card I had received from my legal colleague.
The attorney was a woman. Her voice on the phone was deep and smooth. I guess it comes with the territory. We made an appointment and when I met her, she looked the voice. Forty--ish bordering on the ageless. Slick and professional. Handsome in the coolest of ways. I also knew that she had the reputation of certain predatory fishes with prominent back--fins -- and the accompanying set of teeth.
She listened to my story. Then she said I ought to have more proof. It would be my word against Myr's. I smiled. I told her there might not be an "against"; I did not plan on accusing her of adultery. Not of anything, to be sure. I just wanted her to be presented with divorce papers. She had to know I intended to leave her life.
It took a while for her to understand. I told her that beside the house there was hardly any property to divide. And the house might as well be hers, I didn't care -- I might not even be here anymore, in the near future. The point was to let her know she had lost me. We'd have another, quite different talk as soon as there proved to be an "against."
She reluctantly agreed.
Myriam phoned almost at once. She was highly agitated. A bit angry, too, I'd say. Or was it panicked? We should have talked first, she said. I was cold and cruel, she yelled. We should have talked. She had a right to explain.
I let her rage on for a few minutes. She ended it herself by starting to cry. Through the sobs she said she was sorry not to have phoned me. She was afraid, she said. She had not dared to call.
"Do you love me, Myriam?" I asked at last.
There was a shocked silence. "Oh God, honey, I love you so much," she whispered. "I am so sorry. I have been so selfish, so awful, I..."
"I don't think you love me, Myr."
"But I do! I DO!!"
Her vehemence caused me to move the phone away from my ear. I succeeded in keeping my calm.
"Honey, what kind of love is this if it prevents you from telling me the truth? How could my love scare you? I am in love with you, Myr. Unconditionally. If you are in love with me too, you are mine, just as I am yours. And if you are mine, your truth is mine too. Can't you see that? You can't keep it away from me. It is a cruel and demeaning thing to do."
There was silence. It was punctured by a sob.
I went on. "Myriam. You tortured me by withholding all contact for over a week. Not a word, not a sign. Is that love?"
The silence stretched to a point beyond hope. I was going to break off the connection when she said: "I love you, Bruce."
And there was a click, followed by a string of beeps. They seemed to mock me.
There is no clown in this circus, I had said. Now I wasn't so sure. At the Excelsior I saw Myriam look and behave as I haven't seen her ever do before. Certainly not in public. She loves to dress tastefully, never provocatively. She sometimes goes without a bra, as she doesn't really need one. But she never shows her chest off in a low--cut and flimsy dress, let alone in one as outrageous as she was wearing in that lounge.
The man seemed secure of her. He knew that all her attention was for him and to him. He owned her affection. Sex with Myriam had always been important to me, but even more special was the intimacy. By sharing that, she betrayed me the deepest and hurt me the most. When I witnessed their calm closeness I knew Myriam wasn't mine anymore. She was all his and she probably had been for a long time. All those moments, hours, eternities that I had considered ours, she had been someone else's. At best, I'd had her on time--share.
I started pondering possible affairs over the years, of course. She must have had ample opportunities. She traveled a lot. Her job took her to glamorous places. It gave her enough work-related excuses. And I was never there.
Myriam is reserved. But she isn't a nun or a shy girl. I see how she loves to get attention at times -- in a fun and flirty way. I also know that with our interfering workloads and schedules I couldn't always have been there. But I thought she loved me. And I thought that love was this magical spell that guaranteed fidelity.
No clown in this circus, eh? I could kick myself with an oversized shoe.
When I called it a day, Myriam was waiting in the lobby.
I had been prepared for another lonely dinner and an even lonelier night. My eyes were barely functioning -- they only registered the absolute necessities for survival, like where to put my feet while walking. I hardly looked up, so it was her voice that stopped me. I turned my head. She was running to me, her heels skating over the slick marble. Part of me wanted to run off -- it must have been my childish part. The rest just succumbed to inertia.
She closed in. Silly details seemed more prominent than the whole picture -- the hem of her skirt dragged at her busy legs, a floating strand of hair escaping the prison of her businesslike bun.
When she reached me, she panted. Her flushed face made me want to kiss her. I guess it was the contrast of her soft blushing skin and the severe, dark pinstripe jacket. It made her look vulnerable yet forbidding. She gave off conflicting signals. She was a child in armor.
Jealousy gripped me. I could not explain why. She had gone almost naked for the Argentinean and for all the world to see. Now here she was with me, dressed like a fortress. Maybe that was what caused my anger? Send in the clown...
Her hand touched my arm. "Bruce," she panted. "Please...we must talk. We've got to."
I surfaced from my fish tank. The hue of deep sea green lifted. Even sounds seemed to clear up. The touch of her hand was the centre of my world. I took a step back to break the contact. She didn't let go.
"Please?" she begged.
We ended up in a crowded bar. The sound was overwhelming. There were sweaty men in shirtsleeves. Baseball claimed three overhead monitors. It took me a while to score two drinks and find a table in the corner.
I didn't want to go to a quieter place. I had decided that she wasn't ready. Maybe she'd never be. For the time being I needed the cocoon of noise. It would prevent Myriam from playing me with subtle lies and feigned intimacies -- you just don't yell your intimate secrets in a crowded bar.
I handed her a gin and tonic and toasted vaguely with my beer. We drank. She looked unsure of what to do. "Can't we go someplace quieter?" she asked rather loud.
I understood her well, but said: "What?" I wanted her insecure and exhausted before we talked. I wanted her to nurse a nice anger. Childish, yes. But why should I be the only one hurting? I guess I was pretty fucked up, but that is what I wanted.
It took a while before it worked. She built half-sentences until she came to sensitive material. Then she'd stop, deciding on how to phrase it loudly yet safely in this public place. That would be where I'd punctuate whatever she said with another "what?" -- a silly game, I know. One day it would shame me. But right now I could not resist. By the time I finished my beer, tears ran down her face.
"Let's go out, Bruce, please. Somewhere where we can talk."
"Pardon?" I bellowed.
She desperately stared at me.
"Another drink?" I offered.
She rose, grabbed her pocketbook and pushed herself through the throng. I sagged back, suffering from a big wave of remorse. But I slept well, that night.
Two days later I phoned Myriam. She took the call. But as soon as she saw it was I, she started yelling. I hung up on her. This went on for a few days. It wasn't getting us anywhere. So I decided another move in my "confuse & bewilder" campaign. I sent her red roses. On the accompanying card was just my cell number.
She phoned at once. And her voice was soft, even sweet. "Thank you, Bruce. If you only knew how happy those flowers make me."
"Did you count them?"
The short silence told me she was counting. "Nine..."
"Any idea why nine?"
Another pause. Then: "Of course, silly. The years we have been married. So sweet, so hopeful."
That was where I left a silence.
"Maybe," I said. "But I'm not sure. Shouldn't there have been six? Or even three? Maybe none at all? What do you say?"
"Bruce..." She sounded more puzzled than offended. "Why all these riddles? Please come home, honey. I miss you."
"Home," I mused. I repeated the word. "Such a wonderful concept. Some people even know what it means."
"It was business, Bruce." She sounded tired now. "It was nothing."
I stared at the phone in my hand. "Call me when the lies wear off," I said. It was all I could get out without exploding in anger. I pushed the little red button. The invisible thread between us snapped. How appropriate.
The days went on, nothing happened. Work recaptured my attention and time made my anger seep away.
At a deeper level, I started to admire her stamina. She didn't budge. I guess she supposed that refusing to tell even the beginning of a truth would start me doubting myself. She must be waging that I hadn't seen more than what I'd told her.
That was when I decided to eat my pride. I invited her for dinner. Maybe she'd succeeded in wearing me down. But I told myself that stretching out this game of hide and seek was more harmful than a quick divorce. I had long since concluded that Myriam didn't love me at all. Not anymore. She just wanted me back for comfort and luxury. Or sheer stubbornness. I based that idea on more than simple suspicion. It is true: husbands may always be the very last to know. But husbands have friends. They also have colleagues.
After our battle of the roses, I called Bess. She once was in the pool of secretaries Myriam worked with before she got her own secretary. That was over two years ago. Bess had left the company a year later to have a child. She never returned.
She and her husband had been at our table often, and we at theirs, though not for at least a half a year. I'd always liked her healthy no-nonsense attitude. It had a nice touch of concreteness. On the phone I asked her how she was, her child, her husband. Then I told her I'd love her advice on a personal matter. It must have peaked her curiosity. We picked a time and place.
When she walked in I admired her. I saw the same honey blonde cloud floating around her pretty head. She still had the healthy blush, the sparkling eyes. She was like a sea breeze through an open window. Her smile lit up when she saw me. Her embrace was uncomplicated and busty.
I complimented her. She said that I didn't look half bad myself. She ordered tea, I had coffee.
I told her that Myriam and I had separated. It caused her eyes to widen. She started the expected sorry's when I interrupted her. "I saw her being intimate with a man at the Excelsior," I said. "I wonder if you would have been as surprised as I was."
She hesitated. Her fingertip ran a quick circle around the edge of her teacup.
"I, ehm," she murmured. "Bruce, I haven't worked with her for more than two years now. I have only seen her a few times since the baby was born, remember? How would I know what she is doing and why? I guess it was a professional function?"
I said I saw her point. I didn't want her opinion, I said. I had seen her hesitation at the start. Why was that?
She fumbled with the wrapper of her cookie. "Please, don't ask me, Bruce."
I nodded. I saw that she knew perfectly well what I meant and why I had asked. I guess she was just being loyal. I had to respect that, maybe. But it annoyed me. "I suppose you think you owe her your loyalty, Bess," I went on. "That in itself tells me things, you know? Things that make me worry."
Bess kept her silence. Her eyes wandered. It was quite unlike her.
"If you don't want to tell me, Bess, then simply tell me if I should worry? Please?"
Almost unnoticeable, she nodded. It sent a wave of nausea my way. I had to test my legs before rising.
"Thank you, Bess. I know this makes you feel uncomfortable, being in the middle and all. I appreciate that you took the trouble to see me." I threw money on the table and turned to leave. Her hand was on my sleeve. She had risen too.
"I am sorry, Bruce. So sorry." The blue of her eyes looked clouded. They were diffuse with imminent tears. She hugged me tightly.
I talked with two more friends. I knew they were Myr's as well as mine, but I had to know. Of course I did not expect straight answers -- they had not felt the need to tell me anything in all these years. Myr and I had met them at parties, dinners, and even on short vacations. So why would they tell me now? In stories and movies, conversations may be more explicit. In real life one has to fend with hunches and unspoken hints, it seems. Well, in my reality, anyway, I had to. I could only guess and prod in a labyrinth of possibilities. I had to feel my way forward.
I knew Myriam had cheated on me at least this one time I had seen her. I also knew that she betrayed our intimacy. And that she had lied about it. As for the rest, I had to trust friends who had never bothered to warn me.
Just as with Bess, there were all kinds of pauses, uneasy glances and cut off sentences. It left me wondering about their strange ethics. A marriage is private; so don't get involved, they must have thought. See the innocent sucker suffer, watch things go down the drain. But never ever say a word. So they didn't tell me what they obviously knew. They also never defused my suspicions. Lovely, but never mind. The more they refused to say, the more I understood.
The appointment with Myriam was at a Mexican restaurant. It had been one of our favorites ever since we had come to this town. I can see how some people would have avoided meeting at a place haunted with sweet and now painful memories. I have to agree that the pain was there. But I reckoned she would feel it too. It might eat away at her resolution.
She looked elegant in a pale and tired way. Her outfit was business like -- I even doubt if she changed after work. That disappointed me in part. It meant she hadn't bothered to seduce me. On the other hand it might save me from emotional outbursts.
We were polite and small--talked right through the main course. We skipped dessert as we usually do -- did. The coffee was excellent. So was the dark chocolate.
The first uncomfortable silence fell right after the first sip of our espressos. We knew we couldn't hold it off any longer.
"Myr," I said. "Did you find any useful truths for me, lately?" I was sorry as soon as the words left my mouth. I could not take them back. But Myriam did not seem to hear the venom. She put down her tiny cup and straightened a crease in the tablecloth.
"Did you ever consider, honey," she started in a very soft voice, "that I already told you the truth?"
I was baffled. My mouth must have hung open while I stared at her. She just said there, smiling tentatively.
"Darling," she went on, her voice gaining in strength. "You never even tried to believe me, did you? You condemned me right from the start of this silly farce. I was guilty whatever I had to say, wasn't I?"
There is this funny thing in nightmares, where you want to run away and can't. You are tied down with invisible ropes. You want to scream and are unable to.
Myriam knew I had seen the naked dress, the kissing, the touching, the close dancing. She had come home in early morning, exhausted and ravaged. There had been the silly, inconsistent story. And then there was the uncertainty of what more I might know. But still she refused any answer. Surreal was the word. The brazenness of it sapped me of my last energy. There just wasn't even the smallest point anymore, was there?
"Myr," I croaked. I desperately tried to find my voice. "Myr. You really must have very little respect for me. It took us almost a month to find a way to talk. I gave you weeks to summon up the courage to tell me what happened. And you ladle up this...this bullshit?"
My hand crashed down on the small table. It made the cups and spoons and candles jump. "You'll hear from my lawyer," I said and rose. When I returned from paying the cashier, Myriam had already left.
The divorce went smoothly and without dispute.
I never saw Myriam again until we had to sign. And there she made certain I saw her. She looked spectacular. Her hair was coiffed and glowed with a new, deep red. Her eyes were made up abundantly, as was her mouth. The short skirt hugged her tightly as if painted on her frame. Her tits seemed bigger than I remembered. And when she bent forward to sign the papers, they almost fell out of her blouse. There wasn't much to restrain them.